Weekend wandering in Wayanad.

When I took my place in the car on a surprisingly pleasant Bangalore morning in the last week of March, little did I know that I would spend a good part of my time in Wayanad walking. We headed out bright and early, halting only for breakfast at my new favourite Bidadi Idly joint. Having travelled the same route to Masinagudi, I was fairly pleased when I could spot landmarks. After the forest area, though, the landscape changed drastically. Amusing English sign boards, palm trees, men in hiked-up mundus showing off their hairy legs and staring like they were seeing women for the first time and a faint fragrance of coconut oil… signs that we had crossed the border into Kerala.

Water spiders at Kuruva Island.

Water spiders at Kuruva Island.

The desire to explore God’s own country (although technically, it should be God’s own state) had been around since the minibus ride via Calicut to a friend’s wedding in Trishur years ago. At the peak of the mountain, we had stopped to momentarily rule the world from above a sea of plump, light blue clouds. Having heard many tales of the state since, the opportunity finally presented itself during the Good Friday weekend.

Our villa at Blooms Green, Wayanad.

Our villa at Blooms Green, Wayanad.

I have one word for Wayanad: Green. And hot (okay, make that two words). Wise travellers know which places to avoid during summers, and Wayanad is one of them; that I went there the last week of March does no credit to my wisdom. Our hosts at the home stay informed us that this was not how the weather was usually, and were themselves surprised by the heat. That left us with no choice but to sit in the verandah of our two-bedroom villa, surrounded by a canopy of tall, lush green trees, our feet stretched out on the coffee table, listening to birds chittering above us and occasionally swooping down to snarf an unsuspecting little insect. We weren’t entirely lazing, though – in between, we sipped a little tea and ate a few pakodas. And we went on a tour of the massive property on which the home stay was located, completely fascinated by the cherry trees, cocoa plants and rabbits and ducks and livestock.

Giant looming tree in the first cave at Edakkal.

Giant looming tree in the first cave at Edakkal.

The next day, we decided, pretending to be all brave and immune to the heat, we would go to Edakkal Caves and Kuruva Island. We drove to Edakkal and were informed by a chirpy young git near the tourist shopping area that cars weren’t allowed beyond the point. We would have to walk the rest of the way. Fine, we said. It can’t be too far, we said. The truth dawned heavy on us (adding to the load we already carried) as we climbed up an incline of 45 degrees, seeing multiple sweaty faces passing us in the opposite direction: a tiny point on a mountain far far away, that was our destination. We kicked ourselves, but shifted gears and changed the goal of the trip from seeing the cave to getting there in one piece. After all, there were local families climbing up with kids in their arms!

One of the cave paintings at Edakkal.

One of the cave paintings at Edakkal.

An hour later, we were outside the main cave, grinning with a sense of achievement despite the waterfalls of sweat pouring down our faces and backs. Of course, after all the strenuous climbing, the cave itself was a disappointment. A handful of drawings dating back to 4000 BC – the magnitude of which is somehow lost after all the trekking to get there – and a lengthy crack in a rock caused by an earthquake were all the things the cave had to offer us. My friend and I looked at each other, thinking the same thing: so much hard work for so little!

The heart of Kuruva Dweep.

The heart of Kuruva Dweep.

Our next stop was Kuruva Island. I don’t know if it was our timing or some sort of divine joke, but the road to the raft that ferries to the island was closed for construction. We had to walk a kilometre to the raft. Once the raft left us on the island, we discovered that we had to walk a kilometer more to get to the heart of the island, the place that promised us some stunning views. And it was stunning – seeing naked, pot-bellied men emerging from a swirl of water alongside women in nighties left us rooted to the spot. Other than that, the island really is beautiful, a lot like what I had imagined the Cannibal Island from Yann Martel’s Life of Pi to be.

A view of Banasura Sagar.

A view of Banasura Sagar.

On our way back to Bangalore the next day, we decided to go via Banasura Dam, by far the most picturesque place at Wayanad. We had to walk a good kilometre and a half here too. By the dam is a mini-forest of pine trees with swings on them, a perfect place to take shelter from the sun and feel young again.

Ruins of a Jain Temple amidst coffee plantations in the middle of nowhere. We didn't venture in because it looked like the perfect location for a horror movie.

Ruins of a Jain Temple amidst coffee plantations in the middle of nowhere. We didn’t venture in because it looked like the perfect location for a horror movie.

