Aeons ago, humans lived in caves, ate edible forest produce and hunted for meat. The modern-day travellers are a testimony to the fact that the human beings’ love for forests and mountains are still intact though the lifestyle has evolved significantly with time. Each travel expedition is to know more about nature and be on the lap of Mother Nature. Ajmal Ali Paleri, a travel enthusiast, decided to set on a journey to the picturesque Wayanad on the same lines – to be with nature -- after the COVID-19-triggered travel restrictions were eased.
Ajmal’s friends Shafeeq and Jisha and their children, based in Thiruvananthapuram, accompanied him to Wayanad. They were meeting after a gap of one year and the last time they travelled together was during the trip to Kashmir. Shafeeq and his family reached Ajmal’s Malappuram home and all were thrilled to travel together after a long while.
The Thamarassery ghat road, the gateway to Wayanad, was brimming with activity as scores of vehicles were heading to the sought-after hill station in Kerala. While having steaming hot cup of tea and delectable vegetable fitters from a wayside eatery in the valley, they could see the mist-covered mountains in the distance.
They switched off the air conditioner and rolled down the car window panes when they reached Ladikki view point and started enjoying the nip in the air. Ajmal and friends checked in at the Edakkal Hermitage Resort at 8pm. One can reach the retreat after negotiating the first road bend after passing the check post for the famous Edakkal caves. The Edakkal Hermitage Resort with seven cottages is a heavenly abode spread across about eight acres of pristine forest land on the foothills amidst the rocks and was built without disturbing the ecological balance of the region. Twenty years ago, the area was an estate but now thousands of trees dot the entire region.
The landscaping of the resort, which is near the Edakkal caves, had been done with a focus on protecting and preserving the natural environs of the forest. If you want to spend some time without TV and Wi-Fi, then Edakkal Hermitage Resort is the right place for you.
Ajmal and his friends stayed in a cottage named after the popular Chavet Cave in southeastern France. The panoramic view of the Edakkal valley from the cottage balcony is jaw-dropping, and the short walk towards the restaurant atop a small hill was punctuated by the sharp cries of the crickets and a slight drizzle, he says. “But we were not going to have dinner in a usual restaurant but inside a cave, like our ancestors. As we walked beyond the traditional restaurant of the resort, we found light emanating from a cluster of huge rocks. Close to hundred candles were burning bright inside a cave under a huge boulder. It was an out-of-the-world experience in a resort that promotes heritage tourism,” says Ajmal.
The cave dinner of the Edakkal Hermitage Resort was listed as the 25 most beautiful romantic ideas in the world by the Lonely Planet magazine in 2012 and 2015. The cave dinner is ideal for newly-married couples and those celebrating wedding anniversaries and only two to three couples can avail this service per day.
“When we had chapathi along with tribal chicken and gobi manchurian in the cave, we were transported to a bygone era,” Ajmal adds.
As usual, Ajmal got up at 5.30am but without the help of the mobile phone alarm. The birds were chirping in a tree next to the balcony and the mountains were engulfed in a thick coat of cold mist. As the Wayanad region is the resting place of birds migrating from the west to the Western Ghats in the east, one can find 50 different species of birds in the region, notes Ajmal.
Trekking was next on the agenda. Vinod, the captain of the resort, Ajmal’s friend Salif, who hails from Wayanad, Shafeeq, Shiva, the guide, and Ajmal made up the trekking team. One has to trek for 30 minutes from the resort to reach Ponmudikotta.
When Ajmal and others walked through the coffee plantations literally following the footsteps of Shiva, the sun was about to rise in the horizon. As the team reached the top, a motley crowd was waiting to enjoy the sunrise. The view from there is breathtaking as one can see the hills housing the renowned Edakkal caves.
“As the sun began to rise it played hide-and-seek with the clouds and mist accompanied by a stiff cold breeze. This was a great spectacle for the travellers present there,” Ajmal says.
When the group was trekking down, two temples on the way caught their eyes. One was the Ponmudi Sree Pathasarathy Temple and the other was an ancient Shiva temple.
“Vinod informed us that the stones paved on the temple premises were centuries old and many artefacts were excavated from the surrounding areas,” he notes.
A journey is complete when a traveller gets to know the place he or she visited and interacts with people residing there, reminds the seasoned traveller.
“When I had a cup of tea from a local eatery and mingled with the people, I became one among them. I was a new man when I left Wayanad after staying in forest, dining in caves and scaling hills to view sunrise. A new primitive man,” he concludes.