Thursday, December 16, 2010

Thekkadi - 10/10/10

"do you see a vast expanse of paddy fields"

"do you see a sea of coconut trees"

"oh wait yes yes"
"ok you are in uthamapalayam and
cumbum is 10min. we will wait"

sm n baski had already arrived at cumbum and
were waiting for us. it was baski asking me questions to ascertain whether to wait. since our bus started late we were running late. we were in short conversation right from periyakulam...theni...veera pandi... chinnamanur.. uthamapalayam... cumbum... and the bus was going through beautiful paddy fields, grape yards, coconut groves. i was watching with sleepy eyes sealed inside a ac volvo of abt travels. we reached cumbum by 7am. we had hired a jeep for our 30-40km journey from cumbum to kumuli home stay.

It was sm's idea to go in jeep instead of car. The jeep ride was really fantastic. we removed the top cover of the jeep and stood up to get a better view of the scenary. we could see the mist over the top of distant mountains. clouds merged with the mountains and were melting down into streaky falls here and there. as the jeep started climbing the hill, we sat down and broke into cheery conversations. we arrived at the home stay after an hour since we started from cumbum bus stand.

Suresh, who runs the Green view home stay in kumuli greeted us with warm welcome. He gave us one double room. It was a 10 double rooms homestay with good scenic garden around. The floor was full of flower plants, and the twines were twirling around the parapet of the stairs. All of us refreshed quickly and had the authentic kerala tea. Suresh briefed us of a short plan on what to do for that day, a tea factory and spice plantation visit, view point walk, bamboo boating,elephant ride. we decided to go to spice plantation first.

Chellar kovil spice plantation

We hired the same jeep for a day's trip it costed us 1400. After having appam and kadalai curry for breakfast we headed for the spice plantation. it was located on the slope of the hill. kuriacos the owner showed us around. For people who want to know about spices it is a must visit. As it had just rained, the plants were wet and the flowers fresh. With the aroma of the spices in the air, it felt very refreshing.

There was rosemarry, a shrub; When you c
aress it with your palms, it leaves a lasting scent on you. One plant insulin plant -eating its leaves checks diabetes. One special herb named AllSpice, it leaves smell of the spice you think in your mind. If you think of ginger, the smell would be ginger. If you think of cardamom, it would smell like cardamom. For the first time, I saw vanilla plant. We saw cardamom, pepper, coffee, turmeric, ginger, cinnamom and many more unknown spices and herbs having aromatic and medicinal values, and so many flowers very pleasing to the eyes and their smell soothing to the mind.

We passed through a small lily pond kept for fishing to reach the view point beyond the garden. It is on the edge of the hill. It was foggy throughout. Through the mist, we could get a glimpse of the towns we came across - cudalur, cumbum, theni; tiny white dots amidst the greenary around. On one side was a huge green patch. He said that is a 5000acre paddy field. Periyar power station is also visible from there. One of the unreachable falls looking like a bunch of white silk wavering in the air and with the various shades of green around, the view is just spectacular.

Back at the spice garde
n, there was even a bamboo tree house built on top of a sturdy jack tree. The tree house with no other support, swings whenever the wind blows. He said in the night, you could see the light coming out of the towns below like unblinking stars on earth. After buying home made chocos and spices in a nearby petty shop, we started for suruli falls in TN.

Suruli falls

Since suruli falls is about an hour journey from kumuli, we had our lunch before starting for the falls. We had kerala meals with fish curry. On the way down, we stopped at one place where four colossal pipes had been laid down the slope of the mountain. We were told that those were the pipes carrying water from periyar dam to the periyar power station below. As the view was also very good, baski opened his photo session and we had to drag him to start for suruli falls. We were stopped 5km before the falls as some "suruli aruvi saral vizha" was going on. An otherwise serenic place looked polluted with left over food and plastic everywhere. Electric wires were running for kilo metres to light the make-shift stage for the function. The water in the stream of the falls was very shallow, with doubts clouding the mind we proceeded to the falls. To our surprise, there were not many people near the falls and the place was clean. There were even change rooms. I was surprised I was in TN. Water was falling down from 20-30 feet, gathered into a pool and flowed down in branching streams. We were glad that we can bath there and not just watch. We bathed for one good hour, testing the water from every inch of the falls. Some lady had brought in two toddlers. They were very happily splashing water in the pool. It was funny to see them wanting to stand in the flow of the pool but shaking and falling and laughing, with every fall and getting up again. Baski dragged me out of the falls and asked me to look up. What a sight that was! It was as if someone with ten thousand hands hiding behind the rocky cliff was throwing down water balloons. It is such a soft water falls. No wonder so much crowd. There was one banyan tree over the top of the falls spreading its cover and sprouting roots from the branches. The water spilling from the falls always kept the roots wet and It is funny that the roots never have to reach the soil to suck water, they had direct dangling water supply. After taking another long deep dip, we came out. On the way back, we saw a samanthi field. It was so fresh and orangy and a feast to the eyes. Params and sm jumped out of the jeep to click some shots. I would say bathing in the falls beats any body massage. After little chat, all of us snoozed off in the jeep.

