For the last 6 years, there is one place that I have visited every year, WAYANAD!
For the last 6 years, I have travelled ( 76 destinations, 73 in India). For the last 6 years, I have been amazed with sights, smells, people, food, generosity and nature. For the last 6 years, I have been stranded on roads, drenched in rain in the middle of nowhere, been welcomed to houses of people I met 5 minutes before, slept with cows, interacted with monkeys in the middle of a jungle with no other human being in sight, drank concoctions meant for specific intentions with not an inkling of an idea about the recipe and survived.
For the last 6 years, there is one place that I have visited every year. I have tried with all my effort, to avoid this location in my journeys, but for the last 6 years, every year I have been here; some times for a day, other times for months on end.
You might know the place as Wayanad, I call it MAGIC !
The glorious Western Ghats, cave writings dating back to 6,000 BC, Pakshipathalam – one of India’s best birding spots, a heart shaped lake, pristine waterfalls, an uninhabited eco island, wildlife sanctuaries, majestic elephants, tea and coffee plantations.. Ok… I should stop now. This post is not about sightseeing in Wayanad, no sir !
If there is a singular advice I have for you if you are visiting Wayanad, it would be not to choose a brick and mortar hotel to stay. I have tried to collate the best properties I have stayed at while in Wayanad, many of these stays are off the grid, call it off beat, experiential or immersive, the one thing I can guarantee is, memories for life.
I bumped into Manoj, the host at Uravu Bamboo Grove, while stuck with a broken clutch cable on the road to Karapuzha Reservoir. We connected over a cup of tea, as Manoj narrated the story behind this beautiful accommodation in Thrikaipetta.
As the region was reeling under a failing agricultural economy, the entire community of Thrikaipetta, came together to create a sustainable solution to the problem. Since most of the residents were already framers and skilled workers they put to use the one thing they had in abundance, Bamboo!
Hence started an extensive effort of establishing a Bamboo fuelled economy, led by an NGO by the name of Uravu Bamboo Links and a factory was set up to manufacture bamboo based products like handicrafts, pens, furniture and curtains. It was after a suggestion of a Swiss architect who happened to visit Thrikkaipetta, that the community built an accommodation constructed with locally sourced materials and you guessed it, Bamboo.
The rooms had all the charm of an old school bamboo hut, but were replete with all comforts. ( Ever heard of an eco friendly water heater ? ). While there, I was invited to lunch with a local farmer. Being a Malayali myself, the Kerala sadya was something I was not new to, but the Sambhar and Aviyal in that family’s home in Thrikkaipeta would beat the best of Beef fries in Kerala.
The Best of My Memories
- Uravu Bamboo Craft workshop – where I learnt how skilled artisans turn a Bamboo trunk into beautiful artefacts and their dedication to the local community.
- A DayWith a Farmer- where I accompanied Mr.Joseph, a local farmer as he went about his day at the paddy fields. He also showed me around the spice plantations and took me for lunch at his home.
- The tea I had from the tea shop opposite the accommodation. If you love your tea strong and just the right amount of sweet, this is heaven.
The first time I stayed at Mr. Mathew’s Green Woods homestay was in 2015, an accommodation I used as base for my first Chembra Peak Trek. My first view was glimpses of an imposing white house partly covered by mist and wholly covered by greenery of all kinds. I reached around 9 am and I could smell the chutney being cooked in the kitchen. Suppressing the sounds rising from my stomach I took a much needed bath ( you smell funny when you have been riding for 350 kms ). The room was spacious, had beddings that ensured I slept like a baby and even had ambient lighting to my surprise.
I ran down to the inviting smell of idli and chutney and after having stuffed myself, I joined Mr Mathew in the foyer for a game of chess. He told me about his extensive experience in the service industry abroad and how this homestay was his way of showcasing his skills as a host.
Having decimated me in the game of chess (and later in badminton too), I joined him for a walk around the homestay; trees, mist and sounds of birds and wind. I have stayed at Green Woods three times after that, alone, with friends and family and each time I feel like I am visiting a distant cousin for vacation. It is easy to get used to this beautiful homestay, you forget that this not your own house. May the force be with you Mr Mathew!
The Best of My Memories
- Gorging on the mind-blowing food ( read beef, idli, chicken and some more beef )
- Reading while lying down on the hammock outside the house
- Giving my headphones some rest and going for a walk around the property. Pure bliss!
