Friday, July 24, 2009

KochuPampa Gavi Revisited

Just after the trip to KochuPampa, mentioned in the earlier post, an occasional mention on the beauty of the place, to Manu and Manoj, forced me to get ready for a revisit, just a week after the earlier. This time I should make it to Ponnambalamedu – I decided - had discussions with ShibuChettan – the only man who could be of help - and set out by 4.30 AM on 18th of May 2009. He is an Engineer at KSEB KochuPampa, from where Ponnambalamedu is just 4 kms through woods. Picked Shibu Chettan from his residence at Kilimanoor and stopped at Nilamel to accommodate Rajan Chettan, a friend of Shibu Chettan, who opted to join us in the last minute. Paleo 1.3 Multijet, owned by Manu, took only 7 hours to take us to Vandiperiyar, nearest town to Uppupara – via Ayur, Anchal, Punalur, Pathanamthitta, Ranni, Erumeli, Mundakkayam, Kuttikkanam. Loaded the vehicle with eatables and reached Vallakkadavu Check post by around noon. And now it was test time for the Paleo. We had to take Raju chettan, the official on duty at Uppupara and another watcher along with. The track to Uppupara from the tarred road is meant only for four wheel drives.
          Finally I, Manoj, Rajan Chettan and the watcher opted to take the entire 11 km forest track on foot, so that the car could be at ease. We, the peddlers were ahead of the car, as it was struggling to negotiate the rocks and pits. Leeches were very happy on us and half a km ahead Manoj left the walk and waited for the car. Another half km and Rajan Chettan gave up.           We continued and could spot Bisons and a lone elephant on the way.          As we reached the Grasshills, the track went more even and the car could over take us.   Manu went ahead and came back to pick us, so that we could save a trail of about 4km.   The newcomers to the place, Manu, Manoj and Rajan Chettan were thrilled at the experience.             Manu and Shibu Chettan transformed to chefs of this lonely place and ended up with ‘Kappa Meen/Beef Curry’ which was decent. All of a sudden it started raining and mist covered the region.                  Though we had a plan to spend the night at this place, we dropped the idea as it was getting very cold (we didn’t have warm clothes) and the small single room of the shelter wasn’t enough for seven of us to live in. Next option was the KSEB inspection Bungalow at KochuPampa, and left the place by 6 in the evening, though it was still raining. Heavy shower had developed many pools of mud on the track along the grasslands and we got stuck in one such mud hole. It was getting dark, raining, and we were in a trap. All of us got out into the rain and could some how lift the car out of it. In the struggle, I fell into it and was all mud and dirt. Fortunately, spotted a forest stream nearby and had a wash up. It was pitch dark by then and we had to travel 8 kms through rocks and another 30 kms along a pot holed path, through the dark woods of Periyar Tiger Reserve, to reach KochuPampa. Tuskers pose real threats in such paths and yeaah, we had an encounter. To our luck, he was in a hurry, and didn’t have enough time to spend on us. It was a wonder to me that the Paleo could some how manage to climb up and down the terrain with out any casualty. Hit KochuPampa, without many happenings, by around 9. God’s grace, the KSEB canteen man Gireesan had some food left over and we could just sooth our stomachs. Hit bed dreaming of the morning trek to Ponnambalamedu. 

            Morning greeted us with a heart break – the forest dept officials and the tribals of the region had a hassle the previous day, regarding taking people to the restricted zone of Ponnambalamedu and we may not be able to trek through the jeep track to Ponnambalamedu. I was desperate, as this was my third attempt, going haywire. Shibu chettan came up with an idea of trekking through the woods and grasshills, were actually no path exists. He also offered to arrange the service of a tribal who knows the direction to walk. He also warned of the risks – elephants, leeches, rain, mist, lack of a path etc. But we were determined. And thus we started the trek by around 9 in the morning, lead by Sasi, an inhabitant of the place. It was drizzling and slightly misty.
             We knew that we have to walk around 6km one way, through the woods. About half a km through the grass hills and soon mist spread. It was so thick, that visibility got reduced to about 4 to 5 meters.                      It didn’t bother us, as we had Sasi with us, for whom the region is very familiar. Two more kms ahead and we found ourselves aside thick woods, and the walk became more difficult.            In addition to the agony, leeches started their spell.                       We were watching Sasi and we could smell something bad. As we feared, Sasi admitted that we were lost in the woods. Mist thickened further and visibility dipped. We could hear cracking sound of perches, indicating presence of elephants near by. Took out our mobiles and heart sank; no coverage. Sasi asked us to stay on a rock and disappeared in the mist. There we sit, in the mist, hopeless and confused.                           We cursed ourselves for such a foolish attempt, despite the warnings. Sasi appeared from the mist, still confused. He is not to be blamed, as nothing can be seen around. Finally we came at a decision – to take a U turn and walk in the same direction with out deviating until, we reach somewhere – literally somewhere!! We walked and walked and, there goes a path cleared of grass. We yelled in joy. And we heard Sasi whisper – It’s the path used by elephants (Aanathari) and not by humans. Half a km ahead, Sasi could spot a distant tower of KSEB, like a thread in air and ooughhhhh…, came a sigh of relief. Within 20 minutes we were back at our starting point, after another unsuccessful attempt.

