If you happened to access this page to get info on the Kodai - Munnar trek route, the last part is for you. But, if you seek the gory details of what transpired on a long January weekend in an adventure-packed trek, the first part is the way to go! But beware .... this might be just a bit tooooooooo looooooooooooooooong!! :-)
The trek was thro Bangalore Mountaineering Club - BMC for short. I've met some really cool guys thro BMC and its good to trek with them. And so, when the idea of a Kodai-Munnar trek was floated around, I was just too eager to be a part of it. And so were a few others:
Amit Patil -- The BMC core-guy, very excitable. Actually, he is very very very very excitable. Must have said - "Guys, can you IMAGINE that we are here withOUT a guide, in a DENSE jungle ALL by ourselves" like three gazillion and fifty nine times in the trek.
Anandan -- Led the way for most of the trek and probably wanted to finish it off in one day!! Wondered most of the time as to why the others are so slow!!
Anbu -- The quietest guy around. Was probably witnessing everything around him and chuckling to himself.
Joshua -- Loves getting himself photographed against different backgrounds!! Maybe I should charge him for clicking his portfolio!!!
Kavitha -- Showed amazing patience in putting up with Subbus wise-cracks! Quite a sport!
PJ -- That's me. Would have said that I was voted the nicest guy on the trek if Amit had not termed me 'wicked'. ;-). I shall get back at him for such an insinuation.
Sirish -- One guy who cannot smile in photographs!! Keen trekker, bird-watcher et al.
Subbu -- When he said, mimicking the Donkey in Shrek, "The place of the annoyingly irritating animal has already been taken" - he was probably talking about himself!!! Can come up with one-liners which could send you from guffaws of uncontrollable laughter to fits of uncontrollable rage!!!
Tarsh -- He was laughing at the name of one guy called Delux when someone quipped, "Tarsh, what are YOU laughing about?!!". And he didn't speak for a long time after that!!!
The mail from Amit said that this would be an unorganized and unplanned trek. But then, even he was not prepared for such chaos!! We should have probably got an idea about it when Tarsh said he should be picked up at Koramangala when he actually made us go to HSR Layout!! We picked everyone up by midnight on Wednesday (the 25th of Jan 2k6) and set off towards Kodaikanal. Trust me - A tempo traveller with push back seats is so much more comfortable than a Qualis!!!
Early next morning, Anand and Joshua were keen on making us stop at a petrol bunk which never came and we ended up with breakfast at a roadside hotel on NH7 before we reached the outskirts of Kodai by noon. Dum-Dum falls seems a pathetic excuse to a name, but looked beautiful nevertheless! ;-)
We reached Kodai and moved into rooms of the Skyland hotel to freshen up; amazed at how cold Kodai was at noon!! We had 'lunch' at four and roamed around Kodai for the rest of the evening.
After crawling through Coaker's Walk, Tarsh took us to his secret haunt just a few miles away and what a place it was!!!! An amazing waterfall - cut off from the hustle and bustle of Kodai - as secluded as it could have been! We sneaked through an opening in a fence to enter the forest department area and went deeper n deeper into it - braving the darkness and the slippery rocks!! It was an amazing experience there!!
We climbed up back to the road only to find that a fence separated us from freedom. Tarsh jumped across successfully, Subbu landed hard on his butt and Sirish cut his hand when he fell down even before trying to jump across! So, me and Kavitha moved a few rocks around and crawled under the fence to earn our freedom!!! The rest of them, incidentally, were shopping for our trek-food. Responsible guys. :-)
We watched some TV post-dinner and that was when the true Subbu came to light!! And Goodness Gracious me!! What a revelation it was!! All it required was K-TV and Surya TV to be beaming Tam songs in typical South Indian cinema style!! Man!! Wonder what Subbu would say when he is drunk and put in front of the same channels!!!
Friday began early. We were up and about by 5 and ready to leave for the trek by six!! But then, it was planned to be an unplanned trek!! We had to wait till 9 am for our permissions to get ready, we were told. A certain Mr.X who was incharge of getting all the necessary permissions informed us that the trekking charges would be Rs.150/- per head and the guide charges would be Rs. 2k!! Sounded quite exorbitant, but if those are the charges levied by the Forest Department, we had no other option!! We made use of the time available to rent out bicycles and go for a fun ride around the Kodai lake. All kinds of antics ensued - entertainment worth the money!!
