Tag Archives: Wayanad

Animal sightings, or how I don’t.

So it’s been a while since I’ve been around in the Peninsula and it’s been a long set of journeys to all points due North, South, East & West during this time. And some of these ramblings have taken me to places close to National Parks, reserve forests, forests or just areas where non-humaniod beings are wont to lurk. And in all these times I’ve seen a sum total of about 75 chital and 3 langurs. And going to Fringe Ford in Wayanad added a grand total of a cobra’s ass (or whatever herpetologists call it’s tail).

Considering that the rains that were missing all this while did the good thing and stepped in, I overlooked this total lack of congeniality on the part of the mammalian and avian families. Instead, I put my feet up, and took in all the peace and quiet that Fringe Ford had to offer. While I wouldn’t say Fringe Ford is at the back of beyond, the fact that the last 3 km took about 40 minutes says a lot. And I’m not talking about the 40 minutes it takes to go past Forum Mall on a weekend. It was a jeep ride that ended with 3 on-the-verge-of-vegetating travellers.

Till you start towards Fringe Ford from Talapuzha (yes it’s pronounced the same way rest of India can’t pronounce Kozhikode) and get to the edge of town, it does seem that you won’t be going too far from civilisation. To be honest I’ve been to places that have been further from civilisation than this, (Jainkhan is one, Coffee Valley is another). Somehow, this place makes you feel that you’re all alone. It might be the fact that there is room for 10 people at the most, and that the estate’s structure occupies a very small portion of the 520 acres at it’s disposal or just the fact that it’s hedged by the Wayanad Nilgiris on three sides that makes you feel that you’re now all alone and cosy.

View from Fringe Ford's dining area.

Because cosy it definitely is. Though the rains were not up to Wayanad’s sheet-of-water variety this season, it was drizzling quite a bit with the attendant misty weather. All in all perfect weather to curl up with a warm quilt – and Fringe Ford are generous with their quilts. Since I was the only one driving, the excellent lunch that was consumed mandate only one outcome – a siesta. Not that this program would’ve changed if there were other drivers. Meals at Fringe Ford has to be given it’s proper respect and should be followed by siesta.

I was with the Urban Yogi, and this plan was a last minute one. The only wrinkle in the otherwise perfect weekend was a 11 PM call the night before we left from our booking contact who asked if we were a family or group and how groups go to Fringe Ford and spoil the place. A charge dismissed by our host Mamooty (yes, that is his name). So if you’re booking, the site is Fringe Ford and call Hyderabad. We’d decided to stay on an extra day if we felt like it and just before we nodded off the first day, we ensured that Mamooty was clear that we’re going to lurk an extra day. That evening, after a hot plate of bhajjis with rain pouring down (the one time it did), we decided to re-acquaint ourselves with that salute to Capitalist greed, Monopoly. It was a while since we all played and the official rules were all junked in favour of the Indian version that we’d all played when we were kids. Yogi’s cousin who is at an impressionable age, was impressed by the Yogi to sell some really lucrative real estate which ensured that she lost. The next day when we played again, said Cousin having learnt that the world of grown ups is a screwy one where one can’t even trust cousins any more, extracted her revenge by ensuring that the Yogi went bankrupt.

Besides getting back to board games and reading up – there is a small but satisfying library – there are quite a few treks that Mamooty can rustle up. Mamooty himself is quite a renaissance man. There are furniture and art works that he’s made in bamboo and metal; he is quite the ornithologist, is a foodie himself and manages to run the place. We were assigned a cheerful lieutenant, Shaji, however. He took us on a short trek – which is when the snake almost-sighting occurred – through a thoroughly leech infested area of the estate to a hillock nearby. This one had a watch tower at some point in history, but geography has ensured that there is none now. Shaji told us that the wind brought it down, and though it was made of stone and mortar, the wind blowing there lent credence to that story. He also mentioned the fact that there was a middle-aged tiger that was sighted within the confines of the estate. This was of course after we’d left the safety of the compound. The view from this hillock is quite spectacular and we can see quite a bit off into Wayanad. We also saw bison on a distant hillock. So yeah, you can add those to my animal sightings. Though it seemed kind of like how Columbus would’ve seen America. Not at all.

If it’s not wet, there is a small machan, just behind the compound that you can climb up and watch birds from. Quite a lot of birds make their home in the estate, especially the Malabar Pied Hornbill. The climb to the machan would be slightly on the vertiginous side, but is worth it. However, since we’d gone in the middle of monsoon and it was raining, all we saw was beautiful mist from there.

Since I’ve been going on and on about the place with nary a glimpse of photos, here are some from the other member of the League of Extraordinary Travellers, as I am still too lazy to go develop mine. Be that as it may, since The Missus was not with me this time, another round of food and place appreciation is on the cards. Maybe then I’ll get to see the whole snake. And some chital.

Missing Crowds

An indication of long weekends is the huge traffic jam outside of Kamat Lokaruchi on Mysuru Road. I’m sure there are indicators on Hosur Road, Hyderabad Road, Old Madras Road, New Madras Road, Tumkur Road – you get the drift. Since travelling with the Usual Suspects usually involved bolting awake at 05.30 and out of the house in 15 mins, we usually missed this mass grazing where assorted mothers, fathers, screaming kids and frazzled grandparents converge. I’m glad to say that The Missus and I missed this too.

