If those hill stations that everyone trudges up to -- Ooty, Kodaikanal or Munnar – are getting to sound a bit trite for you, here is a different kind of destination up in the hills where you will find thick fog swirling in the cold winds. Kakkayam is a wall of green, 45 kilometers from Kozhikode, that nestles against the borders of Wayanad.
For those with a sense of history, the name will evoke a different set of memories -- of the Emergency and the stories of police repression. Kakkayam’s name is indelibly etched in Kerala's political history. There was a police camp here on the lap of the hills during those dark days. It was here that those arrested for resisting the government’s abuse of power were brought for “interrogation”. The cries from those hapless souls rose and lost themselves in the wilderness of Kakkayam. Among them was Rajan, a student brought to the camp, never to return home. But Kakkayam is no longer remembered for the creepy unknowns of the Emergency. There is enough fog on the hills here to cool those searing memories.
Kakkayam is called Malabar's Ooty not without reason. It inundates you with a flood of indescribable views, accompanied by background music of the chilly winds. Drive up the hill, through a road in the middle of the forest that throws hairpin bend after hairpin bend at you, and you reach Kakkayam dam. Below in the valley is Kuttiady power generation project. Not far from the dam, in the middle of the thick forests, is Urakkuzhy waterfalls. And then there are more forests... The hills hide sights that you can never have enough of. Hold your voice when you are near the hills, and you can see the jungle animals that come to quench their thirst at the other bank of Kakkayam dam.
It is bone-chilling cold here in the mornings. Come afternoon, and the cold winds race in to defeat the hot sun. The green jungles spread a feast for the eyes. Walk in the shades of the big trees and listen to the lovely orchestra of the tireless crickets!
You can reach Kakkayam from Kozhikode via Balussery, Estate Mukku and Koorachundu. From there to Kakkayam dam site is 14 kilometers. It was the forest conservation committee that recognized Kakkayam's tourism potential and beckoned travellers here. Tourism destroys forests. But the committee has drawn up a master plan to develop tourism without harming the green cover.
Only four-wheel drive vehicles could take the path to the hilltop earlier. The road has been tarred now, allowing other vehicles to drive up too. But at some places it is barely wide enough for one vehicle. As you ascend the hills, the thickness of the jungle surrounds you. There are several viewpoints along the way. The first one you see is Kakkayam Valley View Point. A little ahead is Panorama View Point. View points in hill stations usually get their names from European colonizers. But no European had touched his foot here in the pre-independence days; the English-sounding names here have been given by the forest conservation committee!
The view points give you a panoramic view of the places you left on the way up, all the way up to Koorachundu and Thalayadu. A wavy silver line shimmers through the green of the hills, far down below: it is the Peruvannamoozhy dam. Far away, you can see the clouds raining down on the hills. In fact, the beauty of Kakkayam is at its wildest best during the rains; the chilly winds that blow on the hills during the monsoons will carry away any doubts you had that descriptions such as Malabar's Ooty were made up to fool tourists. But travelling to Kakkayam during the rains is not very safe.
As dams go, Kakkayam is not very big. When you reach the dam, park your vehicle in the small ground near the dam site and walk up to the dam. Photography is banned, so don't pull out your camera; the policemen are watching you. The water from the dam is pumped to the two powerhouses at Kakkayam Angadi.
Leave the dam and walk about a kilometer into the woods, and you reach Urakkuzhy waterfalls. The name comes from the big holes drilled into the rock by the water falling from above -- resembling the ancient stone mills or ‘Urals’ that were once common in homes in Kerala.
The path to Urakkuzhy winds through the bowels of a tropical jungle. In summer, you will see wild animals on this path. At several places, the sky just disappears as the canopies of towering trees interlock overhead to form an opaque shield; there is only the darkness of the jungle here. You’ll come across elephants spoors on the way, and smashed reeds ... yes, these are paths regularly trampled on by the wild elephants.
The descend is steep but made easier by the granite stones paved on the path. It is darkness even at noon near the waterfalls. Here two streams rush down from the hills and crash together into the deep gorge below, letting out a steady scream as they fall away from view.
The sight from above the waterfall gives you a feeling of awe. The hanging bridge swung across the stream allows you a glimpse of the foaming, swirling water rushing out of the deep gorge below. In the background is the steady roar of the rain, the swollen streams and the waterfall itself. It is a scene straight out of a Spielberg flick!
The small lake next to the waterfall earlier used to offer joy rides in a traditional round, wicker boat. It was an adventure ride amid rocks jutting out of the waters. But this place is a favourite bathing haunt for the elephants. One night after the elephants finished their baths, only the pieces of the boat remained! That put an end to the adventure ride!
The dam's surge area is on top of the hill, about 2,450 feet above sea level. It is from here the water flow into the penstock pipes from the dam are controlled. You have to take the forest paths to reach the surge area, in front of which is a vast flat, plain. When the blanket of fog and clouds lifts a little, you can see the waves breaking into the shore at Koilandi, kilometers away. It is a rare place to watch the sea shimmering in the summer heat, while wearing a cloak of cold that nature has thrown around your shoulders. In the evenings, you will be able to watch the sun slipping under the sea from here.
Kakkayam forest has a rich collection of flora and fauna. It has 680 types of flowering plants, 39 species of grass, 22 orchid species and 28 fern species. You will also find tigers, leopards, wild buffalo, langurs and monkeys, various deer species, wild dogs, bear, red mongoose, wild boar, hedgehogs, and certain species of squirrels found only in the Western Ghats. Some 180-odd species of birds are also found here. The forests also teem with reptiles of various types. The latest discovery is Reed Frog, a frog species found only in the forests here.
Kakkayam is not just Malabar's Ooty, you will also find Malabar's Thekkady here. Kariyathumpara, a part of the Peruvannamoozhy lake, was the location for several film shoots. Like in Thekkady, you will find a lot of tree trunks sticking out of the water or submerged in it here. The glades ooze with heavenly beauty; and trees enhance that beauty, positioned so well by Nature as if a master landscape artist was at work.
This place was the location for many films, from Indian Rupee directed by Ranjit to many others before it. Dhwani, Kaattathe Kilikkoodu, Thidampu, Aye Auto, Khaki, Pingami, Vyooham ... locals will belt out a long list of names for you. Now Kakkayam has become a popular location for filming albums; many come here to film wedding albums. Kilikkuduki, Vadaamvalavu, Thonikkadavu, etc., have also become popular shooting locations.
What should you do if a wild elephant charges at you? The popular joking reply to the question that "you don't have to do anything, the elephant will do everything" has no place here. A wild elephant may look similar to a domesticated one but their behaviours have nothing in common. The former has no mahout or chains to keep it under control. Keep this in mind when dealing with a wild elephant.
A wild elephant is not known for its eyesight; it is also colour blind. So don't go to the forest wearing bright-coloured dresses. Don't enter the elephant tracks. A loner elephant and a herd with baby elephants are equally dangerous. Don't try to get friendly with a wild elephant if you cross paths with one. Don't make noises. If your vehicle comes in front of wild elephants, do not switch off the engine; keep gunning the engine; switch on the headlights. If the elephants comes closer, sound the horn. But do not attract an elephant far away by sounding the horn. It is dangerous to get down from your vehicle to take their pictures, or to get close to them.
Leeches are another problem. If one happens to bite you, don't try to pull it out. Rather, sprinkle some salt on and near it on the body. The leech will fall off by itself. There are poisonous snakes in the jungle. Don't let kids go alone there. Always go into the forest with a tourist guide. Follow the safety guidelines issued by the forest department.