The stage was set. Mr.X told us that he had the permission letter and we had a guide all set to show us the way. But then, Amit had heard from the DFO office that there are no charges for trekking in these forests!!! WE WERE WILD!!! It was a verbal free-for-all which went on for more than an hour. We then realised that his so-called permission letter was fake too!! At the end of it, we decided that all we wanted to do with Mr.X was to get the money back while Amit and me would try to get the perm from the DFO by ourselves!! And so it was - Tarsh led the effort and went on an all-out mission to punch the dough out of the guy if required!!
Meanwhile, me and Amit were caught up in a bureaucratic muddle for permissions. Everyone interfered in the process and did all they could to prevent us from directly speaking to the DFO. Our request letter went thro a few 'babus' and the permission letter was typed out. Our guide, still hopeful of his share of the cash, was trying desperately for the Superintendent's signature on the sheet of paper!! He ran up and down the streets of Kodai looking for the absconding Superintendent and almost fainted when he was told that a few of us were trying to storm the DFO's office!! That was true - we could take it no more. Amit and Tarsh managed to get into the DFO's office and convince him to permit us for the trek!!! With his signature, the scribble of names by others was no more than a formality. WE HAD MANAGED THE PERM WITHOUT ANY MAAMOOL!!!!! And that too, in a single day!!! This was an adventure by itself!!!
On the Mr.X front, Tarsh managed to squeeze every penny out of him and returned triumphant!! A unassuming question to the guide about his fees was used to kindle a fight b/w him and Mr.X!! Finally, when we offered the amount quoted by the guide himself for his services, he refused and demanded a lot more!! What the hell!! We'll trek by ourselves - we all decided!! Who needs a guide anyway!!!
It was past noon. And entry into Berijam was only till 11:30 am. We should start the trek from Poondi, I thought. The blogs on the net were really of great help.
A hour-long shopping spree at Kodai infuriated me to the extent that I hurled out rare expletives. I saw no reason for the delay once we got the permission. But then, everyone else had their tourist caps on!! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagh.
we finally set off towards Berijam lake at two past noon. Berijam is a secluded lake which can be visited only by around 10 vehicles per day with prior permission from the DFO. However, entry into this area is only before 11:30 am, the printed sheet of paper in my hand said. The guard at the entrance seemed very understanding even though the time was past three and let us in freely. :-). I met a bunch of KREC juniors at the gate and gave them fundas on how to get perm to visit Berijam the next day. (Man!! I should really stop giving fundae to juniors eh?!!)
While the junta at Kodai seemed skeptical on how well we would manage this trek without a guide, the Foresters at Berijam did not think much of it. That was quite some relief!! But, a local there quipped that the distance to Munnar from Berijam was 95 kms which worried Tarsh toooo bloody much!! For the n'th time, I tried telling him that half the locals are not aware of the details, but he refused to listen. I gave up. If someone really wanted to worry, I wasn't going to stop them!
Lunch was again at 1600 hrs and we FINALLLLLLLLY began trekking by 5 pm. I was sooo happy that we atleast started!!! The initial walk was along a wide jeep track which was still in use. Blame it on the trucks that ply transporting lumber. We knew that the entire Kodai - Munnar route was a road constructed in the British era, with most of it unused now. But, to our surprise, we could still see old milestones standing strong by the side of the roads. The first one we saw announced that Top Station was a good 22 miles away. (We figured out that the distances were in miles only the next day!!) Amit said, "Guys, can you IMAGINE that we are here withOUT a guide, in a DENSE jungle ALL by ourselves"!! ;-)
Trekking through pine trees wasn't a new experience for me. However, I couldn't picture this setting in South India- 500 kms from Bangalore!! The pine vegetation reminded me of the Dalhousie trek and it was difficult for me to come to terms that I was ACTUALLY in the South!!
The shadows grew longer and eventually disappeared. It was dark and moon-less and we were enjoying the night trek. We really had no idea how far our destination was. All we knew was that we would get a bunch of broken-down buildings where we could take shelter!! It was all fine till Amit used his searchlight to look around and found a pair of gleaming eyes staring back at him. :-). I think Amit's feet stopped moving involuntarily and the eyes stared back at him voluntarily. To say that this freaked the living hell out of Amit is a real understatement. He went berserk screaming at everyone to stay together and make loud noises to keep the animals away!!! Although we all understood and appreciated his concern, I couldn't help but chuckle quietly under my breath. "I prefer to err on the side of caution than otherwise" - declared Amit. And how he erred!!!! ;-). As I said, I had given up.
