Edakkal Caves: Stone-age Carvings Amidst Kerala’s Famous Wayanad Rainforest

Journey into an era that tell tales from 8000 years ago. Of a prehistoric period when man found ways to make weapons and tools to hunt from stone. An era that spins the wheels of time to 3.4 million years in the past.

Trek and comb through the dense Wayanad rainforest while the rushing rhythms of heavy waterfalls and the call of wild animals sound around you while you make your way to Edakkal Caves – the only place in India that is said to have the petroglyphs of people from the Stone Age. It is one of the must-see archeological places in India and one of the best historical places in Kerala.

Located in the southern state of India, Wayanad is one of the most popular tourist places in Kerala with memorable attractions for travelers that love a wild, adrenaline-pumping adventure. Archaeological evidences suggest that the Wayanad rainforest have been inhabited for more than 3000 years with some tribals still found in the midst of its dense trees today. And Edakkal Caves is proof of that with evidence dating back to the Stone Age.

Edakkal Caves and it’s Significance

Part of the Edakkal Caves

Edakkal Caves (lit. a stone in between) was discovered by Fred Fawcett, an English police officer in the1890s in Kerala. He stumbled upon the cave and it’s carvings during a hunting trip and instantly realized its significance. When studies were made, experts found that the drawings on the cave dated back to 6000 BCE, giving researchers a window into the Neolithic Era of the nation.

The caves are situated in the remote area of Wayanad in the Western Ghats Mountain ranges at 1,200 meters above sea level in an ancient trade route connecting Mysore to the ports of Malabar. While this place is full of value and is currently one of the well known Wayanad tourist places, improper maintenance and environmental threats pose a great risk to the caves. According to The Hindu newspaper, urbanization around the megalithic site, soil erosion on the petroglyphs and granite mining around the area is the biggest dangers to this archaeological gem.

The only way to ensure the protection of the site is with a UNESCO tag (and the cave fulfils the criteria for the tag as mentioned in the paper’s article) which archaeologists, historians, geologists, and researchers fighting to preserve the diamond-worth of knowledge held on the rock walls.

Through the Rainforests in Kerala

Roads built through the famous Wayanad Rainforest Photo Credit: Graison V, Wikimedia Comms

Getting to Edakkal Caves is impossible without passing through the famed, thick forests in Kerala. This is one of the most sough-out activity in the state as well – to drive through the Wayanad Rainforest and experience the pure environment of the state’s admired jungles. Wayanad is a giant hill known for its dense woods and the wild animals that has made the evergreen dark trees their home. The only way to get to Edakkal Caves is to ride through Wayanad mountains’ curving slopes and muddy roads with the sound of a thousand crickets, cries of wild monkeys and the gush of waterfalls accompanying you throughout your jungle journey.

The roads are narrow with one side a dense, thick forest and the other a canyon with more than a thousand-feet drop. Reckless driving is not recommended and most travelers would rather take it slow than risk hurrying along the uneven roads. The ride through these forests are extremely scenic, sometimes with clouds and mists wafting through the heavy green trees, making it one of the most beautiful places in Kerala.

Wayanad Hills with surrounding dense green

Heavy streams of waterfalls can be found on the sides of the roads and while some people do stop and get out of the cars to take in the atmosphere that only a pure forest can give, it’s still recommended to stay inside your cars. The forests are home to wild animals and it’s best not to take more than five minutes outside your vehicles.

Wayanad is a long drive from all the cities with the international airports (Kochi is 8-10 hours away, Trivandrum is almost 13 hours, Kannur is almost four hours and Calicut is almost 3 hours), so it’s always recommended to stay the night at a hotel or lodging before you make your way to Edakkal Caves the next day. The caves itself will need almost half a day to explore.

Stay at a Wayanad Resort Overnight

A long drive means you’ll need to refresh yourself or rest for a day before you are on your journey to the caves. Surround yourself with the sound of the forest and experience the environment of the jungle by staying overnight in these resorts near Edakkal Caves:

Misty Hills Resort for budget travelers

Experience the perks of a resort and surround yourself with Wayanad’s coffee plantations and mountains while still keeping it in your budget at Misty Hills Resorts. This humble resort offer suites with stunning views of the forest’s million of canopies where fog and clouds linger above them.

