Kodai – Munnar Escapade [Trekking between the 2 most beautiful hill stations of Kodaikanal and Munnar, over the top station, May 1 – 3, 2009]
What’s in store:
This trek offered one of the wonderful experiences of passing through the Mathikettan Shola forest to open grasslands, to pine forests, to beautiful large lakes, to Wonderful water falls, and different types of flora. There is so much of freshness with cold climate of high altitudes and so much greenery one would barely want to come back to the hot concrete jungle of Chennai. From time to time I just kept my eyes wide open to let in the freshness cleanse my eyes. We had to trek, walk, run, slide, hurdle jump, long jump, high jump, bend, squat, crawl, stumble (fall) and what not, complete action packed 3 days in the wildness of nature.
Sholas are found in sheltered pockets to valleys over 1000 mts. Altitude belonging to 11/Ac southern montane wet temperate forests. The trees are evergreen. The lichens epiphytes and mosses are thriving over the trunks and branches of the trees Heavy leaf litters and moulds are formed to a measure of 6 inches by retaining maximum rain water and thus acting as a “living reservoirs”. The predominant shola species are Rhododendron, Vaccinium, Syzygium and Microtropis. The Eco system provides shelter breeding and feeding ground for varied species of the Mammals birds amphibians and invertebrates. The sholas are called as the “Living Fossil Community” as they are disappearing day by day. (One of the Board said all these) More info in wiki.
A Bit of History:
The Munnar-Kodai road was made motorable during World War II to facilitate the evacuation of the planters from Munnar to Madurai and beyond in the event of a Japanese invasion. It is not at all in usable state today, large sections are broken and overgrown. As a result, denizens of the forests roam wild, making it a much sought after trekking route.
Who are we:
65 young energetic fellas from the 2 most thriving IT destinations Chennai and Bengalooru have conquered the jungles of Kodai – Munnar on those high peaks. To beat the heat of this harsh summer, Kodaikanal (TamilNadu) and Munnar (Kerala) are the most sought out hill stations by Tourist. But we were not tourist and we were not there for that reason. Our mission, to retrace the Old British route between these 2 hills. This is quite a bit of challenge in retracing the roads, which hardly exists in its original shape. It is quite obvious that a least used route for ages from the period of second world war would hardly be motarable and it will surprise you quite a bit.
Kodai – Munnar Escapade: Day 1
Kodaikanal – CapsValley – Berijam – Forest Staff quatersFriday May 1, 2009
People say “Everything that begins well, Ends well”. Remixed version for this trek it has to be “Everything that begins late, Ends late”. To begin with the Chennai city traffic and then the highway traffic, Dinner at wee hours of the morning (1 Am), and then get up in the morning to know that we are still in Vathalaguntu at 10AM. We had more than 6 hrs of trek planned for
the first day and we are good 1/2 day behind schedule. The uphill journey was a pain (slow drive), that you would not miss out even a single tree or rock that passed by your window seat. The bus was in such a condition that even a snail would have got better maneuvering capabilities to reach its destination quicker.
Reached Kodai at 2 hours post noon. Met the gang from Bangalooru who had reached well ahead of time. Quickly (hmmm not so quick) grabbed lunch and packed ourselves in 3 vans and headed towards caps valley passing through the Forest check post. We had got all the required forest permission and our Guide Mani had good contacts with the Forest guards and the locals. Vans
left us at the “Caps Valley” and we pack our bags and click a few snaps to begin the trek. Picked up the energy bars, glucose and water bottles for next 3 days. Accepted the greetings from the monkey battalion assembled by the van. Assembled at the caps valley near the fence, head count and off we go into the jungle.
It is around 4.15 PM as we begin and evening sun glowing up the hills opposite of us. Surprise, within just 15 mins of the start, we had dead Bison decaying by the woods, with all the flesh eaten up, left with the bones and skin. Crossed it and we went into deep woods. Hours pass by as we cross different logs of wood, small streams, jump over the rocks, bend down to move under the trunks of trees that are grown all over with no order. Reached a beautiful scenic place where there were lots of bushes and tall trees. Ate the food packets that were packed (ROtis and sabji). Hoping that was our dinner and within minutes the sun says bye for the day. Relying on our alternate source of energy and other than the usual Solar power, we dared to cross dense forest in the dark. The trek became a little more demanding with more logs to “cross over and under” and streams with steep rocks. And suddenly to the surprise of all, there is a beautiful Tar road in the midst of the jungle. Probably better than the city roads. All dropped their backpacks and rested for a while. Head count starts and we are on our foot again. This was peace, no trouble – walk on the road for atleast 5-6 km, talking, singing and enjoying the beauty of nature. Then we reached the forest
guard’s staff quarters. The cold was taking its toll as we all wore jackets/ jerkins and mufflers. It would be 8.30 to 9 Pm and we all put down the backpacks and rested on fresh green and wet grass slopes with the wide open sky as the roof.
