02 Things to do in Wayanad
Wayanad, hidden within the dense Western Ghats, is one of Kerala’s best kept secrets. The name ‘Wayanad’ comes from ‘Vayal Nadu’, or land of paddy fields. It conjures up images of wide open spaces, covered with rice fields, but Wayanad is anything but that. Paddy fields are, of course, predominantly visible, but massive boulders rise intermittently between them, making the landscape a lot more interesting. Then there are mountains, tea estates, and coffee plantations, and enclosing all of them, a dense jungle! From these hills flow two perennial rivers―Vythiri and the Kabini, both of which merge further downstream with Kaveri, but here, they not only make the land extremely fertile, but also provide us lots of opportunities for adventure! Natural beauty is what makes Wayanad remarkable, but also interesting is its cultural and historical heritage. From prehistoric cave drawings to medieval temples, stories of war and the freedom struggle, there is much to explore and enjoy in Wayanad.
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1. Muthanga wild life sanctuary
Muthanga wild life sanctuary is a part of the Nilgiri Biosphere region. It is a rain forest reserve connected to two major sanctuaries, Bandhipur National Park in Karnataka and Mudumalai sanctuary in Tamil Nadu. It has been declared as project elephant site and one can spot herd of elephants roaming in the area. Wayanad wildlife sanctuary was formed in the year 1973 and was brought under the Project Elephant in the year 1991-92. The Muthanga is on the way from Mysore to Sultan Battery. Wild animals such as Indian Bison, elephant, deer and tiger are spotted here. It is the second largest wildlife sanctuary in Kerala. It is bestowed with lush green forests and rich wildlife and houses some of the rare and endangered species of both flora and fauna. Elephant rides are arranged by the Forest Department, Kerala. Discovering and observing the wildlife while being atop an elephant is an enthralling and unforgettable experience. It is spread over 344 kmÂ² and is about 16 km east of Sultan Battery, the nearest large town. This sanctuary occupies an area of 345 km2. The Western Ghats, Nilgiri Sub-Cluster including all of the sanctuary, is under consideration by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee for selection as a World Heritage Site. Location : It is in Kerala-Karnatak border, about 16 km east of SulthanBathery. How to reach : By road: The sanctuary is connected by the road with 17 km from SulthanBathery, Kalpetta (42 kms), Mananthvady (59kms) and Kozhikode (96 kms). Mysore is at 95 kms distance form here and Ooty 160 kms. The nearest airport is Karippur and Railway Station is Kozhikode. Safari in Muthanga : Available with entry fees, Timing – 7 am to 10 am and 3 pm to 5.30 pm (best season November to May)
2. Tholpetty Wildlife Sanctuary
Wayand wildlife sanctuary situates along the northern region of Wayanad, which is bordering Coorg district of Karnataka. Tholpetty Wildlife Sanctuary is connected to Muthanga and to the Nagarhole National Park in Karnataka, and is an integral part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. Flanked by towering mountain ranges on all four sides, Tholpetty covers an area of 345 SqKm. The sanctuary’s deciduous forest cover, rich in bio-diversity, is home to 900-odd wild elephants, apart from numerous other species of animals. Location : It is 24 km east of Mananthavady and 8 km west to Negerhole National park. How to reach : By air: Kozhikode Airport – 120 km, By rail: Kozhikode – 96 km, By road: KSRTC buses connect Tholpetty with all nearby towns. Sights around : Thirunelli temple, which is 32 kms from Mananthavady, Kuruva Island which is at 17 kms distance and Pakshipathalam which is 7.5 kms form Thirunelli. Safari in Tholpetty : Available with entry from 7 am to am and 3pm to 5pm (Best season November to May)
3. Edakkal Caves
The Edakkal Caves are Wayanad’s pride, with prehistoric drawings and writings telling us about the earliest men to settle here. The caves can be reached by a flight of steps carved in stone, winding their way around the rocks which seem to have been piled one on top of the other by some unknown hand. They stand as they did centuries earlier, is cause for wonder, but even more wondrous is the thought of ancient man clambering up these rocks to reach a safe haven in the cave at such a height.These are not caves the like the caverns formed in mountains, but a fissure, formed in the mountain, over which a rock has fallen, forming a cave-like structure. The sides of the fissure are covered with engraved figures, representing humans, animals, and various other shapes. These caves were discovered by the British superintendent of the Malabar, F.Fawcett, in 1896. At that time, the lower parts of the cave were covered by moss, which was then removed to reveal the engravings in their entirety. Recent research has estimated that the engravings here are from different periods, from 5000 BC to 1000 BC, making them the oldest in the region! The return path is slightly easier, as the tourism department has replaced the stone steps with steel ones which lead all the way down. The Edakkal caves are located at a distance of 25 Km from Kalpetta.
