After detailed explorations of the mountains in North India, I’d set my sights on slow travelling in South India. It was by pure chance that I started off with visiting the most popular state tourism-wise that side, Kerala. I’d arrived in Kochi and the need for some cold weather had automatically led me to the mountains of Wayanad.
And in a mix of all kinds of experiences over multiple trips, these are a few of the offbeat delights of Wayanad.
Hostel Experience in Wayanad
Most people think that backpackers don’t have much choice in accommodation. I’d say thats quite an incorrect assumption. Backpackers and budget travellers are usually evolved travellers who are keen on seeking stays that are not huge multi-storeyed hotels. And on one such day, after an endless walk – I found myself at a hostel in Wayanad (Yes, hostel!).
The hostel was perched on a hillock in the midst of spice plantations and coffee estate, a blissful and true luxury in a hostel with a view of Chembra peak. Staying at this colonial looking abode converted into a luxury hostel, I was amazed with the breathtaking view of unmatched greenery, stunning peaks and cloud kissed mountains. And the best part was that this hostel is located away from a town in Wayanad and has clean beds, airy rooms and running hot water in the bathrooms.
Among other facilities, cooking kitchen with all utensils, open-air lounge, wi-fi is available. Mobile network connectivity is not very great but who cares! I met other travellers from Bangalore and we did some stargazing in the night!
Tranquility in Wayanad : Bamboo Rafting
A totally unexpected and one of the best offbeat experiences in entire Wayanad! The bamboo rafting activity is a superb mix of adrenaline rush with the calmness of nature.
Apparently, bamboo rafts were traditionally used as an indigenous method for farmers to transport rice across the river. Bamboo rafting is a relaxing activity and with luck, you can easily spot the famous Malabar Hornbill bird while on the 1 hour long experience.
The rafting was near Vythiri town in Wayanad on a tributary of Kabini river. Life jackets were provided and depending on the water level swimming in the river might be allowed for the participants if they desire. The best part about this experience was that I also tried rafting with the long pole-shaped oars!
Toddy Shops in Wayanad
Toddy tastes like a sweet fermented drink which turns stronger and more intoxicating as the day goes on. It is fresh and the locals swear by its medicinal properties, although toddy is also mildly intoxicating! Toddy shops are spread across Kerala and are a big hit with the locals. Many thanks to Johann for introducing me to toddy in Kochi!
The food at the toddy shops is also top notch and it makes sense to spend evenings at the toddy shops in Wayanad for a local flavour. The entire bottle costs less than 100 Rupees and is a totally offbeat way to get high!
A hilarious anecdote : Once, I was walking to Pookode lake near Vythiri; it was evening time and just before I reached the lake there was a signboard indicating toddy shop. The sightseeing plan of the lake went for a toss and you know what happened next!
Churches of Wayanad
It was wonderful to experience the splendour of the marvellous churches in different towns of Wayanad and I was lucky to attend the prayers as well.
The prevalent religion in Kerala is Christianity and the churches of Wayanad are a great way to explore the architecture of Wayanad. Among the important churches that I saw was Assumption Forane Church which is situated in Sulthan Bathery. There was another newly built church that has a dazzling interior and is used for town ceremonies as well.
Kalpetta also houses a few churches and if its a Sunday you can attend the Sunday Mass as well. On one occasion, I saw a ceremony being conducted inside the gorgeous interiors of a Church in Sulthan Bathery.
Exotic Bamboo Rice in Wayanad
I must thank George for this as he was the one who took me around on his bike and enabled a taste of the rare preparation of bamboo rice made from bamboo flowers, that bloom only once in around 50 years. We ate it at one of the local eateries outside Edakkal Caves.
Bamboo rice is a rare variety of rice that is grown out of bamboo flowers; and apparently this phenomena happens once every 50 years or so and then the bamboo tree dies after that. It’s a fascinating natural process. The rice has low fat and is rich in vitamin B. The tribes in Kerala use this rice to cure joint pain owing to the presence of vitamins. The bamboo rice payasam or sweet porridge is a mix of bamboo rice, jaggery and other ingredients and was really really tasty!
Authentic Kerala Sadhya
Sadhya is the traditional Kerala meal served on a banana leaf. Every important function or festival is served with Sadya. There are more than 24 dishes on Sadhya comprising of par boiled red rice, savouries, pickles, avial, koottukary, puliserri, olan, sambar, rasam, pachadi and payasam. There are many other dishes served and it is best experienced to relish the sadhya rather than read about it!
Sadya is a dazzling array of flavours that I will remember for a lifetime. While in the earlier days, it was served at feasts and people used to sit on the floor; In the modern setting, tables and chairs are used while the use of banana leaf is mandatory. I wished I had a bigger stomach when I enjoyed the sadhya!!
Spice Plantation Walk
What a walk through a scenic plantation of coffee, vanilla, nutmeg and other spices!
This spice plantation walk was in a 150 acre area in South Wayanad. The spices grown in the highlands of Wayanad are sent to Calicut, Kochi and other parts of Kerala for trade (I got some as well!) Apart from coffee estates and tea gardens; pepper, coconut, nutmeg, cardamom and other spices are cultivated here. According to locals – Growing spices also helps aerate the soil and keep the coffee free of weeds.
As you walk through the vast area with coffee plantations, paddy fields, spices you wonder if you have entered a spice haven with the rich aroma around. It is fascinating to learn the process of coffee beans from the tree to how it ends up in our coffee mug!
Organic and Sustainable Farm
Thanks to George again for taking me to the Golden Greens estate. It is great for birding besides leisurely walks to understand how organic coffee and tea are cultivated. One can also participate in farm work and learn the traditional and old methods of farming. In the core area of the estate, the huge natural reservoir fed by natural springs is important for local flora and fauna.
The sustainable and organic farm was located only 3.5 kms from Ambalavayal town. It is spread over 5 acres and is a really tranquil place. The various activities that one can experience on a volunteering experience here are : Handmade tea, Eco Farm Experiences, Eco Farm Produces, Bio Fertilisers, Plantation activities, Organic Farming.
Tea Tasting in a Historical Tea Estate
After taking a winding road, we reached the 1930s Parisons tea estate. The grandeur and colonial feel of the bungalow with the cool breeze was very welcoming. The tea gardens are perched on a mountain top and are a part of the 4000 acre tea garden set among green mountains.
In this charming British era tea estate, I learnt the fascinating process of tea making from growing it to the final step of tea tasting. The tea tasting expert will enlighten you on the intricate art of brewing the perfect cup of tea and the difference between various teas made at the estate. He will also show you the right way of sipping the tea and the other nuances of tea tasting.
In the multiple trips to Wayanad, these were a few offbeat experiences that I recollect. It was a great beginning to my South Indian sojourns and were very reasonable on the pocket!
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