Irumalachikallu Trekking and Camping
Though the Kolukkumala – Top station trek which was done in June as a monsoon trek ended up in the melting hot grasslands and sweating shola forest , most of the treks after that were abundantly blessed with rain. Some of them even scary. We could really expedite the real rain forest treks, that too in the wettest season around the year. Palkulamedu trek of July, Nelliyampathy trek of August, Mankayam, Bison Valley and Ponmudi treks in September were all rain treks. I had even started thinking of doing a dry trek. But it’s not our wish but Nature’s will that always gets materialized. This time I planned for Pappani Irumalachikallu Kalthotti river trek. The climate was more or less clear and rain has subsided. Spoke to Manoj also from Yenthayar and could deduce that post rain in the clear climate would be my best chance to do the trek. So the plan was on and as soon as the event was announced people started getting registered for the event and I had to stop at 20 for the ease of handing. It was planned as a two day event on a week end. All the team members were informed to reach Manoj’s house at Yenthayar which was the reporting point.
I started from my in law’s house at Kuravilangadu by dawn and reached his house in my bike by 8.30 am. Though it was very clear until then, as soon as I reached Yenthayar the sky was getting clouded and little drizzling was also worrying me. I could not even think of another rain trek as I had already taken enough. But we cannot do much against the cosmic law of nature where in Nature doesn’t give everything as we planned. She has her own rules and decisions which we will have to silently oblige. Soon after my arrival Manu and Arjun also joined me. I made a quick follow up with all the others and could deduce that all are on the way and are on time. In another 1 hour, by 10 am, everyone reached and we had quick refreshment and all were ready to start. As it was a working Saturday for Manoj he could not join us for the trek. He promised that he would join us in the evening at the camp site. His brother Bino and Shino accompanied us in the first day trail.
Our jeeps were already there. We would have to travel to Urumbikkara which is at a distance of 10 km from our location. From Urumbikkara we will have to start our trekking. The road from Yenthayar to Urumbikkara starts as a tarmac road in the beginning which later turns into concrete road and finally into an awesome off-road trail. The whole journey will take more than one hour. Only experienced drivers could make this up to the hill and most of the drivers from Yenthayar fly this route very often and so were our pilots. They made this task look like a cake walk for them but it was hard hitting bone breaking one hour for rest of us. After about an hour our journey ended in front of the Urumbikkara hill palace. From this point we need to start walking. It was raining heavily by that time. We tightened our back packs and started walking. First we went through a little plantation and then entered the forest. The climate was changing drastically. The whole area was getting covered in mist. Though on a clear day we could see the distant view of Irumulachikallu from Urumbikkara palace due to heavy mist we could not see any hint of it.
The under growth was very thick. This route is not frequented by any one and hence it was a little wild. The trekking trail was almost covered in overgrown shrubs. Huge trees and creepers added spice to the wilderness. On the way there is a small cave where 15 people can be easily accommodated we just paid a visit to this. I remembered of having a discussion with Manoj for staying a night in this cave. It would be something next to impossible in rainy season as leech attack is severe in this area. As we entered into the forest we could see beautiful patterns of canopy growths, mushrooms, different varieties of insects, spiders, creepers etc. We could not resist ourselves taking a close look at at least some of them. I was still worried about doing a river trekking when it is raining. The expertise of Bino and Shino were my only hope and that lead us forward.
After walking for some 20 minutes in the plains we started climbing gradually and started attaining some altitude. Wet soil and rock were slowing us down. Most of us slipped at least twice or thrice. By this time everyone has got acquainted with the rain and cared little for it. Crossing the shola forest and the bamboo growths we entered the grasslands. The grasses were as tall as us and there were no visible trails inside. We had to cut our way through the thick growths. The sharp edges of the grass gave us scratches and bruises. We made our way through the grasslands for 20 minutes to reach the course of Pappani River. We first reached a small water falls. Rain was at its best. Despite the drenching rain most of our team mates wanted to venture into the falls and so did they. I was looking onto the top of the falls for possible debris as a precaution. Spend some time there and as water flow was increasing we started walking again.
By noon rain subsided to a level and we stopped at another falls to have our lunch. But we did not know the fact that on top of the peak it was still raining and the place where we are sitting is going to get flooded soon. By the time most of them finished their lunch rain started again this time really vigor. The rest of the trek was through the course of the river and Shino went ahead to check the water lever on the upper part of the river. As soon as he came back the water level was rising and we all rushed to get out of the course of the river and moved to the safer bank of the river. In just a matter of minutes there was a flash flood in the river and the whole river was flooded. The place where we were staying minutes before got completely immersed in high flowing water. That was one of the most dangerous situations I have ever come across in my whole trekking career. We all were saved in a matter of minutes. Thanks Mother Nature for showing mercy on us. In front of our eyes Pappani was becoming a monster. Our hearts took its time to get back to normal mode. We had to find another way to move up and Shino went to find one. Soon he came back and we started moving through the water flown trails. This route was not even a trail, but just a direction oriented way up for us. The climb was bit difficult in terms of the elevation and the terrain. The rain and flowing water made it all super difficult for us to step ahead.
