Friday, 31 May 2013

Gavi,Pathanamthitta, Kerala

Kattappana Life, a trekker’s bliss

 16th November 2004 to 7th January 2005.
Shattering everyone’s future career plans, the government came up with a new Compulsory rural service plan in 2004.  Some took it seriously but others didn’t. Anyway I was ready to take it and it was a blessing in disguise. Joe had got posting in Kumily which was near to Thekkady. With him I set off to Kattappana for a new life.
With all the big luggage, we took the train from Trivandrum and got down at Kottayam. We took a bus to Thodupuzha and then to Painavu DMO office to collect the joining letter as Assistant Surgeon. From there, we took a jeep to Cheruthoni and then a bus to Kattappana. Both of us stayed in Vimala Lodge. Joe left Kumily the next day.
17/11 My PHC was in a place called ‘20acre’ which was around 3 km from the town. The MO in charge was leave for 3 days and I managed the OP alone seeing around 200 patients.
18/11 I conducted a School Health camp in two schools at Puliyanmala. One of them was a branch of Christ Nagar where I studied in Trivandrum.
19/11 I climbed the Kurishumala hill which was very near to the town. It took around 45 minutes for the climb.  I could see the whole of Kattappana town from there and the view was very beautiful.
20/11 I went to Kumily to see Joe. We went for an evening walk with Shaji and Suresh who were sales tax officers whom Joe had met earlier. We crossed the check post and entered Tamilnadu. We saw a dam inside the forest and huge pipes which took water to Tamilnadu. We saw the town Cumbum from there and it was fantastic.
21/11 We roamed around Thekkady and saw wild boars, monkeys, giant squirrel and sambar deer
I took a week off to come to Trivandrum. I was back in Kattappana on first of December. I climbed Kurishumala once more but this time I had a camera with me. For all the trekkings around town I was enjoying  the loneliness. The place was just beautiful and the people were so simple.
2/12 I roamed around the Kattappana town and also the quarry in Puliyanmala.
3/12 I conducted the immunization camp in Kochuthovala.

5/12  After the OPD at 12 noon I walked to a nearby place called Anjuruli, a beautiful place bordered by the Idukki Reservoir. I saw a large tunnel which was around 3-4 km long carried water to drain in the reservoir. I couldn’t resist the temptation of climbing the nearby hill. There was a small teashop at the base and after asking the directions, I climbed up. The route was quite treacherous and there was no turning back. I took a break to sit down and have my packed lunch. All the time I was thinking that I was alone but I was not. As I was having the lunch, I was surrounded by a group of monkeys. Luckily I was not attacked and I quickly cleared the place. The summit of the hillock was picturesque. I could see a wide view of the Idukki reservoir and the Anjuruli, where I came from.  I also climbed another Kurishmala nearby. After watching the beautiful sunset, I climbed down on the other side to reach Nirmala City and from there I walked along the road for about 1.5 hrs to reach Kattappana. I walked for around 8 hours continuously that day.
8/12 I was part of the Wagamon- Erattupetta trip. We named it “Tour de Jumbo” as Abhishek who was doing CRS in Erattupetta was organizing it along with Joy John from Poonjar. I came from Kattappana, Joe from Kumily, Aby and Shabu from Pathanamthitta, Jujju and Deep from Trivandrum. We stayed at Erattupetta. We were lucky to watch the wonderful fireworks at the Pala Church Jubilee celebrations and we met our classmate Sherin Jos over there.
9/12 We visited the PHC of Joy John at Poonjar. There was a Python caged in a nearby church. We set of to Wagamon in Dandy Chettan’s Jeep. On the way, the tyre plate broke which made a delay of around 1 hr. In Wagamon we roamed around Rolling hills, Pine forest,

