There was a cold nip in the wind as the car slowly wound its way up the fog clad hairpin bends. At each turn, the scenery changes, the hills on a side, small streams, quaint little shops at a turn and houses at some others. There were banana plantations and pepper vines at every turn. Then, there were the hills on one side and gorges on the other.
Down below, the mist spreads about like a sea of milk. The mood is upbeat. There is a hint of the sandalwood paste on the driver’s forehead in the air and an old film song plays on the stereo. What lays ahead of us is a misty magical place, Wayanad– a place you have to visit atleast once in a life time.
The last hairpin curve is a revelation indeed. You can see the road you came by, coiled like a giant python among the verdent green forest; vehicles moving up like tiny matchboxes. The night time view from here is spectacular, the vast expanse studded with lights like hordes of glow worms.
At dawn, the bright orange sky with the golden highlights strikes a pose and lures tourists to stop their vehicles for a picture. The cold hits the bones through the sweater. The sound of cameras clicking sends a group of monkeys scurrying. A large Murrukku tree (Indian Coral Tree) with bright red flowers stands adding splashes of colour to the granite mountain. This spot is quite popular with tourists.
There are a couple of myths about how this land got its name. One story talks about an Asura King Maya. The place was called Mayakshethra after him. This later changed into Mayanad and ultimately Wayanad. The name is also said to be derived from ‘Vayal Nadu’ meaning a land of paddy fields.
Wayanad is spread over an area of 2132 sq km. Kannur, Calicut and Malappuram districts form the boundaries on three sides. To the south west lies Coorg of Karnataka while on the east west direction are the Nilgiris of Tamil Nadu. From Calicut, you can reach Wayanad via Lakkidi, from the Kannur side it is via the Periya village and from the south it is through Kuttiyadi.
The hairpin drive ends at the Lakkidi town. This area receives the highest amount of rainfall in Kerala.
Chain Tree or Changala Maram
On the Calicut-Kalpetta highway at Lakkidi, there is an ancient giant banyan tree that stands tall like a massive tusker. There is a large chain tied around the tree. There is a cemented area at the foot of the tree and a barbed wire made of iron. There is a small ‘Vilakku Madam’ painted in yellow. A lamp that has just been lit flickers in the wind. All around this lie empty plastic oil bottles, discarded agarbatti packs and paper. This is a small temple called the ‘Changala Muneeswaran Kovil’.
The tree appears to stand with its head held up towards the sky, its green fingers reaching up as if to grab at the sun with the rusted chain around its belly does seem like a mad man indeed!
The Changala Maram has an interesting myth surrounding it and it is believed to have the unsettled spirit of ‘Karinthandan’chained to it. Long ago when India was under British rule, Karinthandan, a young tribal youth is said to have escorted an English engineer out of the dense jungle. On being taken out from the thicket, the Engineer is said to have murdered the Adivasi to take credit for finding the way out. The spirit of the slain tribesman later never let people pass that way in peace. The troubled soul was later tethered to the tree by a sage. Another tale behind the tree has an Adivasi Chieftain called Lakkidi as the central character.
Lakkidi used to be called as the Lakkidi Fort by the British. The place was named so after the Adivasi and it is his spirit that has been chained to the tree after he was killed by the British. The real story could be anything but the villain always remained the same. The chain is said to be growing along with the tree.
The tea shop right next to the Muneeswaran temple is almost empty. Two people seated on a bench at the veranda sip tea languidly while leafing through a newspaper. It was one among them that shared the tale of Karinthandan. Maybe he was bored of repeating the same story to many that came and went, he returned to his waiting glass of tea and the news story at hand.
The car continues its drive through the morning light, there are many more stories to be heard and many that needs to be told.