Thursday, January 26th
I look at the roof and see nothing. It’s strange. Till now, I have never been conscious to greet the alarm, that first ring which has always been lost in mists of awakening. It will be a day for many firsts. The first road trip without adult supervision. The first day where we decide our own route. The first day where we have to be responsible for the fuel tank, for the food and a million other things yet to cross our minds. I think about the day ahead, with no intuition of its course. I look at the time, my heartbeat is a crescendo now.
4.30! The silence is broken by the shrill tune of my alarm. A delirious smile has broken on my lips and I jump out of bed.
The steam from the thatte idli fogs my glasses. The smell is heavenly, and the idli, when sliced, is smooth as butter. I am sitting in a shack of a place, my friends on either side, completely squeezed. There are people hovering around us, looking at us like hawks, ready to swoop in and occupy our seats. The hotel, for lack of a better word, is one of the many which make Bidadi famous as a pit stop for breakfast. If you are going to your destination via the SH-17 (Bengaluru-Mysore Highway), stopping for a Bidadi thatte idli will get you off to a perfect start.
The four of us are settled in the car. One is sitting in the front passenger seat, patiently trying candid photography, the second beside me, fiddling with the playlist. Another is at the back, dozing. The silence outside has wormed its way in.
We are passing through the Berambadi State Forest. It is barren, with varying shades of brown against the shock of a clear blue sky. The road is a dream, the route almost deserted. Signs of fire which must have raged through the land is evident, the trees a mere skeleton of their former selves. There is beauty here, if you chose to see it.
We are in the administrative office of the Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary, amidst the many people waiting for tickets. As the counters open, we rush towards it, recklessly pushing people out of our way in true Indian fashion. Turns out, we needn’t have bothered.
It is here, in the impossibly crowded ticket counter, that disappointment first greets us. Apparently, barging our way through the queue and being smug about it doesn’t help. The smart officials of the Sanctuary, well used to this behaviour, take down names of tourists well in advance (For the safari beginning at 1500 Hrs, an official had noted the names of the people already waiting in the office at 1415 Hrs).
So, a word of advice. Reach the place at least 45 minutes before the scheduled start of the safari and put down your names. Else, like us, you will be treated with a sneer at the ticket booth.
And no, we never got a chance to spot a wayward elephant in Muthanga Forest.
We are settled in the portico of Mist Valley, a serviced apartment and our choice of stay. Our host, a Mr. Sai, is treating us to a hospitable bout of conversation. There is pazam pori (Batter coated raw banana deep-fried and sweetened with honey) and a mug of steaming ginger tea in front of us. The chill is increasing hand in hand with the darkness. Sitting here, amidst acres of wild plantation, I realise what Silence truly is. This place is isolated, can be reached only through a treacherous mud road and adds to the romanticism of this trip.
I give a sigh. Finally, it sinks in. We made it, all of us. A sense of triumph, vastly disproportionate to our small achievement, but triumph nonetheless. We are in Wayanad.
Friday, January 27th
We are about to begin our trek up to Chembra Peak, a stretch which is 3-4 km one-way. Passes to begin the trek are issued at an office, where one can also hire a guide. We did.
The first kilometre is an easy walk amidst tea estates, the gentle welcome to ease you into what awaits ahead.
This gradually changes into a blossoming wilderness, and we are greeted by a magical canopy of moss-green trees. The entrance is truly enchanting, straight out of a fairy tale.
I look at it in anticipation, completely unprepared for what lies ahead.
My guide is valiantly trying to get me to move, coddling me. My buttocks, firmly seated in a crook of a rock, is unwilling to pay heed.
It is only one kilometre away, he says.
One kilometre! I inwardly scream in horror.
I try. I try like I have never tried before to spot the peak. Above me, all I see is boulders and not a hint of the peak my friends have long since scaled. It registers, somewhere in the middle of my violently protesting mind, that the scene around is worth all the unaccustomed exercise.
500 metres only Madam, the guide happily says.
Maybe this is the day I die.
It is a grassland now, a surprisingly easy stretch after the excruciatingly painful rock steps. Even my guide has gone ahead, giving up on me at last. And there, all of a sudden, it opens up. The sight for which my poor, untested body passed the trails. A quaint little lake, in the shape of a heart. And a little beyond, the cliff which guarded a sheer drop. You can see the city below, and much more. Nature assaults your senses in every way. The wind blew and caressed us, soothing away all the creaks in our joints. The mountain air was clean in a way only mountain air can be, a most wonderful change from the smoke of cities. The green is a blanket which covered our eyes all around.
It was worth it, I think again.
The trek downhill gave us the gift of many scrapes and bruises. Beware this trail during monsoons, you are bound to slip and fall in many places even without slippery rocks.
In all fairness, this trek, for a reasonably active person, is manageable without all the theatrics I experienced. Certain stretches are difficult and as such are not reason enough to miss one of the most beautiful experiences Wayanad has to offer. Trekking is not allowed after 2 in the afternoon, so be sure to plan this first thing in the morning.
We are at Banasura dam, and all our eyes can see is water. It is said to be the largest earth-dam in India and named after the son of King Mahabali. The view doesn’t disappoint, and if you are lucky, might get an opportunity for speed-boating. There is a stretch of tarred road leading to the dam which allows you to have a scenic stroll. The waters of River Karamanathodu, a tributary of River Kabini, is impounded here. If possible, do try to catch the setting sun.
Saturday, January 28th
I am sitting in a raft, being transported across the Kabini River. We are heading to the Kuruva Islands. There is magic in this place. It is an untamed jungle, untouched with anything unnatural. Everything here, including the fences, is sourced from some form of bamboo. There is a water spot tucked away in the middle somewhere, and the walk which leads up to it is indescribable. It is a must visit, especially during the summer. The water is astonishingly clean and clear, perfect for a cool dip to balance the increasing heat of the sun.
Pookode Lake is another favourite with the tourists. It’s a freshwater lake, which has strings of Blue Lilies growing near the lake bunds. We are taking the pedal boat, navigating towards the centre of the lake. In what has become a familiar sight, the surrounding is covered with a thick green foliage, seemingly impenetrable. The pink flowers make it all the more charming. As we make our way back, drops of rain ripple through the water. The clouds prophesied torrents. And sure enough, by the time we are seated in the car, it’s pouring ferociously outside.
Sunday, January 29th
As I sit down to eat breakfast with my friend, I recognize the already forming nostalgia. We head back home today, back to the realities of our common, everyday lives. The grass is always greener on the other side, and in this case, it is literally true. Our eyes had hardly witnessed any cement monstrosity for the past three days.
God’s Own Country, they say. And you realise the truth in it. Hospitality is ingrained, and tourism is in their blood. Absolute serenity, complete peace and quiet were what we experienced in this wonder of a town. As with any traveller returning home after an exciting odyssey, we had a certain heaviness in our hearts.
P.S: Kerala takes ecological implications of tourism quite seriously. Plastic is hardly seen and littering is rare. Dustbins dot almost all paths and the restrooms surprisingly clean. As a tourist, please respect the practises established by them. There is a reason the place is so green.