Kalari performance

We had very little time for refreshing as the kalari performance would start by
6pm. We reached the theatre just in time. It was set like an arena where in the middle was a pit with fencing and viewers sat around in the high raised platform. Luckily for us the performance had not started then. In the speakers someone was explaining about kalari, its origin and importance in the war fields . Arranged on one side of the wall in the pit were the weapons of kalari amidst keral style oil lamps and there was an entrance in the wall facing the weapons. With the slow beats of a kerela percussion instrument, six to seven people entered the arena in black uniform. First they performed the Guru vanakkam, that is worshipping the guru. Next was a sword and shield fight between two disciples. Though it was only a demo, they fought fiercely with concentrated eyes and a focussed mind. There were sparks coming when the swords met and it looked nothing less of a real battle between two people. It just left everyone speechless especially the foreigners. The group went on to showcase their kalari skill each time with a different weapon combination and continued to stun everyone. Special mention has to be given to the weapon called urumi which is a bunch of sharp long steel ribbons wielding which required much concentration and practice. People fought with stick, spear, short sword, hand. The performance ended with a Guru vanakkam again. The performance really made an impact on the viewers and earned a great respect for the ancient art and its performers.

I was adamant on having a ayurvedic massage in kerala and got the appointment in one of the nearby massage centers. It was ok types. They just use gingly oil in the name of oil of great medicinal value. First time I took steam bath inside the closed container with just head and neck popping out. It felt good.

Forest trekking

Accompanied by two tribes turned forest officers, one armed policeman, chilling breeze of the morning, we entered the forest. trail slippery due to previous night's rain - little streams flowing here and there - elephant tracks on the muddy floor - air turning dense and humid - trees green and high - it felt good. we stopped in an area clear of trees and had breakfast. Then the trail started upwards. After an hour or so climbing uphill, I jumped at the sight of elephant grass. That means, we have reached the top. We sat and took in the nature. somewhere down we noticed some browny rocks apparently shaking. oh! it was an elephant group. Params and sm went down with one of the officers to get closer look, while myself and baski contemplated the scenery around. The guides were good and told us lot of information about their tribal groups, rituals, hunting, forest life, and much more. After what seemed an eternity we started down in a different trail and had lunch near a stream flowing out of a small dark cave and reached the base around 4pm.

In the same jeep we went back to cumbum and started home.
It was a very fulfilling trip.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Wayanad 3,4/Jul/10


As natural as it has become in this fast paced world, we found it difficult to finalise the trip date. And finally after so much postponing and drop outs we four, baski,sm from chennai, Satya and I from bangalore decided to rock wayanad for two days. What follows is an attempt to record our memories and events as it happened. If you are in a hurry doing last minute preparations for your visit, jump to fact sheets at the end.

Bangalore to Wayanad

baski and sm caught 4pm train to calicut and took a bus from there to kalpetta. Satya and I started from bangalore in indica at 12.30am. We were made to wait at the entrance of bandipur forest. as the highway is closed from 9pm to 6am so as not to disturb wild animals. We reached kalpetta,wayanad by 8 in the morning.

On the way to the stay

Kalpetta Stay

We had booked a home stay called Sweet homes in kalpetta, in wayandad district. It is a traditional kerala style home and the owner, Mr Paul has converted the 1st floor into a home stay. Paul is very kind and treated us with good hospitality. It was a 3bhk luxurious suite suitable for 8 persons and had a tasteful interior. We had reached there by 8am; relaxed for a while and got ready for the adventure waiting ahead of us.

