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Romancing the clouds on top of Wayanad at Chembra in January 2005

Every time I pass through Wayanad, I start dreaming about settling down in this beautiful piece of land. This time was no different. But the urge to come back for more was much stronger this time. Okie ... for the beginners ... Wayanad is nestled in the Western Ghats and is located in the northeast tip of Kerala, bordering both Tamilnadu (Nilgiris district) and Karnataka (Chamarajnagar district). Chembra is the tallest peak in Wayanad, with an altitude of 2100m[1], taller than Mullayangiri, the tallest in Karnataka.

Me and Ashi first conspired to do this trek. Then inspired Pappan and Mahesh. We all then conspired once again to inspire Rajeev. In spite of a last minute threat of joining us, Divya couldn't make it. Neither did Cinish, who backed off last minute to attend a film festival. So, it was a gang of five and we started from Bangalore (Bengaluru), in my Versa, on a Saturday evening, about 4.30.

The drive was horrible, the under construction Bangalore - Mysore / Mysuru expressway (which is now a pothole highway) and a huge deviation in NH212, immediately after Mysore till Nanjangud (for reasons unknown) compounded to the usual night driving woes. We had dinner at Sriranga Patnam and managed to reach Vythiri, by around 12.30. Ashi's uncle had an estate and house at Vythiri, and we stayed there for the night (or whatever was left of it).

Chembra is located near Meppadi (Meppady), 11kms off NH212 (Kollegal - Mysore - Kozhikode). For people who prefer public transport, KSRTC (both Kerala & Karnataka) and a lot of private companies operate overnight deluxe and fast passenger buses between Kozhikode (aka Calicut) and Bangalore. At Chundale (about 6kms past Kalpetta, 5 kms before Vythiri and 62kms before Kozhikode), one has to take a deviation to the left. People taking buses can get down at Kalpetta and catch another bus to Meppadi. Meppadi is 11kms from Chundale, in the SH29, connecting Chundale to the Tamil Nadu border and from there to Pandalur, Gudalur and Ooty.

We started about 7 from Vythiri, next day, and went back towards Kalpetta, till Chundale and took the deviation to Meppadi. These roads are a treat to drive on, with beautiful views of the hills and tea estates. Chembra is along a road going to the right (there are sign boards to indicate this) just before Meppadi town. We stopped at Meppadi town for breakfast and packing our lunch and then continued towards Chembra. About 7 more kms in ghat roads through the middle of some beautiful estates will take you to the foothills of this majestic peak. We got down at the end of the road and enquired with a watchman (of a nearby estate gates) over there, who told us that we should have taken permission from Meppadi forest office, without which we will not be allowed to trek up the hill top!!!

By this time, a guide and the guard at the watchtower, situated in the foothills, came there and finally took pity at us and allowed us to go ahead. By 9.30, we picked up the minimum required luggage (food and water, a towel) and proceeded to climb up the hill, with Mr. Rangan, the guide, who turned out to be a nice chap and pretty enthusiastic in explaining things around.

We started walking round some tea plantations towards the watchtower and midway through, took a small path through the plantations. With an almost 60 degree climb, it was a sudden start to a long trek. I started panting by the time we went past the plantations. Soon, Mr. Rangan showed us a path joining ours from the right; this was the route from the watchtower. 10 more minutes there was another 'junction' and we were asked to keep left. The path to the right goes inside the jungle. Soon after this we were out of tree cover and a long steep climb up was visible. Our guide explained that the climb up to Chembra involves 7 stages and what we could see now was the first stage. The only thing that kept me going was the beautiful mist cover around us - it was awesome. A strong breeze would now and then clear the mist cover, only to get restored within minutes. Couple more minutes I was tired and unable to keep up with our guide, whom Mahesh and Pappan closely followed. To top it, I was feeling some stomach trouble as well, thanks to the heavy breakfast at Meppadi. I decided to take a toilet break in between the bushes and in the process get some rest. Privacy was not an issue in this mist :)

Chembra peak
Up ... Ahead ... in the Distance ...

It was a good break to have at that point. From then, I could walk without much trouble all the way up, gradually picking up speed. We went past the first stage and the climb continued to be steep. About half an hour after we started, in the middle of the second stage, our guide showed us a very thin source of water, dripping from inside the rocks. He said that this is the only drinking water source during the whole trek and asked us to fill up our bottles. The source was very thin and hardly noticeable, but the water was divinely cold and sweet. After the second stage we reached somewhat a plane. Our guide took us slightly outside the path to show the remains of a deer eaten up by some carnivorous animals. He also showed us a lake, which was dried up by then.

Heart shaped lake
The Heart Shaped Lake

By 10.30, we reached the second lake, which has not dried up for a pretty long time. It was heart shaped and a good source for water, though not drinkable. Lot of remains of people camping there was scene and the place was littered pretty badly, with plastic, paper, cigarette/toffee/chocolate covers and liquor bottles (even broken) lying around. It looked pitiable.

