Leaving Bangalore behind, I head out in search of colder lands, greener pastures, great ‘kaphi’ and raw nature. What I chance upon is a hazy Wayanad – what exactly is happening here?

Nestled in the Western Ghats in the north east of Kerala on the southern edge of the Deccan Plateau, Wayanad is one of the more popular hill stations in the state. What most people aren’t aware of is the fact that Wayanad isn’t a hill town, it’s a district. It comprises of the three towns of Kalpetta, Mananthavady and Sultan Bathery. The towns are about 30-50km apart and offer a different taste of the hills that make up the area.

I stayed on the out skirts of Sultan Bathery. Located at about 900m above sea level, Sultan battery has an interesting back story. At one point, the late Tipu Sultan of Mysore used the Jain temple in the area for storing ammunition and launching attacks against the opposition. The Bathery in the name of the town corresponds to the ammunition battery from that time.

Sultan Bathery is the first town you’ll come across in Wayanad district when travelling from Bangalore. I drove down to the place in a car rental. The total distance to Sultan Bathery is about 265km, and it is a lovely drive! I took the route bypassing Mysore and then meandering through Bandipur National Park. The road through Bandipur is open only during the day – from 6AM to 9PM. This area is a tiger reserve. But while you’d have to be lucky to see a tiger while driving through the area, elephant sightings are more common. We came across a herd of elephants crossing the road – including a baby elephant which the herd was very protective of. Be cautious though, the national park has strict rules to protect travellers, the sanctity of the place and the animals dwelling there. You’re in an area that belongs to the animals. You’re the outsider here. Respect that fact. Alighting from your vehicles within the Tiger Reserve is illegal. That being said, there is much to enjoy. The forests in this part of Kerala are dense. The roads are well paved and neatly marked.

Top Tip: Leave early. Beat the Bangalore traffic and then drive at leisure through Bandipur. Smell the green in the air, feel the stillness and quietness of the place. It really is quite an experience.

The road trip took me about 5 hours. I left at 5:30am from Bangalore and I was in Wayanad by 11am. I’d decided to stay at Tranquil Resort, a cozy 7 room property set amidst a 400 acre coffee plantation. Just to give you an idea of how big that is – there are 13 walking trails of varying difficulty that take you up to a height of 1060m within Tranquil’s boundaries.

Tranquil prides itself on the personalised experience it offers. Victor, Ranjini, Ajay, Nisha & their daughter Zara greet you with a smile and have the most amazing stories to share. They also have three pet dogs – Sunshine the Alsatian, Sparky the Golden Retriever and Dynamite (Not sure what he is). While booking the homestay, Ajay had informed me that Tranquil isn’t like a conventional hotel. It offers a very different experience, and that’s true. For starters, the family and the guest have meals together. The dining table is full of chatter, sumptuous food and good wine.

During one of our meal time conversations, Victor brought me up to speed on the history of Tranquil. The place has been built from the ground up, one brick at a time. He’s quick to point out that Tranquil pioneered the concept of coffee plantation home stays in the area. They were also amongst the first to offer a tree house experience. Since then, the tree houses have been updated and now envelope you in comfort – offering the the last word in comfort.

What’s amazing to see is how they’ve managed to make the house an integral part of the tree. it’s like the house co-exists with the tree. The tree provides the house with the necessary support. The house on the other hand has been designed so it allows the tree to grow unobstructed. it’s a wonderful piece of architecture.

Tired from the drive, I settled into my room and took a nap. In the evening, I took Sunshine along on one of my treks within the boundaries of Tranquil. Ajay and team have done a great job of marking out the trails on a map. There’s even milestones to show you how far you’ve come and how much further you can go.

Call me old fashioned, but there’s something beautiful about an evening spent walking a dog with the sun going down behind you. It’s poetic.

The next day, I decided to drive out and see a bit of Sulthan Bathery. I’m not someone who prefers crowded places, so I gave Edakkal Caves a miss and instead drove to Karapuzha Dam. Situated on a tributary of the Kabini river, Krapuzha is one of the biggest earth dams in the country. Water from the dam is primarily used for irrigation. The area around the dam is extremely scenic. I can imagine the hills with a blanket of green during the monsoons – they would presumably be very pretty. On the day I visited, they were covered in a thick blanket of haze. Visibility was low.

On my first day in Wayanad, I had assumed the haze was a temporary local weather occurrence. But it stayed hazy throughout my stay. During our discussion, Ajay told me that a sub-par monsoon coupled with higher temperatures has resulted in a hazy Wayanad.

A hazy Wayanad is another reminder of how earth’s climate is changing. I did some research and found that the daily temperatures in Wayanad in October & November 2016 were between 2 and 5 degrees Celsius higher than historical averages. That might not seem like much, but actually adds up to something big over a period of time. Higher temperatures mean the trees and leaves and earth dry up much faster after a monsoon. These dry particles contribute to the haze, which is amplified further when the humidity increases. There’s a lot of talk about melting polar ice caps, but we’re seeing the effects of global warming much closer to home, right in our back yard. It’s alarming!

Karapuzha would’ve been a lot more satisfying had it been clearer. But it was good to trek around the dam anyway.

Back at Tranquil, I decided to head out for a trek in the evening. I followed the Braveheart trek marked on the map and then took a detour to Look Out Rock. The rock, perched on a mountain edge offers stunning views of the hills and lush green forests in the area. But hazy weather meant the visibility was limited. Nonetheless, if you decide to stay at Tranquil, I’d highly recommend trekking within the compound. More so if you have Sunshine for company.

This was a more relaxed trip to Wayanad. I steered clear of popular tourist destinations, instead choosing to drive and trek around the place. That’s left quite a lot for me to see when I go back to Wayanad, and go back I will!