Home Stay
First Day

Neelimala View Point

After having the delicious appam at the home stay, we started to explore wayanad. Our plan was to visit neelimala view point and go to meenmutti falls.It was already drizzling outside, so we packed our jerkins too. It was 9 in the morning but the freezing wind and the fog around made it look like 6am. We kept asking for directions to the neelimala view point. We stopped at some point to taste kerala tea and had nendram banana, a famous variety of banana that grows in kerala.

we continued, we missed the neelimala starting point and came to another view point called lakkidi. We got out of the car and started walking. The highway wore a wet look. sm was in high spirits and started running hither and thither. By the time we reached the view point, the whole place was completely covered in thick fog that visibility reduced to 10mtrs. we could not see anything from the view point. we clicked some photos and thought we should go back to the falls. A few minutes passed, and then there was slight wind followed by a heavy rain which cleared all the fog. Wow, that was a wonderful sight. As none of us were GRE candidates, we kept shouting the same word "awesome" again and again. The green expanse of beautiful mountains towered by clouds and the little streams flowing here and there making white streaks cutting across the mountains' faces was so spectacular . satya started rolling the camera in every angle. There we met wayanad police who informed us that all falls are closed because of heavy rain, there was a DTCP office nearby which confirmed the same. We decided to go to chembra peak instead for treakking.

Chembra Peak

From vythri, we went to chembra via chundale-mepadi. To trek up chembra peak we hired a guide at the forest department office. This was not optional as there are no marking anywhere on the trail. The guide, chinu was 16yr old boy and spoke only malayalam. From the entrance we travelled another 3km inside the tea plantations to reach the chembra base point. There was a two storey watch tower building from which we could see the nearby mountains full of tea plantations. We quickly started treking up the hill following the guide. My friends are physically well fit and were jumping around and to me, whose only daily exercise is the 10mtr walk to cafeteria, it looked they are almost jogging up the hill. I walked slowly up the hill following their trail, stopping every now and then to watch the scenic beauty around. Soon I grew tired as expected and could not take even one more step. Three of them went ahead and chinu stayed with me. I wondered why people leave all the comfort behind and come all the way to suffer in the mountains where there are no tracks; where the great king cobra lives. I started again, catching with my friends whos were waiting for me impatiently. Guide had told all of them to stop as they can get easily lost.

The path up the hill was very narrow, steep and slippery. There was dense growth of wild plants and trees and strong wind blowing with lot of noise which looked as though the trees were whispering about the strangers entering their zone. There was a small stream trickling down the trail. Some where I could hear water rumbling softly. Every one of my step drained too much energy that I got tired soon again and waved my friends that I cant continue further. Satya and baski were no where to see. sm and chinnu stayed with me. I was told to go back to watch tower and wait for them to return which will take another 3 hours. I was the weakest link in the chain slowing up the whole movement. But for reasons I dont know, I was determined to continue and only asked for more time to rest. sm and chinu waited with me. Thereafter for every two minutes climb I took 5 minutes rest. I could see baski and satya high above and away. In an effort to continue, I started crawling on all four with so much huffing and puffing. Few minutes later to ease my suffering, all of us took rest for a while. There was another stream cutting across the path. Then all of a sudden, sm was attacked by a wild animal. Equally wild sm was fighting it with bare hands. We could not intervene and just watched. Then chinu poured the salt pepper into its eyes and pulled out the 1cm leech out of sm's hands.

As we continued, the path became less steeper and walking easier and we had a reached a peak, no not the chembra peak itself. We had to scale two more peaks to reach it. From there we could see arrays of mountains scattered across the landscape in all three directions down. There was heavy growth of a peculiar grass with big blades, dancing to the tunes of the wind. Path was not clearly to be seen and covered completely by the grass. Again baski started racing up not at all tired by the very steep walk. I wished I had his stamina. We crossed another field of grass and reached the second peak beyond which lay the heart shaped lake. Then the guide told me I can make it to the lake alone and there were no further confusing trails till the lake.

I took time to take every step and relished in the fresh wind as much as possible. From far, I could make out that it is pretty much heart shaped. it is a natural lake surrounded by dense wild plants.The fresh dark green was sprinkled with pure white with the thumbai blossoming in places. It is a very common plant in our native. I was surprised to see it grow on such high lands. sm was up for scaling the chembra peak itself which is another 3km from the lake. Satya and I were tired and so stayed back and relaxed; sm and baski went ahead for some distance with chinu. It looked it could rain any time soon and the path down was very slippery. They took their sweet time to come back and we started climbing down.

Way down was equally tough as going up the hill. One slip to the right they will be collecting your bones the next day. The dense growth of wild plants and grass somehow hid the deep valley that lay behind. Walking down was not as tiring though, only we need to be careful not to slip on the muddy places. We enjoyed the beauty around us and walked slowly down reaching the base. It was already 5.30 and we called it a day.

Back at the home stay

After a mini lunch on the way, we went straight to the home stay and dropped flat. sm, still not satisfied with the day's activities, went to a nearby dam and returned in the night; poor guy couldn't see anything as it was dark. We had dinner at a nearby hotel and dozed off. In my dream I had scaled the chembra peak and looked at my tired friends by the lake side from there.

