Tucked within the green hills of Wayanad in Kerala are a rock shelters which have been a source of wonder to archaeologists and historians ever since they were discovered in 1895 by Superintendent of Police of Malabar District, Fred Fawcett, during a hunting trip through the region. The prehistoric drawings and engravings on the rock walls, which date back to 6000 BC, indicate these caves were occupied as early as the Neolithic Age.Located about 16km from Sulthan Bathery, the caves are located in the Ambukuthi Hill. According to geologists, these are not exactly caves but a fissure in the rocks – a long wide and cleft, about 30 feet deep, with a fallen rock on top, giving the impression of a rock shelter. According to local people, the name Ambukuthi is linked to a legend about Rama piercing (‘kuthy’) the rock with an arrow (‘ambu’).Subsequent exploration of the rock shelter have revealed that the subject of the paintings vary from geometrical and floral patterns to tools to animal and human figures in various poses among other things. Researchers have also found an ancient Tamil Brahmi script as well as sculptures from various ages, including images of a tribal king, queen, child, an elephant, a deer, etc. With the finding of a ‘man with a jar cup’ – a key symbol from the Indus Valley civilisation – and other symbols, researchers are trying to find out if there was some link between the cave people and the people from the river valley. In 2016, talking to The Deccan Chronicle, historian M.R. Raghava Warrier said interpreting the background and the link between the civilisations was a time consuming study.
Although the caves have to be reached by a steep trek through the forest, the Edakkal Caves are now a popular tourist attraction. During pre-COVID days, people would throng the caves during holidays. Although it may not be as much crowded but some recent reviews did mention about the rise in number of visitors.
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A walkway has been created up the hillside and it may take 45 minutes to one hour. However, people with weak knees or other health problems should consider the level of difficulty before venturing.
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For some obscure reason, the Edakkal Caves are not monitored by the Archaeological Survey of India. According to scientists and local history enthusiasts, the rock shelters are in need of immediate protection and maintenance from the vagaries of nature as well as environmental degradation. It has been said that the state government had initially pitched in to get the site recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site but at the moment it seems to have stalled.
The Edakkal Caves are about 16km by road from Sulthan Bathery, which is about 100km by road from the nearest railway station Kozhikode. Calicut International Airport is 23km by road from Kozhikode. There are several resorts in the area, including KTDC’s Hotel Pepper Grove in Sulthan Bathery. According to some visitors, do be careful of your belongings from the marauding monkeys while travelling to and from the caves.