Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Wayanad - Coorg

                    This trip was in my mind since long and finally it took shape on 14-11-08. Myself and family along with Sunil & family were to catch Mangalore Exp from Trivandrum and Dinesh & family were to join us from Chirayinkeezhu. The train was scheduled at 8.45 PM and I was negotiating traffic to my home even at 7.30 PM. Surprisingly and thankfully, my wife Sreedevi had things packed in advance – this seldom happens – and we managed to reach back railway station in time. Dinesh and family joined us and we had a pleasant night in the train.
Day 1 : 15-11-08

                Reached Calicut by 6.30 AM. As planned, Shameer – our chauffer through the trip – was there with his Scorpio. Sunil was the man who had arranged Hotel Aryabhavan for us to have a fresh up. The view of the building itself was heart breaking and dear you will love to be out of it once you are in. Some how we were out of the shabby place and headed for Wayanad after Break Fast. Wayanad, as ever, greeted us with her enchanting beauty which took away the melancholy of the early morning disaster. At Mananthavadi by noon and here it was Dinesh’s chance. Any how the rooms he had booked at Hotel Alaska were worth mention and that too for as cheap as Rs.200 per day. Had Lunch and moved over to Kuruva Island via Katrikulam. The river Kabini splits into two and then rejoins forming this beautiful patch of greenery.

            While roaming around, Dinesh, being a forest Range officer, pointed to small pits on the surface and claimed these to be elephant's footprints. To our surprise, at places, these “footprints” were about 10 metres apart. The elephant would have had hard time for such a walk. Got back and headed for Tholpetty Wild Life sanctuary. And now it was my chance. Self assumed well versed guide – me – took these people to Bavali, the check post at Karnataka border, deviating about 10 km from the route to Tholpetti. But Gods grace, though the route was wrong time was right that we could witness a march-past of pachyderms across the road. A lone chap, reluctant to move with the herd, opted to stay back on the other side, challenging the wild life photographer in me.

           We were at Tholpetti by 5 PM. Being a forest official, Dinesh could manage a safari in our own vehicle accompanied by an armed guard. Shameer, our driver, unaware of the evenness of forest paths, readily agreed for the drive. We were greeted by a tusker just 200 meters from the entrance. 

           Rest of the safari was really frightening and challenging as we were the only people inside the deep wilderness around up to 7.30 PM. We had on our path hundreds of spotted deers, lone sambars, and a bison very close to our vehicle which was as huge as an elephant. 

          Shameer had a tough time behind the wheels. But he never showed it off. Interestingly two of our comrades were at opposite extremes. Sunil was at the edge of the seat fearing a mishap & Dinesh dozing through out. Were back at our Hotel at Mananthavadi by 9 PM and had a nice nap.

Day 2    :  16-11-08 
                   Left for Thirunelly early morning. Busy morning and moderate rush at the temple. Left the place around 8 for Nagerhole national park via Tholpetty. Morning safari there closes by 9.30 AM and we reached a bit late. Dinesh’s influence as a range officer again came to help and we were permitted inside in our own vehicle. This was a desperate effort as it was time for the inhabitants to pull off after the morning show. Still some spotted deer and a Sambar were generous enough to extend their show time for us.

                   We were to reach Honey valley estate near Virajpet by noon and we had expert advice that its better to take Nagarhole – Ponnampet - Gonikoppa route rather than one through Kutta- Srimangalam. Nagarhole – Ponnampet route is the historic remains of a road which existed in the Megalithic age. Scorpio crawled through this so called road at Snail’s pace and our time schedule went haywire. 

            Had lunch from Gonikoppa and headed to Virajpet. On reaching Virajpet, rang up Honey valley people and on their advice took a left turn after 4 km on Virajpet – Madikeri route and after another 19 km we were at Kabbinakkad Junction. Waited there for Sarath from Honey valley to have a breath taking 3.5 km jumps & jerks in his Commander. Really that vehicle is not in need of seats as we found ourselves seldom on it. Had we took our Scorpio along this terrain we could have dismantled it and carried to the base on head. And by 4 PM we were at Honey Valley Estate – One of the most beautiful places of halt I had in my life. Its in the midst of a vast coffee plantation boundaried by thick lush forest and mountain folds. 

