Friday, December 24, 2010

Aanakulam - Mangappara

Isolation being enjoyed 
                    My first visit to Aanakulam, during june 2010, materialised consequent to a phone call, I recieved on a fine morning, while I was almost leaving for office.. It was from our friend Dinesh, a DFO with the forest dept., acting as the head of Forest Rapid Action Force. The content was that he was leaving for Marayoor, the same day after noon, in his car, and he would like to have me in company. Contacted Sinesh, who was at Ernakulam, and he too agreed to accompany. While driving towards Ernakulam to pick Sinesh, I put forward the idea of staying some where near Munnar, for the day, and proceeding to Marayoor, the next morning. Thus Aanakulam emerged as the night stay option. Dinesh rang up the RO concerned to arrange for the same.

             Aanakulam is a very remote – much close to isolated – tiny village in the Munnar valley, bordering thick woods and accessible only on sturdy 4 wheel drive vehicle. This village is frequented by elephants – even at noon – from the adjoining woods, to enjoy the salt content in Eetacholayar river, that separates the village from woods. 

Courtesy : Unni, Our Jeep driver 
Elephants replaced
          Video Courtesy : Unni,Our jeep driver   Poor video quality is regretted

  Kallar is a junction along the Cochin – Munnar route, 16 kms from Adimali. Deviated from Kallar to the left and another 17 kms along the pot holed road took us to Mankulam at about 11.30 PM. There we found another man by the name ‘Dinesh’, forest official in charge of Aanakulam forest station, patiently waiting for us, with a four wheel drive Mahindra Jeep. Parked our vehicle and boarded the jeep to have a spine breaking hike, for about an hour and our chauffer, Mr. Unni, announced the landing at Anakulam. 

                 A small, but neat, house by the side of Eetacholayar, was arranged for our stay, with a midnight dinner, that included even chicken delicacies. It was raining then, keeping away the chance of Pachyderm visit. Woke up early morning, had a dip in Eetacholayar and left the place for Marayoor. Before leaving I had collected the contact nos. of Dinesh and Unni.

                    Months later, Sunil and I sat together to plan a family trip and Anakulam was again under consideration. Contacted our DFO friend and he agreed to make all arrangements for the same in liaison with the forest staff.

              Thus we started our journey from Trivandrum in our WagonR by 7 AM on 15 Oct 2010. Just about half an hour from our start, I received a phone call from Sinesh, enquiring about our plans for the weekend. Hearing the story, the one line response was to alert him while we cross Kottayam. Thus it was almost sure that this would be a three family adventure. 

                  Left MC road at Ettumanoor, took Pala – Thodupuzha route and deviated from this route at Vengalloor, to hit Cochin – Munnar route at OOnnukal, near Neriamangalam, by 1’Oclock. Within five minutes Sinesh and family joined us, in their Paleo, and together we hit Mankulam, by 4 in the evening.

Beautiful Falls near Mankulam
Mankulam Junction
  Unni was waiting there with his 4WD, from noon, and the hike started in no time. 

                The jump from rock to rock was, this time, more difficult, owing to the drizzle. 

          While about midway to Aanakulam, Unni stopped the vehicle and pointed to an opening on a rocky structure, by the way side. Got out to explore, armed with torches, and were amazed to find how long that natural cave extended.

         It shrinked as we went along and soon we were on knees. 

             Decided to end the plight at a point, beyond which the cave could only be crawled along.

          It was informed that people had went beyond this point, until they felt shortage of oxygen, but none knows where it ends. Got back and reached Aanakulam in another 30 minutes.

                  The same old beautiful house by the riverside was found neatly furnished for us, and our old Dinesh, forest guard in charge of the place, welcomed us. It was almost dusk by then and the drizzling strengthened, once again shattering our dreams of elephant sighting. Dinesh and his native friends were busy in the kitchen, without permitting our ladies in. 

                    We went for a small walk along the river side, piloted by Unni, closely watching the wooded banks and returned by about half past seven to find the cooks retired to Dinesh’s cottage, near by. At the kitchen we were awaited by rice porridge, a chicken dish, tapioca roast, a dry beef dish and many other veg delicacies. Had dinner by 8 PM and we joined Dinesh and his friends, for a chat.Thus got a picture of Aanakulam which is as follows.. 

              Apart from the tribals, settled much deeper into the woods, the inhabitants of Aanakulam are all migrants, who had ended up here, more than 50 years back. Since then they are in harmony with the wilderness and surprisingly found contented in this isolated life. Their plea for a better road to the place, is decades old and they do not have a public transport to this place, even in their wildest dreams. Two 4WD jeeps leave the place, for the town of Adimali, by 6 in the morning, being the first and last conveyance to the outer world, carrying their agricultural products which include rubber sheets, cardamom, tapioca, coco etc. If not for these jeeps, they have to walk down these 14 kms to Mankulam, the nearest junction, which is connected to Adimali by, not so frequent, bus service. 

