Thundering waterfalls | Squelchy treks | Rain-soaked landscapes
A walk in the rain
Winding roads curve up misty mountains, ferns sprout from nooks and crannies, and streams gurgle amid an explosion of green.
In Kakkayam, the undiscovered jewel of North Kerala, the phrase 'magic of the monsoon' takes an entirely new meaning. Rubber plantations rub shoulders with jackfruit, areca, cocoa, tapioca and coconut, the backwaters of the Peruvannamuzhi Dam play hide and seek among the folds of the mountains, and no one seems to be in a hurry whatsoever. Nestled by the Malabar Wildlife Sanctuary, Kakkayam is the go-to place if you are the kind that appreciates solitude.
The charm of Kakkayam lies in its laidback pace. Go for a boat-ride on the backwaters, where, pace for occasional fisherman, the entire expanse is to oneself.
Or visit the Kakkayam Dam, a scenic 14km drive up from the town market. A short walk from the check post at the dam site leads to the Urakuzzhi Waterfalls and the suspension bridge over the stream, just where the fall starts its breathtaking tumble down the mountainside. There are guides stationed here all throughout the day, which is just as well, because it is very slippery in the rain. It is compulsory to have a guide with you at the Urakuzzhi Waterfalls.
If you do not mind a workout, the strenuous 45-minute climb up the hillside starting from St Thomas Mount is for you. For the more adventurous, the three-hour hike that starts across the road from St Thomas Mount, snaking up through the forest up to Thenginkunnu, is just what the doctor ordered. Do take a guide along for the hike, as it is easy to lose your way in the dense undergrowth. A jeep can be hired from Thallayad to drive back from Thenginkunnu.
And if you do not want a workout or adventure, there is an easy walk, too. Amble along the banks of an angry stream rushing over big boulders right below the Kariyathumpara rock to Pappanjadikuzhi. Natural pools have formed along the stream-bed that look inviting for a dip, but the water is quite forceful in the monsoon, so venture in with care.
While Kakkayam is a great place at which to base yourself, Thusharagiri Falls, an hour-and-a-half away by car is also worth a visit. Although only the lower level is open to visitors during the monsoon, the milky white waters and the dipping pools means that you would regret not making the effort to get there. This is a relatively unexplored destination, so it is best to do these activities with a local guide.
Having recognized Kakkayam's potential as a destination, Kerala Tourism has earmarked quite a sizeable sum for its development. While this might translate into better amenities for visitors, it will also mean that you would not get a free run of the place if you wait too long to visit the hidden gem. Pack those bags.
Closest city: Kozhikode (50km)
Closest airport: Kozhikode International Airport (73km). Kakkayam is an hour-and-a-half's drive away.
Closest railheads: Kozhikode Railway Station (55km).
Getting around: Autos and jeeps can be called for from Thallayad, but since it is around 10km away, it is more convenient to have a vehicle at your disposal. Hire a 4WD, because the small dirt road leading up can get quite treacherous in the monsoon.
Where to stay:
Kakkayam Homestay: This is a basic facility next to St Thomas Mount. There are only two rooms to choose from; the one on the first floor has a small garden and a rickety treehouse.
Aquarius Cottage: This charming place, with fantastic view of the backwaters, is close to Kakkayam Market. A cook is available on request.
Where to eat: The cook at Aquarius Cottage can whip up a delicious local cuisine, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian. Breakfast, lunch and dinner for two cost approximately Rs1,500 per day. You can also use the kitchen facilities if you procure your own provisions. Kakkayam Homestay also has dining facilities at the premises, along with catering services under the brand name Variety Foods. There are a couple of small restaurants in Kakkayam and Thallayad that are frequented by the locals.
What to pack: Proper rain gear, a sturdy pair of hiking shoes and leech socks
Safety: Wild animals from the Malabar Wildlife Sanctuary are said to frequent Kakkayam, so avoid venturing out on foot after dark.
Child-friendliness: Boats, rafts and waterfalls mean that children will find things to do here, but do make sure they are all strictly under parental supervision.