             Though run by Mr.Suresh Chengappa & family, a foreigner, Mr. Jack from Canada manages things over there. In a detailed chat, late in the evening, he revealed that he has stake on the property and he had ran away from city life to this serene place. We had a late evening walk to a mountain top near by – Dry pond junction – and returned by dusk. Night at honey valley was chilly.

Day 3 : 17-11-08

             I had an early morning walk to the forest near by with a tribal boy who lives in the premises. He & his family are workers in the plantation.

           I took their snaps and they were excited to see their images that they offered me black coffee that I readily accepted.

           After break fast we had a visit to their private water falls which was shallow but still chilling and beautiful.

        Left honey valley by 11 AM and headed for Chelevra falls, turning right after around 5 km from Kabbinakad. A small walk from the mountain road takes you to the base of the falls. 

           We skipped a walk up the mountain as our fellow travelers (especially Sunil) weren’t pleased with the idea of having an adventure with kids. Next destination was Dubare Elephant camp near Kushal nagar. Went through Virajpet, Siddapur and were at Dubare by around 4 PM.            
            Being Keralites we weren’t pleased with the idea of bathing an elephant at a cost – we would have been happy if the elephant could do it on us – and cleared the place soon. On return had the sight of Orange tree bearing fruits by the side of the road and on the grounds of a polite request the owners permitted us to have some snaps and further extended it to pluck some. And to their regret, frenzy followed, leaving the tree bald in seconds. 

            Left the place after offering them cost of oranges, which we knew they would decline. Reached Namdroling Tibetan monastery near Kushal nagar by 5PM. 

                 Roamed the premises for a while and moved over to a shopping mall nearby. Many of us were excited as if they were in Tibet. They sell Tibetan handicrafts and art pieces that are expected to bring luck – of course to them. (One such thing is still hanging in my car, bringing luck – recent crunch in fuel price is to be read along with – Laugh please) 

                  Headed for Madikeri and the only stop, we had on way, was to clean up my young boy, who couldn’t any more resist the nature’s call, as he was deaf to it for these three days. Reached Madikeri by 8 PM and had to wander a while as we didn’t have any bookings. Finally settled at Cauvery Home stay which could offer pretty neat rooms with ample space for a reasonable Rs.700/day.

Day 4 : 18-11-2008

           Had an early morning walk through Madikeri town. There isn’t much to see in this tiny town except for a fort and Raja’s seat – a well managed park. 

               Coorg is famous for its natural beauty and I think travelers may better choose the southern part of Coorg, which is more picturesque. Left Madikeri for Talakaveri by 11 AM. River Cauvery originates at this mountain top and emerges near Bhagamandala after a short underground descent.

               From the temple near Talakaveri, 360 or so steps take you to the top of the mountain and the climb is worth, as the view from the top lets you have the charm of Coorg beneath. I went breathless many a time along the ascent, as I had a head load – my young boy.

          For our return journey we chose Bhagamandala – Karikke – Panathody – Kanhangad route which goes through really dense forest along the Karnataka – Kerala border and finally we were at Kanhangad railway station by 5.30 PM, where we were to board Malabar Express to Thiruvananthapuram. 

             Thankfully we bid farewell to Shameer – our driver – who played a lead role in making our trip a memory to cherish. The discussion in train was about nothing else but the next destination.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Manam Mutti Medu - Periyar Tiger Reserve

                      This time it is to Vallakkadavu in the Periyar Tiger Reserve. Myself & Manu started at 3.15 AM from Thiruvananthapuram in our Tavera. Reached Chengannur by 5.30 PM, picked Sinesh from there and were off by 6.30 AM. If Manu or Sinesh is in the team, I tactfully keep away from the wheels as they do it far better than me. We took a less travelled jungly route to Vallakkadavu through Pathanamthitta, Chittar, Seethathode, Angamoozhi, Moozhiyar, Kakki, Aanathode, Kochupampa, Gavi & Pachakanam. Had breakfast from Chittar by around 8 AM and reached Kochandi forest check post near Angamoozhi by around 9AM. Dwellings end and thick forest starts here & we were welcomed by wild fowls & Giant squirrels all around. 