There was such peace in Wayanad, among the coffee plantations with a million shades of green everywhere, and the freedom to stop by fields, mountains – just about any place – and wander. Looking back, it doesn’t seem like we were very active, because there are a lot of places to see in Wayanad. I may not be doing total justice to the place because the weather was really hot and it wasn’t a pleasant experience to walk so much in the heat. I can say this, though: I don’t regret the trip at all since we managed to do the one thing we really wanted to: unwind.

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Getting there: Wayanad is a six-hour drive from Bangalore, breaks included. Buses also ply regularly to Wayanad. The nearest airport is Kochi, and I wouldn’t recommend that.

Go if: You like greenery, history, Kairali cuisine, trekking, and generally enjoy walking around doing your own exploring.

Meet the traveller: Shilo Shiv Suleman

* Meet the Traveller is a new series on Potli Baba, of conversations with people who have been inspired by travel.*

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Shilo’s work as an illustrator/artist/designer/storyteller has been a mood-lifter from the moment I stumbled upon her blog six years ago. I’ve had the good fortune of interacting with her since and have discovered that her work and her art is a result of her many journeys. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect person to start off this series with. Here she is, in conversation with Potli Baba.

Describe yourself in one word. Same as everyone else: LOVE.

Where do you live? In my heart. (And Bangalore)

Where have you travelled to till date? Goa, Hampi, Gokarna, Bengal, Meghalaya, Sikkim, Orissa, Kashmir, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Kutch, Maharashtra, Malwa (and many many more states/spaces in India), London, Scotland, Bali, Europe and soon, Brazil!

Travel to you is: Extending myself into the universe. Trust. Fearlessness. When I say trust I mean two things: trusting oneself, and trusting that your path is guided and protected. I think, for an Indian woman to travel alone despite all our years of social fear conditioning is an act of surrender, an act of trust. Trusting that nothing will harm you, trusting that you will actualize all that you dream of, trusting that your decisions are the right ones and that every journey is part of a much bigger journey into the self.

Five things your travel bag will always have: Watercolour set, notebook, brushes and pens, incense, jewellery.

Wanderer or tourist? Wanderer all the way! No plans, no directions. Wide-eyed wanderer.

Mountains, beaches, deserts, jungles, nature or adventure sports? Jungles, beaches, RIVERS and anywhere with lots of colour and culture. You’ll always find me in bazaars around the world, looking at vintage old books and teapots in London, amidst piles of colour and fish and fabrics in India, and old lace and perfume in France. I love bazaars.

Plan your own travel or get someone to do it for you? Don’t plan as much as possible! But if I do, It’s always always on my own.

 

Shilo Shiv Suleman’s journal entries, dating back to 2005.

What’s your favourite journey to date? Your travel memory? All trips to Hampi. Riding bikes, wading in the river, moondrunk while stretched out like crocodiles on rocks, being blessed by elephants in temples and more.

My most recent favourite journey was to Pallakad, Kerala, where I was working with shadow puppeteers in a small town there. It was amazing. Taking baths in the small ponds with green sky of leaves. Watching local performances in temples with walls of diyas, the smell of jasmine flowers and coconut oil and so much learning. I hope to be back there soon to learn how to make my own natural paints with roots and minerals and barks from the local temple muralists there.

Also Kutch; I work with the Kabir project and am working on a book about the Sufis of those Salt deserts. It’s turning out to be rather beautiful. We’re working with seven love legends from the region where in each of them, a female protagonist sets off wandering against all odds in search of her beloved (only to find it within herself). Which brings me back to trust and fate and all those other things :)

If you were a city/town/country/place, which would you be and why? Hampi. Free, mystical, flowing rivers, historic, cultural, ancient.

How has travel inspired you? Travel has inspired everything. It has transformed everything. When I travel, I watch. My eyes are open and my heart is open. All the colours and forms I see become part of the pattern that makes my illustration. I listen. I hear stories and myths from around the world and those stories get woven into my own stories, from Sufis in Kutch and Rajasthan to temple performers and artists in Kerala. Meeting these people, understanding the Indian aesthetic and storytelling traditions has given me a sense of ‘Me’, my roots, the traditions I want to draw from and take into the digital universe.

My latest favourite quote is “we are made of stories not atoms”.

Complete this sentence: If the world could fit into your palm, you would… Paint it.

Shilo invited me to her home to see her journals. As i went clickety click with my camera, she patiently filled my little book of questions with drawings. The leather case in the foreground is home to her journals over the years.

You can go see more of Shilo’s work on her blog.