                         It was half past eleven by then, and we had enough time left. Sasi came up with a compensation offer – ChenthamaraKolli – a gorge within the woods, accessible by car. Yessssss and we drove towards Gavi. After about 5 kms, took a deviation to the left, into the woods. Just before the deviation, we found a bold creature – a giant squirrel – atop a tree, ready to pose even for a close up.
          About 2 kms through forest, Sasi called for a stop, and we had to walk for 5 minutes towards the destination. The view was mind blowing, for the gorge was that deep.            Even at the start of rains, the water fall was alive.                We could spot a large number of Nilgiri Langurs at the base of the falls. It’s a very dangerous place too, as there is no fencing or any such protective measure.                       Suddenly mist covered the region blocking the view of the opposite cliff and with a chill, we discovered that the place is highly leech infested.            We had lots of them not only on our feet but on our palms too, and it took time to get rid of them.
                          Returned to KochuPampa, had lunch from Gireesan’s canteen and after a visit to KochuPampa reservoir and dam, started our return journey, by 5 in the evening. We found three Sambar deers, atop a hillock facing us, and waved to them – see you next time, on another venture to Ponnambalamedu.            Then came a Bison family, to see us off, but the mother and the baby was too shy to pose.                        It started raining heavily then and we had to drive at snail’s pace. Just before Moozhiyar, an uprooted tree blocked our way, and we all had to step into the kingdom of leeches again, in an effort to lift it off.          Had food from Pathanamthitta, and reached back by midnight.

                 Next day, by noon, I received a call from Manu, who was waiting at the Paleo service centre for long, to get his damaged suspensions replaced. And now, its his own worry; why should I be bothered…

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

KochuPampa – Gavi - Uppupara - Idukki

                     'Ila Veezha Poonchira' is a low profile hill station in Kottayam district and we planned a trip to this place, clubbing Idukki dam, to materialize from 10th to 12th of May 2009. The secretary, DTPC, Kottayam was an acquaintant of Sunil and we rang him up to explore the possibilities. We were informed that there are no accommodation options available at Ila Veezha Poonchira apart from an abandoned building belonging to the DTPC. If we were keen on it, he could arrange to clean it up for us and to post a helper cum cook for the day of our visit. He also warned us that there is no electric supply to this remote place. We had a second thought and finally decided to accept the risk. Our plan was to stay at Idukki Govt. Guest house on10th, and to proceed to Ila Veezha Poonchira via Muttom, which is on the Idukki Thodupuzha stretch, on 11th so that we could spent a night and a day at Ila Veezha Poonchira. 

              We planned to take an off beat route to Idukki, Trivandrum – Pathanamthitta – Seethathode – Aangamoozhi – Moozhiyaar – Kakki – KochuPampa – Gavi – Vandiperiyaar – Kumili – Kattappana – Idukki. The Aangamoozhi – Vandiperiyar stretch, of about 75 kms, is through thick forest belonging to the Goodrikkal range and Periyar Tiger Reserve. I had traversed this route twice earlier (as mentioned in my earlier post – ‘Manam Mutti Medu’), but this was the first time to have ladies and kids along with. This time I had an intention to visit Ponnambalamedu, a 5 km deviation from KochuPampa, where the ‘Makarajyothi’ is said to be lit. Mr.Shibu, Sub Engineer, KSEB, KochuPampa, was a close relative of Renchi, and we contacted him in this regard. He turned down the idea as it was impossible to take ladies to a sacred place like that, connected to Lord Ayyappa. However he offered to arrange lunch for us at the KSEB Canteen, KochuPampa, as there were no such provisions, once we cross Aangamoozhi. 

            So every thing was fixed, two rooms were booked at Govt. guest house, Idukki for 10th night's stay, arrangements for stay at Ila Veezha Poonchira were confirmed (emergency lamps and a Britelite was packed) and we started our journey at 6.20 AM on 10th – Unaware that we are not going to make it to Ila Veezha Poonchira and that all our plans are going to turn heel over head.

