Wayanad is a land covered in clouds. As I near the district, I see dark overbearing clouds looming in the distance. My friend, a Keralite, laughs it off nonchalantly. “Kerela, no? It is obvious…” he tells. Six months in a year it rains here.
It starts pouring soon as we enter the districts, and the jungle suddenly becomes greener, denser. The bus crosses a herd of nearly four dozen deer, resting along a little clearing by the side of the road. My friend tells early mornings, elephants and other animals can be seen on the road itself, which remains closed to vehicles in the night reminiscing a time when he saw an entire herd of elephants, tuskers and calves, out on the road.
As town after town crosses, it is never too far away from a place to visit – the dense forests, the cloud covered peaks, the beautiful greenery or the tea-coffee plantation estates. I choose to stay at the picturesque little town of Vythiri, overlooking the cloud clad Chembra peak. Over the next two days, the peak seems to be a keeping a close watch – I see it from all the places I visit. The other thing that keeps almost constant company is the din of the insects chirping.
Eager to start exploring, I keep my bags and go off to the Pookot lake. Later, I walk back from the view-point at Lakkidi, where the ghat section begins. On clearer days the distant coastal line of Kozhikode is visible. Today, there are just layers of hills and an entire valley covered in green. A handful of shops sell eatables for the tourists and travelers who stop by to enjoy the view. I get tempted to eat raw mango, momentarily dismissing my cold instead of resisting my temptation to bite into the sour fruit. I pay and step out, mango still in hand, while there is somebody gearing to snatch it away. A monkey advances towards me and I retreat to the shop, finish my mango, tuck in my camera safely and hold my umbrella preparing to offer a fight before I step out. Now the monkeys are wary, they do not come close.
Next morning, at the Soochipara falls, the stream swelling with rain water comes gushing and as it falls on the rocks, it breaks into a fine mist. A famous spot, this place is generally crowded with tourists. I am lucky to go there on a weekday early in the morning and enjoy the unspoilt scenery. Our designated guide by the forest department Mr Velappan is a very spirited guy for his age. As I climb down the stone steps, he offers me a helping hand. I hold his hand to I realize he is indeed old, his hands tremble with age and I wonder how he
could help me in case I slip. But his eagerness to help does not allow me to say a no. He suggests me to have my picture taken in various poses and asked me to put on sunglasses. I laugh; it is early in the morning of an overcast day.
After the ascent back to the parking at Soochipara, it is climbing all the way again at Edekkal caves. The name literally means a hanging rock in Malyalam and is derived from a boulder suspended between two walls of a cliff that fell in an earthquake years ago giving the name of the place. The rock shelters at Edekkal contain neolithic rock sculptures dating back to 8000 years ago. The only other place where such rock sculptures have been found is in France.
The journey is beautiful as are the destinations as the road meanders through the cultivated tea and coffee estates. Farm workers busy collecting tea leaves while other enjoying their break with a cup of tea cross us. As Assiner, my jeep driver drives through the scenic hill roads, I keep asking him to stop time and again. It feels a crime to keep my camera away.
The best part of the trip comes as a pleasant surprise at the Karapuzha dam. An abandoned dam till some years ago, work had stopped here under land and political issues. As Assiner drives down the jeep there is not a soul in sight; at some distance two goat kids playfully skitter. There is absolute peace along the waters of the reservoir surrounded by green meadows overlooking the cloud covered Chembra peak. Even the constant chirping of cricket or the cries of birds gives away as the world enjoys a gentle rhythmic lapping of water as it breaks into tiny waves at the edges. Banasura dam, the largest mud dam in India is just as beautiful, but my favourite is already chosen. In between short spells of shower and sun playing hide-and-seek in the clouds, the rain washed peak glisten.
As my near perfect stay nears an end, I contemplate what it would be to live here, surrounded by all the beauty and peace, when I am jostled back to reality. Tomorrow is a strike, something that is not very infrequent in this part of the country. I have to arrange for transport, my bus reservation stands cancelled.