Kurishumala ashram and saw the fishes and the 6 feet tall cows who gave around 45 litres milk everyday. Joy and me climbed the Wagamon Kurishumala in 15 min. On the way back we got into a Toddy shop and had meals with fish and delicious frog fry.
12/12 I went to Kumily Church on Sunday. Later Joe, Neelesh, Joy(local guy) and me went to Cumbum in Tamilnadu. And from there to Suruli waterfalls. The irresponsible tourists were dirtying yet another nature spot. We got caught by the Tamilnadu forest guards as we tried to climb up the waterfalls. It seems there was a reserve forest with some dam over there and entry was restricted. Anyway we took photos of the falls. We climbed the Kurishumala in Kumily that evening. God alone knows how many Kurishumala hills have I climbed over these days.
14/12 Kumily was just 1 hour by bus from Kattappana. So I used to do frequent trips. On the way I visited Chellarkovilmedu. The whole place was covered with mist and I could see the beautiful Tamilnadu plains and the Cumbum town during the clearing of the mist. It was quite adventurous to explore the crevices beneath the rocks and I was alone.
15/12 After the night stay at Kumily with Joe we did a trip to Thekkady with Nilesh and Health Inspector Thankachan. We went in the “Vanadarshan” boat owned by the forest department along with a guide named Vijayan. We got the bed sheets from the Hotel Lake palace inside the forest. We got down on the forest banks after around half an hour of boat journey. We saw foot marks of many animals. Our path was blocked by a group of wild boars and we had to wait for some time
till they left. We walked for around 2.5 km to reach Manakkavala Bison Camp. It was a beautiful camp site. Our great friend Health Inspector forgot to bring the Chicken that he bought the previous day. But luckily Vijayan Chettan came out with eggs, rice, jam and other items that he brought during his previous visits. He had been a guide for the last 25 years. Chettan made Chappathi for us. We did an evening stroll around the camp for 2 hours and saw wild boars, a big herd of Indian Gaurs(around 17),Nilgiri Langur, a snake, lot of beautiful birds and  heard sounds of elephants and bear. We had a nice bath in the reservoir at around 6.30 pm and it was already dark .We could only guess the type of animals that watched us bathing. The experience was thrilling but not as thrilling as the wild life stories narrated by Vijayan chettan that night. How could I forget his crepitus laugh.
16/12 We had upma for breakfast. After a 1.5 hr walk along different route we reached the opposite banks of the boat landing area. On the way we saw a group of otters enjoying their time in water. We crossed the lake in a catamaran.In the evening, I took Joe and Neelesh to Chellarkovilmedu. This time there was no mist and everything was so visible compared to last time when I went alone.
18/12 Joe came to Kattappana. I got a bike from Koshy, the health inspector of Champakkara and with our health inspector Mathew, We went to Ramakkalmedu. The place was beautiful with 2 large statues of Kuravan and Kurathi, the rocks and the windmills and also the great view of Tamilnadu plains and cumbum town. We had dinner at Mathew’s house which was just half a km away from the tourist spot.
I went back to Trivandrum to spend Christmas with my family.
31/12 On the way back to Kattappana, I celebrated new year eve with songs and dance in KSRTC superfast bus with strangers. That was really a unique experience.
1/1/05 I visited papa’s friend Mr.V.M.Abraham and participated as chief guest and gave felicitations in their “swayam sahayaka sanghom” meeting.
2/1 After the morning Holy Mass I did trekking to a nearby place called Kallukunnu. The evening trip was to Puliyanmala rock. I really enjoyed the steep climb and the scenic beauty at the top.
3/1 Calvary mount was near to Kattappana and after the regular OP, I went there alone as always. The view of the reservoir beneath was breathtaking and that’s still fresh in my memories.
7/2 Time has passed so fast. The doctors who got appointments via Public Service Commission filed as case against the compulsory rural service saying that their jobs were in stake. So we were given the option of relieving from the service. As I was midway doing the preparation for a career in UK, I got relieved from the job of Assistant Surgeon, PHC, Kattappana on the 7th January 2005.
15/1 Joe had called me to join him for a medical camp in Pachakkanam near Kumily for the Sinhalese refugees. I couldn’t resist the temptation of another forest trip. I went to Kumily from Trivandrum.After the camp, we went to Gavi. There we saw around 6-7 wild elephants in different places and also a small deer. We visited Pampa dam too. From there around 8 of us took a jeep to Pullumedu. It was the next day of Sabarimala Makaravilakku and the Pullumedu was in the route of the pilgrims coming to Sabarimala especially from Tamilnadu. As we were nearing Pullumedu, the feel of the forest had gone and there were too many people and vehicles coming back after the ‘darsan’.  We literally ate dust. Pullumedu has become ‘mannumedu’. We reached there towards sunset. It was a bigger Wagamon. We could see the Sabarimala sannidhanam and Ponnambalamedu from  Pullumedu. This marked a thrilling end to my most unexpected Idukki life. I found the lone trekker in me. I pushed the limit of an adventurer in me to greater heights. The 2 month long first independent life away from my family marked a prelude to a greater journey  farther away and longer period which boosted my inner self, the great UK life…