Second Day

Pookot Lake

We had puttu for breakfast; and decided to to visit pookot lake, soochipara falls and then banasura dam. We checked out the home stay and headed straight to pookot lake which was 45min drive from kalpetta. There was a kerala handicrafts shops outside and also a shop selling some spices and herbal oils. The lake looked cool surrounded by lush green vegetation. It is a fresh water natural lake. Beyond one corner we could see chembra peak clouded by mist.

We rented a row boat. The rower uncle took us all around the lake in slow and swift paddles. There was even lily growing in the water. Uncle asked us to taste the water. We did it hesitatingly but to our surprise, it was indeed very pure as he said. Uncle told us that the lake is in the shape of india. We were in madyapradesh area when the skies started blessing upon us. The droplets from the skies meeting their lovers on earth. Tup Tup Tup, everywhere around us. Tiny specks of water hitting fast on the lake bed and bouncing off as if wanting to go back to the skies; falling again mixing with the lake water. Each collision gave birth to concentric circular waves. Waves spread out and hitting each other forming wonderful patterns. No words to describe a sight like that. I felt happy to have come so close to nature. He also informed us that the whole wayanad region is zero polluted area and I could see a glint of pride in his eyes. An image of our dear marina beach just flashed in my mind which left a sad smile on my face and I shrugged it off. Fishing was prohibited in the lake but there were few naughty kids fishing in the lake stealthily.

After the boat ride, we took a stroll around the lake. Road was wet with the rain and fallen leaves. To our left lay the lake silent motionless reflecting what is above it. To our right lay the woods leading to preserved forest of wayanad. baski felt he saw a thick tail. We thought it may be a wild animal but no one could see it. On the boughs of the huge trees we spotted it. it was a colorful squirrel. It moved swiftly escaping our efforts to capture its image. We were also greeted by a species of our ancestors jumping from branch to branch communicating in strange sounds. I wonder how we looked to their eyes.

sm found himself very happy and was running around with the camera clicking against the greenery. satya and baski sat for a while on the benches laid on the shore of the lake. I was playing in the water with the fish. Instinctively it kept going away whenever I touched the water. I kept my fingers still the in the water for a while; relaxed and imagined love flowing through my fingers. crazy as it may sound, fish were not so afraid. I moved my fingers gently towards a lonely fish. It was too tiny and transparent except for its dark eyes and belly. It had a transparent bright orange colored skin and cotton like tail and fins which it kept waving. I moved my index finger close enough to the fish, it didnt move but continued tapping on my finger. The feeling of being brushed upon by a silky soft tail under water was so moving. I closed my eyes at that moment and I was in a different world. As it started pouring again, we moved on. On the way we also a noticed a big snail, very bright yellow colored with matching dark brown shell. Everything in nature is so colorful. It was moving slowly on its way protruding its antennas and dragging its body. In the heavy rain and fog it looked as if the lake is boiling.

baski and sm wanted to rest. Satya and I went to purchase in the shops and bought herbal products and tea/coffee. I am a handicraft lover so I spent much time examining each new art work there. There was a tribal bamboo flute which would produce music if you wave it in the air. It is a hollow bamboo stick with one end open and other end a washer like thing attached to produce the sound. sm and baski came out and we left for soochipara falls.

Soochipara water falls

We reached the top of soochipara and from there we had to climb down some 400mtrs. It was a stone laid path down to the falls. sm preferred to walk on the muddy path on the side. On both sides had grown the touch me not plant very intensively. Path was winding down and down with some steps in between. There were beautiful couples walking hand in hand and some even closer. Kerala girls are so cute. Families chattering and warning their children not to wander off. Kids strolling happily touching and feeling the plants in the way only kids can do. Infants swirming in the hands of their mothers, clothed in colorful costumes and scarf around the head to protect from the cold wind. The distant mumbling became roaring and it grew louder and louder. We had reached the falls.