We were on our way to Wayanad – new Palace Hotel beckoned, but that itch was left unscratched. This time we checked into Edakkal Hermitage near Edakkal (and hence the name) and stayed put. Considering the hordes that have now invaded Bengaluru; Wayanad and Kerala are no longer out of bounds for anyone. Getting there is not a problem, in fact, I believe going to Wayanad is probably the only route out of Bengaluru that is guaranteed not to jar your bones during any stretch of the journey. Any travel to the West coast involves travelling through the ravines that go under the name of NH 17 and the Charmadi Ghats. Ditto anything beyond Chikkamagaluru town. Getting to Coorg is now an excellent excuse to off road. OK, so maybe getting to Pondi is tad better.

Morning in Wayanad.

We teamed up with the New, Usual, Suspects. Getting out and away was a breeze. It took us just a tad over 5.5 hours to get to Edakkal. Considering I drive a trusty, but slow ride, this is more a testament to the roads than the said ride. Most folks know the way to Bandipur so there is not much to say for that. You follow the same route till Gundulpet, and turn where the “good” road turns right for Wayanad. There used to be a hotel just outside Gundulpet that didn’t advertise itself as a hotel. Instead it had a huge board that said Clean Toilets Here. Considering that there was nothing since you passed Mysuru and now, most folks stopped there. You could see it from all the skid marks. It used to serve decent, vegetarian fare. This has now passed into the hands of some solid meat eating Mallus and now serves decent, non-vegetaran fare. The toilets, though, are still clean enough.

Due to the rains early in March, the weather in the hills of Edakkal was very pleasant. The folks at Edakkal were very helpful and unobtrusive. Two diametrically opposite traits that they managed very well. The Edakkal Hermitage is spread on the lower foothills of the Edakkal caves. A word of advice would be to skip the caves if you’re travelling over the weekend. There are hordes of idiotic software types from Bengaluru, with overly enthusiastic local school and college kids who tend to cause a jam on the way up to the caves and further towards the peak. If at all the weekend is all you can have, then try it early Sunday morning when there’s likely to be lesser crowd.

All in all, Edakkal gives you solid value for money. For those who are more snobbily inclined, Vythiri has lots of places that can help you contribute heavily to the GDP of that area and said resorts. Problem is resort development in Vythiri has gone a little amok. With too many of them around, you can then soak in the atmosphere you gave a miss at the Kamat Lokaruchi. Or you can stick to Edakkal and miss all the crowds.

Tourists & Trekkers

I love cities. I love living in one. I love my job. Hmmm… I guess that was little too unbelievable. But it’s true. I really do. It makes me appreciate the long weekends that I can wrangle. I especially love it when I can get an extra day off, and take a 4 day vacation and loose only one day in leave.

Visions of appam and beef fry that I enjoyed last Christmas at my roomie’s place in Kerala were still fresh in my mind. And my stomach. So Kerala it was; twice in the past 2 months. Republic Day saw me heading Wayanad-wards. We’d (one of The Usual Suspects and I) decided to stay here for a couple of days, and head on down further south towards. But, then when inveterate journey-is-the-destination kinda travelers travel, all plans where thrown out of the window the moment we crossed Muthanga and drove towards Bathery (Sultan Battery for all of you imperialists). This district – and not a specific place – is one of the lesser explored parts of Kerala. Those 4 days were absolute bliss, and then I found about about Chembra and how you can trek there. So I decided to come back and do it one of these days. Well, the weekend of 11th & 12th March, found me doing just that. To be honest, I don’t think Wayanad is something that can be covered in 2 days. There are too many places of interest for the regular tourist and gawkers. There are a couple of treks there. Chembra I mentioned, and another one close by called Vallarimala. I would really have loved to camp there. But then not everything can go one’s way, now can it?

If you are in Bangalore, then the way to get to Wayanad is Mysore, onwards from there towards Gundulpet/Ooty. Just after the Gundulpet police check post the NH 212 heads towards Calicut. A little into the drive and you hit some beautiful countryside. Now this is what I call the problem of plenty. If you start from Bangalore early in the A.M., then you would reach here sometime in the afternoon. This is, of course, considering that you are not one of those who like to leave sonic booms in your wake. If you start out late at night – midnight is suggested – then you will get to Muthanga around day break. And watching the sun come up from the trees is a sight to behold. This route is by far the fastest way to get to Wayanad. There are other routes. When I’d travelled in January, Lonely Planet’s India & Bangladesh road atlas suggested there was an alternate route from Mysore. We spent about 20 minutes trying to find it and then gave up.

The remnants of a Jain Temple at Sultan Bathery.