And just before this as we crossed a lake, there was a Board saying the following things about the things around the Berijam lake
1. Swamp Eco-System
2. Fresh water Eco-System
3. Nature Trail
5. Medicinal Demo-Garden
7. Nature walk
8. Grass Land
As we settle down in the grasslands, the organizers shouted, get out the soup packets that we had distributed. There were people arranged for cooking with big big vessels, and firewood and they had been cooking for a while in that cold, the dinner for us. But starters first, so we wait for the soup to be cooked, and we enjoy hot hot soup in the cold cold weather. Before the soup distribution is done, the food queue is formed and what good Rice, Sambar, Rasam and Cabbage sidedish were served hot hot. There were hardly any light and the whole scene is happening in pitch dark with the help of torches we had. I took some snaps and got my serving. Figuring where will I get light to eat this!!, there was one very good gentleman holding his torch high up and 5 other people were around him like a round table and eating. I just sneaked in to get some light and quickly gorged down my food. Dinner is over and we all move into small 1 room buildings adjacent to each other, which were supposed to be Canteen and store room, and lay our sleeping bags. Cuddle inside hiding from the cold. 2 tents were to be laid for the spill over.
Kodai – Munnar Escapade: Day 2
Berijam (British Transit camp) – Kavunji – Poondi – NattampattiSaturday May 2, 2009
Still cuddling inside my sleeping bag, denying the fact that some Sun rays have touched this part of the land. Got on the foot, ready to discover tranquility, peaceful location to answer the Nature calls. Came back to the base, had some hot lemon tea. Geared up, packed the bags, then had breakfast. Probably only place we had group snap, in front of the “Britisher’s Transit Camp”. Getting ready for the day ahead. This day I would call as a peaceful, less adventurous and enjoy nature walk. 70% of the day was through pine forest. You could find nothing but dead pine needles on the forest floor, pine cones and tall pine trees. We have passed through real dense forests that we could even find red colored pine needle leaves. As we moved on we found open grass lands with no trees in the vicinity, and then moved up the hill to find more pine trees, cones and found a small red thing on the ground. Guess what it is a very small mushroom, bright red color with white/yellow dots. Its official name is “Amanita muscaria”.
More info on wiki
Clicks and moved on to find a few more of them on the way. Soon within next 10 mins we found another Bison skeleton. All bone parts scattered with bright skull with 2 well shaped horns. Had to run many a times as I stopped to take more photos and let the team walk past me. Then we reached a very brilliant pit stop. A large lake, with one end of bank we all marched down and on the other 3 ends had tall trees, some dry and some very green. There were a few small streams running on the other side of the bank, and many had a dip and wash in the stream. After a very good break for more than 30 mins, we moved on the terrain up into woods, basically more work for the leg. After a while we stopped at another very beautiful lake, which proved lot better but smaller to the previous one. But smaller means time to take a dip. A gang rushed in with all spraying water on others bringing them back to their childhood days. Spent a real good 1 hr here, combo lunch halt. Found some real good flowers, bushes and lovely trees.
We noticed some local village women cut loads of wood and carry them on their head. Good news after seeing them is that we are near some civilization, and it will not be a steep uphill from here. We moved further and within next few kilometers we started to see large terrace cultivated mountain slopes. The whole of the slope had nothing but cultivation. Most of these were barren or no crops, and I felt how could tea be cultivated like this. Upon a small conversation with the locals learnt that they cultivate Carrot, Beans, garlic and other crops. Now I realize oh carrots are root crops. Few steps a man working on his form plucks out fresh carrot from his garden. And steps down a girl had a sack full of carrots and all the people ahead in my group had picked a couple of carrots each. I too did the same, washed in a near stream and ate them. I just offered some chocolates I had to them. Moved on further, walking by the women who were all the while carrying the logs of wood from jungle, gave them the last bit of energy bars left in my bag and learnt that there is a small village near by with “TEA SHOPS”. Wow, time for tea. Rushed into the tea stall next 500 mts. This place is called “Kavunji”. Before I could complete my tea, rain starts. Man fresh mountain rain is something not to miss, but no one (except one) was ready to get their dress wet. Waited for patiently for the rain to subside. Then we have to move to the guest house which is good 15 kms away. Hired one van which fitted only 25 people odd. Others walked along the road, crossing small places which the name board said as “Poondi”. Then we had covered quite more than half the distance and still no sight of the van for the next shuttle. There was a big gang in front, and we were in the fag end slowly dragging a bit. Van arrives to reach the last person on the trail and picked up us on the way. We all sat on top of the van, which gave us the feeling of a “Fast elephant ride in the hills”. Wow… Then reached the guest house in “Nattampatti”, welcomed by hot lemon tea.