                  This tiny hamlet is inhabited by about 40 families and they even have a hydro electric project, run by themselves, tapping the energy from Eetacholayar flow. It was interesting to learn that they switch on heavy duty heating coils, late night, to regulate the power supply, there by wasting electric energy, as they can’t afford sophisticated regulating devices. They share the maintenance expense of running the tiny plant. 

                  Chat extended to their activities other than agriculture, and thus fishing, in Eetacholayar and its rivulets lead later discussion. Many of them had fishing nets and the savvier among them, like Mr.Babu, even had an electric device, which use an UPS battery, for fishing purpose. Dinesh whispered in my ear, that most of them had guns till recent times. 

               Owing to the pressure, these nice people agreed to go out fishing, ignoring the fact that it was 9 by then, of the raining night. Equipped with torches and fishing net, challenging the rain and leaches, we enjoyed fishing for the next one hour or so. Sreedevi and Renchi too, opted to venture out, leaving the kids with Vinu. Returned with the catch, by around 10.30 PM. The only option was to fry it then and there, as refrigerator hasn’t climbed up to Aanakulam yet. Eating process went along with frying process and while it was all over by 12.30, only half the catch remained, for the next day’s lunch. The team disbursed and Unni, our driver earlier, fisherman and cook later, assured his return by 7 in the morning. Not to mention, the night was cold and the sleep was sound.

         Woke up by six in the morning and proceeded to Eetacholayar for a dip in the cold flow. 

             Break fast was arranged at the lone tea shop of Aanakulam. Dinesh, our coordinator and care taker of the place, had planned a visit to Mangappara tribal settlement and we boarded Unni’s jeep by around 9 AM. Drove further deep, crossed Eetacholayar and went along the jungle track.

         After about an hour’s jumpy drive through the jungle, the track ended. 

           The settlement was another 15 minutes walk from that point and two tribal men, who were engaged by the forest dept. as watchers, joined to assist us on Dinesh’s directions. 

              The settlement had just 4 to 5 huts, beautifully set on a valley, bordered by wooded mounts, with the milky plunge of ‘Aavari’ falls at the backdrop.

             To my surprise, Dinesh announces that he is intending to take us to Mangappara falls, which required a 3 km trek, further into the woods. In fact he had arranged the watchers to help us along the trek. These people took over the kids, and we were left to look after ourselves. 

Unni - Loaded
            But still the trek wasn’t smooth, for the path was rocky, slippery and heavily leach infested.

Dinesh leading the trail
                   Took breaks where the flow by our track side was found even enough, for a wash up and leach check. 

                 At places we were forced to be four legged, to reach atop slippery boulders and leaches found it easy to reach up to our necks. 

                   Some among them where as big as my mid finger. 

Dinesh cares a foot
                The bottle of salt water, the watchers had carried along, was frequently in need, to clear off the blood suckers.

             Thus proceeding, pulled and occasionally pushed up by helping hands, we hit the target. 

              Though the plunge was from astonishing height, most part was visible, as it zig zagged, unlike the usual displacement. Following Unni, Sinesh too climbed about half the height, while the others opted to watch. 

              Kids went on with their usual water games and we retired to flat rocks, watching the plunge. Though the whiteness amidst greenery was mesmerizing, I could feel the worry hanging around, on thoughts of the slippery down track, to get back to the settlement. 

          Spending half an hour there, slip to the bottom commenced.

           If the slips were counted and awarded, Sunil was sure to be ranked first, for he is infamous for slipping even on rough concrete. 

              The time consumed for the descent was amazingly short, as skating was faster than crawling. Was the, one legged cock, at the settlement, teasing us? 

                   On our return journey to Aanakulam, Unni had another deviation, taking us to the base of another falls by name ‘Kozhi Ala Kuthu’. 

            Though Dinesh offered a trek to the top, most of the Nature Enthus, opted to be at the base, for reasons not to be mentioned. 

                        Dinesh reminded us of the late night fried fish and other local delicacies that await us, at Aanakulam, and the travelers were lightning fast to jam the vehicle. 

                Let the post lunch session be another post, just to avoid the length induced boredom, apart from the genuine one that I offer.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Ulakkai Aruvi - 26th September 2010

                           This was an extension to the expedition to Maramalai, which I had detailed in the earlier post. Climbed down Maramalai to our base camp Keeripara by noon.
        Ulakkai Aruvi is a beautiful falls on Pazhayar, close to its origin. It is so named as it resembles a wooden utensil in the shape of hour glass. Left Keeripara in our WagonR with Senthil, an estate supervisor based at Keeripara, who is very familiar with the sector. Hit Thadikarakonam and took left for Azhagiapandiapuram along SH 45 of Tamil Nadu. Short stop at Azhagiapandiapuram for gathering light eatables and entered the narrow road to the left, directed towards the Western Ghats.

