Wayanad invites you to explore the great outdoors with its intensely green cover. Here, all you need is a sturdy umbrella and a taste for wildlife. The district of Wayanad is spread around three main towns –Mananthavady in the northwest, Kalpetta in the south and Sultan Bathery in the east. It’s impossible to cover all in a short time, so depending on your interests, plan your holiday around one of these.
Sultan Bathery and Kalpetta are better equipped with hotels, but Mananthavady has its own charm, being slightly further away and isolated. While the wildlife experience is best near Mananthavady, Sultan Bathery is for those who want to indulge in comfortable resorts. The famous Pookot Lake and Banasura Sagar Dam are closer to Kalpetta. For a spiritual trip, Thirunelli Temple can be accessed best from Mananthavady. Wherever you are planning to stay, you will cross the Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary while entering from Bengaluru, and can make a quick stop here.
In this extract from the Kerala travel guide, we tell you about where to go in Wayanad.
A formation of large boulders deep in the forest makes for an adventurous trek, best done between October and February when the rains have subsided. The lush deciduous forest is particularly good for birdwatching. Permits are necessary and can be arranged at forest offices in south or north Wayanad. Reach the Thirunelli Temple, off Mananthavady at about 8am to start the 7km trek (after obtaining permission). The DTPC office in Kalpetta organises trekking guides (`600 per day), camping equipment (`250 per person) and transport. It is 32km from Mananthavady.
Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary
Here, you’ll see elephants and deer (among other wildlife) and a lot of avian life, besides the lush flora of the region. The sanctuary is closest to Sultan Bathery (15km). Jeeps can be hired with drivers who double as guides. Personal heavy vehicles are allowed inside, but at extra cost.
The 13th-century Jain temple in Sultan Bathery has splendid stone carvings and it is a marker of the region’s strong historical Jain presence. You can find a board at the entrance, which gives some information on the monument’s history
Banasura Sagar Dam
A visit to the largest earthen dam in India – and the second largest in Asia – is worth the time and the climb. Ignore the paltry food stalls and the children’s park, and focus instead on the view of the massive reservoir, which is the most striking part of the Banasura Sagar Dam. The sprawling expanse of water has small islands covered in thick foliage and home to a number of elephants, which can be spotted from the top of the Banasura Hill. The speed-boat facility here is erratic. It is located 25km away from Kalpetta.
The scenic drive to the Thirunelli Temple adds to the spiritual experience. A barefoot walk to the Papanasini River behind the temple is an effort, though essential if you are participating in a religious ceremony. Non-Hindus are not allowed in the innermost sanctum area, but it is worth a visit for the otherworldly view of the temple’s exterior with its pillars and stone carvings, set against a backdrop of mist covered peaks. It is 36km away from Mananthavady.
Make your way, amongst a swarm of tourists, to the steep site of the Edakkal Caves. The trek is worthwhile for two reasons: prehistoric pictorial carvings and jaw-dropping views of Wayanad district. The etchings on the walls of the two natural caves, 25km from Kalpetta, were discovered by Fred Fawcett in 1890. More than 8000 years old, Edakkal’s ancient wall art continues to wow visitors. It is 12km from Sultan Bathery.
Kuruva Island (Kuruvadweep)
A raft or fibre-glass boat plies across the water for a 10-minute ride to reach this dense rainforest island, which has some unusual species of birds and plants (including rare orchids and herbs). A potentially exotic experience can turn slightly disappointing because of the large crowds, even in off-season. Passes from the Forest Department are necessary to visit this protected island; these are available at the counter. It is 17km from Mananthavady
Tholpetty Wildlife Sanctuary
The flip side of Tholpetty is that the picnickers and noisy groups create an atmosphere not befitting of a sanctuary. Your only chance is to hope for a silent jeep ride (one hour) through the forest. If you have received the proper clearance, you can also take your own vehicle (only SUVs) into the forest. This sanctuary is doable only if you stay in Mananthavady (24km). It remains closed during the monsoon months.
A bumpy, untarred road leads you to this natural freshwater lake. The lake is reasonably well kept, with options for boating. One can also pack in a snack at the restaurant or buy souvenirs from the shops in the same enclosure. It gets packed on the weekends, though feels quite peaceful during the week.
Waterfalls of Wayanad
Plan a monsoon-aligned trip in Wayanad to see the many spectacular waterfalls. Most of these involve some amount of trekking (check with guides). Among those worth seeing are Meenmutty, Karalad and Soochipara.
Trekking in Wayanad is extremely dependant on the season, with no expeditions during the monsoons. Chembra Peak is often spoken of with awe, as it’s the highest in the region (6890ft), but try the ascent only if you are extremely fit. For beginners, many of the estates have thrilling trails where one can encounter plenty of flora and fauna.
Top Tip: Wayanad is very big and you must plan ahead to optimise time, especially if you are only going for a short break. Choose the places you’d like to see, and the activities that you want to engage in, and then decide on a stay in one of the three towns (Mananthavady, Kalpetta, Sultan Bathery).