Vythiri Resort for the luxury lovers

If you like to treat yourself to a little bit of luxury, go for Wayanad’s famous five-star resort called Vythiri Resort. With pool included villas and luxury cottages for a forest camping feel, Vythiri Resort is popular among travelers looking for a place to stay to relax and unwind.

Trekking to Edakkal Caves

Start of the steps to Edakkal Caves

The climb to Edakkal Caves is not an easy one. First, you’ll have to walk up a 1km slope before beginning the climb. Around 400 steps lead the wat=y to the cave which rest at the mountain’s summit. While this isn’t an activity for leisure walkers or those who aren’t at least used to more than a 2km walk, hiking enthusiasts, adventure travelers and avid walkers will find this part of Wayanad trekking a fun one.

Made with old, uneven steps, narrow paths and combing your way through the thick jungle will have you feeling like you’re in an action-adventure movie set out to explore a place that holds the mysteries of the past. And that is not so far from the truth. The path first starts out straight with a rising slope which then curves and gets uneven.

Once this smooth terrain is done, the straight slope merges into steppingstones that will guide your way. The stones are shaped like stairs and works in that manner, leading you to a steep incline up the hill. Halfway through the climb the stone stairs are replaced with normal steel ones with railings on both sides to avoid falling or aiding those who need a little bit of heave and push to make the rest of the way to the top. With irregular spaced stones and steep stairways accompanied with the gorgeous expanse of the Wayanad jungle, this is a thrilling path that should be on your list if you’re looking for the best trekking places in Kerala.

During the climb down, you can refresh yourself with cold drinks from small stands. These are local juices and lemonades made by the natives themselves in a real traditional style.

Edakkal Caves Painting & Carvings

Tourists gathered to see the Petroglyphs at Edakkal Caves Photo Credit: Sarah Welch, Wikimedia Comms

When you’ve made your way to the end of the stairs and to the very top, you’ll step into a small gap between towering rock-faces lined up on both sides – this is the beginning of the famous caves. The light streams through cracks and openings, creating a dim glow around the looming rocks. The rocks are slippery and at some places you will have to crouch to pass through. There are a few “off-limit” barriers here and there to keep curious minds out of trouble.

After a few minutes of walking through these dim narrow ways, a bright light and a cool gust of wind welcomes you as you stand at at the opening of the famed rocks that are almost a portal in time – the Edakkal Caves.

Formed by an earthquake, these caves are not technically caves, but rather a cleft or rift approximately 96 feet (29 m) by 22 feet (6.7 m), a 30-foot-deep (9.1 m) fissure caused by a piece of rock splitting away from the main body. On one side of the cleft is a rock weighing several tons that covers the cleft to form the ‘roof’ of the cave.

Some of the petroglyphs seen at Edakkal Caves Photo Credit: Sarah Welch, Wikimedia Comms

Markings carved into the cave walls date back to more than 8000 years ago (6000 BCE) and tell the times of people during the Stone Age and their lives in the cave and its surrounding jungle, depicting their hunts and travels. These Petroglyphs are considered to be a treasure trove for archaeologists and historians alike, making it a major discovery that gives insights into a time ranging from the Neolithic period to 1000 BCE. It is said to be the only place in India that gives insights to the people of the Stone Age era that inhibited that area.

But it isn’t just the Stone Age, some of the carvings hint that the messages could also be speaking of the Indus Valley Civilization (one of the oldest civilizations that arose in the Indian Sub-Continent during the Bronze Age). This historic gem coupled with its stunning views of nature makes it one of the best places in Kerala to visit.

Things to Remember

Wear the right outfit: The trek to the cave is steep and uneven so make sure you wear the right clothes for the occasion. A pair of hiking shoes and comfortable pants and tees should do the trick. Avoid wearing shorts during monsoon season as leeches might get tempted to stick to your bare skin.

Do not litter: The Caves are already in danger of being wiped out due to environmental damage and human actions. Do not add to it’s risk by littering. Be sustainable, be respectful and enjoy what nature and history has to offer.

Be careful of monkeys: It’s better not to openly snack while you walk as there are monkeys around. These creatures are used to seeing humans and they are extremely skilled at snatching the food right out of your hands. Don’t taunt or tempt them as they are still wild and will call on their groups of wild pals to attack you if you give them a reason to.

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