It was past eight when we found a set of four broken buildings at Vandaravu. Three of us ignored loud protests and checked out which building was the most viable for the night halt. It turned out to be the one closest to the road and that made everyone happy!! Amit went inside and some bird-shit caught his eye. No! I don't mean he saw some bird shit on the floor!! I mean some bird-shit actually landed on his eye!!!! It's a laughing matter now, but back there we were all worried if the bird had struck his eye. Thankfully, that wasn't the case. Sitting by the campfire, Amit said, "Guys, can you IMAGINE that we are here withOUT a guide, in a DENSE jungle ALL by ourselves"!! ;-)
The fire burnt all night long in front of the building to ward off evil spirits and we took turns to sentry the fort. :D
The zenith of adventure? Or plain recklessness?
Everyone was up by six and looked forward to a good sunrise. The expectations were, however, not met. Me and Sirish set off to do some bird watching and ventured quite some distance into the dense woods. No birds - but we could hear voices of our co-trekkers as if they were shouting in our ears!! We were amazed at how the sound carried in the jungle and that immediately made the reason obvious as to why we weren't able to sight any wildlife. :-(
And then, for an hour, we stopped talking and enjoyed the ambience of the place. The cool breeze, the greenery, the sweet chirping of a hundred birds, the calmness of the minds :-) - the best moments of the trek for me! Finally, by ten a.m, we set off to continue our quest to reach Top Station which was still a good 16 miles away. But, within a quarter of an hour, we were at a waterfall and even the semblance of a trek was lost! Snaps were clicked, trees were climbed, cricket was played ...... we were like kids in a playground!!!
We continued the walk along the jeep track - sometimes through eyesore patches of lumbered forest, and the rest through some visually pleasant ones to reach another set of forest quarters for lunch. Breakfast had been just cup-o-noodles and lunch was bits and pieces of anything we found! All I hoped for was a fattening dinner later in the day. But then, that never happened as planned. The only thing that happened as planned was to keep the trek unplanned!!! ;-)
The action then begun! We entered a part of the trail that was no longer maintained by the forest officials. So, as a contrast to the wide jeep tracks we were walking on, we faced the prospect of getting miserably lost on a narrow trail through dense forest!! The savior was the remains of a tar road of long long ago. We struck to it stronger than any leech at KP had on my legs and that ensured we remained on the right track!!
Almost two hours in the forest and there seemed no respite from the climb. We had heard that the forest stretch was around 8 kms. So shouldn't we be getting out of here soon?? To add to the confusion, we landed at a T junction where one arm with a wide jeep track beckoned us and I was just too skeptical about it coz I saw no traces of asphalt on it!! We reluctantly took the other non-descript trail. It was more than half an hour when our eyes fell on a milestone indicating that we were indeed on the right track!!!
What a relief it was!!! If only we could reach the watch-tower by dark, we could make it to the Wireless Station for the night! A Glimmer of hope!!
Not so early!! If anything, the forest grew denser and the trail got muddy and slushy. We first heard a loud growl, followed by a lot of sightings of tiger-shit!! Then, an animal rushed out away from us when it heard us approaching and added to the unspoken tension. The icing, however, was this fresh pug-mark.
Considering the slush it was in, it couldn't have been more than a few hours old. I trekked on, expecting a BIG cat around anytime!! :-)
1800 hrs - Hopes were renewed as we reached the watch tower!! We spent a few minutes on the top and quickly got around to moving towards the wireless station I had heard about. One km away, I had read. Joshua's friend had specifically asked us to take the road to the left of the watch tower. We walked along that for about 20 mins when we realised that it was going nowhere!! And by then, it got dark too. We hurried back to the tower.
Too scared to pitch a tent on the ground, we spent the night in a small room on the first level of the watch tower!!! And what an experience it was!!! I would've never imagined that I'd spend the night on a watch tower in a forest!!! Amit again said, "Guys, can you IMAGINE that we are here withOUT a guide, in a DENSE jungle ALL by ourselves"!! ;-)
(and so does the blog!!!!)