10 - 5 - 09

                         Enjoyed the early morning drive through deserted roads and had the first stop near Konni to have breakfast. Reached Aangamoozhi forest check post by 10 in the morning and entered the forest track. Road up to Moozhiyar, being recently tarred, is in good shape, though narrow.               Still we were on the second gear, as four of us, except the kids, belonged to the so called ‘Nature Lover’ category.                    It was on a stop, to have a bird’s view of Sabarigiri Hydel Project, came the first blow – information from Kottayam that Ila Veezha Poonchira is subject to heavy rains and lightning, and it is not safe to stay overnight at this lonely place. He further offered to arrange accommodation for us at Thodupuzha, the nearest town to Ila Veezha Poonchira, so that we could have a day time visit to Ila Veezha Poonchira. The news stole the thrill, and we told him that we would convey our position by evening. Went on along the forest path, which has not seen tar for long.            But that didn’t bother us, as we were happy to travel at snails pace.                     Crossed the picturesque Kakki reservoir and had another brief halt at ‘Echo Para’(Echo Rock). It is actually a cliff formed due to removal of rocks for the dam construction in 1966.                   Spent a while over there howling and listening to the rocks, speak. Went past Aanathode dam and meadows begin to appear – hills covered by green silk. Summer rains were just over and it was sprouting season.                     Now I had a bliss – why can’t we explore the possibilities of a halt at this beautiful place and leave Ila Veezha Poonchira for another visit. After many such halts we were at Kochu Pampa by 3 in the after noon. Shibu chettan has been waiting for us for long. We expressed our need for a wash up before the lunch and Shibu chettan took us to the Inspection Bunglow of KSEB. The very first sight of the building, majestically in the midst of a grass hill, facing Kochu Pampa reservoir and the dam, forced us to come to a decision.                        Approached Shibu chettan with our humble request to permit us to stay over here, and there wasn’t any reluctance. Within no time, took out the phone and rang up DTPC Kottayam. Politely informed him that we are not visiting Ila Veezha Poonchira, as the climate is at its extreme, and that we would make it after the rains. I think he was also happy to hear it, as he readily agreed. The next task was to postpone our booking at Idukki Guest house, to the next day. That too went smooth, and we happily occupied the spacious rooms of the IB, Kochupampa. Shibu chettan was generous enough to arrange a guide, Jipuraj, an employee of KSEB, to take us for a trek along the grass hills, after our meals. Gireesan, who runs the KSEB Canteen, had prepared Chicken curry and Beef roast for our meal and we ate to our content, as we hadn’t seen food after 9 in the morning.                Though it was only 4 in the evening, mist spread blocking view, and the temperature dropped. So we opted for a short trek on the grass hill adjoining the IB.                   As we climbed up, we were presented with the panorama of Kochupampa reservoir on one side and never ending folds of meadows and thick jungle, bordering it.                        We could spot Sambars lining up on the hillocks, feeding on the sprouting grass. Missed ourselves in the beauty and it took Jipuraj to remind us that light fades.            Descended to the safety of IB and Shibu chettan joined us.                     He took us for a night ride along the forest path with permission from the forest officials at KochuPampa, who were his friends. We could spot a ‘Kezha’ (a small deer) and another bigger animal, which could not be identified, as our headlights weren’t strong enough. He offered us to take us on another ride early morning the next day.Returned to the IB an hour later after ordering Chapathi and egg curry at the Gireesan’s, for our dinner. He told us that he had had frequent sightings, from the lounge of the IB, of Elephants swimming across the reservoir and pack of wild dogs, chasing Sambar deers to the reservoir, to have an easy catch. On the ongoing conversation, Shibu chettan occasionally mentioned about ‘Uppupara Pullumedu’ – a vast stretch of grass hills within deep jungle, which is geographically above the Sabarimala Shrine. He continued further on the beauty of the place, and we got it from him, that the Forest dept. officials, in charge of that place, were his close friends and relatives. That’s it, and we pounced on him, with all the pressure we could, and finally he agreed to arrange us a visit, the next morning. He rang up one Mr. Santhosh, a forest watcher serving at Uppupara, and directed him to make necessary arrangements for our visit, the next morning. After food went to bed, anxious on the next day’s happenings.

