“Pala puli thananthakaari vetukopanakacham nannu chaththi”
This inscription seen on a rock, is in ancient Tamil. It means a powerful man of Naga origin who killed so many tigers…may be that such a personality had lived in that mountain or cave.
This mountain is the famous “Ambukuthi mala “in vayanadu and this inscription is found in Idaykkal caves in Ambukuthi mala which is situated 1200 meters above sea leve. Idaykkal caves is enriched with many inscriptions like this. Meanings of some inscriptions are yet to be decoded.
I’ve been roaming in and around Vayanadu for a long time. But a visit to Idaykkal caves, one of the most important destinations in vayanad which could even be one of the most important historical sites of India….it just didn’t happen till now.
This visit was planned along with my colleague Thansheer, and we were much particular to enquire about the other possible spots near Idayakkal, to be included in our trip. From Mananthavadi, we reached Idaykkal through Sulthan batheri via Ambalavayal.
On our way, we saw that State Tourism Board had put up a sign board to help visitors reach ‘Phantom Rocks’ … Couldn’t help from spending some time in those rocks, named after the famous ‘walker uncle’. All of us know that, now days, the rocks and rivers are slowly disappearing. I saw that a neighbouring rock has almost fully vanished. May be in future, the Phantom Rocks will also be having the same fate.
Ambukuthimala is not very far from Phantom Rocks. There are enough parking facilities at the base of the hill along with the shops and other tourist attractions. It’s a bit over 1 km to reach the hiking point. But jeep services are also available to people who are queasy about walking this distance.
Private vehicles are not allowed in here… and yes, we opted for walking to reach the caves. Once in a while passenger jeeps pass by us, to and fro…Cottages of ‘Idaykkal Hermitage’ – the one and only resort in Idaykkal, can be occasionally seen on either sides of the road. Though our dinner order had been placed in advance in the hermitage, we did dial to confirm our arrival. In this part of the world its better not to take any chances!
When we reached the base of the mountains, it was crowded with school, college students and other tourists. The whole thrill and leisurely enjoyment of a trip gets spoiled in such a crowd. Photography was also going to be a tricky issue!
If we can cover the long distance to idaykkal and hike a kilometer, a couple of extra people wouldn’t be a challenge and we started the journey into the heart of the idykkal legacy.
‘One at a time’ was the system there and people were passing patiently maintaining the queue…
Progress was slow as the queue moved forward by clinging to and scampering over the hard rocks. Iron ladders and bridges were there in some places to make it easier for the tourists.
Compared to the last days quest to conquer“Chembra Peek “reaching Idaykkal caves seemed to be not the hardest thing in the world. May be it appeared easy due to our sluggish pace and indefinite breaks in the hike…..thanks to the commoner crowd!
Our ascend came to an end as we reached an iron gate which was the entry to the cave. We moved slowly to the insides i.e. the base levels of Idaykkal cave. These areas contain features which re affirms the contemporary outlook in the reader’s mind of a cave; but towards the interior they become less cave-like. Not much roofing is there and so Sunlight comes in abundance.
In 1894 Fred Fawcett discovered Idaykkal Caves accidentally. He was the District Superintendent of Police in Malabar and realizing its historical importance Fawcett brought the Caves to international limelight. Now Idaykal Caves is under the protection of Archeological department.
Inside the Caves—well….it was crowded. But hey! No surprises there!! It is always like this in Idaykkal Caves. Doesn’t make a difference whether it is a Saturday or a Sunday or even a week day. Maybe a little more crowded on a holiday, that’s all.
How did the caves get this name?—In an earthquake that happened thousands of years ago ,a portion of the mountain was destroyed and a huge piece of rock got stuck up in between the two rocks on the top layer of the Caves. Thus comes the name ‘Idaykkal Caves ‘.(means – a rock in between)
That piece of rock is still there in the same position. As an effect of the earthquake, a horizontal gap is there on the side of the caves .Through the gap; we can have a view of ‘Aayiramkolli’ and ‘Kappakolli ‘villages in a long shot .Precautions have been taken to ensure the safety of visitors so that no one falls down through the gap there.
As mentioned earlier the crowd was little too much and was a bane for a detailed view of the cave. After a long wait, we were able to talk with the people from Archaeological Department and clarify the historical facts which we had previously heard…..
The history of Idaykkal caves is so vibrant and detailed that Researchers and Historians are still unable to fully unfold them. For me it was a real help that I had done my homework with the books of historians like O.K.Johny.
Most of the inscriptions are on the left side of the Caves. These entries are assumed to be inscribed in the period of New Stone Age(Neothlic – c4000BC to c1700BC). The period when humans started with pottery, metals, agriculture and animal rearing.
