If you are ready for a road trip between Kerala and Karnataka, then a drive down the undulating road from Wayanad to Kodagu is one must try.
The mist and the mountains, the forests and the glades and a ribbon-like road snaking its way through the picture-postcard beauty of the Thamarassery Ghat Pass to the yet more luscious Kodagu should be enticements enough for any motorist on a sight-seeing spree.
It’s bliss unalloyed. For the best feel and view, the ideal time to set out would be quite early in the morning, before daybreak when the silver streaks in the skies break through the veil of darkness. The scenes unfolding before one’s eyes would do well for a slideshow. The roads are deserted and the forests still. The drive from Lakkidi brings you to Chundel Junction. The sight from here is soothing as the dawn breaks out and the road is abuzz with the chit chat of women heading to the tea estates for their daily work. With their bags slung over their backs, they move up the narrow pathways to pluck the tender tea leaves.
The road now leads to Mananthavady and from there to a drive through thick forests with its green cover. Once you move away from Irumbupalam, there are visible signs of the Tholpetty Wildlife Sanctuary. The view up once again unfolds a splendid sight. The white of the mists is wrapped with the green of the forests. The cold outside can be pretty biting too.
At this point the road forks. Motorists are confused which of the two roads they have to take to reach Kodagu. But then help is at hand at a thatched roadside tea shop, right in the middle of the wilderness. Kuttettan’s Unniappakada (Unniappam Shop) is a source of joy to all passersby who enjoy a stopover at this little shed in Thirunelli. There are two reasons for this. For one, it’s the taste of Kuttettan’s unniappams and the other, timely help in taking the right road.
Turn left and you touch base at the Thirunelli temple. Drive to the right and you are heading to Kutta-Kodagu, says Vinod, the late Kuttettan’s son. Ever since the man who gave his distinctive taste to unniappams passed away, the task of keeping his favourite snack alive and kicking has been taken up his sons Vinod and Vijeesh. It’s truly an experience to sit under the thatched roof, watch the beauty of the forests and nibble on the unniappams… a sensation that has to be felt, not narrated. Quite often tourists who halt here buy up a stock of unniappams to be used up on the way till they cross the border with Karnataka and reach Kutta, a prominent halt for the buses of the the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC).
The drive from Kutta gives you a fill of coffee plantations and farm lands. Though the road here is slightly bumpy and broken in parts, the forest verdure is compensation enough. Besides, there’s a semblance of adventure as one drives through unfamiliar, yet picturesque terrain. The long drive through deserted roads and still forests leads to Gonikoppal, a small town bustling with life. The place is an arbor for folks from either sides of the border. It’s also a watering hole for people from Kerala heading to Bengaluru and Mysuru.
It’s an entirely different track once you leave Gonikoppal and take the Virajpetta-Mysuru Road. The road is eminently motorable. Vehicles get the feel of flying over it. A word of caution here. The stretch is constantly under police patrol as young bikers tend to race each other. The traffic flow is reasonable, though not heavy. It’s thrilling to watch goods carriers and Royal Enfields zoom past. The bright red buses of KSRTC stand out.
As you drive along, there’s a surprise in store. There are herds of elephants close to the road, but beyond a dyke. This is the famous Mathigodu Elephant Camp. A little further are the elephant kraals where the pachyderms are brought, tamed and trained. Forest officials and natives live around the camp. Though trained, the animals are still in fetters and can be seen tethered to huge supports. Most of them are bull elephants. However, visitors are kept away beyond this point. Though not as polished or as famous as the Dubare Elephant Camp in Kodagu, Mathigodu offers ample sights and antics of the giant animal. The truly tamed ones are allowed to roam freely around the forests close to the road where they can feed on their favourite leaves. One can spend hours on end watching the antics of the calf elephants that are also allowed out.
The onward drive takes you away from the elephants, the forests and the farmlands. The road gets pretty rough. Despite the blazing sun, men and women are seen working on the sprawling farms which lie stretched to the mountain bases. Women with loads of firewood on their heads and kids pedalling away on their cycles make for some enduring rustic shots.
Into the Buddhist mandala
It’s been quite a long drive from Lakkidi to Kodagu, but it doesn’t seem like a great distance. Next destination before the day winds up could Bylakuppe, known for the Namdorling Monastery of the Buddhists. It is also known as the Golden Temple. Thousands of Tibetans have been living in exile here for years. Along with Dharamsala, Bylakuppe is known for its Buddhist loyalty. The ambience in and around the temple is out of the ordinary. The chants of the monks have a mesmerizing effect on listeners.
The drive from Wayanad to Kodagu is one joy ride, to say the least.