The lush, beautiful district of Wayanad in Northeastern Kerala boasts of some of the most picturesque landscapes in India. Nestled in the Western Ghats, about 3 hours from Mysore, the fertile region gets its name from the phrase 'wayal-nadu', meaning the land of fields. With its misty mountains, cascading waterfalls, tranquil lakes, green fields and dense forests, Wayanad is the perfect getaway from the urban clamour.
There is a lot to do in Wayanad, especially if you are outdoorsy. One of the most popular treks in the region is the one up to the Chembra Peak. At an altitude of 2100 meters, it is the highest peak in the district. Midway up the climb is the highlight of the trek - a perfect heart-shaped natural lake. Then, there's the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary, at the confluence of the Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Nagarhole National Park and the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve. Blessed with rich biodiversity, it is home to large numbers of elephants, deer, tigers, leopards and other animals.
Wayanad is at its scenic best at gorgeous waterfalls like Meenmutty, Kanthanpara, Soochipara and viewpoints like Neelimala and Lakkidi, with breathtaking views of the valleys and surrounding mountains. The Banasura Sagar Dam, a popular destination for motorboat rides, is India's largest earthen dam. The Pookote lake and the Kuruva Dweep, a 950 acre island on the Kabini river, get steady streams of visitors everyday.
Wayanad isn’t just about natural beauty, and has a rich cultural heritage. The Thirunelly Temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu for example, is said to have been built by a Chera king who ruled the region way back in the 8th and 9th centuries. The water of a holy spring close to this temple, called Papanasini, is believed to wash away one’s sins. In the Sultan Bathery area, is a Jain Temple that supposedly dates back to the 13th century. It was later used as a battery to store arms by Tipu Sultan’s army, giving the area its name. The Heritage Museum is worth a visit too - it showcases local tribal culture and has artifacts as old as the 2nd century AD.
The most fascinating site in the district of Wayanad, however, would definitely have to be the Edakkal Caves, a treasure trove of petroglyphs or stone carvings that date back to 6000 BC. Fred Fawcett, a Superintendent of Police under the British government, stumbled upon the caves in the late 1800s. Thanks to his keen interest in archaeology, he recognized right away that the petroglyphs were of great historical significance, and wrote about them, so the world could know of their existence.
The caves sit at the top of a mountain called Ambukutty Mala, at a height of about 1000 meters. They are not actually caves, but a fissure that was created when a part of the main rock split away. Legend has it that it was formed when Lava and Kusha, the sons of Lord Ram, shot arrows here. A huge stone boulder wedged at the top of the fissure, forms the roof, giving the caves their name - Edakkal means ‘stone in the middle’.
It is believed that the carvings in these caves belong to three distinct periods, ranging from 6000 BC to 1000 BC. They depict various human and animal figures, and the most interesting of these is the ‘man with the jar’. This motif is seen commonly in Mohenjodaro and Harappa, suggesting that the Indus Valley Civilization possibly had a presence in or links to these parts too.
Getting to the caves takes a bit of effort, but petroglyphs as rare as these are worth it. A steep, uphill walk about 1 km long takes you to a ticket counter, after which there is another long climb. In most parts there are steps, but in some, just stacks of boulders.
It's not really difficult, but it can be a little tiring when there’s a huge crowd. Getting to the top is exhilarating, and it is hard not to feel humbled by the realization that you are probably standing exactly where our ancestors stood, thousands of years ago.
Photos by Madhumita Gopalan