4. Kuruva Island
The Kuruva Island is a 950-acre protected river delta in the Kabini River in Wayanad. Maintained by the forest department, the island is home to a variety of flora and fauna, and is one of the most popular places in Wayanad. Access to the island is by a ferry from the mainland. This is no ordinary ferry, but a huge raft which is pulled across the river by hand! Ropes are strung across the river, on trees by the riverbank, and someone pulls us across by heaving on the rope! This is certainly the most adventurous part of the trip to the island. Most of the island is protected by barbed wire, but a path has been created on which we are allowed to walk and experience a bit of the wilderness.At spots, this path is just a log placed across a stream or the backwaters of the river, which only adds to the experience. Early mornings and evenings are the best time to spot birds here. If you are lucky, you might even spot one of the crocodiles in the river. Sighting of bigger animals is extremely rare. One of the biggest attractions of Kuruva Island is also the typical Kerala Sadhya available on the mainland where we take the ferry. Sadhya is the typical feast of Kerala, served on a banana leaf. The food has to be ordered before you go to the island, so that it can be readied by the time you return. During weekends and holidays, these places can get quite crowded, but the food is excellent! Both, vegetarian and non-vegetarian food is available. Kuruva Island is about 35 Km from Kalpetta
5. Thirunelli Temple
One of the oldest temples in Wayanad, Thirunelli Temple is named after a tree. After all, the Lord manifested himself in a tree here! As the legend goes, Brahma was flying over these hills when he stopped to rest, attracted by the lush greenery and the cool river flowing through. Here, on the trunk of a Nelli or Amla (Gooseberry) tree, he saw the image of Lord Vishnu and established the first temple here. Later, Shiva too stopped here to meditate in a cave nearby, and the shrine was blessed by the presence of the divine trinity. It is believed even today that the last prayer of the day is offered by Lord Brahma himself! The mountain stream passing by the temple is considered especially sacred, and scores of pilgrims come here to offer prayers to their ancestors. The temple is built in the typical Kerala style, with tiled roofs. A local ruler began building a stone structure, but he was interrupted by a war, and a few pillars stand in solitude in memory of the attempt. An impressive structure from that period is an aqueduct, bringing water from the hill streams to the temple. More than the temple, it is its location which is a lot more interesting. The route to the temple takes us through a dense jungle, filled with the calls of birds. The drive is a pleasant one, and the temple is still peaceful and serene in spite of the pilgrim crowds which throng the place. Additional information: The Thirunelli Temple is located at a distance of about 60 km from Kalpetta. There are regular buses from Kalpetta to the temple.
6. Janardhana Temple
By the side of the road through a coffee estate, near Panamaram, lie the ruins of an ancient temple. Most people believe it to be a Jain Temple, since there are other Jain shrines in the region. This, however, isn’t a Jain shrine, but a Hindu one. It is the Janardhana Temple, dedicated to Lord Vishnu, the one who cares for all living beings. It is also one of the most ancient temples in Wayanad, dating back to the Vijayanagar Empire. Today, the temple is empty, and most of its pillars have fallen. A closer look reveals that most of the sculptures are intact. There are multiple depictions of the Dashavatar―the ten incarnations of Vishnu, as well as many of Lord Rama and Hanuman. The carving is intricate and detailed, and it is a sad sight to see the plight they are in. Even sadder is the fact that the temple isn’t recognised for what it is―a gem in the crown of Wayanad. Additional information: The Janardhana Temple is located in a coffee estate near Panamaram, about 20 km from Kalpetta. This temple is right on the road from Kalpetta to Kuruva Island, so you can just make a short stop on the way.
