The “land of paddy fields”, called Wayanad, is a popular travel destination with not just the tourists from far and abroad but also, for people from Chennai, Bangalore & even Hyderabad. Bountiful nature ranging from green mountains to placid lakes and dense forests is what beckons people to make multiple visits. Naturally, one of the key things to do in Wayanad is nature trails – that range from simple walks through the coffee or tea plantations to elaborate ones that take you to waterfalls & lakes. I went on two of them recently – one through the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary and the second – along Kuruva Island.
Wayanad Nature Trails
The best part about Wayanad is that you can go on nature trails in any season. The lush green monsoon Wayanad trails showcase brimming waterfalls and tons of colorful insects while the winter ones are pleasant to capture the still green flora and the happy fauna. Summers showcase the beauty of the dry land and the fauna that comes out to beat the heat.There is something special in every season of Wayanad.
The Wayanad nature trails are perfect for everyone. For the wildlife enthusiasts and birders, the variety in what you spot will more than make your day. For the adventure lovers, there is always a new challenge that every trail throws at you. Photographers will have a blast capturing it all and if you like your gentle walks, there is always a soothing trail for you.
In fact, every visit of mine to Wayanad has included one of these trails and this time too was no exception. Over the two days that I spent here, I went for at least three trails – one that took me along the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary, another that continued through the Sanctuary to the Tribal villages and the third to the ecological rich Kuruva Island. Each one was exhilarating in its own way and here is why you too, should try them out.
Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary
Also referred to as the Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary, this protected area is a home to elephants, deer, tiger and leopards. I had never been inside the sanctuary for a nature safari but have seen tons of elephants and deer as I crossed it enroute from Bangalore. This time too, it was Elephants galore and some even visited the area around the resort I stayed.
My nature trail was not through the forest but the periphery or the buffer area. The safaris were closed this time of the year but that did not deter the chirping beauties from showcasing themselves. It frankly was not hard spotting them at all. The Orange Minivet followed us through the canopies while we spotted the Black-Rumped Flameback Woodpecker pecking away to glory. A fleeting sight of the Malabar Hornbill got us really excited while the leafbird turned upside down to grab a bit of honey.
There is no ignoring the sweet sound of these winged beauties which are occasionally interrupted by the squealing Giant Squirrels. They actually mesmerized us by their playful activities where they chased each other on high tree tops. I loved seeing them jump from one tree to another – they sure are a skillful lot.
It isn’t just the wildlife that will interest you. With a good nature guide, you can spot some amazing plant life too. Like the Fishtail palm that is used by tribals for an alcoholic drink or some parts used for construction. I had never seen a tobacco plant but here it was – in its wild organic form. Parasitic plants were pretty common – ones that grew on trunks and made them hollow – almost like an artwork in the forest. And to think, we did not enter the forest this time. 😉
Nature trail through the Tribal Village of Wayanad
This one was a nature trail with a difference. Not only did we spot the exotic birds but also, met the indigenous inhabitants of the forests of Wayanad. The tribal villages of Wayanad was an interesting addition to the nature walk. There were two tribes that we visited – the first was the Paniyars and the second – Kattunayakans.
I know of no one who can resist the charm of the ever smiling faces of the inhabitants. Warm and friendly but still a little introvert as far as the adults are concerned. The kids – not at all, playful and engaging. Happy to show off their hidden talents as they run around and climb trees like you would climb a ladder.
A nature trail through these villages will also, showcase their simple eco-friendly homes, complete with pretty flowers and a cute sit out. It is here that we encountered a record-breaking tree – the 2nd largest teak wood tree in South India.
Here and there, you can spot Machans that are built amidst bamboo trees to spot animals. The thicket as I understood, keeps away elephants while the tribals keep a watch around. Our nature guide also, gave us some strange leaves to taste and understand how the natural way of life prevails for these tribals. If you visit here, don’t miss buying the pure honey that you get straight from the forest.
Visiting Kuruva Island, Wayanad
Kuruvadweep or Kuruva Island is an ecological, uninhabited island of Wayanad. Surrounded by fresh water, this is an isolated piece where silence actually sings to you. While I had been on this island several years back, this time I saw it with different eyes. I had a nature guide with me who not just pointed out to the interesting things but added the punch to the visit with details surrounding those.
Waterbirds like the River Tern and the Heron greeted us as we sat on a small bamboo raft to cross the stream. A bamboo bridge creaked but stood sturdy as we crossed into lair of butterflies and bamboos. The fluttering beauties in blue, red, brown and yellow colors created a mesmerizing atmosphere – one where we lost time as we attempted to get that perfect shot of them.
One amazing find was the inspiration behind Draco Malfoy, the mean Slytherin boy from Harry Potter. Our guide pointed out to what looked like a twig but was, in fact, a flying lizard called Draco. Camouflaged perfectly, it had this yellow dewlap that pushed in and out like a flag. As I understood, it was trying to attract its girlfriend. 😉
Hidden swamps with tiny grasshoppers were quite fun to find till we encountered a huge bed of rocks and the stream. This is where the crowd was as they attempted to cross over using those stones. Slippery but fun, it was quite a challenge to go across and get back. I was worried about my camera getting wet and I quickly put it away to enjoy the jumps better. It was quite a feat to jump and balance those rocks and once we reached the other side, we sat awhile with our feet dipped in water as we observed the tiny fish and tadpoles. The return was far easier as we carried our shoes in hand and waded across back home.
Three trails and I did not seem to have had enough of it. I could have gone on in search of these elusive and exotic nature gems. It was almost like a game – you saw one unique thing and you wanted to spot another one. Suddenly my senses were so active that even a little hustle in the bush had me turn to see if there was something new. It felt like a game of chase.;-) And that is actually, how a nature trail should be. And in Wayanad, there are just plenty for you to follow, especially these three. Which one of these would be your first pick – message in to let me know.
- The closest airport to Wayanad would be at Calicut (60 km). This is also, the closest railway station. Once here, you can either hire a self-drive or take a taxi to Wayanad.
- There are plenty of buses too to Wayanad from Calicut. Get one that takes you to Sultan Bathery
- The other cities from where you can drive to Wayanad from include Bangalore, Chennai and Mysore. Again, you will get plenty of buses from these cities to get you in.
- Once in Wayanad, hire a cab or take your taxi to reach either Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary or Kuruva Island. To get them on your map, click the respective names.
- Nature Trails in Wayanad are best done early morning or early evening when the bird life and animal life is active.
- Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary has safaris at two places – Muthanga and Tholpetty. More information on this can be found on their official site. Note that the same is available from June to January.
- Kuruva Island is maintained by the Kerala Forest Department and there are charges to enter the same. The table of charges and timings are as below:
- Kuruva Island is closed in monsoons owing to high water levels
- You will have to deposit money for every plastic bottle that you carry to Kuruva Island. This will be returned back to you once you show the bottle to the officer.
- Don’t miss the exclusive Bamboo rice payasam that is available near Kuruva Island. This is made with the seeds of Bamboo that flower once in 70 odd years.
- When going for nature trails, avoid wearing dark colors. Wear light and natural colored clothes. Do not forget your hat and sunglasses and wear flat walking shoes. Cotton clothes in summer while light woolens in winter is advisable.
- Most of these trails do not have mobile coverage.
- Carry your drinking water with you and have plenty of it.
- For the evenings, keep a mosquito repellant.
- Be respectful of nature and do not leave behind any trash. When you meet the tribals, please do not take their pictures without their permission. Remember to be polite for they are really humble and nice people.