Back to the Neolithic Age with Edakkal Caves Wayanad

posted in: Asia, Heritage, India, Kerala | 2

He picked a sharp stone and went to work. He scraped deeper and deeper till he had represented himself. “A mark that I was here” – he thought as he threw his chisel away and made his way out of the caves.

Centuries later, the mark was rediscovered along with many others made by the men of the Neolithic world. Today, you can see it when you visit the enigmatic Edakkal Caves in Wayanad. The stone age paintings within the Edakkal caves Wayanad are not the only reason you need to go there. The journey to it makes an amazing adventure for trekkers and the stunning views atop are perfect for nature enthusiasts. And wait, there is some more but for that, you got to read my own adventure in Edakkal Caves Wayanad.

Edakkal Caves Wayanad- a treasure trove of etchings from the Neolithic Age

I have been wanting to do the Edakkal caves trekking route for a while now but for various reasons, it has escaped me. This time I had put it on top of my Wayanad sightseeing list and finally! I made it there. It was so worth the wait for a lot of reasons that I shall share in this guide to Edakkal Caves Wayanad.

History of Edakkal Caves Wayanad

The Edakkal Caves history technically dates back to the neolithic era or as popularly referred to as the Stone Age. However, the details regarding this part of the Edakkal Caves history are restricted to the carvings discovered along its walls. All that is know of this age is that the caves were known to humans who might have stayed here or passed through.

Edakkal Caves Paintings - that date back to the Stone Age

The caves fall along an ancient trading route called Ambakutty Mala, which connected the hills of Mysore to the Malabar Coast. It is quite possible that the carvers were just passing through. Either way, the caves were lost till the late 1800s when a police officer by the name of Fred Fawcett came across this place. He recognized the value of the ancient Edakkal Cave paintings and brought it out for the world to appreciate.

Today, Edakkal Caves is one of the key sightseeing attractions of Wayanad. In fact, it is the only place in South India where you can see the Neolithic carvings.

The Geology of Edakkal Caves

The word Edakkal means – “Stone in-between”. Technically, these are not caves. They are in fact formed by splitting of rock such that it forms a shelter. Geologically, that could have happened by any of the natural processes – rains, wind, storm etc. However, there is an interesting mythological explanation of the origin of Edakkal caves.

Edakkal Caves History does have a mythological reference to how these rocks split to form caves

Legend has it that the Edakkal caves were formed when the arrows of the famous twin sons of Lord Rama – Luv and Kush hit the rock, causing it to split into two. The narrow passage into the space created makes it feel like a cave.

The start of our Edakkal Caves Trekking

Driving along the winding roads, past the green tea estates and colorful mansions, we reached the first check-point for Edakkal caves. This is where you pay the parking fees and get an slip that allocates a parking spot to you. This seemed like quite an unusual practice but as we drove on, we realized how the system worked.

The walk uphill from the parking bay at Edakkal Caves Wayanad

Each parking bay was a few meters from the other, by the side of a hill. There are limited spots in each bay and once you have parked, your trekking to Edakkal caves begins. So, depending on your luck, you can add 100 meters or more to your total trekking distance to the base of Edakkal caves.

Me? I was lucky to get a spot mid-way – not making much of a difference to the total hiking journey. 🙂

Edakkal Amma, rock inscriptions & the church

The open church of Edakkal Amma

Until you reach the base of the 300 odd steps that you need to climb, you will encounter plenty of restaurants, curio shops and outlets selling spices, honey, tea and all the natural products that Kerala is famous for. The one thing that you should watch out for is the Church along this path.

Carving of Adam and Eve in the open church at Edakkal Caves

The St George Malankara Catholic Church is an open church marked by a cross and surrounded by numerous rock carvings. On one side you will see the scene from the Garden of Eden with the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve and next to it, there is one of Mother Mary, Jesus and the Apostles. In this part of the world, Mother Mary is called Edakkal Amma.

Keep an eye out for the Hindu “OM” that peacefully co-exists next to the cross.

Climbing 300 steps or more to Edakkal Caves Wayanad

The first flight of stairs to Edakkal Caves

Monkeys keep you company as you walk uphill to reach the first flight of stairs to Edakkal Caves Wayanad. The stairs are an addition to make the caves accessible but by no means, it makes the task less arduous.

The narrow flight of stairs that take you into a small cavern

After purchasing our tickets, we set off on these stairs, passing through narrow holes, and jumping across a few stones. The wide stairs start getting narrower and at one point, they disappear into a small cavern which you cross and then continue your ascend.

The steep climb that you will encounter as you get closer to Edakkal Caves

The climb, despite the stairs, becomes steeper as you get closer to the Edakkal caves Wayanad. Towards the end, they feel as if they are angled at 80 degrees. There are a few landings along the way, where you can turn back and revel at the view while catching your breath but these are narrow to just hold two or three people. It is best not to pose here and block the crowd that is climbing to Edakkal Caves.

The climb up those 300 steps did not take more a lot of time. Possibly 20 minutes or lesser and then, came the wow factor. The descend into the painted Edakkal Caves.

The Chambers & Edakkal Caves Paintings

The entrance to Edakkal Caves in Wayanad

Imagine this – you walk through a narrow hole and then emerge into a huge space filled with light . After you get over the Ali Baba effect, you look around and you see numerous mysterious symbols etched onto the wall. What would be your thoughts?