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

The great Thekkady Trip

 24th February to 2nd March 2007
           One of my greatest treks covering Thekkady, Rajakkad and Chinnar. I was joined by Harisankar, Midhun, Sarin and Lakshmanan. We started from Trivandrum in train to get down at Changanassery and from there to Kumily by bus.
We reached Thekkady by evening and stayed in Tiger Bangalaw. I recognized the cook Vijayan Chettan who was the same old guy who came with me and Joe to Manakkavala Bison Camp in 15/12/2004. We exchanged old memories.
I still remember a funny moment happened that day on our way back from the trekking camp, we saw the spine and pelvic skeleton of a large herbivore(probably sambar deer). Vijayan Chettan had held it upside down and seriously describing each parts of the animal. He thought it was the skull and mistook the obturator foramen as the eyes. After all he is a naturalist and not an anatomist.  I still remember his loud and hearty crepitus laugh in the bison camp.
We also met the DFO, Mrs Padma Mahanti and the range officers, Mr Radhakrishnan, Mr Karunakaran and also Mr. Basheer(whom we later met in Gavi when he was the warden and also in Thrissur Birdwatcher’s meet).
On the 25th morning, we woke up in excitement. Everything set for the journey. Meanwhile we also met 2 foreigners, “the Timothy couple” from UK. With forest guard Chellappan and 2 other guides, we started off at about 9.00 am in the boat “vanalakshmi” owned by the forest department. We did not see any animals in the first 45 minutes. Unfortunately the boat with the tourists including the Timothys could not see any animals that day. I still remember my friends making fun of me when earlier that morning I was making a rapport with the Timothys by saying “this is the only place in kerala where we can see wild animals in close quarters
But luck favoured us. As we sailed deep in to the forest interiors, we started seeing animals, a lone tortoise on a rock basking in the sun, wild boars lined up towards the banks to drink water, cormorants and later larger ones including elephants, gaurs and sambar deers.
We headed towards Mullakudy inspection bangalaw. Mullakkudy IB was situated at the junction where MUllayar and Periyar met to become Mullaperiyar. At the landing area we saw in the water a group of large tadpoles. Believe me, we have never seen larger ones than them till now. At the IB, we were amazed on seeing the size of the skull of a gaur kept there.
After tea, we got onto the boat and were dropped on the opposite bank after a 10 min ride. From there we did a 2 hr steep climb to Kumarikulam wireless station.The view from there was breath taking. The station was very near to the Kumarikulam pond and we spent some time there enjoying the beauty of nature.
From there we started walking and covered hillock by hillock, mainly grasslands to reach Thannikkudy forest bangalaw. It was built by the Travancore Kings.Nearby we could see remnants of forest fire which ate considerable area of forest.
We took bath in the virgin Periyar river. The forest guards said we took bath in the exact place where a tiger chased a sambar deer couple of days back. The mood was thrilling and we were ecstatic.
In the Thannikudy IB, we saw large skulls of deers. At dusk, we had a stroll towards the nearby watchtower. We saw tiger pugmarks in the sandy areas of the river. The trail ended in a place where we saw remnants of tiger kill. The guards said that the tiger had come the previous night. We were in the land where the real king reigns.
We also saw foot marks of other animals like herd of wild elephants and wild dog. We joined the guards at night for fishing and got “kooral” and had them for dinner. The day was really long and tiring for us and all we needed was a good night sleep.
We set off at dawn along the periyar river, proximally to Mlappara. On the way we saw a viper, gaurs, elephants and heard a sound which the forest guards told that it was of a bear.
We tied threads on a tree as a ritual where any person who makes the first trip was supposed to tie a thread to a particular tree. All the way, the views of periyar and its valleys were breath taking. We again saw pugmarks of tiger and also its scratch marks on a particular tree. Mlappara remains the deepest area of periyar tiger reserve that we have explored. The officers in the forest station of Mlappara were very cordial.
We reached Thannikkudy by around 4 pm for the lunch.On our way back we saw a herd of elephants. They were around 8 of them. Their positioning seemed so planned that the two little ones were standing in the middle and all the adults were feeding around providing good cover to the calves.
After a refreshing bath in the river, we walked to the watch tower. We came across a herd of elephants there also. This time we got “kuyil” fish. 
On 27th morning, we headed towards Mullakudy through a different path. We saw huge tadpoles, skull of sambar deer and also hornbill. We took bath in the reservoir. From Mullakudy, we took a jeep. The journey was quite adventurous. We reached  a place called Poovarasu and saw boars, skeletal remains of elephants. 
We saw a group of hornbills. From there we went to Mangaladevi temple. Public were allowed to the temple only one day in a year. We were lucky to go there on a peaceful and silent day. We had a breathtaking 360deg view from the watchtower. We saw the thekkady reservoir, Periyar tiger reserve, Western Ghats border and the huge Tamilnadu plains. 
We reached Thekkady back by evening.