              Passed by a beautiful lake with water all blue and the cameras went clicking. 

                 Oh ... forgot; Apart from Senthil, our guide, we were four - Pramod, Anoj, Sreekumar and the blogger.

           At the next turning, we had a distant view of the descent, which we found later, was just the upper part. 

       From the very sight itself we could assess the amount of trekking that would be involved.

               Drove up to Perunthalikkadu and parked our vehicle by the wayside. Perunthalikkadu is a small junction hosting a tiny tea shop and a store.

            Started our trek by around 1.30 PM. Crossed Pazhayar, reached up to a confluence of two rivulets, crossed a rivulet and started the hike. Initial part went along woods which slowly transformed to grass lands. 

                A narrow path has been laid which made the trek a lot easier. By then it started drizzling and we decided to take it on. The trek path then went a bit steeper forcing us to take a break. 
                   At a juncture we encountered a delegation of three climbing down to the base, and they happened to be Senthil’s relatives. It was surprising to know that these people were employed at a tiny clove plantation at ‘Asambu’, about ten kms up from the place we were then. There are no motorable roads up to Asambu – not even a jeep track. These people are the lone inhabitants of the place and their weekend plight was what we were witnessing. 
                        The small chat revealed the potential of ‘Asambu’ and we had the pleasure of receiving an invitation from these people. The team was lead by the Supervisor of the estate and we assured him a visit to ‘Asambu’ soon and parted in opposite directions. They had also intimated that it was raining heavily atop and warned us to be careful, once at the falls, as Ulakkai Aruvi is infamous for instant flooding.
                          The shower strengthened by then and we were all dripping in seconds. The sector we were traversing had abundance of berry trees with branches heavily fruited.

        It was more than an hour from the base and the mild roar came audible, soothing our discomfort of being damp. Walk went brisker and we were soon atop a huge rock facing the heavy plunge. 

               The rocky structure, we were on, was almost at the middle of the plunge, presenting us with a decent view of the upper half. 

          The lower flow went beneath us, blocking view. Senthil, went ahead with the dangerous act of crawling to the edge, and declared from there that the lower part is visible. We decided to accept the declaration as none of us dared to venture for proof. 
                             Couldn’t take out our cameras as it was raining cats and dogs by then. But how to leave the place without snaps for you, my readers. Took out a bed spread from Pramod ‘s back pack and we formed a cover for him, to click on. But the bed spread couldn’t resist the heavy downpour, and I could feel the discomfort in Pramod’s face, on his camera getting wet. Sreekumar and I jointly issued a statement that digital cameras are water resistant and there is nothing to worry, conveniently forgetting the fact that our cameras are safe in our back pack. 
                       Sat there a while enjoying the plunge and the shower and shared the bananas and cakes, we bought from the planes, with the inhabitants of the place, macaques.

         They seemed to enjoy the change, that too amidst the chilling rain

                   Left the falls and moved to the west. The planes of Azhagiyapandiapuram and its greenery was a view by itself and the traitors could again bring out Pramod’s camera, to capture it for you people.

            The Periyakulam Lake near Azhagiyapandiapuram is the blue drop in the back drop

           While walking down to the base, Pramod was found worried about the fate of his camera. Seeing us laughing on it, the angry man’s response was that all data will be lost if the camera got damaged. That led to a discussion on how data in a memory card is safe, even if the device broke into two, further irritating the worried man. 

                No no no...... That wasn’t true. Pramod was also enjoying the light moments. (I know he will go through this post, and friends, I’m living near to him)
         All the happiness dried up as we were almost close to the base. The rivulet we had crossed during the up climb was found raging over banks and we would have been trapped if not for Senthil. Senthil knew another track, which needed the crossing of a comparatively thinner rivulet, though its more winding.

          Crossed this rivulet, walked along twisty paths through agricultural lands and reached Perunthalikkadu by 4.30 in the evening.  Surprisingly it hasn’t rained at the base. 

       Changed dress, dropped Senthil at Keeripara and headed north for our hometown.

Locally built bridge across canal near Thadikarankonam. My co travellers opted to cross it on foot, leaving poor me and my vehicle at risk
                  During the entire drive I didn't find any sign of recent rains. So it was an exclusive performance for the trekkers to Ulakkai Aruvi. But that wasn’t a matter of concern, for we enjoyed the shower too.  

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