11 - 5 -09

                        Woke up at 5 in the mornings and were at the quarters of Shibu chettan by 5.45. Got him up him and went for a morning drive in his Jeep. Though we went up to Aanathode dam, about 12 kms from KochuPampa, we didn’t have any wild life sighting, apart from a Peacock and his mistress, but the view of awakening forest itself was refreshing.
             Had ‘Idly and Sambar’ from Gireesan’s and returned to IB, to get ready for the next adventure. Vacated the IB and started the drive towards Vallakkadavu, via Gavi reservoir, from where ‘Uppupara’ is a 11km deviation into thick woods.                  Had a brief stop at Gavi and went up to the reservoir, through the beautiful garden, maintained by Kerala Forest Development Corporation, and soon left for Vallakadavu.                   Road in this region is just piles of stone and sand.                     Reached Vallakkadavu by 11 AM, after about 2 hours from KochuPampa. Santhosh was waiting there for us. He had arranged a four wheel drive Jeep for our onward journey to Uppupara. Parked our vehicle near the official’s quarters and boarded the Jeep. We were just 1 km into the woods, and found Bisons on the track.                    On seeing us, they whisked into the woods, clearing our way. One among the herd and me, had a hide and seek game, in an effort to get him in a nice frame. Every time, he shied away into the cover of a tree, when I’m just to click. Wasn’t that brave, to follow him further into the depth, and got back to the Jeep. Two more kms deep, we spotted a batch of elephants, at a valley below.               They had calves with them and were cautious enough. As soon as they sensed our presence, they fled. The Jeep journey to Uppupara was a neck breaking one as the forest track was so bumpy. The nature of the forest gradually changed to grass hills and soon we found ourselves in heaven.                        Folds and folds of green silky hillocks and nothing else. Up and down and up and down and, there at the top of another grass hill, we found a small building – the guards’ shelter – our destination. Within a few minutes we were at it. It had two small rooms and a kitchen, isolated by a deep trench dug around, to keep elephants at bay. Moved over to the backyard, and the view was splendid. At the top of the next hillock, separated by thick forest, was Sabarimala and as it wasn’t much misty, we could even clearly identify the ‘Sreekovil’.                          Sat on a rock over there, for about half an hour, in the company of cool breeze, slight mist and the greenery around. Walked back to the shelter were the two officials, on duty were busy preparing their lunch, which they shared with us later. One of the officials on duty, Raju, was a close relative of Shibu chettan. It was surprising to hear from him that, one shift of their duty is as long as a week. They will be dropped at this lonely place, with grocery and eatables for a week, and would be replaced by another team only after a week. Elephants, Bisons, Sambar deers and other wild animals, wandering up to the shelter, were the only creatures they see for a week. Spotted a watch tower on a distant hillock, and there we go accompanied by Santhosh.                     Grass hills and their greenery in the silence – except for our engines growl – reminded me of something – yes, the Windows default desktop. Within half an hour we were at the foot of the hillock on which the watch tower was erected. The walk up the hillock and then down was a good deal of laugh, as the dew on the grass was enough slippery.                        The breeze and the greenery forced us to be there for a while and we returned to the guard’s shelter by 2 PM.                              Shared the food and reluctantly left the place by 3 PM. Soon I’ll come back for an overnight stay at this place. Had tea at Vandiperiyar, left Shibu Chettan there, thanked him for the care he had for us, and went on, for Idukki . Took a left turn from Chelimada, close to Kumili, and headed for Cheruthoni(Idukki) via Kattappana. Reached the Govt. Guest house, facing Idukki arch dam, by around 7.30 PM. After fresh up, had dinner, that we had pre ordered, and hit bed.

12 – 5 – 09

Woke up by around 6 to have a brilliant view of sun rise, reflected by the reservoir, from the balcony of our room.
                      Got ready by 8.30 and went for a walk along the ‘Hill View Park’ adjacent to the Guest house. We had obtained prior permission from KSEB for a visit to the Arch Dam. Still we tried to contact the AEE Idukki, who was an acquintant of Shibu Chettan. Unfortunately he was on leave. An employee at his office, gave us the mobile number of the AE, who was inside the dam structure, to supervise some repair works. Drove up to Cheruthoni Dam and we were informed that, around 2 kms is to be done on foot, to reach the arch dam, as private vehicles are not permitted in, for security reasons. Rang up the AE and he was kind enough to send us his Jeep for our onward journey. Passed Cheruthoni dam, and in minutes, we were atop the largest arch dam in Asia, built in between the Kuravanmala and Kurathimala.                     After the visit we were dropped at Cheruthoni dam and then we drove to the base of the arch dam, about 3 kms from Cheruthoni, to realize how gigantic the structure is. It was around 12 noon by then and we were on our return journey. We opted Moolamattom – Muttom – Pala – Kottayam – Changanasseri route. Cheruthoni – Moolamattom stretch cuts through the picturesque Idukki Wild Life Sanctuary. On our way, had brief stops at Kulamavu dam site and Nadukani view point. From Nadukani, one can have a distant view of Malankara reservoir and the Vagamon hills.                       Just within the Nadukani hill, is located the famous underground power station – Moolamattom. After lunch from Moolamattom town, proceeded to Muttom, to have a left turn, so as to cut into Thodupuzha – Pala stretch, without touching Thodupuzha town.

                  Just before Muttom, we could spot the sign board leading to ‘Ila Veezha Poonchira’, our planned destination. We could just visit the place, as it was only 8 kms from there. But not today – we will come for You - only You - another day.

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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...