God's own Tea Estate
Last year after we had finalized our house, the stress of it all began to show on us. We needed a break, but budgets were tight. Did I say tight? I meant non-existent... Our search for a relaxing weekend getaway (non-birding) that would fall within our meager budget led us to Wayanad, Kerala.
This was easy, there are a lot of websites that give great directions, so I wont repeat this here. Here's some of the ones which we used.
We left in the morning and with lots of stops for stretching, leisurely breakfasts; we got to Sultan Bathery at lunch time.
Barista on route (mysore road) is recommended (its a very pretty place) - we had 2 versions of the continental breakfast (which took for ever to come, given that we were the only customers. I think no one had ordered it before we got there, so it seemed that they went into a team huddle to figure out exactly what to serve us)
Infact, while we waited, a pair of Spotted munia had almost completed building their nest in the small tree next to our table. Ok, so I exaggerated a tad :)
Where to Stay
Vythri is very recommended as a swank place to stay. So is RainCountry.
But since we were on a budget this time, both were ruled out.
We wanted a clean, comfortable stay without too many frills, we settled on Wynberg Resorts.
It turned out happily, that we had made a great decision; and here's why - Wynberg is located away from the madding crowds ( which means its nearly inaccessible by road). There are no other resorts nearby, actually.. there is no other commercial establishment of any kind for several kms. While it may sound forbidding, it has its advantages. You have the place all to yourself, its not touristy and its surroundings are unbelievably pristine.
At the paddy fields surrounding the resort
Its a tad hard to reach though, its location map says "call us after this point". And true enough we called often after that point and with increasing degrees of anxiety, and were greatly relieved when we got there.
This is the place to stay ONLY if you have your own car and a good direction sense. Even better if your car has high ground clearance.
What to See
1. Rock climbing is apparently what everyone does at Wayanad (Edakkal caves) - personally, unless you know what you're doing I wouldn't recommend this, since there is no gear nor any professionals to guide you ( or rescue you ). And did I mention the bad roads? You may suffer more shocks to your bones on the bumpy roads than from a fall from a high point. We didn't want to risk it, so we gave it a miss.
2. Pookote Lake - is a lake cum garden with boating facilities (pedal), known for its spectacular purple lotuses. ( As luck would have it, just before we got there, the lake authority wiped out every single bloom as a part of a cleaning operation )
So, find out if the lotuses are in bloom before you leave for this place.
3. Soochi para Waterfalls - an easy to reach waterfall ( reachable after a long walk on stone paved pathways and stone steps ). Can be attempted easily even without sensible footware. Not recommended for the elderly or the infirm though, the uphill walk on the way back, can cause much huffing and puffing for unfit software professionals. :) The walking route though is lovely and full of birding opportunities.
4. Banasura Sagar Dam - is the largest earthen dam in India. Project started in 1979 and looked to me like it was far from being complete given all the rubble and heavy machinery about, but apparently it is complete. Can be given a miss, but if want to do some birding, this place has potential.
IMO, the best and most sensible thing to do, is to drive around or walk around the tea estates of the resort and take in the serenity, beauty and sheer green-ness. Its the most relaxing thing to do.
What to buy / eat / do
All resorts will sell packaged locally grown spices. The prices are not too different from what you'd find in a Big Bazaar ( believe me, i checked ). But the quality is definitely superior.
Just outside our cottage, early morning
Jute and coir handicrafts and herbal oils are also hawked to tourists at all the attractions, but I was not impressed with the quality and standards here ( this is better done in Munnar/Thekaddy or some other more established destinations)
We bought a pair of beautiful earthen ware hanging candle holders from our resort and learnt later from the proprietor that they were sourced from Pondicherry. :)
Keshav and I live to eat and our expanding waistlines are testament to that. We were looking forward to some delightful kerala cuisine and were sadly disappointed. As our resort's owner candidly informed us, wayanad is not a foodie's delight. Your best bet for a good meal is to make friends of the locals and get them to invite you home.
And how right he was - our first meal in Wayanad was at Sultan Bathery at the Mint Flower Multi cuisine Family Restaurant. An establishment you should venture into only when faced with certain starvation. We were apparently the only people ordering Kerala style food because almost everything on that section of their extensive menu was not available.
We learnt later from experience that we should order NorthIndian (read Punjabi) food or indian chinese if we wanted to eat something remotely appetizing. We did this at the Chain Tree Restaurant and were not disappointed. It is bang opposite to the famous chain tree which apparently imprisons a spirit that caused road accidents. Although, I'm more of the opinion that the spirit responsible for the accidents was probably the alcoholic kind.
Our package at Wayanad included breakfast and dinner only. For lunches we were always at the mercy of eateries at the tourist spots. We made up for this by eating well at breakfast. Food at Wynberg is fabulous compared to what you'll get in the restaurants in Wayanad. Its very homely and is prepared by the cook who also cooks for the proprietor's family, who live on the estate.
But it doesn't beat our favourite place for Kerala food in Bangalore - BonSouth and SouthIndies.
What we did not like
Don't order coffee (ever), you should probably avoid the tea also if you don't like it nice and sugary with lots of milk (which is how I like it and which makes Keshav nauseous ). Stick to fruit juices or carbonated beverages (if you need the caffeine).
Tea, best viewed in Wayanad
Keshav and I tried the ayurvedic massage by trained professionals who work in the district hospital - its far from the relaxing dreamy vision that ad campaigns have led us to believe. While it did us no harm, it wasn't very nice either. The wooden table was extremely hard, the oil smelt like medicine and was very hard to get rid of. The masseuse was not exactly gentle; the experience while not relaxing, was probably very good for blood circulation and the like.
My only complaint with our resort was the dim lighting in both the room and the bathroom and the presence of a humongous but docile spider on our room wall that had Keshav and I drawing lots on who would sleep on the spider side of the bed. (honest)
I wouldn't recommend this resort to honeymooners (unless they are entomologists ), but I'd recommend it to nearly every one else.
What we loved
People are extremely friendly and helpful with directions. The scenery is of the kind that makes you reach for the camera every few meters. Aside from the inside of towns, the roads on the Kerala side of the border are very good indeed.
The houses surrounding the resort all have gardens filled with flowers, particularly hibiscus. Even small modest dwellings are spotlessly maintained, have small gardens with marigolds, asters and other flowers.
September is obviously a great time to visit. We had great weather through out. Book your resorts early. Very early.
View from the Window
Service was delightful and Table tennis was part of the amenities on offer, which we used everyday.
We loved our resort and its surroundings. It is an eco-friendly resort and not a single tree was cut to build it, which I thought was just wonderful. There were lots of birds, butterflies and pretty frogs. We stayed in a cottage (vs. a tree house).
Accommodation was basic but clean and nicely done, the view couldn't be beaten.
We're definitely visiting again, hopefully with a bigger budget!