Changed and all set to stroll around. It was evening 5ish. Suddenly people wanted to play kabadi and we formed 2 teams and all had v.good fun, though I could not personally perform well. Participation was important. Okay, the guide promised us for a falls near by, and all started walking downhill at around 6.15pm, where the sun started to say bye bye. We reached the place to find that the falls is way below and we had to jump from terrace cultivation platform to other, and like that reach the bottom after some 50 such jumps. And there is not much of water down, so a bunch of people returned after first 4 or 5. Then we strolled further down to some village and back to our guest house. Nice place, we setup campfire, and most of us settled around it till late night. Singing basically for most of the time. Picked up the food in between, aaaaaaahhhh what a hot side dish for the semiya upma we got. Man it was nothing but hot chilly. Slowly moved to have more participation from the crowd for the songs, dominated initially by Hindi and then forcibly moved on tamil songs. Adjusted in the limited space to sleep and this night was much better and warmer than the previous night.
Kodai – Munnar Escapade: Day 3
Nattampatti – TamilNadu/Kerala border – Kovillur [- Munnar – Theni, on wheels] Sunday May 3, 2009
If I may say, this is the real day of action, adventure, and real experience. Other days were just picnic. Day with regular activities, packing bags, food, water bottles and hit the road. Oh my god what a day of activity. No one will forget the uphill and the downhill of the day, who were part of this trek. we started walking in the jungles, uphill, within hours our water bottles emptied and finding very little streams on the way to refill. Adding to the thirst is the uphill climb with people already taking breaks in the first 2 hours of walk. Still we are very much in TamilNadu and crossing the hill top to reach the other side, to enter Kerala. Keep following track, stopping very little time to click photos. Just keep pushing yourself to keep the pace. Still lots of pine trees, on the open lands, sun shining harsh on us directly, though in the hills we could feel the heat and I was sweating a bit atleast shirt as was carrying a heavy backpack. I truly realized the meaning of “Travel light”. You could live without some extra fittings, like a sweater, second pair of clothes etc, but cannot carry it along.
After few hours of walking we hit a much wanted water spot. Yes the falls. It was a good 100ft water fall with sufficient water. Filled in bottles (filtered the water), and all settled at the top of the falls. I wanted photos of the falls from the bottom, so couple of us decided to climb dowm. The route was very dangerous. There is not a single hard rock to step on, it was full of some kind of grass/ red needle leaves and soft bushy slope. We stepped on soft floor which went in, as much as we pressed it. Just moved on top of it like a cat without creating much of pressure. After 15 20 steps down, I found a large trunk of tree, green in color and was almost the root side of the tree grown horizontally. I thought I got some good hard place to move on in this unstable ground. Greater surprise, this was much softer and possibly went in like a sponge or rather a hollow straw. Man thinking twice whether to make it further, we managed to move on, and reach the bottom. Only 5 out of 65 made it down here. Trying to click all the possible shots of the falls with smoky falls, droplets and rainbow and all the fun with camera. Spent quite a bit of time here to find the whole team has left ahead of us and a bunch of 10 are left behind. People from top shouting for us to start up and move.
Came up and rushed to join the gang, running through the grasslands, pine trees, crossing the burnt trees (an effort by the forest department to control forest fire), more pine, red pine needles, green pine needles, marshy landscapes, uphill and soon reached another small water spot to refill. This was the last water spot for the whole trip. So we had to save water. Now comes the time for hurdle jumping. There are trees fell all over the place. Every 30 mts, you have a big trunk blocking the way. Either jump over it or go under it. With the heavy backpacks, climbing the trunks, which sometimes add to 1,2,3 in a row. Actually climbing is easier than going under them. Most places you had to bend down, squat, on knees, crawl to get to the other side. You are now double your size with your backpack on the back. Sometime had to remove them to go under these trees, real pain. One place I just came out of such crawl and just getting up, found a big thorn from the other tree in front making a good scratch on my forehead, narrow escape from my eyes. Many a times I got pierced by these thorns on my hands and legs but it is part of the game.
