Monday 7 March 2011

Wayanad- Chembra and Meenmutty


Wayanad – the best location for treks in Kerala. If you love jungles there are numerous options – Thirunelly, Tholpetty are just a few places where you can’t get through without a wild animal -deer, gaur, elephant- encounter. I visited Wayanad in July, 2009 during a heavy floods season – the biggest floods since 1952. Monsoon is the wrong time to go for a trek to Chembra peak- a major goal this time. Inspired by Sandeep’s trekalog-  Megha and I zeroed in at Chembra peak trek in Wayanad after considering Pakshipathalam and Thrunelly jungle trek options.

As we wanted to experience the backpacking thrill, I firmed up to take mass transport to Wayanad. Another reason was that Bandipur forest will be closed from 9 pm and 5 am and driving through Bangalore-Mysore-Bandipur-SulthanBathery is not possible on a Friday evening.  So I booked tickets to Kalpetta on a KSRTC Airavat Volvo bus for a cost of Rs 400/- per seat.
ValleyView Avenue Homestay at Kanthanpara, Rippon, Meppadi, Wayanad (Rs 2500/- including breakfast, dinner) is one of the most recommended homestays in Wayanad. You may contact Jinoy  at 04936 280550/09349423910 to book your rooms. Jinoy was exceptionally helpful to book return tickets from Kalpetta to Bangalore as KSRTC Airavat did not have a boarding point on the way back at Kalpetta. He will organize local transport to pick and drop you to various points from the home stay at a cost of Rs 1200/-

We were at Shanthinagar bus station at 8:30pm to board the 9:45pm bus mitigating the risk of Bangalore traffic snarls on Friday evenings. While waiting  for the bus I sneaked into the Sri Lankan stories from Megha’s  New Year trip, it was 10:30pm when we boarded the bus...with just two backpacks, we were looking like experienced backpackers at the bus station amidst a crowd of passengers and bundle of huge luggage. As 4:30am was ETA to reach Kalpetta, I appealed the bus staff to stop at Kalpetta and wake me up.

4:30am at a small town in Kerala was not eventful  but well lit up with a few newspaper boys. Jinoy and his helper Joby reached in a Maruti Omni van to the town in 30min to pick us. Valley View Avenue was true to the name as it was an excellent place amidst the coffee estates and overlooking Soochippara  waterfalls, though thick fog was covering the waterfalls mostly.
After a short nap and breakfast, we were ready to visit Meenmutty falls- the biggest in Wayanad-which was around 20km from Rippon. As we take the Meppadi-Vaduvanchal road, take a left turn at Vaduvanchal to visit Meenmutty falls. Once we pay Rs 300/- for upto 5 people, a guide will lead us to the foot of the falls. Vana Samrakshana Samithi ( Forest Conservation Forum) will ensure that you don’t carry even one ounce of plastic with you and if you want to carry a plastic bottle you will have to deposit Rs 100/- with the VSS staff as a security refund. Being in the anti-plastic crusade I gave unsolicited advice to Jinoy and Joby against mineral water bottles and plastic usage. They were pleasantly surprised that we were carrying enough water with us filled from the home stay.  The trek distance to falls is less than 2km but it was not an easy terrain and the VSS had tied some ropes at the most difficult and precarious trails inside the jungle. Being a Saturday a crowd of 50+ people were present at the waterfall premises but alcohol consumption or nudity  was not there that I have seen at most of the falls in Karnataka. So this place is recommended for women travellers.

After spending almost an hour at different perspectives of the falls and capturing the beauty through the camera lens, we started hiking back through a different route. A tad more difficult but less crowded route was heavily blood pumping after a while. On the way back, we found a shack selling water melon, butter milk to quench our thirst and rest a while. Gooseberry preserved in salt water brought me primary school memories as I used to buy the same for 2 paisa per piece in 1984! We headed to Bathery town boarding a local private bus to have lunch and visiting 13th century Jain Temple was the agenda. Edakkal caves was closed for restoration and Pookote Lake was not feasible as it would be closing at 5pm. Megha was  amused at the bell and thread infrastructure in the local private bus to communicate between the bus driver and door keeper to start and stop, and I realised that this mechanism is unique to buses in Kerala.

12th century Jain temple (8am-6pm) with marvelous stone carvings reminded me some of the history lessons from school and though not a big complex, this ancient temple and the tranquil premises were well kept by ASI (Archaeological Survey of India). The snake puzzle on the temple pillar was not easy to solve and I carried back a photograph of the same to solve it later. We were absorbed by a light drizzle in the evening and travelling back in a local private bus and KSRTC bus was the best way to experience the local culture.

Visiting Kanthanpara falls very close to the home stay was another exhilarating experience as well pillion riding with Joby on his motorbike. Joby’s culinary skills welcomed us in the evening with snacks/tea and with a sumptuous dinner in the night. Watching Soochipara falls from the balcony and enjoying the piping hot tea made this home stay worth every buck we pay.

Next day morning, after a few photo-ops of the morning fog, we packed our breakfast and reached the entrance of Chembra peak by 8:30am, thanks to Jinoy for dropping us. After paying Rs 500/- (up to 10 people) and guided by the VSS staff we started our trek to Chembra peak carrying a hefty breakfast in our daypacks. Started at 9am and by 11am we were at Hridaya Saras- heart shaped lake. Breaking our trek for breakfast and finding a cool and shady spot inside the jungle we relished puttu and kadala curry with our guide. The bananas from Jinoy’s backyard were cherry on the cake.  After fueling ourselves we started on a slow pace to complete the trek with a target of reaching the peak at 12:30. The weather was near perfect as the clouds kept the scorching sun hidden most of the day and the cool breeze kept sweating away. Guide was sceptical about reaching the peak and was a little discouraging, as he kept on asking if we are retiring half-way. VSS should appoint more encouraging staff as guide who does not hurry or discourage the trekking enthusiasts who come to Chembra peak. He was boasting about foreigners completing the trek in 5hours and he was proud of the fact that generally people will go back from Hridays Saras and I think he was expecting us to do the same so that he can reach back for his afternoon siesta. Being the highest reachable peak in Kerala and South India, this peak is also the highest peak at 6890 feet sans the Himalayas is easily reachable on foot. 

After 4 hours, at 1pm we reached the peak and that was a sense of achievement scaling the last 3 peaks in one hour.  We enjoyed the beauty for 30 min on top of Chembra peak and started trekking down in a while. By 4pm, we reached the foothills and we met Jinoy and Joby on our way to the main gate. After a short eat of bread and the left over kadala-curry, we had an early dinner and was ready to leave ValleyView Avenue home stay and the mesmerizing lofty mountain and deep valleys of Wayanad by 9pm in the night. Our extremely gracious hosts dropped us back to Kalpetta town to board a Kallada bus to Bangalore and the trip came to an end next day morning at 6am once we reached the concrete jungles of the IT city.