On our way to Rajakkad, We took a lodge in Nedumkandam and stayed there. On the 28th morning, we went to Mangathotti and visited our friend Paul who was a health Inspector. We visited Senapathi PHC and Mohan Chettan;s studio.

We visited Kuthungal Waterfalls near Rajakkad that evening and joined Paul chettan for fishing and got fishes like ‘paral’, ‘Neikooral’, ‘Sucker catfish’, ‘prawns’, ‘kallemutty’ and lots of other fish. The fry was yummy.
Next day we did a road trip to Chinnar wild life sanctuary via munnar and Marayoor and we saw “ kezha Deer”, boar, spotted deers. At 9 pm, I took the bus back to Trivandrum with lots and lots of thrilling memories.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Agasthyarkoodam, the ultimate journey

 Agasthyarkoodam was remaining as a dream till the 1st of February 2004. It was during our internship. It was usually very difficult to get entry tickets. I stood in the long queue in PTP Nagar Forest Office to get the tickets days before.
Together with Jibu, Jujju and in Aby’s Maruthi Zen, four of us set out for the trip. We started walking from Bonaucaud Check post at around 9.45am with packed lunch. We deviated from the path after 2 km and  headed towards Bona falls. It was a massive  falls. We had a good bath in the pool. Later we joined the trek path through a short cut. It was one of the steepest climb and Aby threw up in the first 5 km. We continued the journey and reached Athirumala at around 6.30 pm. As the name says it’s the border between Neyyar and Peppara wild life sanctuaries. We could see the massive mountain staring at us and literally it was the base camp with the vertical cliff right above. The Canteen was made of bamboo and it was looking so close to nature. We stayed in a large hall. Outside the hall it was clearly written not to enter the hall due to the dilapidated condition.
Next day early morning we started the climb. The climate and terrain was so different than previous day. Geographically we crossed Tamilnadu border and then came back to kerala. The scenary from Pongalappara to the summit was so beautiful. We felt like walking along the wonderland of Alice. It was a heavenly place so close to Trivandrum.

The final climb to the summit was quite exciting. The place was so windy. We conquered the 1868m tall giant. Surprisingly the place where Sage Agasthya’s statue was kept was very calm. They even lit candles in front of the statue.  Actually there were thick bushes all around preventing heavy winds. The 2 feet high statue according to the people was life size. The legend says Sage Agasthya was a great physician. Anyway the whole place was full of high altitude dwarf flora most of them with high medicinal value. We walked back collecting the lunch from athirumala and reached bonacaud check post by around 4 pm.
      The second trip was from February 28 to March 1st 2005. The dates were according to the Malayalam calendar. The pilgrimage period was from Sabarimala makara vilakku to Sivarathri. So luckily people were allowed to enter the sanctuary only for around 2 months in a year.
This time I was joined by Jibu, Anish, Lakshmanan, Sarin, Basanth, Harisankar and Joy. We parked our bikes at our classmate Rakhi’s home in Nedumangadu. We had bath in Bona falls. The scortching sun really hit us this time also in the meadows. I got cramps in hamstrings and quads of both legs.

On the way to Ponkalappara we saw few wild Gaurs from far. At the summit we met our class mate Niranjan’s brother. It was yet another unforgettable trip.
My third trip to Agasthyarkoodam was with Papa and Jibu. It was 23rd and 24th January of 2007.  As always, we enjoyed every bit of the trip taking photos, cherished those breath taking views. Papa had a very hard test of his endurance. We could only reach some distance short of the summit as we were getting late. We reached the check post at around 8 pm

When it come to endurance, Agasthyarkoodam trip was always the hardest trek ever done, ~55 km in 2 days. gone thrice. Even the thought of one more trip is so thrilling. Cherish those passing moments of
EXCITEMENT( at check post)-
TIREDNESS (attayar)-
DEAD MAN WALKING (grassland walk)-
HELPLESSNESS(the 7bend hills)-
REJUVENATION(the canteen food)-
THRILL(the final climb)-
ECSTASY(the summit) and finally
CONTENTMENT(u feel it all the way back).
U feel lonely, yet fulfilled; tired yet satisfied. I tell you anybody would become philosophical. AGASTHYARKOODAM IS A MUST SEE IN EVERY ADVENTURER'S LIFE