The Woods Are Lovely dark and Deep
It was when the last time I went to Thommankuthu Eco tourism location I came to know from the VSS ( Vana samrakshana Samithi) office that they are having trekking packages there. We can go inside forest for almost three Km. from that day itself I was having an intension to go inside the forest. Though in the recent past I have covered a lot of shola forest it has been a while since I have ventured some real forest. After my last trip to Palakkad Silent Valley before two years I haven’t had a good go inside the woods.
So it was planned on Saturday night to straight away go to Thommankuthu the next morning. I was not sure whether it would be a futile ride to Thommankuthu as I have not informed the forest office either the VSS office that I am coming. Luckily from a previous contact of mine I have got the number of Idukki Forest range officer. But calling him in the night it turned out to be a relay of calls. He said he is not handling that division. It comes under Kothamangalam Range and Kaliyar Division of forest. He gave me another number who was Handling Kothamangalam division earlier. I called up that number also and some one answered. I asked him also about the trekking but he said he was there long back and now he is in Chinnar. But he managed to get another person’s number who is currently handling Kothamangalam Division.
My hopes were all out but I tried that number also with a naution in mind that if I am unable to get some positive response from this person I will cancel the plan and will have a regular Sunday in Cochin itself which includes an elusive sleep till noon, food after that may be a cinema and a restless night in this hot summer. Honestly I didn’t want to have it. I called up the number given by the last person. His name was Sony Jose. He picked up the call after a long wait and answered. Straight away I introduced myself and asked for the trekking option. He was asking my details in surprise and told me that in his career it is first time that someone is calling him in this time asking for trekking. It was then only I noticed the time and it was 9.35 in the night. I was also little flabbergasted to disturb someone this late. But he was a very friendly person and gave all details. He asked what is my team strength and when I said am coming alone he literally laughed over the phone but promised to arrange everything for the next day’s morning. He has instructed me to come early as I wanted to do a full day trekking. He reminded me to carry food and all as getting food at Thommankuthu is something next to impossible.
The very next things I have to do is to get food and all for tomorrow and fuel my bike. As I have to start early in the morning I didn’t wanted any tension in the morning. I straight away went to the near supermarket which was almost on the wedge of closure. I managed to get in and bought bread, butter, cashew nuts and chocolates which are my regulars for such occasions. Getting out of the Shop I went for fueling. Back in the room I kept camera charging and went to sleep though I couldn’t have a sound sleep.
Got up early in the morning by 4.30 and packed my bags. By 5 am I was out in the road and rode through Vytilla > Thripoonithura> Kolenchery > Moovattupuzha finally thodupuzha. I rode slow and by 6.30 I reached Thodupuzha. Wanted to have Breakfast but the only hotel I could find open was the same one where I had my Breakfast last Sunday also for the Ilaveezhapoonchira trip. I had Idiyappam and vegetable curry. As last time also I bought two bottle of water paid and left for Thommankuthu. It is almost 20km from Thodupuzha and I reached there by 7.30. I saw the forest office closed and gate was locked from outside.
I waited there for some time as my time starts only by 8 am and I decided to give my host their time till 8. By eight I gave Soni a call and he said the guide will be there in another five minutes. Before five minutes the office was opened and I have completed the formalities in the office. Like filling the name and details in the register declaring that we will be responsible for any mishaps inside the Forest of our own. Usual stuffs. Then I met my guide Janardanan chettan. I man of 5.2 with a lean frame carrying his food for the day in a plastic cover.
We started our trek from the point by 8.15 am. He was not that talkative like most guides but exchanged a few. In 10 minutes we covered the point till normal people used to do. We entered into the trekking path crossing the no entry without permission board.
There was a trail going to the south west side and we followed it. The initial trail was completely through the bamboo and some places I had to bend to my knees to cover up the bush and got some bruises here and there. There was little light peeping through the dense cover of the forest and it was half dark moving through them. I looked up some time but I couldn’t even see a bit of sky. Such was the cover over me.
