Saturday 31 August 2013

Wayanad- where the jungle meets resorts

Early morning view of Chembra Peak from Kalpetta Town
Wayanad still retains the innocence and culture of farmers. People & culture perspective, it may be the best place in Kerala. Women are safe in public and people respect each other. When asked a gentleman not to smoke in a public place, he obliged without any hesitation. Bus drivers and conductors helped us to reach our destinations. Mass tourism has not spoiled the economy and ecology. But climate has changed in the last decade owing to the rampant construction depleting the green cover.

Ernad express is a good bet for anyone on the coastal south Kerala to reach Wayanad. Starting at 2am from Nagercoil, this 'day' train reaches Calicut (Kozhikode) at 12.30 pm. We boarded from Cherthala at 7 am (216 km, 6 hrs, Rs.85). From Calicut railway station a short ride by private bus will take you to the 'puthiya' (new) bus stand, circumventing Mananchira square and pond. A 3hr ride from Calicut to Vythiri turns adventurous a little after Thamaraserry. Thamaraserry 'churam' (ghats road) is a very famous road known for hairpin bends and described in the Malayalam movie Vellanakalude Nadu by Kuthiravatham Pappu. Once you reach Vythiri, you see hoardings everywhere about resorts - green, silver, view - all of them sound the same.

Kalpetta is the district center and there is no place called Wayanad in Wayanad district. For a budget backpackers' accommodation Kannur Ayurveda Center, Emily Road, Kalpetta (tel: 9495260535, dbl Rs.600, run by doctor couple Vinod and Jeeja. Excellent home made food will be served in your room Rs.60/meal. An hour long ayurveda massage Abhyangam costs Rs.700. The whole body is massaged with Dhanyatharam Kozhampu nourishes skin and provides quick relief from travel fatigue. 

Roaming around any part of Wayanad is possible from Kalpetta, as there are plenty of buses, except Tholpetty, Thirunelly and Pakshipatalam. It is better to stay at Mananthavady for these wildlife destinations.We did a trip to Pulpally taking a bus from Batheri (Rs.19, 1hr, 25km) via Chetalaya - where there is a temple dedicated to Seetha, Lava and Kusha. This is an interesting route amidst teak forest with a few tribal settlements at Irulam. 

We met Biju Joy's mother and brother at Marappanmoola, a short ride by bus from Pulpally Bus Stand. Panamaram is a low lying area in Wayanad which gets flooded during heavy rains die to its proximity to a tributary of Kabini River. Pallikannu church near Kambalakkadu is a favourite pilgrimage spot. We had a friend Biju George at Sarvodaya school, Echom teaching there. Both Biju Joy and Biju George studied with me at St.Xavier's college, Thumba.

Rain Soaked Tea Estates at Vythiri

Uravu Bamboo Heritage Centre  ( is 45 min from Kalpetta (Rs.12). Uravu promotes social enterprises based on value addition of local, natural resources, especially bamboo. This bus goes up to Mukkamkunnu, Meppadi is just 7km  through  tea estates and an interesting ride if you have own vehicle. Buses don't go beyond Mukkamkunnu. 

Blooms Green Farm:
Take a turn to Kenichira at Beenachi from NH212 between Batheri and Meenangadi. This route can lead to either Pulpally or Mananthavadi. Kenichira is a small town and Blooms Green Farm is 10min walk from the town, tucked away in lush greenery. It boasts an organic farm, a bunch of animals including ten dogs and a vast pond (, Tel: 999 555 3377, 999 555 7733). They also have budget accommodation starting from Rs.750 a little distance away and camping location at Makkiyad. Proprietor Jonh Joseph is a real estate developer and work with developing time-sharing villas with eco-tourism concepts. He organises an yearly shuttle badminton tournament in December. While unwinding yourself doing nothing, you can indulge in the delicious meals or go for an elephant ride within the organic farm.

A famous Kannada song "viraha nooru nooru taraha" from a well known director Puttana Kanagal is from the movie "Edakallu Guddada Mele" translates on top of edakkal hill. It was through this movie I came to know of Edakkal caves in Wayanad. I was looking forward to visit this place, as I'd heard a lot about it. Visiting the Edakkal cave gave me a sense of accomplishment, apart from meeting all my expectations I had. Soochippara, Pookot Lake, Banasura Dam, Pazhassi Tomb are a few other tourist attractions in different directions. Board buses from Kalpetta bus stand to reach any of these locations.

Green moss clad entrance at Pazhassi Tomb

There is a scenic route from Wayanad to Ooty via Gudalur. Most people will guide you to take a bus from Bathery, but there are TN buses from Calicut to Ooty. You can take a KSRTC bus from Kalpetta to Meppadi and board the TN bus around 8am which reaches Ooty by 1pm via Vaduvanchal-Cherambadi-Gudalur. An alternate driving holiday to Munnar if your predilection is for tea estates.

To reach Wayanad from Mysore, the shortest route is through H.D.Kote-Bavali-Kartikulam-Mananthavady- closed between 6am-6pm. The only route open through the night is via Kutta. Many KSRTC (both KA and KL) buses ply on this route and it takes around 3hrs from Mysore to Mananthavady for Rs 105. You can stay at Kabini Tourist Home, Valliyoorkavu Rd  (04935 240611, 954426399 dbl Rs.400, tr Rs.500) very close to the bus station at Mananthavady. You can visit Thirunelly and Tholpetty from Mananthavady; Kuruva Island is closed to visitors currently.