We continued our trek by 11, along the mist. By then, there was occasional sunshine and most of us reached a steady pace. Except for some occasional plains, especially soon after the lake, the climb was pretty steep throughout, sometimes approaching 60 degrees. But considering the mist and the beautiful surroundings, the effort was well worth it. Plenty of photographs were taken and we climbed up slowly and steadily.

Ashi, Mahesh and the lake
Miles to go before we sit ...

Our guide also helped considerably by narrating some of his experience. Stories of spotting and catching a black panther by the forest department, story of people choosing this place as a hideout, of people causing melees here and getting beaten by the locals, blossoming of Neelakurinji (Strobilanthus) two years back and introduction of permissions for visiters/trekkers soon after that. By about 11.30 we could spot the tip of Chembra peak and also some other peaks in the surroundings. Our guide told that what we saw is the Nilambur forest and Vellarimala[1][2], which is taller than Chembra @ about 2200+ m and lies in Kozhikode district. In between, for a brief moment, the mist cleared completely and gave us a glimpse of the clear blue sky. Over yonder, near the horizon, the clouds looked as if it was at the same height as us and Rajeev said, "Wow ... now it is no issue even if it rains ... we are above the clouds!!!"

@ the meadows
A Walk in the Greenery

Just before noon, we went past the sixth stage of our trek and were climbing the last frontier. The top most peak had some rocky formations along the route and we had to lumber past them. Finally, we saw our guide, moving just ahead of us, sitting in a rock and declaring it as the top of the peak. Me and Pappan, though completely drained out were literally running up. Soon we reached the top and howled, whistled and shouted aloud to our friends behind us. We had done it atlast!!!

Me just lied down on of the rocks for a while, once the excitement was over. Others joined after their share of howls and shrieks. We soon realized that we had a problem - there was no water!!! It was impossible to have food there, without water even for washing hands. We decided to open up the milk and bread packets and postpone the lunch until we reach the lake. In any case we had to stop there for a while - at the top of Wayanad.

@ the peak
On the top of Wayanad

As and when the mist got cleared, Rangan showed us some of the places around. Vythiri town, Lakkidi, Pookot lake and some of the roads. We got down slightly on the other side and even spotted the heart shaped lake. Few more snaps and we went back to the top again.

While coming up, Pappan had suggested picking up some of the litter on the way and we had decided to do it while going back. Now was the time. There was considerable litter all around. Plastic covers, toffee/chocolate wrappers, paper plates, plastic glasses, cigarette packets ... almost everything you can imagine. We picked up couple of plastic covers and cleaned up the place, picking up whatever plastic, paper plates and cigarette wrappers we could spot. We had two covers full of litter and one more free cover, when we started descending, at about 1.

Our guide did a very sweet thing by this time. He picked up couple of sticks from around and distributed among us. Those would be big help while climbing down. I kept the empty cover with me and picked up whatever litter I could spot while descending.

Descend was quick, in spite of the rag picking. In about 40 minutes me and Rangan reached the lake, also collecting a cover full of litter on the way. We saw a group of students going up and requested them not to litter the place. Just before the lake I felt some pain in my thighs, but ignored it and went ahead to reach the lake. Pappan and Mahesh soon joined us at the lake. Mahesh had a small scratch on his arm and did some cleaning up near the lake. Ashi and Rajeev took some more time but joined us soon. There was another group of guys near the lake, who was wondering if they should go up, or get down and go to Soochipara water falls, about 13 kms from Meppadi. Our guide told that there is not much water in Soochipara, but they finally decided to go ahead.

We soon opened up the lunch pack we had taken from the hotel in Meppadi - Appam, Kadala (Chana) curry and Egg curry. It was a tasty lunch, though cold, thanks to the hungry stomachs. After lunch we continued descending by about 2.30.

At every 10m of our journey there was atleast one small plastic cover. This was the case throughout the trip and I picked up whatever I could. 10 more minutes we reached near the water source, filled up our water bottles and emptied them in no time. We were all damn thirsty without any drinking water after we reached the top of the peak. By about 3, we found ourselves walking towards the Versa and depositing almost four full covers litter at the entrance. Rangan told us that he would take care of disposing it. We also paid him his guide fees. We may not have required a guide for this trek. But, with him it was even easier and took lesser time. Considering his enthusiasm and the fact that he worked hard almost all day for this, the Rs. 250 he asked for was not much.

After the trek
Back ... in level ground

Finally, we clicked some more snaps and bid adieu to the wonderful hills. Ashi had called up his father and booked us the return tickets from Kozhikode to Bangalore. I had to take my car to Kozhikode, my hometown and so we drove past the Wayanad ghats and Thamarassery to reach the city by 5.45. I reached home about 6, after droping every body at their places and boarded the bus by about 9 in the night, to reach Bangalore by Monday morning. The trek ends, but my desire to settle down in Wayanad grew even stronger.

  1. This is actually a bluff which I found out after a 2nd trek to Chembra and a trek to Wayanadan Mala, the actual 2100m peak.
  2. Yet another bluff - Nilambur forest is not visible from here and the forest seen from the top of Chembra is a valley between Wayanad hills & Vellarimala hills. From Wayanad, Nilambur forest can be spotted by trekking down Meenmutty falls.

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