Monday, December 24, 2012

Siruvani – The Life Line

           This is my 50th post in this blog and let me express my gratitude to all followers and well wishers who had been the pushing power, behind these notes, on my travel, all these years. Read ahead... 

            The mountain stretch of Western Ghats, bordering Tamil Nadu and Palakkad district of Kerala, is believed to spring out the tastiest and sweetest flow, which was planned to be tapped, early in the previous century, to cater to the needs of the then tiny town of Coimbatore. The Siruvaani Mountain – so is the stretch known – thus witnessed the construction of a dam in its valley, blocking the Siruvany flow, to be diverted to the other side of the hillock.

           Before the dam, the Shiruvani flow was a mighty tributary of the Bhavani River, which later joins the Cauvery. A road was also constructed connecting Mannarkadu of Palghat District with Coimbatore, which runs past the Shiruvaani sector so that the reservoir is accessible from both sides. The road is still there in good shape, but traffic is strictly restricted for wildlife concern and the region still remains a least disturbed stretch of evergreen woods, with all flora and fauna endemic to the Western Ghats.

                Our destination was Pattiar Bungalow, an old building constructed along with the dam, located amidst the reservoir and we were at the Wildlife Warden’s office at Mannarkadu, by 3 PM, in this context. While going through the formalities, the officer in charge reminded us twice, that we are late and will have to hurry, as to reach our destination before its dark. Got out soon, bought provisions from the town, for the night and the following day, and headed along the Palghat route. Deviated left at Edakkurissi, went past Palakkayam , left human habitat and had the first stop at a Forest Check post. Normally visitor’s vehicles are not permitted beyond this. The staff there had prior intimation on our visit and didn’t have any hassles. The next stop was at Sinkapara Forest station and the forester in charge of the station informed that two watchers have already been sent to Patiar bungalow and they too urged to move quickly as it was already half past 5 in the evening.

                Just about 100m ahead, we had a road block as a Gaur.

          He was very reluctant to give way and we had to spend more than 10 minutes, on that account. No more events and reached the bungalow before light faded.

Despite the chill people were reluctant to go in, as the view from the portico was simply amazing. The Siruvani flow suffers a deep plunge in joining the water storage and the bungalow is located to face Muthikulam falls – so is it known – with the dim light magnifying its beauty and majesty.

                The Paatiaar Bungalow is a big old building with two well appointed bed rooms, a ding hall and a kitchen apart from a spacious Veranda. Reji and Krishnan – the care takers – showed off their cooking skills and the cold night could do nothing against stuffed bellies.

                Assigning morning duties with Krishnan, Reji accompanied us in roaming the premises of the Bungalow, which presented astonishing sights, giving a restless hour to my camera.


                       After breakfast drove up to the state border and went ahead with the inevitable part of such travels – a hike up the hillocks. Sugunan, the watcher in charge of the check post, guided us to Keralamedu, a moderate hike from the border point. Still Sunil had a hard time as he had to carry his one year old tot all along.

                Once up, the amazing beauty of the valley and the cool breeze won’t let one return that soon.

        To the north of the mount lies the Coimbatore part of Tamil Nadu and the filtering plant can be clearly spotted at the base, where the water tunneled across the mountain is treated, before piping it to the town of Coimbatore.

                        The Muthikulam falls, the reservoir and even the bungalow can be spotted to the south, presenting a panorama and to add to it, we had a lone Gaur grazing in the adjacent hillock.

                  On return, paid a short visit to the intake well of the tunnel and got back to the Bungalow by noon. As we expected, Reji and Krishnan were ready with a delicious meal, with delicacies we never expected.

                Packed up after the lunch and while driving past the huge dam structure, amidst thick greenery, I was wondering how this sector would have been a hundred years back and fearing how it would be a few years later.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Kampamala – The Hillside Haven

                  Kampamala (Locate) of west Wayanadan woods was cleared to rehabilitate local tribe and later to accommodate Sri Lankan refugees, in the eighties. The 250+ acres of the tea plantation is now owned by Kerala Forest Development Corporation and it has a small, two bedroom cottage, at the north - west edge of the plantation, bordering thick woods of Begur range, which was our aim, while negotiating the steep and curvy Pakranthalam pass, connecting Kuttiyadi of Calicut and Mananthavadi sector of Wayanad district.

                 While I was busy with my lens, capturing the greenery of the Ghats, my mobile went ringing and it was Jithesh, the care taker of the cottage, informing that he had arranged a 4 wheel drive vehicle to pick us and conveying in a sad tone that it was raining for the last two days. The message – especially the last part – was welcoming on the thoughts of a fine cocktail of silver shower lines, milky mist, evergreen woods and of course the inevitable blood red leach punctures.


                Though the track to Kampamala was in a treacherous state, owing to recent rains, Hameed, an expert in the terrain, whisked it well to the top, ending the climb in less than an hour.

            Assuring the return by 5 in the evening, for the climb to Muneeswaran hill, Hameed left, as we sat for lunch. On Jithesh’s recommendation, we attempted a trek to the adjacent hillock, by 3 in the evening.

          Though the trek was mild, the track was slippery and our kids had a bad time in balancing themselves. View from the top was mesmerizing, with thick misty woods stretching all around, tiny village of Kaithakolli, in the valley and the towering Muneeswaran hill to the east.

               I left others, wandering, while Biju went on with some tutorials on hillside photography, to Smitha – his better half, kids played around, my ‘best’ half monitoring.

         Gathering clouds and thickening mist reminded us of a return and we ‘slipped’ back to the cottage, to the hospitality of Jithesh, who was ready with steaming Black tea, which was what we were longing for. Hameed was back with his Jeep in time and as we set out for the Muneeswaran hill climb, it started drizzling.

                Went past the beautiful village in the valley, crossing its life line, the Kaithakolli River and went on with the climb.

         The track thereafter was damn worse, that we got out at places, Hameed going back and returning in that pace, he flew off slippery terrains.

        Thus proceeding ‘Hop in Hop Off’, reached the sanctum, before light faded. Unfortunately mist veiled us from the World and we missed the valley view from top.

                The hill top hosts an ancient temple with idols of Siva - as the Muneeswara -  and goddess Durga. Though its just two platforms, on which idols are placed, with a tin shed by the side, came to know that it would soon be developed with permanent buildings and even a website has been hoisted to pace up the renovation.

                On return, Hameed took us to the tiny jungle side village of Makkimala, which boasted of a Lower Primary School and a ‘Super Market’ in just 100 square feet, where we went in to shop candles, as our night stay wasn’t electrified.

         There is a grass hill at an elevation of 4300ft above MSL, locally named ‘Valiyakunnu’, which can be hiked from here, if weather favors. It was dusk by then and we got back to the chill of the cottage, where Jithesh and his assistant were ready with a tasty dinner, which was highly appreciated.

                It rained all night and it was drizzling even when we woke up. Sat chatting in the drizzle and mist and it was pain, to summon Hameed, for our return. The hillside of Kampamala has enough and more to sooth tired hearts and minds and let it be so, for long – I wish.

                Let sustain, the hillocks their greenery, the valleys their serenity, the streams their purity, and the people their sanity, for our generations ahead – was what I scribbled in the guest book, as we were about to leave.

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...