After spending close to half a lifetime in a vibrant city like Chennai defined by its rich culture, bustling streets, and spirited people, moving to the outskirts of Kerala (Kozhikode a.k.a. Calicut, to be specific), a city that goes to sleep within a few hours after sun set, can be difficult to deal with. Well, at first. Kerala, a popular tourist destination, described lovingly as God’s own country, is truly a beautiful state with plenty of natural wonders and attractions. The splendid backwaters, the rugged Western Ghats, the rough Arabian Sea, the lush coconut and plantain fields, to name a few, are all truly breath-taking. But was it really a place I wanted to live in? Not for the first few months. It was only after the first 6 months did I decide to take matters in to my own hands. Being an avid traveller, I was sitting on a gem with absolutely no appreciation of what I had. Plenty of beautiful destinations are strewn around the northern part of Kerala (where I live). Coincidentally, it was then that my husband suggested – we take a trip to Mysore (196 kilometres away from the place we live, a 4.5 hour drive) to drink tea. Yes. You read correct. A four hour drive to drink tea. At first I thought he was joking and took it with a pinch of salt. But on Sunday morning, when he innocently came up to me and asked me when we should leave, I realized he meant every word of what he said. We were going to drive 196 kms for a cup of tea. Sounds crazy, right? Well, it didn’t matter to me. I was going on a road trip!
Having decided to return on the same day, the next day being a Monday and all, we didn’t have much to pack – just our sunglasses, hats, phone and our wallet. Within an hour’s time, we were on the roads. I knew it was all a little too perfect to be true. It was when we were filling up our car with gas did we realize that we forgot to take our car documents and considering we were driving to another state, we couldn’t afford to take a risk. It was good that we didn’t drive too far. After fuelling up the car and giving it a nice wash, we headed back to our place, took the documents and we were on the roads, again. It was close to 11:00 AM and we were finally on our way.
The initial part of the drive – the first 30 to 45 minutes – were within the city and then the outskirts of Kozhikode. There was nothing much to see or do. After a little over an hour, we entered the Ghat roads – the winding roads that takes you through the Western Ghats of India. There are several vantage points on your way to the top. You can do a quick stopover at one of these points and admire the breath-taking view. Since we were a little behind time, we didn’t stop and continued to drive on.
Once you reach the top, you enter the district of Wayanad. You are at point B (in the above map) now. Here, you could stop by at Pookode Lake and admire the beautiful and scenic freshwater lake. There is a small park adjacent to the lake and you could expect a lot of school kids and local families to populate this park during peak hours and the weekends. This may either frustrate you – due to the constant noise and garbage strewn around – and you may decide to leave the place or, you could be determined and escape the noise by walking further along the banks of the lake to enjoy the scenic view at peace. You can expect to see a lot of monkeys as well. So, make sure you keep your food inside. You can also choose to go on a boat ride. Be warned – the boats are a little unclean but not too shabby either. If you love admiring or taking a quick dip at the waterfalls, you could also make an entrance at the Thusaragiri waterfalls, located very close to Pookode Lake.
As we drive along, the next place you can stop is at Chembra Peak. You will have to take a diversion just before you reach Kalpetta. You can hike up this little mountain which is located roughly around 6900 ft. above sea level. It could take you roughly around 5 hours to trek to the top and back down. There are two lakes on the peak. One, on the way to the top – shaped like a heart – and the other right on top. The trek, though only deemed as ‘moderate’ by many, was tough for me. But then again, it’s not the same for all of us.
We then head towards the Muthanga forest. To enter the forest, you first need to cross several small towns that form a part of the Wayanad district. Edakkal Caves – a place known for its stone age carvings lies between Kalpetta and Sulthan Bathery – the largest town in the Wayanad district. You could either stopover and hike to the caves or continue down the road and grab some lunch at Sulthan Bathery. Post lunch, we started over and entered the road that takes us to Muthanga forest. Here, you can go on a wild life safari deep in to the forest where I was lucky enough once to spot a tiger, or you can continue along the forest and cross borders into Karnataka. The safari takes place only twice a day. One at early in the morning and one in the evening. You need to arrive at least 2 hours before start time to get allocated to a Jeep. Apparently, there are only a limited number of Jeeps available per safari.
What’s special about this stretch of forest is that, it spans over three states – Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The forest in known by different names in each of these 3 states. Muthanga in Kerala, Bandipur in Karnataka and Mudumalai in Tamil Nadu. The square marked in the above picture shows the point where the three states meet. Once you enter the Karnataka border into Bandipur, the drive through the forest in amazing. Be prepared for a lot of speed bumps though. The quiet and serene drive was the highlight of our road trip. It was even better when we were returning in the dark – we spotted a wild elephant standing by the road side and quietly observing the cars speeding along.
After about an hour’s drive, we exited the forest and entered the road that drives through the paddy fields of Karnataka. There wasn’t much to see here or do so we continued to drive along. A Cafe Coffee Day comes on the way. You can make a pit stop here to have a cup of coffee or continue to drive, like we did, to have some authentic tea at the road side tea stalls. After a total of around 4.5 hours, we finally reached Mysore and headed straight to the Mysore Palace. Having parked the car at the parking lot of the palace, we bought the tickets at the counter and entered the premises of the palace. After spending an hour’s time admiring the beauty of the palace interiors, the precious artefacts saved for generations and sipping some tea, we decided to leave. On our way out, we had a glass of fresh sugarcane juice and some frshly cut cucumber from a street vendor and got back to the parking lot. We hit the roads back to Kozhikode again. On our way back we made a stop at the Cafe Coffee Day, finished our early dinner and continued along the winding roads. The drive through the forest after sun set is a must do for all those who love road trips. It was splendid. The eerie silence of the forest, the pitch-black night with absolutely no light except for the rare light from the headlights of the few cars along the road, the creaking sounds of the forest, were all truly amazing. To top it, we came across a wild elephant standing by the road with cars treading carefully around it to not disturb the elephant. It was the perfect end to a perfect day! Finally after another 4.5 hours of drive, we reached our place back at Kozhikode at around 10 PM. What a day!