We were able to see some kind of a clear road, but though very native or not so clear path. We could see hairpin bends and roads in the middle of the forest. And people started to climb the hard way instead of traveling through the road near hairpin bends, just to avoid covering additional miles. And further up in the middle of some plants there is a milestone, clearly proving the fact that there was a road. It said 6 and other letters were not so visible. And we happily thought it is 6 miles to destination. Very wrong thought, as the guide refused to give any hint of the distance ahead to cover. He said just keep walking and you will reach there. Sooner we had a stop for lunch. With little water in hand, the price of one water bottle touched 100rs in the bid. All were real tired with all the parts aching and people spraying volini/Iodex spary like body spray. Okay after a good rest, we moved further and quickly spoted a small stream flowing down the road. Many got down to fill bottles for them and others as all the bottles were empty.
After this spot a steep uphill into the woods which looked lot like barren trees, without any leaves, and with lot of sticks overgrown pricking us and backpacks like thorns. Avoiding these we reach the top to find that that was just the beginning of the uphill and we find another steep uphill. Then we move into an interesting puzzle of thorny plants, fully dry thorns, with
no greenery. Then we manage to cut break through this and this path created the maximum damage to our dress and backpacks.
Took 10 mins to get out of this 300m stretch. The roads started to visible more clearly. And we reached to border of the 2 states marked by concrete stones like truncated pyramid shape. Gone past that we found clear mud roads with tracks. These were like green grass in the middle and 2 tracks on either side. We traced the path for nearly 2 hours, with steep steep steep uphill climb. Slowly loosing all the energy, crossing one uphill just to find another big one is waiting around the corner. And one more at the other end. It goes on like this for on & on & on. Finally some down hill for a while and then again some uphill. It is very easy to read past this, but to really understand the effort we had to put in is not explainable.
We had to take diversion from the roads into the jungle at one spot. This spot probably no one will forget. Time for long jump. A large swamp / ditch kind of with soft ground on either side. To cross over, you had to run with your backpacks and make a long jump (I felt happy being tall, could do it with ease). 2 of them fell in and had to change their pants and wash the shoes. Took a very long break after the uphills done. A bunch 5 of us stayed back and let all others take a good 45 mins lead ahead of us. Then we started to move, to some extent we had clear visibility of atleast someone in the front. Later started to collect pine cones, enjoy nature and like this increased the gap between the last 5 and the front gang. Then we would shout and hear back some guidance of the directions, which faded after a while. Then at one final shout we heard that we had to climb down the rough terrain, leaving the path to reach the place quickly. This was already 5.30 pm in the evening, its like getting lost in the jungle if we did not get it right. At the end of the down climb we find no one from the whole gang of 60. Decided to move on with some intuitions, and found that we landed in the middle of a track and don’t know which way to go. Luckily spotted an arrow made in the ground in the mud pointing to a direction, which was the unlikely one I would have taken if I had to go with my instincts. Ok thought that these arrows are made by our gang in front to guide us, moved on further in the direction to find more arrows in each of the juncture of 2 roads.
Move on the road until you find 2 paths, look down on the ground and surely find an arrow. Move the way of arrow. Then we crossed more than 5 to 6 arrows. On the way we had to climb down completely to move closer to civilization and could see some solo huts in the height of hills and some distant road. But the end seemed a distant dream. The sun almost set and with very little light had to figure out the way and had to be in a group till we reached the end. I took the lead to find directions and path and waited for the team till the spot and moved fast ahead. One place, before I could reach a separation, I found a villager woman carrying logs of wood, felt a sigh of relief and asked her what is the way to bus stand. Couple of steps down she pointed a way that goes on the right. I happily would have followed her and I did not find any arrows made on the ground. I found some sticks on the ground misplaced, actually there were no sticks all the way and suddenly some sticks on the path.
By thinking these in mind, I kick one of them and suddenly realize they meant something and reassembled the way it was and saw an arrow formed. Moved 2 steps to find a bigger arrow. This was exactly opposite to the direction the lady pointed. Oh my god, we tracked the arrow and moved further into the bushes and then to some steep rocks and finally reached the backyard of some houses. Asking help from them reached the “Tar road”. Then moved further to reach the gang readily boarded the Jeeps.
This place is called the Kovilur. From here we took the jeep to Munnar a rally to reach there in time. The moment we reached Munnar, there was a bus waiting to take us to Theni, (last bus of the day 9pm). Reached Theni at 12.30pm had dinner at 1 Am and back to Chennai from Theni. OOOOOOOOO what a long day.
“That’s all Folks”