From grassland we again entered into the shola forest and bamboo growths and continued our tough climb for at least 20 to 30minutes. We attained sudden elevation in our altitude and in 30 minutes we almost reached the same level as the grass lands. Instead of moving zig zag through the river we took the steep climb through the banks and the shola to reach the grass lands well ahead of our normal timing. We were in the grass lands 1 hour prior to our expected timing by 3.30. The visibility was so very less due to heavy mist. We couldn’t even see 20 yards to the front. We had to move to the other side of the grass land where we were planning for our night camping. Another 15 to 20 minutes’ walk took us to the camp site. Our camp site was a comparatively plain area with some rocky patches on top of the peak. Our Jeeps were already there with all our bags, tents, etc. We could not pitch the tent as it was raining. It was unbearably cold. The cool breeze gave Goosebumps. When rain subsided in between for some time Shino and Bino pitched enough tents for all of us. Most of them went inside and never to come back. I waited for some more time for the rain to get subsided. I got into one of the jeeps and stayed there for some time. Shino has prepared black coffee inside the jeep itself and had the coffee. After some time I also went inside the tent and changed into dry clothes. The wind was fast enough to take the pitched tents off its base. As there were people inside all tents we managed it. By 8 pm rain has subsided and the sky started to clear. People peeked out of their tents and we tried hard to light the camp fire. The warmth of the camp fire in the cold misty night was so comforting that no one wanted to leave the camp fire. We had a small introduction session around the camp fire and had our sumptuous lunch by 9 pm.
After the lunch most of the team members went to sleep and some of us went to the nearby view point to get a bird’s eye view of the valley below in the night illumination. We could identify three to four towns like Yenthayar, Kanjirapalli, Mundakkayam, Koottikkal etc. from there. Spend some time there and came back to the camp fire. It was still alive and gave us enough warmth to survive the cold night. The stars started popping out in the sky. We gazed at them sitting close to the fire and the chit chat went on full swing till it was 11. Pm. By that time everyone went to sleep. I also went inside the tent and wanted to sleep. But before that I had a prayer to make. I prayed Mother Nature not to rain tomorrow. The night was cold chilling and calm.
The next morning. I woke up early in the morning before the sunrise. It was very cold outside but came out of the tent. The climate was very clear. Sky was sharp. No sign of any rain clouds. Sun was yet to show up. The eastern slop of the peak was showing some hints of the rise. The sky was reddish towards that area. He was expected to be out in another 20 minutes or so. People started coming out of the tents and roamed around to have a better look at the place. Some of them explored the nearby hills and shola covers. Some people concluded their morning ablutions and started basking in the sunlight. By 7.30 our breakfast was ready. We had bread jam and bananas which consoled some of the starving souls. Sharp by 8 am we started the trek to Kalthotti. In the evening when Manoj came Bino has left as he was working today. Manoj accompanied us as a guide to Kalthotti. We started trekking through the grasslands. There was no clear trail. The intension was to climb up so we found our suitable trails. The terrain was not rough. Like yesterday everyone had handful of bruises. There was a soothing wind and the Morning sunlight was not very irritating. The views got better and better at each point of hike. We could get the distant view of our campsite from here and wondered how beautiful it was. We actually camped on the edge of a ridge one side is a huge grassland and the other side is a vertical drop of at least 1000 ft.
We made it to the top in another 1 hour. When we reached the top we felt like we can touch the blue sky with our hands. The climate was so very clear and thank Mother Nature for that. We could see the beginning of Pappani River from the hill side of Kalthotti and some other hill ranges also like Wagamon, Kuttikanam and some other unnamed hills as well. We took a long break on top of the peak. When the sun started showing its real face we started thinking about returning though no one wanted to leave that wonderland. We were planning to get back through another route. For that we had to get down into the steep valley then climb the adjacent hills walk through its ridge on the opposite direction and reach the base camp. We did so.
The descend through the rocks was challenging at some point though the terrain was comparatively easier. In another 1.5 hours we came back to the base camp. It was 12 pm by then. We were well ahead of our timings and hence straight away went to the nearby stream to take a dip. Even in the hot sun the water was ice cold. Everyone got into the water and all the tiredness was washed off. With a pleasant mental and physical state we walked back to the camp site from the stream and it was packing time.
In less than 20 minutes we were done with the packing and our lunch was there. Veg meals served was over in another 20 minutes and we were on the way back to Yenthayar in Jeeps. The return journey was more of a horrible off-roading. It took almost 1.30 hours to reach Yenthayar. We had small refreshment in Manoj’s house and all were ready to say good bye. After everyone was left I spend 5 minutes with Manoj and family and took my bike back to my base. It was yet another memorable trekking with so much of adventure. Everyone was equally happy with the kind of experience that we had. Hoping to see them all once again in some other adventure journeys. I rode back to my base in my bike. Thanks to Mother Nature for keeping us all safe for the entire two days.
Picture courtesy : Trek Mates