Bathery provides you with the assorted lodges and The Resort. At INR 500 for a double room, it is definitely a place to stay. For all those “bleddy alkoholiks” it also has a bar attached. In fact all the places I stayed had a bar attached. The Resort’s bar is one of those gloomy places where the accent is on how much you can consume rather than providing you with any sort of ambience. Bathery is the place to stay if you want to explore the Edakkal Caves. Or rather cave. Umm… make that rock fall. This has some Stone age carvings, and a treat of a view if you climb a little further from the rock fall where the carvings are. Oh, did I mention a climb? It is a very short climb, but it is steep as heck. It also has the Edakkal Hermitage. If nothing, this establishment sits on some excellent real estate. It is a collection of 8 cottages (INR 3300) and 2 tree houses(INR 3900). I didn’t verify if the tree houses were suitable for adult entertainment. By the way, if you want to enjoy the view and the carvings get there well before 16.30. They don’t allow folks to climb after that. Bathery is also close to the Wayanad Heritage Museum in Ambalavayal, the excavations at Muniyara and some more spots.

A peak into the caves at Edakkal, Wayanad.

The drive from Bathery to Kalpetta is excellent. You pass through some excellent scenery, and it is quite easy to become part of it. Enthralled as you will be with the passing flora, keep an eye out for that peculiar fauna, the Kerala bus drivers. Unlike other fauna, it is not at all territorial. It just assumes that the entire road belongs to it. The problem is that the NH 212 that goes to Calicut is in excellent condition (circa early 2006), and it just begs you to cruise.

Lonely Planet suggests that Kalpetta is the central place to stay. It is definitely the place where there are more hotels to stay. Kalpetta is like a junction. You can go further South-west towards Vaithyri or go North-East towards the Tholpetty Nature Reserve. This Nature reserve along with Muthanga is part of the Bandipur, Mudumulai & Kudremukh parks. Kalpetta is also where you can stay at the PPS Lodge (INR500) a short walk away from the New Palace Hotel. Now I must pause here. And savour the taste of the puttu, appam, ackora fry and beef fry that New Palace serves up. And if two people gorge there, they can run up a princely bill of 75 to 85. Strongly suggested pit stop place.

From Kalpetta, the Sentinel or Soochipara waterfalls are about 18 kms. The falls it self is not all that great. And besides, I never did understand the fascination with waterfalls. Be that as it may, when I went the second time around, my entire group spent rapturous times there. Some adventurous souls did try and climb behind the falls. But saner sense prevailed. You can drive up to a km. away from the falls. Then there is this descent to the falls proper. Try and get here in the evenings. The sunsets are great. Plus, to get to the falls, you take a diversion off the NH 212 at Chundale, from where the road winds through tea & coffee estates and to sound repetitive, you have to stop and look at what is spread out in front of you. We stopped at one point, where the tea estates with the high mountains in the back drop offered excellent views. Turns out that the estate has donated that spot along with around 10 acres for a college. Now that is what I call conducive environs for academics!

Because we came in this big group, the first day, we only had time to go to Pookote lake and Soochipara falls. Pookote is a bit further away past Vythiri. The lake itself is not all that big, but it is clean. You have your regulation boating along with a very interesting walk around the lake itself. I would suggest taking the walk. This is also seems to be a very popular place for all the schools around the area. Both the times I went, it had hordes of kids all over the place! Night was spent at the Haritagiri (750 to 1500INR). It has a swimming area – that is claimed to be a pool. Not to mention a little chlorine-loving pool keeper. My eyes watered like heck after half-an-hour of swimming. The next day was the trek.

A silvery sunset at the Chembra, near the heart-shaped lake.

Now a lot of our group probably didn’t expect the trek to be so tough. And it is not. Chembra looks formidable. The trick is to keep climbing. That is what Vikas, constant companion on the trek, and I did. It is spread out in a series of climbs followed by a plateau like area. As you reach one plateau, you see that the next climb is steeper. It is only when you start climbing it that you find out that it is actually quite easy. Because the grass grows in some sort of steps, if you keep off the beaten path, it offers you excellent grip. And once you reach the top, the views are to die for. Chembra also is along Soochipara way, so the trek proper starts from a tea estate. You need forest department permission to climb and to camp. There is a peculiar feature on Chembra after the second plateau. There is a heart-shaped lake there which gives you excellent grounds to camp. The heart-shapeness (OK, that word is made up) is not evident unless you climb further up. We started our climb around mid-morning, and the sun was harsh enough to sun-burn the delicate skins of some (read women). The ideal trek would be to get up to the lake around night fall, set up camp and climb at the break of dawn. Since I didn’t do that, it means, I have yet another trip to make. Sigh. Nevertheless, this day trip was worth the effort. And a lot of us did make an effort. While there were still others, who ensured that a lot of Chembra stuck to their jeans when they got down. They shall remain un-named.

Now here is the kicker. Wayanad seems to make you want to stay back. One way to return is via Mananthvadi and the Tholpetty Wildlife Sanctuary. This is where I spent a soporific 90 minutes driving through the park for about 450. At the end of which, the guide helpfully pointed out that the best time to come to the park is on a Tuesday between March and mid May. This is when you are most likely to spot a Panthera tigris. The cost structure is 350 for the jeep – if you are not driving your own – 50 for a guide and 20 for still cameras.

So for those of you with 3 days to spare, check out this part of God’s Own Country. But don’t make any plans, and you will find out what they mean when they say that the journey is the destination.