If stepping into the bygone era is something you are passionate about, then the historically significant Edakkal Caves will prove to be a great experience. Wayanad’s signature on the cultural history of the Human race, a look at the inscriptions and drawings made by our ancestors was indeed humbling. The massive split rock formation at Ambukuthimala near Sulthan Bathery is Edakkal Caves. The caves are almost 4000 feet above sea level and it measures close to 98 feet in height and 22 feet in width. The wall carvings and the writings belong to 3rd BC and these are found to be 6000 years old.
A small shop like set up, at the foot of Ambukuthimala where the vehicles stop doubles up as the base camp for the trek up to the cave. There are a few shops selling souvenirs and other handicrafts and a small hotel too. The climb to the top from the parking spot is pretty steep. The way has been cemented and jeeps or bikes can go a little distance. Walking is recommended though. Along the way, there are tiny shops with bamboo benches selling spiced buttermilk, water and huge glass jars filled to the top with pickled mangoes and pineapples. The huge rock formations can be seen on both the sides and forests beyond this. It is the bamboo flowering season, and the ground has a carpet of green and yellow bamboo flowers. A family of monkeys are busy posing for the tourists cameras.
The ticket counter is a small building where the concrete path ends, it somewhat reminds you of an entrance to a farm. A small courtyard can be seen beyond a barricade of steel pipes. All around the place are large silver oak trees, Ashoka tree with pepper vines intertwined and below this the dense greenness of coffee trees. Through the oak treetops you can get a glimpse of the Ambukuthimala peaks.
From here the way forward is narrow and mostly rocky terrain with steps at some places. The creeper like plants, growing on the bigger trees on both sides of the path, appear to be as thick as an arm and a barbed wire partition runs between the pathway and the plantation. The climb through the huge rocks is quite exhausting as seen from those in front, panting heavily and taking rest.
A steep stairway carved out of stone leads to the entrance of the cave, which is just like a small crevice. The sights inside the cave are breathtaking and a steel railing ensures that you don’t get too close in excitement. Differently shaped stones are the steps that can take you to the summit and the huge gap between two stones is the face of the Edakkal Cave. The small rays of sunlight falling into the cave through the gaps make the tiny stream inside shine like a silver ribbon.
The inside of the cave is in the form of an arena, a cool and silent space. The peace is broken in between, by the eager ones vying for the picture of the century and then the silence pervades once again. To think that, this very spot was where ages ago early men lived, prayed, loved and dreamed about. Did they ever imagine that one day; a totally different civilization would discover what they left behind and marvel at the lives they must have led?
From the flat area is another set of steps that lead up. There is a small spring with ice cold water flowing towards the right side of the steps. The roots of some massive tree, has spread out on the rock behind the spring. A steel frame has been given on both sides of the rather steep granite steps that go zig zag to the left and right.
I reach a point and pause to catch my breath, and that’s when the Ambukuthimala comes into full view, like a primitive early man, with the dense greens of the jungle around forming his modest garb. Trekking was once allowed in this area, but not anymore and the way is now closed with thorn barricades. The peak gets its name from the belief that it was pierced by Lord Krishna’s arrows.
There is a cool breeze and from here you can get a birds eye view of Wayanad – Phantom Rock, Colga rock, Cheengeri, Ambalavayal Town, Meenangadi, Karapuzha Dam site is visible like in a map. A little afar, hidden in a hazy fog is Karnataka. The views and the winds just blows away all your tiredness in an instant.
The huge gap at the right side of the place where the steps end is the entrance of the Edakkal Caves. Steel bar gates open into an experience that is out of this world. The word Edakkal means 'the rock in between' and it is believed to have perhaps formed in an earthquake, actually it is something like a fissure caused by a piece of rock splitting away from the main body. The 30 feet high cave cools you down. The insides are dark and it takes a minute for the eyes to get adjusted to the dim lighting. The faint sunlight falling into the cave through the gaps above shines on a group of coral growing on the wall. When you keep looking at them turn into thick lines and then everything slowly begin to fall into place. Pictures and ancient scripts inscribed using chisel like tools depicting man, dogs, sun, flowers, work tools, men and women in elaborate head dresses and ethnic jewellery, magical symbols, other animal like figures or some rituals. Experts say that the drawings on the walls of the Edakkal caves show that the cave must have been the site for rituals or rites of some prehistoric settlement.
On the south-east corner of the cave, there is an enormous gap of 1 feet width. If you look through the gap, you can get a faraway glimpse of the Ayiramkolli, Kuppakoli villages. The cave is slowly filling with visitors. The security officer and the guide Saji K John explain the inscriptions to a group of school children.
In 1894 it was Fred Fawcett, a police official of the erstwhile Malabar state who discovered the Edakkal Caves and immediately recognised their anthropological and historical importance. Fawcett, on visiting the cave many times after that found chisel and drove like tools and this later attracted the attention of scholars, historians and anthropologists.
The visitors move out of the cave and there is silence again. In the golden light of the sun, the drawings look even more interesting. The chieftain and his clan on the wall of the cave silently observe the curious onlookers, Hail to the ancient king!