Sunday 11 August 2013

Sivanasamudra, Talakadu, Somanthapura- a school trip

Ask any school student of our generation who studied in Government school where were they taken as part of one day trip, the answer would be Bluff, Talakadu and Somanathapura.A road trip to Mysore with my parents and sister – as the rains continued to flood North Karnataka. Though, we considered Hampi and other Northern part of Karnataka, we acquiesced on a two day road trip instead of taking a 14hr bus trip.
We did not want to take the usual Bangalore-Mysore route, instead chose to drive through Kanakapura. This route is well connected by ST buses to Kollegala and further to Coimbatore via Sathyamangalam. The first 25km or so might take one hour of driving and the traffic and roads are better beyond Kanakapura.

Close to 100km from Kanakapura, after driving through the villages of Mandya and crossing Malavalli, on NH 209, you will reach Belakavadi. The second hydroelectric power station in India, Shivanasamudra (sea of Siva) was established in 1902 across river Kaveri. Locally known as BLUFF this power plant has an interesting story. Dewan Seshadri Iyer constructed this dam to produce electricity for Kolar Gold Fields (KGF) where John Taylor Company was extracting gold for the British. But the Dewan was telling that electricity was meant for Mysore. The people did not believe this and called it a ‘bluff’, eventually electricity was supplied to KGF. Recently a 5MW Solar Power Plant is installed here. Two spectacular waterfalls – Gaganchukki and Bharachukki brought this place to tourism map. When we crossed the dam and solar power plant, we reached a parking lot near KSTDC Hotel. As we stepped down, we could see two separate waterfalls, assumed by many as Gaganchukki and Bharachukki at the same spot. Gaganchukki has two separate cascades at this location and Bharachukki is around 10km away inside an army cantonment driving past a temple and mosque. Be prepared to pay hefty parking fees and Grama Panchayat development fees en route. You will be flabbergasted at the volume of water and the width of the cascades at both these waterfalls.

During summer the quantity and force of water would be less and a few years ago, there was no security or a fence to stop you from going to bottom of the waterfalls. At Bharachukki, we have gone down to the bottom of waterfalls and played in the water, which no longer is possible. It was nice to hear the childhood stories from my father about how he had to carry my sister on his back uphill while returning.

Another 25km through T. Narsipura-Kollegal road takes you through the rural life of Karnataka. People literally sit on the road processing black lentil (whole Urad Dal) near the feilds. A long fly-over will bypass this small town in the future. T in T. Narsipura stands for Tirumakudalu - meaning the confluence of Kabini (Kapila), Kaveri and Spatika Sarovara – a mythical lake.

Talakadu: Ancient capital of Ganga dynasty and later captured by Cholas, Talakadu was important in Karnataka history. 28km from Sivanasamudra, Talakadu is part fiction and part facts. Talakadu had over 30 temples and this historically vibrant city got buried in sand, an ecological disaster linked to an inexplicable legend of ‘Curse of Talakad’. As the legends unfold, Raja Wodeyar of Mysore was ogling at a nose-jewel of Rani Rangamma of Vijayanagar family and proceeded against Talakadu. Rani Rangamma, throwing the jewel in to the Kaveri drowned herself uttering a three-fold curse. “Let Talakad become sand; let Malangi become a whirlpool; let the Mysore Rajas fail to beget heirs”. Another pious lady, Almelamma is also credited for this curse in some other legends.

We would slide down the sand and run up all the way to repeat the sliding on sand not bothering of scorching sun. The main temple complex cannot be visited now, as it is under renovation by ASI. Anyhow, around the temples there is nothing but sand. Fortunately, there is a shaded walkway around the temples in this desert like sand dune. Panchalinga Darshana occurs every 12years, next due in 2021. We spent our lunch time at the Kaveri riverside, which is a picnic spot.

Well maintained by ASI, Somanathapura is a fine example of Hoysala architecture, more quiet and peaceful than Belur and Halebid. Built using green schist, the Keshava temple has trikuta (triple shrine) with a vestibule connecting to the main rectangular mantapa, decorated with reliefs and friezes with pierced windows screens above them. All the three shrines are sixteen pointed stellate (star-shaped) in design and their towers follow the same pattern, which allow light from all directions to fall on this marvellous architecture.

Hop on and hop off KSRTC buses to visit these places in day and you can head to Bangalore or Mysore at the end of the day. You take a diversion from Bannur to either Mysore (25km) or Mandya (30km), if you are returning to Bangalore. If you are staying at Mysore, there are many new hotels on the K.R.S road if you don’t like to stay inside city. Inside the city, Hotel Dasprakash at Gandhi Square (Tel 0821-2442444, dbl Rs 780) is still better than the lot with ample car parking and a nice vegetarian restaurant. The Mysore Palace and Jayaramachandra Art Gallery is just 15min walk. Next morning after an obligatory visit to Brindavan Gardens and SriRangapatnam, we drove over thousands of speed breakers on Bangalore-Mysore state highway before reaching home.