Friday, January 22, 2010

Edamalayar : The hidden potential

In and around Edamalayaar 
                     From Thommankuthu, we reached Keerampara, via Kothamangalam town, where the road splits into two. Last night we took the right, which leads to Thattekkad, and tonight it’s the left, to Edamalayaar, across the Bhoothathankettu barrage. Stopped a while atop the barrage, and the sight of gushing water below, in the moonlight, took away sometime. There’s a forest check post, just after the barrage, and we were in the reserve. Just two kms from the check post, the road splits into two. A sign board indicates left to Edamalayaar and right to Vadattupara. If you are traveling after 6 in the evening, never try the left, for there is an unmanned gate on the way, which remains closed after 6 PM. But take the right, which leads to Edamalayaar itself, via Vadattupara. 

               After Vadattupara, the road up to Edamalayaar is in very bad shape, and you may expect elephants, at every curve. We didn’t have an encounter any how. Just a km from the entrance of Edamalayaar project, there is a forest range office. It was around half past eight then and the officials eagerly peeped out into the darkness, to find who the hell we were, at this hour. Dinesh stepped out and an officer was happy to accompany the range officer, to the IB. To my surprise, the IB, in such a remote place, was a big, old but neat building with 8 extra spacious rooms, of which 4 were air conditioned. And, would you believe, they normally charge Rs.200 per day, for the ordinary room (which is about twice my bed room), and Rs.400 for the Ac room. Mr. Varghese, the caretaker of the IB, was a good cook too, and he had already prepared Chapattis and chicken curry for us, as directed by Dinesh. 

                     After food, had a chat with the officer from the home station, and we were thrilled to know that, a boat leaves Edamalayaar, the next morning, to ‘Kappayam’, at the extreme end of the reservoir, deep in the woods; about a 4 hour cruise, one way. He went on with the explanation of the giant teak tree at Kappayam, and exhibited its photographs in his mobile. Kappayam is the other side of Malakkapara, close to Valpara, infamous for man eating leopards, which we were unaware of. Dinesh rang up Edamalayaar range officer, and was informed that, it was not a boat, but two country lounges tied together. Had a brief discussion with him and we sadly decided to stay back, as it wouldn’t be safe with ladies and kids. However he assured that he would take us to the place for a night stay, the next time, if we come without family. 

            Dinesh left for Kothamangalam, as he had an official meeting the next morning. The day long ‘Meenuliyaan’ trek, which I had narrated in the earlier post, had drained all the energy, and we didn’t even bother to switch on the Ac ( it wasn’t needed either). 

Edamalayaar Dam

                   I and Sinesh went for an early morning trek, in the woods circling the IB and managed to have some nice snaps.             Got back to the IB soon and got ready for the days surprises. Mr. Sathyapalan, an official from Edamalayaar range office, was the person assigned to lead us. He straight away took us to the dam, and handed over the introduction letter from the home RO to the KSEB officials.                  On its strength, we were taken to the depth of the gallery – the empty space in between the concrete walls of the dam. This dam is as high as a 33 storied building (102.8m), and we were lowered in a lift into the dark depths. The KSEB officials, who guided us, with torches, warned that we may feel heady, due to shortage of oxygen. Got out of the lift at the bottom level, which is 80 m in width. (The width at the top, where vehicles pass the reservoir, is 8 m.) 

            The gallery is mildly lit at places. We went around as directed by the KSEB people; sorry, photography is restricted. The thought of the water column, towering at a height of above 100 m on our side, sent a chill up. At some remote corners, I felt the lack of oxygen and the kids were not taken to these regions. Climbed up steep steps to the mid floor, where the width reduces to about half that at the bottom. There we found a measuring device, which measures the bending of the huge structure, due to water pressure. If the reading exceeds the limit, water is to be released from the reservoir, to avoid a breakage. 

Edamalayar Power House

               Got back into the lift, and were out of the structure by noon. Penstock pipes that tunnel through the adjoining mountain, takes water from this head to the power station that lies in the valley, and that’s our next destination. Fifteen minutes drive took us to the place, in the beautiful valley and the letter earlier mentioned, came to our help again.               

            Mr. Anil, Assistant Engineer with the power project, was happy to explain the technical details of the generator, as loudly as he could to defeat the roar of the machine. There were two generators of 38 MW each, which used ‘reaction turbines’, unlike the one I had explored at ‘Kodayar’, which used ‘impulse turbines’. One among the two is a reserve generator, which is put to use only during the peak hours. It was about 2.30 PM then, and we left the turbines, which run at 333 rotations per minute, to get back to the IB, to have our jaws run at the same speed. 