I was thinking – “What is these are clues to a secret door that opens into a cave full of treasure?”

The Petroglyphs in Edakkal Caves

Except that right now, we have only been able to decipher them into the presence of man in the past. These 400 symbols etched onto the walls go back to over 6000 years. There are some that have been dated a little later and relate to the Harappan civilization. The case in point being the famous Man with a jar cup painting.

The Edakkal Cave Painting of the Man with a jar cup

Besides these, you can spot animals, birds, flowers, wheels and carts. The stick figures that have been so popular with us when we were kids are pretty evident here in the form of masked men and men with raised hair. Most of these paintings are in the upper cave chamber, which incidentally supports the lower chamber.

A bird carved onto the walls of Edakkal Caves in Wayanad, Kerala

In the lower chamber, keep an eye out for two scripts etched on the walls close to the Edakkal Cave paintings. One of them is Tamil while the other language is Brahmi. These refer to religious names and there are a few more that are currently being discovered in the Edakkal caves Wayanad.

The Brahmi and Tamil Scripts found in the lower chamber of Edakkal Caves

Technically these etchings are called Petroglyphs. The ancient civilization used to etch away the surfaces of hard rocks to create drawings and share messages. It was their way of showing their art and painting.

At the far end of the caves, you will see an area that is bound by a fence. This is where you can see the rift that created the historic Edakkal caves. On the whole, the caves are very well lit, thanks to the open-to-sky part of the space. In fact, you might even find the light harsh when you are trying to take pictures.

Views from Edakkal Caves

The view outside Edakkal Caves

Before you begin your descent, find a rock, perch yourself and look at the gorgeous views that the hill top offers you. The green tea estates, the grey and brown mountains and clouds that add to the magic of Wayanad. Imagine how it would have been back then when the stone age man found this little corner to leave his mark.

Would it have been denser green forests with almost no views? Or maybe, there were rivers running across?

My mind kept running through the 400 symbols that were etched on the rocks nearby. Maybe its creator was trying to describe the very view that I had. I guess, we will never know!

The descent and exit from Edakkal Caves Wayanad

Getting down those stairs was comparatively easier than climbing up. After you have descended the 80 degree steep ones, you reach a fork. So intent I was on capturing the view from that landing that I missed taking the correct path. I landed back on the same set of stairs that I had used to climb up, while the rest of my travel pals had long taken the easier route.

Landscape of Wayanad as seen from one of the landings on the way down from Edakkal Caves

I would say, it wasn’t difficult getting down the same way but it definitely was challenging as those stairs are made for the particular direction of ascent or descent. For example, when you are climbing out of the small cavern that we had encounter earlier , you will have to heave yourself up as against lowering yourself down when you are heading in the right direction.

Ah well, you know me. I still loved it and managed to get back to the base just a few minutes later than my counterparts.

On the whole, this trek to Edakkal caves Wayanad was a perfect blend of heritage, nature and adventure. A potent combination for a traveler and which is why, you need to get there yourself.

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How to get to Edakkal Caves?

The closest airport to Wayanad would be at Kozhikode, which is 90 km away. You can land there and hire a cab or get into a bus to Kalpetta or Sultan Bathery.

Edakkal caves is 25 km from Kalpetta and just 13 km from Sultan Bathery. From both these places, you can get into a bus or hire a local cab.

The closest railway station is also, Calicut or Kozhikode.

From Bangalore or Mysore, the best way to get to Edakkal caves is by road. The car journey takes you through the Bandipur forest area and is a very smooth and pleasant ride. The total distance from Bangalore to Edakkal Caves in Wayanad is 268 km

Where to stay in Wayanad?

Wayanad is a huge district with tons of things to see. You will find numerous home-stays, resorts and hotels available here. Refer to this blog post of mine which helps you narrow your location for a stay in Wayanad.

For Edakkal caves, it is wise to find something near Sultan Bathery or Kalpetta. Of the resorts that I have experienced, Sterling Wayanad would be the closest to Edakkal caves.

What is the best time to visit Edakkal Caves Wayanad?

It is best to avoid monsoons for a visit to Edakkal caves. Owing to the heavy rains, a lot of times the caves have to be closed. The rest of the year is good for a visit here.

In terms of the Edakkal Caves timings, you will find them open from 9 am to 4 pm every day.

How much does it cost to visit Edakkal Caves?

The ticket prices for Edakkal caves is just INR 20 per Indian adult and INR 50 for foreigners. Cameras are charged extra. For still cameras, you have to pay INR 25 while video cameras are charged INR 100.

There is a shuttle service available from the parking area to the base of the stairs. This is INR 70 per person.

How easy or difficult is the climb to Edakkal Caves?

Owing to the stairs that have been put, the climb is not difficult. However, the elderly could find it difficult in certain sections.

In terms of trekking, I would rate it as easy.

Travel Tips

  • Comfortable shoes are highly recommended for the Edakkal Caves trekking. Light cotton clothes during summers and a light shawl in the winters is sufficient for a comfortable climb.
  • Beware of monkeys, especially when you are walking from the parking bays to the base of the Edakkal caves staircase.

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