After the bamboo stretch it become a little rocky and huge trees started showing up which was an indication of us entering into the core are of the forest. The trail was almost plain and there were only some easy ups and down which made the walk easier. Everything around us was green apart from the floor. The trees were so dense that we couldn’t see above 10 foot that some or the other trees blocked our views.
My guide seemed less bothered about me and he was walking almost 20 mtrs ahead me. I was taking pictures of what all I could see and some point of time he was well ahead of me that I couldn’t even see him. Finally I decided to break the ice. I walked at par with him and asked why is he moving so fast and told him to move little slowly. After 1 hour we came close to the river and the trail was also very near and parallel to the stream. There was very little water in the river and some portion of it almost dried up.
We came to a point where trekkers usually take their breakfast. I purposefully initiated a conversation with my guide and what I could know was something very funny. He told me that usually those who come alone for the trekking will be less friendly and they wants their privacy. So when Sony told him about me he said I am a professional trekker. I wondered travelling alone is such a big bad idea that people are misunderstanding us to the core. I have come across such situations earlier also. People used to look strange at us when they know we are travelling alone. Some people asked whether I have some problems or am I mad and some places people have refused to give me rooms for staying and all. For all of them there is only one answer… I do it just for the love I have for it nothing else. I told him also that am not that kind of a professional one and all. Just like doing this and so am here.
After that conversation we made a good pact within us and he started describing everything on the way to me including name of trees, fruits, places and all. 30 minute more we reached the first Kuthu (local Malayalam word for water fall) It was more or less a dried falls. For name sake some water was spilling from a twenty foot height. Took some pictures there and started moving again.
From this point Janardanan chettan said we should be little care full as there is every chance to see Elephant on the way. I was excited and kept my cam on shoot mode. To my disappointment there was nothing there for another half an hour and all I could see was some dense woods and dark trails.
It has been two hrs since we started and I was feeling warmed up by that time. As we were moving through dense woods the sun god didn’t had real effect on us. It was our next break for a little stop and water.
After the break Janardanan chettan (from here onwards we will call him Jache for ease of typing ) told me that there are two routes . One is through the dense forest where in nothing much to see apart from dark trails and woods and the other one is through the river which was dried up and was rocky. I decided to move along the river as there was nothing much interesting in going along the woods but there would be some fun in crossing the rocky boulders through the open space which was well lit.
Besides that he said there is no water source if we move inside the forest which was becoming a concern for me as one of the two bottles we carried was already done and I had only one bottle of water left depending on which I was very sure am not gonna end this day. Moving through the river will ensure we are always near water. After the break we started moving through the river. It was safe as there was no much water flow except some places. Jache took care of that intimating in advance. Though it was dried up with hardly any flow there were places which were so deep as much as 10 to twenty foot high. I wondered what would be the real scenarios of these places when it drizzles. We could move little more fast than through the woods and we could jump over rocks.
There were two more small water falls covered by this time but both were dried up. The most unfortunate thing to have when we visit a water falls is that it is dried. But the thing is we could never see these falls in rainy season when it becomes mighty as these are deep inside the forest and the fact that we are moving through the river we couldn’t expect a good flow which will reversely affect the pace of our walk.
Moving a little further we reached a rock cave inside which we could take a sit. Though outside it was burning like anything the inside of the cave was like AC. We sat there for a little while and continued our walk.
By 11. 15 we reached the end of the normal trekking path which is “Palunkan allu” ( named after a former tribal who first climbed the cliff). It was one of the most beautiful water falls I have ever seen. Though it was not very tall the rock was like a huge polished wall. I have never seen rock surface so polished and vertical. The water is very deep as much as 30 feet . The dark green color of the water substantiated the statement of Jache.
On the right side of the falls I could see a huge rock inclined towards the falls. Jache said Palunkan allu is inside this rock. The most beautiful part of this trek was yet to be unveiled. Palunkan allu is a cave inside the Rock from where the water fall begins.