            At 4 PM, Dinesh rang up and as directed by him, we drove to the forest check post near Bhoothathankettu barrage, where he awaited us. Guided by an employee from the check post, we had a mild trek through the woods, to the nature built barrage, about a km down the stream.                    Legend goes that this barrage was built by ‘Bhoothams’, and they left it incomplete, on the timely intervention of lord ‘Siva’. A nice even collection of huge rocks, and we spent a while, chatting over it.                     Started the return trek as it got dark. There was a nature built small cave on the trek path, into which one could just crawl in. The guard with us prevented from an attempt, as it was already dark.                 Got back to the man built barrage to find a mobile ice cream vendor, who had the luck of the day on us.                                  Returned to the IB along the same track we took yesterday. Mr. Anil, the AE, joined us for dinner, and we had a long chat with him about the place, and his experiences at that place. He told that elephants frequent the IB and premises and advised us not to roam around after its dark. 

         The discussion then diverted to the original inhabitants of the place. There are two tribal settlements deep inside the woods, by names ‘Thalumkandam’ and ‘Ponginchuvadu’, inhabited by the Malayan tribe. They live on agriculture and collection of non wood forest products, like honey, dammar etc. They like to stick on to their simple life style and are reluctant to amenities of the outside world. 

           Anil continued that, once KSEB decided to provide electricity to the settlement and erected teak poles all along the terrain, up to the settlement. They hesitated to use electricity and even went on with snapping the power carrying wires, and KSEB gave up the attempt. Another attempt by the authorities to build concrete dwellings, ended up in the inhabitants using it as cattle sheds. Anil left for his quarter, and we got to our bed, decided to visit the’ Malayans’ the next morning.

                   Early in the morning, I & Sinesh drove up to the reservoir, as we knew from Varghese, that the tribal go fishing. But we were a bit late, and found them returning after the catch.                 Got back to the IB to have my favorite ‘Puttu and Kadala’, yet another quality product from Varghese. An employee from the local forest station, who knew the jungly route, reached in time, but we had to wait a while for Dinesh to arrive with the Jeeps.                        Set out for ‘Thalumkandam’ by around 9.45 AM. Up to the reservoir, the road was OK, and once we crossed it, it transformed to the usual forest track, we are very familiar with. After about 15 minutes bumpy ride, we reached a huge rock, which is to be tunneled by our vehicles. The tunnel is named ‘Vaisali Guha’.                   We got out from the vehicles and walked along the tunnel, and our vehicles followed. Took some snaps and videos and continued.                    On the wayside, found a rock, which appeared as an elephant at the first sight, and many of us believed so, for a short while.                    Reached ‘Thalumkandam’ by around 10.45 AM. Inhabitants got around, at the sight of forest dept. vehicle. Dinesh summoned the man in charge of the ‘Vana Samrakshana Samithi’, and he informed that enough honey is in stock.                 We bought about 5 litre pure honey from them, and paid Rs. 500. Sat there chatting a while and went on for ‘Ponginchuvadu’, which is much into the jungle. We could find the remainings of the futile attempt by KSEB, in modernizing these people, by the wayside.                  Reached the settlement by 11.45 AM. Interestingly, this settlement had a small tea shop, run by an inhabitant. He was happy to offer black tea to us. Dinesh went on with some investigation regarding a recent elephant poaching incident, near this place.                    We got into conversion with an inhabitant, and I gladly heard from him that if we travel further along this track, we shall reach up to the remote side of Athirappilli falls. The track is not motorable now, but walkable of course.                     And that’s another good cause, apart from ‘Kappayam’, for an inevitable revisit. Got into the vehicles by 12.15 and reached the IB to have an attack on Varghese’s delicacies for the last time. Packed up and travelled together up to Kothamangalam. Dinesh stayed back, Sinesh and family left for Ernakulam, via Aluva, and our WagonR headed to Moovattupuzha to catch MC road to Trivandrum.

                  The hidden potentials, yet to be uncovered, will always haunt. But revisits are not so often. Along the tedious drive, I was all along transforming pessimism to optimism.

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Friday, January 8, 2010

Meenuliyaan – The pain is worth

                     The beauty of this expedition lies in the fact that we didn’t expect much and we got more than the earlier ‘much’. As usual I, Sunil and our family got packed in the damn new WagonR – just done 100 kms – and were off by 2 PM on 26th Nov 2009. We were to join Sinesh and family from Ernakulam, at the Range Officer’s residence at Kothamangalam. We took MC Road upto Moovattupuzha, and deviated to Kothamangalam. Reached Dinesh’s residence at 8.30PM, to find that Sinesh and family were the early birds. Dinesh lead us in his 4WD Jeep, to Thattekkad Forest Inspection Bunglow,about 12 kms from Kothamangalam, were our night stay was arranged.

