A herd of elephants starts its long walk towards the outer woods. Elsewhere, the tribal folks living in and around Muthanga, a village lying on the periphery of the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary and a gateway into it, get back to the electric-fenced premises of their settlements, for nightfall invites the wild to the fringes. Some twenty kilometers north of Muthanga, a stream flows through the forest, right across the state border. A legendary freedom fighter, Pazhassi Raja, bordering the Brahmagiri Hills. Lies a forest tract which lost a major portion of its biodiversity to teak plantations. All these make up what is seen today as the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary.
The story is one that stretches across centuries and is entwined with the colonial history of the country is part of the 344 sq.km Sanctuary is a treasure trove of wildlife stretching across the eastern side of Wayanad, bordering Tamilnadu and Karnataka. Being part of the rich, divers Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, the sheer amount of wildlife activity is astounding. Lying contiguous to the Mudumalai, Bandipur and Nagarhole National Parks, and along with them it is habitat to the single largest population of elephants as well as tigers in India.
For long, Wayanad was one large piece of wilderness with numerous tribal affording liveable spaces in pockets. The forest –covered highland for long ruled by the Vedar tribe is home to several indigenous tribes, most of whom were farmers, and depended the deciduous forest for food, firewood and medicines. But conflict to gain supremacy over this rich, fertile land gravely affected the deciduous forests of Wayanad lying on the edge of Deccan plateau. Extended periods of exploitation have left their scars. Travelling on one of the beautiful winding roads or highways cutting across the reserve forests of the Sanctuary, connecting the major trade centers of eastern Wayanad, one can see vestiges of a past which valued commerce from plantations over the natural diversity of the Western Ghats.
The constitution of the Sanctuary, in 1973, was the first step in preserving whatever was left of Wayanad’s pristine ecosystem.
Wayanad is a melting pot of human –animal conflict. The Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the regions incorporated in the ‘project Elephant’, and harbours a large population of the giant mammal. Small wonder, the elephant also tops the list of issues that Forest officials and settlers have to deal with. On the one hand, the folks are amazed and amused by the majestic yet lovable animal. But they are all aware of the sheer terror the pachyderms are capable of when they are in the mood.
The Wayanad Sanctuary is not just about the forests and the beautiful beasts therein. The tale of the Sanctuary is also the saga of the tribal folks for whom this forest has been home for as long as they can remember. Most of them, except the Kaatunayakans, have practiced agriculture for centuries, and are very much dependent on forest produce. But with time, like the land they have lived on, many changes have crept into their unsullied way of life, which once relied solely on the rich soil and its fecund forests.
A jeep safari from Muthanga or Tholpetty takes one closer to the innards of this expansive forest land throbbing with life. From plantation forests to lush green low –canopied jungle to large swampy vayals, the safari offers a mélange of shades in the deciduous woods of Wayanad. Herds of elephants and flocks of spotted deer graze in the tranquil vayals of Brahmagiri Hills. If you are lucky enough, you could also catch a peak of the striped royalty of the Indian jungles.
Wake up to melodic calls of magpie robins, relish the morning drizzle walking around the fringes of the woods collecting ripe jamuns that fall from trees, as langurs and giant squirrels forage high up on the dripping branches.
At a height of 2100 metres, the towering Chembra Peak is located near Meppadi in the southern part of Wayanad. It is the tallest of peaks in the region and climbing this peak would test ones physical prowess. The climb up the Chembra Peak is an exhilarating experience, as each stage in the climb unfolds great expanses of Wayanad and the view gets wider as one goes up to its summit. Going up and coming down the peak would take a full day. Those who would like camp at the top are assured of an unforgettable experience.
Those who require camping gear may contact the District Tourism Promotion Council, located at Kalpetta in Wayanad.
Located in the southeastern part of Wayanad, and approachable from Kalpetta as well as Sulthan Bathery, Neelimala is a trekkers delight, with options for different trekking routes. At the top of Neelimala, the sight is a breathtaking one with a view to the Meenmutty falls located near by and the valley in the foreground.
Located close to Neelimala the spectacular Meenmutty falls can be reached through a 2 km trekking route from the main road connecting Ootty and Wayanad. It is the largest of waterfalls in the district of Wayanad, and adds to ones curiosity with its three stage falls dropping from about 300 metres.
Yet another waterfall that attracts visitors to Wayanad is the Chethalayam falls, located close to Sulthan Bathery in the northern part of Wayanad. This waterfall is smaller in size when compared to Meenmutty. The falls and the adjoining areas are ideal locales for trekking and a haunt for bird watchers.
Pakshipathalam is located deep within the forest in the Brahmagiri hills at an altitude of more than 1700 metres. The region predominantly comprises large boulders, some of them really massive. The deep caves found here are home to a wide variety of birds, animals and distinctive species of plants. Pakshipathalam is located near Mananthavady and a visit to the region would require a 7 km trek through the forest, starting from Thirunelli. Visitors to Pakshipathalam are to seek permission from the DFO- North Wayanad.
Banasura Sagar Dam
The dam at Banasura Sagar is reckoned as the largest earth dam in India. The dam is located in the southwestern part of Wayanad district and is close to the Karalad Lake. The project area of the Banasura Sagar Dam also has the start point for treks to the Banasura Peak. An interesting feature is a set of islands that were formed when the reservoir submerged the surrounding areas.
While you take in the captivating sights, sounds and fragrance of Wayanad, you may also shop for some specialities of Wayanad like spices, coffee, tea, bamboo products, honey and herbal plants.
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