I visited Dare Nature for my second tryst with the Chembra Peak trek. This time I was with my friends and I was supposed to be the know-it-all for all things Chembra. But destiny had a different plan, my friends didn’t attempt their virgin Chembra Trek, but we ended up having a hell lot of fun at Dare Nature Camp.
We parked our cars at Vythiri and waited for Saji, the host at the accommodation. Saji came soon enough in an old school Commander jeep and one of my friends asked him about the facilities at Dare Nature. Saji’s reply is etched in my mind, “ We have everything you need, air, water, a shelter to sleep and food to eat. I am sorry, but unfortunately we have started getting signals for some of the mobile operators now”. Thug life Mr. Saji, thug life! But this was not all, his driving skills were par excellence, the stay is located 6 kms from Vythiri and can only be approached in a jeep. We held on to any piece of metal we can find in the jeep as Mr. Saji navigated the jeep as if the terrain was an 8 lane national highway. When we got down the jeep Mr. Saji looked at us with a sheepish smile and said “ I am a rally driver you know!”, and lol we made a friend for life. It was at this point that we started having second thoughts about making the Chembra trek, as each one of us wanted to explore more of Dare Nature.
The camp was originally built by the British for the estate workers in the region, however little has changed here since then, apart from minimal touch up and construction of washrooms. The camp has an in-house adventure area with Burma Bridge, facilities for valley crossing and practising archery. The camp even has a laddering activity set up, where the aim is to climb a pretty tall tree.
Our rooms accommodated three people each and were more than comfortable with an attached bathroom. Since the camp does not have refrigeration, the food is always fresh and cooked on log woods. Tired by the flurry of activities, the piping hot food was heaven, but by the barbecue in the night we had some legendary grilled chicken over Saji’s regaling stories of his rallies and how he came to start the Dare Nature.
The Best of My Memories
- Completing the Adventure Circuit at Dare Nature ( Zip lining, Burma Bridge, Valley Crossing, Laddering)
- Failing miserably at the archery classes offered, which gifted us some hilarious memories
- The off road drive from Vythiri to Dare Nature, you are not going to forget this ever!
- The amazing host and dear friend, Saji and his famed grilled chicken!
4. Shola Shack
I got introduced to Rajesh, the owner of Shola Shack, through a mutual friend and decided to make this my abode for a short weekend getaway. Located within rain washed Shola forests and shadowed by the Brahmagiri range, this accommodation is a nature lover’s heaven. It is a stone’s throw away from Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary and is one of the best jungle stays in Wayanad.
Rajesh is a dedicated naturalist, whose idea behind setting up Shola Shack was to construct an eco friendly haven, dedicated to the surrounding community and conserving the indigenous flora and fauna. Rajesh put me up in the Kabini room, offering beautiful views of forest all around and the Banasura peak, second highest in Wayand from the balcony.
I joined Rajesh on a trek to a Tribal settlement an hour’s walk away from my shack. Rajesh works with the Makki tribal settlement to ensure their knowledge is saved and recorded for further study, knowledge in the form of dance forms or treatments and medicinal plants. It was plain motivational to see Rajesh’s efforts in ensuring the tribal way of life has a databank which would eventually tell the story or form the basis for a study on their way of life.
Rajesh’s shacks are built with a three pronged approach, to showcase a living space that appreciates the multitude of flora and fauna that Wayanad has to offer, to create a space with basic creature comforts with minimal distractions and to introduce guests to nature based initiatives like the eco toilet.
The Best of My Memories
- Walking with Rajesh to the Tribal settlement and interacting with the elders.
- Sitting outside own my balcony and enjoying my tea, with some of the best views available in Wayanad, all around me.
I chose Cavern for my stay early this year as I had heard really good reviews of its Cave Rooms. It is a retro cave resort near Irulam, with massive cave rooms and a very artsy touch to it. When I say the caves were massive, I mean I felt dwarfed inside the room, with stone walls and high roofs, this was the highlight of my stay.
The caves are situated beside a coffee plantation, offering beautiful plantation walk opportunities. There is a stream that passes by the resort, across which is a small tribal hamlet. The best thing about Cavern is inside the cave room, you feel like you are transported back in time (with a king size bed, tribal art work and ambient lighting in tow) and outside the room things have not changed much for decades.
The Best of My Memories
- Eating beef roast in my cave room and thanking the cavemen for inventing fire- Plantation walks around the resort
- One of the best places to go with a set of books you have been longing to read, there is little to disturb you here,I finished three during my stay.