7. Jain Temple, Sultan Bathery
The Jain temple in Sultan Bathery in inextricably linked to the name of the town. It is said that Tipu Sultan, trying to evade the British, came here and hid in the dense forests, building up his army to recover his kingdom. He took over the local Jain Temple and converted it into a warehouse for storing his ammunition. The temple went on to resemble a fortification, and the town a battery, and thus came to be known as the Sultan’s Battery. The Jains themselves had come here to these hills, escaping from religious plains, and here they had found a haven. They constructed many temples, of which only a few remain today. The temple at Sultan Bathery is among the oldest, and most intricate. It is now maintained by the ASI, and no prayers are held here. The idol has been moved to a newer temple, and the sanctum is empty. Every year, on Mahavir Jayanti, the idol is brought back to the temple in a procession, and prayers are held on a grand scale. Those are the only times the temple comes alive. Look out for the intricate work on the pillars, depicting the rise of humans to divine status, as well as an elaborate Nagamandala―a snake twisted around itself, forming a pattern beautifully illustrated in stone. Ask the caretaker for a tour. He is an enthusiastic man who performs the duty of a guide. Sultan Bathery is about 31 km from Kalpetta and the temple is on the main road. It is open from 9 am to 5 pm, the duty hours of the caretaker.
8. Phantom Rock
Massive rocks rise from the rice fields and the plantations of Wayanad, as if someone had carefully placed them there for decoration. The most recognizable among them is one pile of rock near Ambalavayal, called Phantom Rock. The pile of rocks gets its name from the shape of the rock at the top, which resembles a head. Seen from far away, and seemingly looking on at the surroundings, it is a strange yet beautiful sight. This clump of rocks stands guard over the valley leading to the Edakkal Caves, and is clearly visible from the caves. The rocks are probably older than the caves themselves, which is probably why there are scores of legends referring to the rocks as being placed by the gods themselves! The Phantom Rock is located near Ambalavayal, about 30 Km from Kalpetta, en route to the Edakkal Caves.
9. Adventure Sports
Wayanad is known for its adventure activities, thanks to its terrain. You can hire a bicycle and take a ride along the well-maintained roads. Wayanad is the least populated among all the districts of Kerala, so if you love cycling, this is the place to be! When it comes to trekking, there are options galore. You can walk into the jungles or choose to climb mountains. The Chembra Peak is the most popular among trekkers. The route as well as the view is worth the effort! Rock climbing is one of the newer adventure sports gaining popularity here. While most of these activities are for adults and need some level of experience, there are other options for amateurs and children. Many resorts as well as adventure sports organizations provide opportunities for trying out adventure activities in the safe environs of the resorts. Most popular among them is zip lining, usually between two huge trees, across a stream! Two rivers are the lifeline of Wayanad―Kabini and Vythiri. With the hilly terrain they flow over, they also offer excellent options for adventure, such as river rafting. Rafting over the rapids is only possible during the monsoons, when the river is in full flow. Then there are age and safety restrictions to be followed obviously due to the danger involved. During other seasons, however, you can enjoy rafting down the river at a steady and relaxed pace, enjoying the scene as well as the experience. These are the typical rafts used by the locals―bamboos strung together to form the raft and one long pole used as a punt. These rafts are managed by the local boys who are familiar with each and every curve in the river and it is the best way to explore this side of Wayanad. If you are truly adventurous, you can even jump into the water and swim alongside the raft!
10. Pazhassi Raja
Among the more recent stories of Wayanad, there is none more popular or inspiring than the story of Pazhassi Raja. A member of the royal family of Kottayam, he was one of the earliest freedom fighters of India who fought against the British East India Company, refusing to accept their rule. The company ousted him from his palace but he found sanctuary in the hills of Wayanad and continued to battle the company. He was eventually killed here in 1805 and buried at Mananthavady, where his tomb still stands and has become a tourist attraction after a film was made in Malayalam based on his life. Deep inside the forest are also some of his forts, which can only be visited with help from the locals, since none of them are well known. Pazhassi Raja’s tomb is located in Mananthavady about 37 Km from Kalpetta.
11. Forest shrine
Much of Wayanad is forest land, and till recently, tribal were a major part of its population. There still remain some tribal pockets deep inside the forests, though most of them have converted to modern ways of living. Their comfort level with forest and nature, however, continues to be their strongest point, and their knowledge of the jungle has led to many of them being employed by the forest department. Conversations with these locals can lead to interesting outcomes, such as walking into the jungle and visiting an ancient forest shrine, or getting to see some animal up close in its natural habitat. One such forest shrine is located on the bank of the river opposite the Kuruva Island. It is a simple shrine built with bamboo, and is only opened for prayers on specific days. It occupies a small clearing in the forest and is incredibly peaceful and serene. Additional information: It is highly recommended to enter the forest with a forest dept official or one of the local guides. It is inadvisable to explore this region alone.