IB Thattekkad
           While having food, Dinesh accidentally mentioned about the night patrol in the woods, and in minutes we were ready with the torches. Dinesh was confident enough to hand over the wheel to me, for he didn’t know, it was the first time I was driving a four wheel drive, and that too, through the forest tracks. The team took off by 11 PM, and the patrol continued till 2 in the morning. Though we didn’t have any major sightings, it was a thrilling ride through the silent woods.          At places we waited for elephants, on smelling them, but no one turned out. We were back at the IB by 2.30, and knew nothing till 7 AM. 
            Started bird watching, soon after breakfast, aided by Mr. Mani, the caretaker of the guest house, who turned out to be an expert in the field. Walked into the depth of the bird sanctuary and we could spot many beautiful, as well as endangered species.                  Haven’t been much exposed to world of flying creatures, the ignorance was a set back. Some effort is to be put in, for a research in this direction, I decided. There is a watch tower inside the sanctuary, with a single room atop.            We left our ladies and kids in this room and rang up Dinesh to come with his Jeep.                  As he arrived with his driver, Mr. Saju, we explored the sanctuary with an aim; to spot the endangered Ceylon Frog Mouth. Mani lead us, and finally after an hour’s wandering, we could get him (or her, I’m not sure).                   Got out from the sanctuary by around 10.30 AM, and headed for Meenuliyaan. Saju and Dinesh lead in their 4WD and we followed in our WagonR and Sinesh’s Paleo. Went up to Kothamangalam and took the Munnar route. Just before Neriamangalam took a right deviation and after half an hour’s journey, reached Chullikandam Forest station. Dinesh stood back, as he was very much in need of sleep, and assigned Mr. Jolley, an officer from Chullikkandam station, to lead us to Meenuliyaan. 

           The convoy went ahead, took a left deviation from Mullaringad, and after a long climb along steep roads, reached Pattayakkudi. From there the road towards the base of Meenuliyan is in very bad shape, and I struggled a lot, to take my WagonR along with. Reached the base by around 1 PM, parked the vehicles, and started the trek.                    Initial part winds along plantations and it soon gave way to steep rocks with green patches. And it was here, I found a sign board by the Forest dept. ‘Meenuliyaan Biodiversity Zone’ and that too, in a piece of hard board, just hung over a tree.                 Thus the wonders of Meenuliyaan lies, known only to the locals. From here onwards the trek became harder as the gradient went steeper.         You find a hilltop ahead and reaching there is no relief, for you find another ahead.                    Jolley just kept on chanting the mantra ‘its near’. Atop one such hillock we lost breath and had a brief stop. We had the sight of the valley, and the Munnar region on the other side, contiguous with ‘Idukki Wildlife sanctuary’. Jolley said that Periyaar can be seen from here if we move a little more to the edge, but that would be a very dangerous act, for a wind can get you off the cliff.           He continued that, once you are atop Meenuliyaan, Periyar could be seen flowing beneath, and that would be a better as well as safe sight. I could spot a distant falls, like a silver line, which would eventually join Periyar beneath.            From here onwards, Sinesh took over my younger one, freeing my shoulders, and that was a real relief. Quenching thirst, moved on, and our ladies were really testing the strength of the tree branches they had from the way. Jolley consistently insisted on keeping away from the edges of the rocks, and we had a hard time in managing our kids, who were set free on this no wall space, from their regular four wall space. About 2.30 PM we reached a high grown grass land, and wading through it, entered a thick canopy, which no one expected atop a rock.          It was just as we got into an air conditioned room from mid noon traffic. We had drinks and light food, which we had carried along. The cap of woods was so lush and least explored, that it had thick under growth.               The creepers and prop roots hanging from the towering trees were so strong, that even I could perform a Tarzan act.          There were natural swings, for which ladies fought with the kids.              On Jolley’s instruction we walked over to the edges, and firmly gripping on tree branches, leaned to a sight, which I never had from a height.            I couldn’t believe, it was the Periyar beneath, as it was just a rope thick. Folds of mountains belonging to the Idukki reserve and Eravikulam national park lied ahead, mist covered. The geography of the canopy was such that we could even spot the rocky cliffs, that we had trekked through, and then I knew why Jolley was so strict in leading us through a specific path. Just meters apart from our trek path the cliff fell at right angle into the valley.        Sinesh, the more adventurous, crawled along to the edges, to have a better view.          We then moved across to the other side of the canopy, to have another view of the valley, and the Periyar was clearer like a snake, in the valley.            Not for the mist, it would have been a longer snake. Started the down trek and it was much easier than the climb, apart from the slips, many of us had.            There were many water holes on the trek path, which I didn’t mention earlier, which could sooth our aching legs. Reached the base by around 4.30 PM. Now we had to hurry as we had planned to visit ‘Thommankuthu’ falls, before its dark. Left Jolley, got in Dinesh, and proceeded to Vannappuram town, driving over Kottappara Mala from Mullaringad. From Vannappuram took Thodupuzha route, and a left deviation just a km later, got us on Thommankuthu route. Another 7 kms took us to Thommankuthu Junction. Parked our vehicles and walked to the falls, which is about a km from the junction. Dinesh, being a RO with the dept, could afford a forest watcher to guide us. The view of the falls wasn’t worth the walk, to be frank.             But the information that there are many beautiful falls, ahead, within the thick forest, which Dinesh would take us to, on a later trip without the ladies and kids, boosted our spirits. Had a dip in the cold flow and it was dark by then.                Our night stay was arranged at the Inspection Bunglow, Edamalayar, about 50 kms from ThommanKuthu. This IB is well within Edamalayar reserve, famous for wild elephants, once we cross Vadattupara. Owing to time and space constrains, I shall continue with the Edamalayaar experience in the next post.

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