Wayanad is a district in the north-east of Kerala with headquarters at the town of Kalpetta.
If you’re willing to drive 260 kms from Bengaluru, the small town of Wayanad in northeastern Kerala offers lofty ridges and a rugged terrain interspersed with dense forests, tangled jungles, and deep valleys of the Western Ghats. The Kabini river flows through this area, and its beauty is further enhanced by the amazing waterfalls, tea plantations, and reserve forest. In the movie Madagascar, when Marty the zebra says he wants to go see ‘the wild’, his friend Alex the lion scoffs at him. If you, too, have an urge to go to ‘the wild’, make your way to Wayanad, never mind if you have a friend like Alex. Ditch him, or, better still, drag him with you to this pretty hill station in the north-east of Kerala where the stay options are just as interesting as the attractions.
Nothing gets wilder here than Fringe Ford, a tiny property tucked away deep in the jungle. The owners of this 520-acre resort have left most of it untouched save for the space used to build the five rooms, a kitchen and an open dining area.
There are no tarred roads leading up to the property, so you have to leave your car at Thalapoya town and make the last 10-odd kilometres by jeep. But it’s here that you can hear the forest breathe. The alarm calls by sambar deer, alerting fellow creatures to tigers on the prowl, tuskers trampling trees in their path, curious deep- throated coos of the mountain imperial pigeon are all sounds you become familiar with over the course of your stay here. Chase these sounds (not the animals and certainly not by yourself) on an easy trek to the local waterfall or a challenging one to the watchtower high atop a hill.
Or, borrow a pair of binoculars from the guide and park yourself in one of the easy chairs under the mango tree outside your room. From your perch, you’ll spot a Malabar giant squirrel scampering up and down a tree in front of you, while, to your right, a flock of minivets flies past you, and, within touching distance, a wagtail hops across the lawn stopping now and then to do its funny butt shake.
If you don’t fancy being quite so cut-off, Dhanagiri Homestay, a simple but cosy property set within a 30-acre coffee plantation offers just as much tranquillity but in not-so-wild surrounds. It’s run by the affable Anand Mampetta and his ever- smiling staff consisting of locals, who are efficient without being intrusive. Ask the cook, who’ll emerge from the kitchen at mealtimes to ensure you’re eating enough, to show you how to make that puttu or the ‘nice pathiri’ (rice chapatti, called ‘nice’ simply because it is so), and she’ll cheerfully oblige. Anand will also arrange for a trek within the property, which is slightly steep, but also exhilarating especially when you reach the top and look down to see the fog chasing you. Another activity, which is easier on your knees, is bamboo rafting on the nearby Vythiri River (00 91 9544201249; muddyboots.in, info@ muddyboots.in; starting point: Pozhuthana [2km from Dhanagiri Homestay]; Rs. 1,500/ raft, maximum five people). You clamber onto a massive bamboo raft and plonk yourself down on makeshift seats, as the boatman rows you down the river using a tall bamboo pole. You can try it too!
But if you’re in Wayanad for the famous Edakkal Caves, Edakkal Hermitage is where you should stay. Located some 600m from the caves, the property is beautifully designed, with cottages sitting amiably among giant boulders and pathways carved out of stone. A family picnic is in order, and if you’re the outdoorsy type, Wayanad Silverwoods (wayanadsilverwoods.com) offers guided bird watching, trekking, tribal village visits, fishing, and boating tours to guests.
The cottages stay cool even when it’s stifling outside, thanks to the dozen trees shading them, and come with utterly comfortable beds, which you’ll be thankful for after climbing the 300-odd steps to reach the caves. The prehistoric caves are stunning, to say the least. Get there early to see slices of sunlight illuminate the floor as you stand around gaping at the engravings of dogs, deer, carts and humans, including one of a rather curvy dancer (9am – 4pm, Mon closed; Rs. 20 adult, Rs. 10 child, guide free). All of Wayanad’s delights are centred around nature and all three properties promise to bring you closer to them. Take your pick.
