The beauty of trekking up the mountains is that the physical pain of the arduous climb will vanish after reaching the top as the cool breeze and breathtaking sights can provide you an out-of-the world experience. The tone and hue of mountains and hills change with every season. The hills’ rhythm during the monsoon will be different when snow falls. And in the summer season, the mountains have a distinct demeanour.
Kakkayam in Kozhikode district is a high-range destination that has hills shrouded in mystery. The enchanting place oozes with wilderness and the majestic water body that hugs the hills gives a touch of class to the whole setting. The valley houses the hydro-electric project and one could also enjoy the charm of the vast expanse of green meadows.
Drive through erstwhile kingdom of Kurumbranad
While coming from Kozhikode, take the right turn from Balussery junction. After passing through Karumala and Ekarool, one would enter the land of Kurumbranad, which was once a Nair Hindu feudal kingdom. The drive along this stretch of road can be a bit tricky as one could find numerous dots of patchworks on the road that were carried out by the Public Works Department. As you turn left from the Estate junction, the soothing sight of lush greenery would lift your spirits. After driving through the mountain pass after touching Kattippara and Thalayad, you will have to descend for a while to reach Kakkayam Angadi. Malabar’s first hydel project, which was commissioned 50 years ago, is situated here.
Memories of a sordid past
Kakkayam brings with it some unpleasant memories of the past. A string of quarters, which was put in place during the construction of the hydel project in the 70s, could be seen. Is there are a cry of agony emanating from the dark rooms of these lodging spaces? It is said that Regional Engineering College student P Rajan, who was taken into police custody from the college hostel during the emergency days, was tortured to death in one of the dark rooms of the quarters. It is also said that MISA (Maintenance of Internal Security Act) detainee Rajan was finally consumed by the depths of the Urakkuzhi waterfalls.
Off-roading on ghat road
When you go beyond Kakkayam Angadi, you will enter a road, the service road to the dam site, which can hardly accommodate a car. Once you leave Kakkayam Angadi, you will be stepping into the serenity of forests. The valley of Sungandhagiri, the western border of Malabar’s protected forest area, will welcome you in style.
The narrow winding road will definitely give you the thrill of off-roading. As you go uphill, the vale down below gets enveloped in thick mist. You have to be very careful while manoeuvring through the dilapidated road as a misstep means a fatal 2,000ft plunge. One could see grasses and unknown wild flowers on the sides of pathway. The huge boulders of rocks give a sense of fear to people passing through the road.
The forest department’s check post on the way is an indication that you are entering dense forest. Entry fee has to be paid. Warning signs can be seen there asking the tourists not to feed monkeys and other wild animals. You have to drive for another 2km from the check post to reach the Kakkayam dam site. A KSEB (Kerala State Electricity Board) ticket counter awaits you near the dam site.
From Kakkayam Angadi, you have to drive close to 14km through the ghat road to reach the top, which is 2,500ft above sea level.
Breathtaking forest vistas
Kakkayam, like other regions in the Western Ghats, is a biodiversity hotspot. The Westerns Ghats are home to four types of forests such as evergreen forest, semi-evergreen forest, deciduous forest and montane forest. The Kakkayam region houses 680 flowering plants, 148 varieties of butterflies and 52 species of fish. The Malabar Wildlife Sanctuary, which includes Kakkayam and Peruvannamuzhi regions, is home to 38 species of amphibians, 32 species of reptiles, 180 varieties of birds and 41 species of mammals. The biodiversity is preserved by the verdant evergreen forests that spread to the Wayanad regions.
Kakkayam, which boasts of cool climate and pristine natural beauty, has earned the sobriquet of ‘Malabar’s Ooty’. Kakkayam is situated on the downstream of the Banasura Dam in Wayanad, and the Kakkayam dam gets water through inflows from the Banasura Dam.
But it is not possible to travel to Wayanad from Kakkayam as one has to get the nod from the forest department to trek through the Banasura hills. Moreover, the hills are a stronghold of the Maoists.
History behind power generation
The Kakkayam dam was built to feed the Kuttiyadi hydel project, the first hydro-electric venture of the Malabar region. The construction of the dam was completed in 1972 and the hydro-electric project was commissioned on September 11, 1972. The reservoir, which was put in place for power generation, is a concrete gravity dam. The water flowing from Wayanad through the Western Ghats is the main source of water for the Kakkayam dam.
The Banasura Sagar dam was also built to provide enough water to the Kuttiyadi hydel project. The water from the dam flows to the Kakkayam power house for power generation and the remaining water is stored at the Peruvannamuzhi dam for irrigation purposes.
Refreshing as ever
First thing that catches your eye as you step into the dam site is the children’s play area, which has swings and see-saws to keep the kids engaged. A small restaurant, a Milma coffee shop and the forest department’s modest outlet will also welcome as you enter the vast expanse of land.
As you move forward, you could see the dam standing tall. A flight of stairs will take you down to the spot where one could board speed boats for a leisurely boating on the dam waters. You can soak in the grandeur of the dam if you walk 1.5km in the road. The graceful Urakuzhi waterfall inside the forest will give a different feel to the whole journey.
The panoramic view of the valley with the crimson sun going down in the hills is an enchanting sight. In distance, the Kuttiyadi river is seen hugging the hills while flowing into the Peruvannamuzhi dam.
A traveller once said that a trip to the hills is like visiting your home and a journey to Kakkayam is no different.