A recon mission early in the morning led us to the next milestone just a hundred mtrs away on the widest track there was!! A km away on this track was the Wireless Station of Bandar. :-( was how we looked when we realised that we could have slept so much better the previous night!! Nevertheless, we trudged on for two hours without breakfast and finally decided to make some brunch! Brunch was one kg of rice cooked with a packet of rasam powder :-). To say it was delicious is an understatement. As Subbu put it, this would have been a wedding treat in Somalia ;-). Half an hour through this beautiful jungle and voila!!!! We had done it!! Through the forest safe and sound!!!
We were out at the Forest Check post at Top Station and in a jubilant mood!!! The only dampener was that the forest guard termed our foray through the jungle as 'illegal' and 'punishable' under some goddamn act of the Forest Laws or whatever :-p. He decided to take it easy when he heard we were all 'students' :-D
The van we had hired from Bangalore was waiting for us at Top Station. A photo session at the view point was followed by many more at Madupatti Dam, echo point and the tea estates of Munnar.
With memories of a wonderful trek, Subbu's jokes and a drive through the scenic beauty of Munnar, we returned back home; albeit reluctantly.
Kodai to Munnar was formerly a motorable road built in the Britsh Era, used for sometime by the Indian Forest Department. But, after its closure, it has regained its beauty and has a mysterious charm about it .... here it is demystified ;-)
The first thing required is permission from the District Forest Officer (DFO) office at Kodaikanal. They say that your letter must reach them about 3-4 weeks before the intended day of the trek, but I seriously doubt that any such letter would stay out of the dustbin. Physical presence there is a must, I feel, as we managed the permission on the same day we started the trek!!! There are a lot of middle men who claim to obtain permission for you for a 'processing fee' - my only advice is to beware of such people. However, be warned that access to the DFO might be prevented by a lot of people in the DFO office who might claim to 'help you' for the 'fee'. This would be how the trek perm letter would look --
The permission should be obtained for a trek from Berijam lake to Top Station. Berijam is a secluded lake about 24 kms from Kodai and special permission is required to enter this place. This permission too is available at the DFO office at 10 am everyday (except Mondays and Tuesdays). In case the permission is not available for Berijam, you might have to start your trek from Poondi village. At the other end, Top Station is 34 kms from Munnar and is in Theni district of TN. However, in the course of your trek, you would be crossing into Kerala for sometime atleast.
The trek distance is 22 miles or about 36 kms. The initial 20 kms would be on a wide jeep track which is still in use. Diversions could be confusing. The first major one is about 2 kms from Berijam where there are 3 roads intersecting - take the right. Proceed further through beautiful Pine forest for another 4 kms where you get a fork - a track to the right going downwards and one straight on, in the same plane -- Continue straight on. Another 4 kms later, you should see around 4 dilapidated buildings which were formerly forest quarters at 'Vandaravu'. Berijam to this forest quarters should take about 3 to 3.5 hours of trekking. This might be a good place for lunch since there is a stream nearby.
Continuing on from Vandaravu, after about 2 hours of trek, you would encounter a T junction. The road to the right is the one coming from Poondi village and the one to the left is what you would have to take. Another hour from here would take you to a second set of broken houses - in better shape than the first, next to a stream, where one might camp for the night.
Less than two kms later, the wide dusty jeep track ends near a bridge and all that you find is the remnants of an asphalted road of ages ago. All you need to remember for the next part of the trek is that there was a tar road from here to top station!!! Follow any track which has some tar or 'jelly stones' visible and you would be through!!! This part of about 10 kms is through some thick jungle which apparently has a lot of wild-life including leopards!!! BEWARE!!!!
It would take someone 3.5 to 4 hours of climb to reach the next landmark - a watch tower at the Kerala - TN border. But before that, one significant confusion would be at another T junction. The route to the right is a wide jeep track and seems inviting. But, my guess is that it either goes to a waterfall or to Kilaver/Koiloor villages which I cannot comment upon. The route to the left, though narrow and seems unused is the one that leads to the watchtower!!!
Climb up the watchtower for spectacular panoramic views of the Chinar wild life sanctuary. When you get down, take the tar road to the left for just one km and you would be at the Wireless Station, Bandar in the Kerala forests. No further confusions from now on and a 2-2.5 hour trek (through around 10 kms) should see you at the Forest Checkpost at Top Station on the Kerala side where you will be told that the DFO permission from Kodai is not enough!!! To tread the Kerala forests, you need to obtain permission from the Forest Officer at Munnar as well !!! ALL THE BEST!!!