Closest metro: Bangalore (272km)
Closest city: Kozhikode (86km)
Closest airports: Kozhikode (100km) is the closest but flights to and from Kochi (242km) are cheaper. Air India, Jet Airways, Air Asia and Indigo fly there from Bangalore (return flights from Rs. 3,347).
Closest rail head: The closest railway station is Kozhikode (97km; CLT) but Mysore Junction Railway Station (MYS; 133km) offers better connectivity. Take 12007 Shatabdi Express (leaves Bangalore City Junction [SBC] 11am, arrives MYS 1pm; Rs. 435 AC Chair Car) and return by the 12008 Shatabdi Express (leaves MYS 2.15pm, arrives SBC 4.15pm; Rs. 370 AC Chair Car).
There’s no public transport in Wayanad, so you’ll need a vehicle of your own.
WHERE TO STAY
Fringe Ford: The focus is clearly the outdoors here, as the rooms are basic but decorated with sweet knick-knacks. There are only five rooms, so if you’re travelling with a bunch of friends, you could have the whole place to yourself (reservations: 00-91-9880086411; fringeford.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com; Cherrakarra, Talapoya Post, Mananthavadi; Rs. 4,500/ person with all three meals, stay and guided treks and transfers from Thalapoya).
Dhanagiri Homestay: There are four cottages and a fifth was under construction when we visited. There’s also the main house, which is given out to groups of 10 or more people. The rooms are simple but extremely comfortable. All four cottages are reached by climbing uneven stone stairs, which might be difficult for the elderly (00-91-9497492882; dhanagiri.com, firstname.lastname@example.org; No IV/ 81, Anoth, Pozhuthana, Vythiri; main house: Rs. 10,000 per night with breakfast, cottage: Rs. 4,000 with breakfast).
Edakkal Hermitage: The seven luxurious cottages are all built among the existing boulders, which makes for an unusual layout, and are all named after famous prehistoric cave sites around the world. Pick Altamira, which has huge windows with stunning views of the valley (reservations: 00-91-4936-221860, 00-91-9847001491; edakkal.com; near Edakkal Caves, Ambalavayal;’ 4,850 with breakfast).
WHERE TO EAT
All three properties serve brilliant home-style Kerala food, but don’t expect a variety of dishes. Meals usually come with a chicken curry, three vegetables, rice, chapattis, dal or sambar and rasam. The cook at Dhanagiri Homestay does a lovely puttu kadala (chana) for breakfast (lunch/ dinner:’300/ person for veg or non-veg). Edakkal Hermitage organises cave dinners with prior notice. A small cave above the dining area is lit up with a thousand candles, making for a romantic meal if you ignore the faint musty smell (lunch/ dinner:’ 400/ person for veg or non-veg, cave dinner:’ 600/ person). In addition to local food, Fringe Ford also does a few North Indian items like puri bhaji for breakfast.
WHAT TO PACK
Sturdy walking shoes, mosquito repellent, motion sickness for the short stretch of winding road, torch.
CLEAN LOO GUIDE
There are many restaurants with clean toilets on the drive from Kochi to Wayanad and back.
You can pick up coffee (‘ 150/ 250g), cardamom (‘ 100/ 50g) and pepper (‘250/250g) from Dhanagiri Homestay. Do stop at any of the bakeries in Calicut to bring home some puffs or cookies.
The main safety concern here is the terrain when you go trekking, so watch your step. At Fringe Ford, do not venture out without the guide, as you might encounter tigers and elephants in the jungle.
All three properties mentioned in this story have first-aid kits. There are many medical facilities in nearby towns like Kalpetta, Sultan Battery and Mananthavadi.
Edakkal Hermitage has a kids’ activity area above the reception with table tennis, TV and board games. Badminton and cricket gear are available at Dhanagiri Homestay. Kids can also accompany you on the easy trek at Fringe Ford where they will learn about nature.
GOOD TO KNOW
- Remember to wear long-sleeved clothing for the treks at Fringe Ford, as there are ticks and sharp branches on the trail.
- While bamboo rafting, your feet will get wet, so wear slip-on shoes, which you can easily remove and put on after rafting. It’s best to leave your electronics at your hotel, as it’s difficult to balance on the raft while getting on and off.