                    Went past picturesque reservoirs of Moozhiyar, Kakki & Aanathode and reached Kochupampa by 12.45 PM. [In fact KSRTC plies a bus from Pathanamthitta to Kumili in this route. Last month I had tried that bus which starts from Pathanamthitta at 12.45 PM and reaches Kumili
(4 km from Thekkadi) by around 7 PM. It leaves Kumili next morning 5.30 AM and willbe back at Pathanamthitta by 11.30AM. For nature lovers its a real feast for just Rs.106] 

                       The only place where you can expect food along this entire stretch of around 75 km through dense forest is the small KSEB canteen at Kochupampa run by Gireesh & his wife, and that too if you have ordered it in advance. We had communications with Gireesh the day earlier and he greeted us with meals & chicken curry which was truly a tongues’ delight. Journey after meals was through another place of tourist attraction - Gavi. Kerala Forest Development Corporation provides trekking and accomodation at Green Mansion, Gavi. Finally we were at Vallakkadavu forest range office at 3.00 PM. After the formalities we checked into our jungle camp which was a very basic tent by the side of Periyar which can just accomodate two. 

                        We started our trek to Manam Mutti Medu by around 4.30 PM accompanied by armed guard Sudhakaran & Watcher Balan. The very start was promising with the sighting of a leopard which, unaware of unexpected visitors, was having a lazy lay over a Junta. Our whispers in excitement were enough to disturb him that he quickly pulled back and disappeared. We could manage only a single snap as it took time for us to realize where we were. 

                     We continued with the climb & reached the top by 6.30 PM. The trek path is so steep that we had to have many breaks to bring back our hearts to their natural frequencies. 

                       Once atop – around 3 km from base – the heavenly beauty around will peel off all the pain of the climb. Folds of meadows lay around with all the wilderness contained. Mullaperiyar dam there lies in the valley like a small pond. 

                    View of Bison & Sambar deer grazing in the adjacent meadows will force you to stay there for ever. But Sudhakaran – not mesmerized at all – forced us to descend. Down the way he revealed that he was praying not to be blessed with the sighting of a bear, which would have really tested him. By then darkness fell & the powerful torches, Sinesh had carried along, proved themselves. We were back at the base camp around 8 PM.

                    After 10 PM we had a drive along Vallakadavu – Pachakanam road in our vehicle and it is to be thankfully remembered that Sudhakaran & Balan did accompany us, even at this hour, with out hesitation. We had sightings of Sambar deer and another rare species, the mouse deer – he wasn’t happy to have a photo session as a bad photographer I am. 

              Back by 12 & hit the floor – not bed – to faint – not to doze.

            Up by 4.30 AM and had another drive along the same route accompanied by Balan – really what a guy he is ; a single call and he left his bed and got into the vehicle not even bothering a face wash. Many of the inhabitants weren’t lucky enough to have an encounter with us except a wild dog. But still drive through the jungle in the early hours was really refreshing. 

                   Got back, had break fast and set out for the trek to Mullaperiyar dam. Not to mention, Balan lead us. As we were warned of Draculas– leeches – along the path we were armed with crosses and we had our trousers well inside our socks. 

                    But unfortunately many of them were determined and we had hard time with them. But Balan – the priest he is – had least care for these creatures and divinely they spared him. It was a long trek – 8 km one way – and we took a good three hours to reach the dam. 

                       As Balan had worked earlier at this place, the officials were his acquaintances and we had easy access to the place. Apart from the natural beauty, it was the historic importance and the influence it may have on the future relations between two neighboring states, that has attracted me. 

                      Got back to the base camp by 4 PM, had lunch and left, tired but recharged.

                            Lemme use this opportunity to express our gratitude to Mr.Sajeevan, Range Officer, Vallakkadavu, who happily extended all possible support to have an ever relishing patch of greenery in us.

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Pappilai Amman - The Deity Distinct

         Raj Vridhachalam, the man behind many of my trails, was the one to brief me on Pappilai Amman, the deity of a jungle shrine, deep i...