Many of the murals depict humans, animals, flowers and tools. Certain drawings are difficult to be distinguished as they were overdrawn by others.
Certain stone weapons has been found from Kuppamedu Estate near Sultanbathery in 1890 -1901.Tools like hammer and axe made of stone has been found from Idaykkal caves also. All these confirm the assumption that the pictures seen in the caves belong to New Stone Age. What so ever it is clear that the caves were occupied by more than a single tribe…
The oldest inscriptions in the caves are considered to be more than 8000 years old. Took their snaps when light permitted and we had a chat with the people of Archaeological department.
Even after extensive scientific studies about the caves, the myths and legends which are widespread still remain at large in the minds of the locals.
Caves made from the arrows of Lava & Kusa (sons of Lord Rama)…. The caves where Lord Rama attacked Soorpanakha. The Mountain cleavage caused by the arrows sent by Krishna. These are some of the stories told about the Caves. Besides these, certain local stories related to Idaykkal Bhagavathi , Nellakottu Bhagavathi are also being said about “ Ambukuthi mala “ and Idaykkal Caves..
Until recently rituals were being performed in the temple at the mountain top. (Historians state with proof that this was a Jain temple)
It was closing time by then but visitors were still trickling in. Ambukuthimala is about 500ms higher than the caves and if you want to reach the peak of the mountain, you need to crawl through another cleave of the rocks. This passage is so narrow that only one can barely pass at a time. Thansir, my friend was heavier than me and when I watched him trying to accommodate himself through the split, with a bag on his back ….an amusing doubt with a smile came to me…..What if the gap is permanently……
I could see a group of almost 20 youngsters who had managed to reach the other side of the cleave. They were relaxing now and decided not to climb further as it was riskier…
The next one was a big round rock ….Though an iron ladder and a rope were all there to help the climbers , it was not an easy task, with the camera and the Tripod..
The view of Vayanad was getting more and more vivid as we scaled to the peak. At that distance we could recognize the Phantom Rock and the mountain.
Sand was being scattered everywhere on the rock making it slippery and with the shoes it was even more difficult. A group of adventurous school students who were coming down warned us to not use the shoes for further ascent.
The other day we had climbed Chembra Peak which was higher than this…Now here it seemed to be wise to avoid a go with the crowd of youngsters. Considering our age, the camera that we had and our own life, we decided to put a full stop here to our hiking.
On our way back, we enjoyed certain local refreshments like ‘sarbath’ (a modified version of lime soda), salt pickled mango and gooseberry. These helped us to feel fresh after the tiring trip. As there was still time for dinner, we decided to visit the Heritage Museum at Ambalavayal.
We reached the Museum before dark and there too it was crowded with school students. But it is indeed a good thing that more and more people visit Vayanad to enjoy the sites.
Some of the attractions of the Museum are the trinket leftovers of ancient man – ‘Madambi Vilakku ‘ , ‘Veerakallukal ‘ and partially damaged stone statues etc etc … We also saw tools , weapons , Ornaments and Clay Utensils which were still used by tribals.
Moon was up by the time we where finished with the museum .Once again back to Idaykkal. We observed with a smile that local people were inquisitive when we started the drive and someone even cared to confirm that we were going to “ Hermitage Resort “.
A variety of facilities like different types of cottages, Restaurants, Tree Houses, Open air Theatres and conventional Ayurvedic treatments like Uzichil-Pizhichil are all available in Idaykkal Hermitage.
Mr.Raghu, manager of the Hermitage showed us the cottages. When I saw the Tree houses overlooking the valley, I decided to spend one or two days out there on my next visit. A Total skip from the stressful city life!!
Now it was dinnertime. This dinner can be called the ‘Highlight’ of Idaykkal trip. Resort has a natural cave of its own. A big rock forms the upper portion of this cave restaurant. And this rock roof manages itself on the support of sand and small rocks on the side. Just a small cave hole marks the entrance and exit door. Inside it is spacious enough to accommodate 3 – 4 tables. Still food is not served on more than one table at a time.
To let us enjoy that feel of a ‘ dinner at Caves ‘ the staff left us alone after the food was set on the table.
More than 50 Candle lights – Pin drop silence – Thansir and me in that Cave for almost an hour… The Best ever dinner in my Life!!!
I haven’t heard about such a cave dinner system, anywhere in the world. But it does exist in ‘God’s Own Country ‘– Our Little Kerala — Places we have never been to, unseen sights, Historical caves, scenic beauty and so many unforgettable experiences…
Translated from my Malayalam blog ‘Chila Yaathrakal‘ by Jyothi