Summer is almost upon us. So, this time around, our roads take us to the cool mist covered heights of Malabar. These destinations, Vayalada, Kakkayam, Kariyathumpara and Thonikkadavu, blessed with evergreen forests. Come, join us as we pack our bags to the hilly terrain of Kozhikode.
Vayalada, an enchanting paradise
“When rays of the rising sun caress the earth, and when the celestial red ball retreats after an exhausting day’s jaunt into the thick clouds yonder, you need to climb on to the Ottappara at Vayalada and stay with your arms stretched. All you would get to see then would be the mesmerizing visuals of the beauty around...” Thus said Jobin, a hardcore traveler from Balussery. His description of the place prompted us to talk him into accompanying us for the rest of the journey. About 2000 ft above sea level, this place seemed unattainable till recently. But now, things have changed, and there is a flow of tourists to this spot that holds magic within itself.
The Vayalada junction with its narrow lanes, with wooden planked tiny shops on its fringes, and the faces floating in the midst of beedi smoke give it an outlandish look. The old waiting shed seems like it would come down any moment. The rural women folk working in the coffee plantations give us a curious look as we drive past them even before dawn. The slanting lane embroidered with coffee plants and rubber trees has tar topping half way through. From there on, it is a tough walk ahead. We just wonder if this place has even found its slot in the Kerala tourism map!
As we reach Ottappara, we realize the picturesque scenery down below is more than breathtaking. The thorn-filled Ottappara gives us a fascinating view of the Kakkayam and Peruvannamuzhi dams. The islands among the waters seemed like an artist’s creation in green and blue hues. Just above us, the thick clouds tempted us to caress them. Though the experience pulled us from going back, we had to climb down so that we could continue with our journey.
Kariyathumpara, clad in green
Hit the path from Vayalada to Thalayadau and along the Manicherimala road, and you would reach Kariyathumpara, which lies about 14 km away. Each day sees hundreds of tourists arriving here. On holidays, the number goes up further. What catches your sight as you set foot on Kariyathumpara is the ferocious waterfalls that come hurtling down the rocks. The base of the falls is shallow, and tourists enjoy bathing in the pool formed by the falls down below. The mountains on the fringes, in fact, share their border with Wayanad on the other side. The sky-high mountain ranges stand majestic all around.
As we walk further, we get to see a brook following us from amidst the green grasslands. On either side of the stream are acacia trees looking down on the smooth flowing waters beneath. The tourism initiative that was kickstarted here as part of the hydel project years ago has not yet grown past its infancy. Around one kilometer away from Kariyathumpara is Thonikkadavu.
Kakkayam, so mesmerizing
The Kuttyadi hydroelectric project, which incidentally is Malabar’s first ever hydel project, had the Kakkayam dam built as part of it decades back. For travelers who move ahead from Kariyathumpara, Kakkayam forms the next destination. A trek past the Kakkayam town would take travelers to the Forest department’s ticket counter. On payment of Rs 40 per ticket, tourists get the chance to reach the Kakkayam dam site some 40 km away. As you climb up, the mesmerizing visuals of the Peruvannamuzhi dam catch your eye. As we stood watching in amazement, the mist fell as a wrap over the dam, and the cool breeze provided us with the company as our bus trundled along.
The Kakkayam camp has already been made famous by the tales of the Emergency era. Travelers who set foot in Kakkayam still have P Rajan’s name on their lips. The Rajan memorial erected at the entrance of the path that leads to the Kakkayam dam brings back memories of the horrific days of yore. Though a place that nurses worrying memories, the spot is today a much-loved tourist destination. The dam which forms part of the Kerala State Electricity Board’s hydroelectric venture allows speed boat rides for the leisure traveler. KSEB has also arranged for a jeep ride to the Urakkuzhi waterfalls not so far. As the mist slowly swept itself off, the boat ride started giving us fascinating views of the natural settings around. The two waterfalls on the way and the evergreen forest scape around added to our joy. This spot would have been a much sought after tourism destination if not for the row between KSEB and the Forest department over ownership of the land.
The Kakkayam dam hides within the greenery the enchanting waterfalls called Urakkuzhi. A few meters down the dam, and beyond the forest path we reach Urakkuzhi falls. We found the three guards on duty finding it tough to deal with the crowd around the falls. The lack of adequate security equipment is notable. The fierce fall of the stream could be dangerous. The government had commissioned a hanging bridge for visitors to have a good, closer look down the waterfalls, but the bridge now hangs abandoned for want of a fitness certificate!
Even as he was trying his best to control the crowds, Salomi, one of the three guards, found time to explain to us all about the Urakkuzhi falls. According to him, the flow of visitors to this tourism spot started only recently. The water falls to a depth of 600 meters from the cliff above. The force of the falling waters has, over time, created small pits on the rocks below, making them look like the traditional flour mills made of stone (also called Ural in Malayalam). These pits could pose danger to visitors who do not know where all they are, and the security measures end with the presence of the three guards. No other protective system is in place. Besides, the tourists tend to peep down the falls from up above the cliff so as to have a better look. This in itself has danger lurking. In case an untoward incident happens, the nearest help - the forest office - is more than 2 km away.