It was a feast to the eyes. Water was coming down with great sound. Thomm.Thomm.Thomm....tons after tons of litres of water hitting the ground with great speed and forming the rapid current. Water was hitting so hard that drops shot off into sky far high like a powerful fountain. The falls was not too high. 50 ft may be. But enormous amount of water flowed with incredible speed. No one was allowed to go near the water. There was even an army guard watching over the people. On the sides of falls, there was a pool. In no time, sm was in the water followed by satya. baski was afraid of entering the pool. Since I didnt know swimming ( still I dont know ), I caught hold of rocks and paddled near the bank. sm was demonstrating his diving skills. There was a huge rock above water level 10ft distant in the middle of the pool closer to the falls. sm,satya and some other people swam to that rock to get a closer look at the falls. guard warned them not to get closer as the flow was at terrible speed. It was so fast that one could not stand steadily even in the pool by the side because of the waves it left while flowing. On the bank of the pool little kids were splashing their feet into the water playing funnily. Behind the falling water and between the rocks there was a small empty space. water falling in that space bounced off the rims of the rocks above with the same speed and it looked like a small falls upside down. what seemed like eternity, we started back.

As it was already 2.30pm. We decided we cant go anywhere else. Dip at the pool left all of us refreshed. It was not so steep that walking up back was not tiring. As our parting time neared everyone wanted to cherish each moment left together. Talks circled around when everyone is going to get married. As if wanting to join the discussion the skies opened again. The falling drops made the shy plant fold its leaves. some of dew hung from the back of the leaves, with in no time, all the touch me not plants had folded their leaves and the lingering dew made them look like they are bearing water dew for fruits. sm was in good spirits and started singing famous songs out of tune in his own words. with hands stretched to the skies me and baski were enjoying the rain watching the rain drop on our face. we discovered then that we could see the drops only against a background which is not white. there was a lone tree beyond which lay only far off clouds. it looked like rain was falling in the shape of the tree. we called on to satya who was taking shelters in a near by tree. all together did rain dance with steps choreoed by sm who also doubled up as dj mixing songs stopping only when people passed us. we moved on after a while.

From the top, we could see in one of the distant hill, forest was being burned down to make way for probably a tea plantation. In the midst of dark green hills, that one looked naked with the red soil exposed. We had some bread omlets and did a quick shopping in a handicraft shop and started back for kalpetta.

Wayanad to Bangalore
We dropped sm and baski at kalpetta bus stand and did some more shopping and headed back to bangalore at 5.30pm. When we were going through the bandipur forest, we spotted a wild elephant and stopped to take pictures. As more and more cars stopped to look at the elephant, it shyed away into the forest. There was also a wild buffalo grazing the plants unafraid of the eyes watching. Driver stopped the car again as he spotted a group of deer. I saw more deer in the deer park in safdurjang,south delhi. And there are more than 15 elephants in my native in the temples. But these ones were free. This one need not bless the onlooker and then curl up the trunk asking for money. This one is not chained so others can feel safe. This one didnot have that dried up tear track beneath its eyes. We will never understand that animal freedom is as important as our own. I felt happy for him to be free. There was a variety of bamboo growing in bunches. Then trees of red skin growing tall. Then a country side of farms. In the horizon farming a wide arc was a vivid rainbow. It stayed for more than firve minutes. Such a pleasant finish to our wonderful trek. The ratio of real jungle vs concrete jungle was slowly reversing and we dozed off only to wake up for the dinner. We reached the middle of the concrete jungle, bangalore by 11.30. It was such a wonderful trip that would remain in our memories for ever like our college days.

The wonderful moments at wayanad left us motivated. We pledged to make more such pleasant trips and I to be in better form for trekking.

We are trekking happily ever after. :)

Facts sheet

putto travels. indica cab. 6.5rs per km. 150rs driver bata. 150rs extra if driving after 10pm anytime. checkpost charges 200rs. Not so comfortable for sleeping. driver is good.


Sweet home stay in kalpetta.very near to kalpetta bus stand. 3.5k per day and night. run by mr paul very good is just like renting a 3bhk house with rich interiors. rooms available for lower tariffs if you really look elswhere.

Places to see
soochipara falls, meenmutti falls, neelimala view point, chembra peak, pookot lake, edakkal caves, banasura dam, kuruva island, lakkidi view point. During monsoon season most of falls and kuruva island will be closed.

Places not to waste time
chain tree. there was a chain hung around a normal tree. on the way to lakkidi view point.

travel around wayanad
autos are cheap there if you dont go by your own taxi. there are even buses to some of the places.

fish,prawn are good. pork and beef are also available. we couldnt get chicken and mutton.
must pack for trekking
salt for leech. lightweight overcoat for rain/winter. torch to go in the dark. lightweight trekking shoes. strict no jeans as it rains any time, it will add to the weight and also makes the trekking difficult.

speak malayalam. all can understand tamil. very humble and kind people.
thumbai flower

entry fee
chembra peak 25rs per group. trekking guide 500rs, this is not optional as one can get easily lost.
pookot lake 10rs per head. row boating in the lake 50rs per group
soochipara falls 25rs per group. camera extra.