Photo: Charukesi
Photo: Charukesi

Bengaluru to Wayanad: God’s own greens

This is the Kerala of rolling hills and seemingly endless forest cover, with the waft of cardamom and pepper lingering in the air

There is an untouched simplicity about Wayanad. Over the last few decades, Kerala has worked hard to live up to its rather grand moniker of “God’s own country". But the part of Kerala my husband and I were driving to for our long weekend was not the one familiar to travellers from a thousand picture postcards, with its tranquil backwaters and lofty coconut trees.

This was the Kerala of rolling hills and seemingly endless forest cover, with the waft of cardamom and pepper lingering in the air. Our route took us through the lush Bandipur forest (Karnataka), contiguous with Mudumalai (Tamil Nadu), before we crossed over into Kerala via Muthanga.

The highway runs through the heart of these forests—also designated national parks and tiger reserves—alongside trees bursting with palash and tabebuia blooms. As we turned a corner, a family of elephants, including a tiny one tottering unsteadily on its feet, stopped grazing in the bamboo groves and decided to cross the road in front of us. Locals are used to such scenes, but we stopped to stare, fascinated by the dynamics of the herd.

Our weekend retreat was a treehouse at Pepper Trail, a boutique property amidst 300 acres of sprawling tea, coffee and spice plantations—a timely reminder that Wayanad (derived from Vayal Nadu) has been more than the land of paddy, as the name suggests.

One look at our suite, atop a jackfruit tree 40ft above the ground, and we thought we might not want to move out at all. But we spent hours walking in and around the estate, hoping to sharpen our birdwatching skills. There were more than enough avian species in the area to satisfy novices like us: White-cheeked barbets, Malabar hornbills and green bee-eaters vied for our attention with their vibrant colours and shrill cries.

Photo: Charukesi
Photo: Charukesi

Back at Pepper Trail, the young naturalist took us on a canoe ride on the tiny lake nestled in the midst of the tea gardens. As day turned to dusk, we sat quietly on the boat, watching kingfishers swoop on the greenish water in search of dinner.

The next morning, we woke early to the loud chatter of monkeys on the veranda. Later, we set off for the Uravu Bamboo Grove, just an hour’s drive away. This not-for-profit cooperative has been training women, especially from Wayanad’s tribal communities, since 1996, focusing on bamboo products. We spent more time than planned here, going through the various workshops and buying souvenirs in the form of bamboo spice boxes and lampshades.

The following day, we headed to Edakkal Caves, among India’s significant prehistoric rock shelters, around 1.5km away. The etchings here—human figures, animals, floral and geometric forms—are believed to date to anywhere between 4000-1000 BC. We tried to digest this as we huffed and puffed our way up towards the caves from the main road; the steep walk needs significant muscle.

After all, good things don’t always come easy, even in God’s own country.

Bengaluru to Wayanad

Distance: 283km

Stay: Pepper Trail (www.peppertrail.in), tariff starts from Rs12,100 for a double room, including taxes.

Top tip: Visit Kuruvadweep, a cluster of islets on the Kaveri river, for bamboo rafting.

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