It was with apprehension that Ben waited near the pickup point at 6:00 AM, he was soon joined by Mark and me, by around 6:15 Nagu arrived in the Innova for our pleasant surprise and soon we had picked up Deepak, and the 5 of us were on our way. It was around 8:30 that we reached Maddur and all of us were excited that we were finally on our way, we had a light breakfast and was tempted by the ‘other shop’ near by, we thought we will be prepared and brought a couple of bottles of well refined spirit, and could not help opening one of them and having couple drinks each. This put to rest all the unpredictability and got us to the ‘enjoy maadi’ feeling which we are so used to in our travel. The events which unfolded in the course of the next two days was nothing short of amazing, making us all agree that this one of the best trips we had.
We reached Gundlupet 11:00 AM and had Chapathi and chicken curry from the Mallu hotel called ‘Hotel New Calicut’. We crossed Gundlupet and as we approached the Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary about 16 kms from Sulthan Bathery, we saw the most admirable sight, a large herd of Elephants, around 30 of them, were crossing the road and we forced to stop and admire the elegance and grandeur of this majestic creatures at close quarters.
One huge Bull ( corrected as Matriarch Aka Alpha Female, courtesy Mark's comments)who looked liked the leader of the gang, waited patiently at one side of the road waiting for the rest of his herd to cross the road at their own pace. Some of us even ventured out of the vehicle and stood about 12-15 meters from them, appreciating their dignified supremacy. We had also clicked a few photos as testimony to our great experience.
We were so lost in our admiration that we failed to notice a single bull approaching our vehicle from one of the sides; we were informed of the same by the thoughtful driver of a Kerala RTC bus. We just had enough time to get into the vehicle and start moving, before noticing that, the Elephant chasing us with a slow run, had reached within a few meters of our vehicle, to our relief the animal did not continue the chase. It looked like his intention was just to make us move from an arguably critical position on the road, where we were stationed for a long time, unintentionally hindering the peaceful movement of the herd across the road. It would be fair to say the experience ‘shook’ us a little as none of us even thought of taking the picture of the charging Elephant in the thick of the moment.
We reached the Muthanga WLS at distance of about 16 kms from Sulthan Bathery and went for the Jeep ride hoping to see more Elephants, only to be disappointed, and had to be satisfied with occasional sights of Deer’s and other common animals. We were frustrated enough to get down from the Jeep and walk around completely unaware of potential threat as this was the same place where a infamous elephant called Mozha in Malayalam (which was neither male or female as told by the guide, corrected as a Male Bull with a recessive gene), questionably the most dangerous of all the Elephants, had charged the jeeps on more than one occasion (Ben and family also experienced it after a few months). The experiences made us realize that we should be little more careful, and give the wild animals their due respect and not to blindly trust the drivers/guides to be supermen. We had a late lunch of fish and rice from a quite little hotel, which had no objection to us even having a couple drinks inside there, probably because it was too late and there was hardly any customers apart from us.
We booked our stay in Sulthan Bathery at a small but beautiful and comfortable lodge, at a very reasonable rate. After a small debate we decided to go to Meenmutty falls, only to realize that the falls was a good 2 odd kilometers trek through the wilderness which was supposedly frequented by wild animals in the night, and it was compulsory to take guide with us as it was easy to get lost in this place (we were really thankful we did as we realized later it would have been a nightmare to reach back before dark with out his help) The trek was really strenuous as we were literally climbing down a hill with a small narrow treacherous path formed by the steps of the frequent travelers as the only visible route, after a few meters Mark decided to stay back because of the unfriendly trail, a great decision that we realised later as we all found it really difficult to make it back to the top.
The falls though is worth every bit of the ordeal, it is the most imposing falls in the Wayanad district with an impressive height of 300 meters, the falls as I understand has three tiers with three diverse trekking routes, equally dangerous to the different tiers.
What a site it was to be in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by wilderness, under the beautiful falls, enjoying the water of the falls hitting you hard creating a unique bliss. We played and swam in the small pond formed under the waterfalls to forget our tiredness, and also utilized the astounding surrounding to have drink or two, appreciating the true sense of being there.
The climb back from the falls was really a mystery, our fitness and stamina put to a challenging test, we, atleast most of us was found wanting, 3 out of 4 of us had to sit down at different occasions from a strange feeling of exhaustion, almost making us dizzy enough to think whether we will be able to continue the journey. It was weird to note that this always happened to the person who was carrying the only backpack bag which was quite heavy with the wet clothes. We needed the help of the guide who carried the bag for about one third of the journey, to make it safely to the top, and need I say, it was a relief to make it. This was a good eye opener for us about our fitness, which prompted some of us to be more active with occasional morning walks, and also Cricket and Football games. (We would not like to give the excuse of the slightly heavy backpack for our unpleasant experiences as it will spoil our occasional enjoyable attempt to improve our fitness). We were all filled with a unique feeling, of physical and mental exhaustion, and gentle satisfaction of success, quite unlike any other going back to the room.
The next morning we went to the Pookot Lake, a beautiful and peaceful place at distance of about 13 kms from Kalpetta. The Lake is equipped with boating options of a few different types. Deepak and I took a self rowing boat and the others a peddle boat, and enjoyed sensation of being lost in the waters on our own and also the attempt at learning the art of rowing.
There is small path around the lake and it is nestled amid tall trees and dense wilderness, adding to the beauty of the place. One can also ride a Horse on this path, for a very nominal fee. There is also a small aquarium here and few shops selling honey and spices apart from usual tea shop, like most places in Kerala.
Our next destination Banasura Dam, the largest earth dam in India 20 kilometers from Kalpetta was a memorable experience. The main attraction of this place is the speed boating, in the dam’s reservoir having small islands which were formed when the dam was constructed, submerging the surrounding areas.
The access to speed boats is a few kilometers from the main entrance of this tourist place, and we need to travel in their vehicle to reach there as no private vehicles are permitted. We befriended a very nice Malayalee gentle man who works there, whose name I would not like to mention, and we were given a royal treatment.
He ensured that we got a speedboat (the drivers are not always available) and even allowed to have a few drinks in the isolated shelter which was the waiting area for the boats. His recommendation also came in handy for us to convince the driver and have a few cans of beer while traveling in the boat.
The experience was out of the world, to speed past the small islands, with the water splashing on our faces, sipping on chilled beer and feasting our eyes on the beautiful waters in back drop of the charming hills and beautiful islands. We were so thrilled that we took extra ride, and spent more than 30 minutes boating, made possible by the generous tip given to the driver. I suggest that if you come here do not miss the speed boat ride at any cost; it is really special in this place. There is also a government guest house available in this place which extremely reasonable to stay, but has to be booked in advance.
It was our second day in God’s own country and it was only fair that we have the taste of the very famous traditional local drink called Toddy. We selected a Toddy shop close to Mananthavady for the unique ‘spiritual’ experience. The toddy shops are very famous for their excellent cuisine, with the a little bit of extra spice forming an unmatched mouth watering combination with the lingering taste of Toddy, and this place was no exception.
It would be fair to say that by the time we reached our friend, Deepak’s native home to visit his grand mom we were really high, both in spirit and remarkable experiences. We left Mananthavady at around 6:00 PM reached Bangalore at 10:30 PM, stopping only for a brief dinner near Chennapatna. The trip although short was rich with incomparable experiences, making it revered among one of the best we have had.