To get inside the cave one has to crawl through the ground and a narrow passage between the edge of the rock and the ground. But after getting inside we could see a cave which could accommodate a fifty people at least. Inside the cave it was was dark and cold.
There is a ridge of rock that lies parallel to the rock of the falls where in one can hardly manage to walk. Falling from this ridge would be fatal as we will either land in the hard rock or the deep water which is at least 30 ft deep on either side.
Any miss happening at this point would turn out to be fatal as we are almost 3.5 km inside deep forest. No other people had come for trekking this day and so we were the only human beings inside that huge jungle. After spending some time there Jache told that its time for us to return back. It was 11.30 by then.
But I just wanted to continue for some more time and I asked Jache whether we could move around for some more time. He smiled and told me that he has never gone further from this point and he doesn’t know the way up from here. Hearing this I also gave up the plan to move forward and was preparing to return back. It was then he said “if ready to take risk we will go some more”. And he clearly told he has no clue what is ahead of us. No matter what happens I wanted to go.
There were no trails or way. We just had to move through heavy woods and cover a lot of rock boulders some of them even 10 foot high. From there started the real strenuous part of the trek. Not knowing which way to go we had to move up for some time and we ended up in front of a huge rock which we cannot climb. We were lost in there and Jache said it is wise to keep near the river rather than getting into the forest trail which he also doesn’t know. We ascended down to the right for some time and finally reached the river bank just above the falls. Moving through the river up was our only way and we continued on the same. Every 10 mtrs we had to climb or jump upon some big rock boulders and it was really a hell of a task. But we didn’t gave up.
Both the water bottles were empty and there was no other way than to drink from the river. But the water was so promising than the bottled water. Tasted the real taste of planet earth after a while. Some rocks were the size of a house and I still don’t know how they came there. Jache said for the past 40 years there was no such huge floods happened there which could carry such big rocks and suggested it would have happened at some landslides happened long ago (long ago means some real hundreds of years ago) . Wisely said by Jache. There was no other chance that could have drifted such huge rocks.
We covered some more distance and we could hear water falling from some height. Though I didn’t wanted to venture inside forest to find it Jache wanted to. We moved into the forest again and found a small falls which he was seeing for the first time. I wanted to name it after him and so did I. “Janardana Falls” .
We both were almost tired and wanted to have a break. We stopped by some shallow water and had some water and washed our faces in the ice cold river. The water was so chilling that it drained out the fatigue out of us.
The forests was becoming more and more wild and deep. There were sounds coming which I have never heard. He named each sound after some animals and told to be very careful and watch each steps. The toughest challenge of the trek was here wherein we have to do a 30 foot walk through a fallen tree one side of it was deep water and other side was rock. My legs shivered when I stepped over it. Don’t know still how I managed to cross over the fallen tree. But my biggest worry after crossing over the tree was something else. How am I going to do it again when I come back?.
Jache also said we will try to find another way when coming back as it is very dangerous and we will be more tired when we come back. It was 1 pm by then and Jache kept on pushing me to move on with minimum breaks. I was completely exhausted and wanted to shut down for some time at least.
He said he has heard from a tribal about a wall of 100 foot rock where this ends and we may be close to that as we have already covered over six kms. The distance calculated from the camp site to the 100 foot rock is about 7.5 kms and the fact is that we have to go 1.5 kms more which hit my heart like a bullet train. At that point of time I couldn’t even imagine going half a km more before stopping. But the thought of getting to a place where no civilized barbarians ever stepped in motivated me and I pushed myself forward. We walked another 1 more hour he was walking ahead of me and I was literally crying in each steps.
Then I heard Jache howling from a distance he cried out loud “ SIRRR…. THE ENDDDD” I didn’t understand what he was telling and my vision was also blocked by a rock boulder . I couldn’t climb that alone and I called for Jache after half a minute he was on the top of the rock which I was trying to climb and gave me a hand. He was so happy and said “sir we did it” I said what? He said we have reached the last point of the day which was the 100 foot rock. ( Local tribal call this place Nakkayam)
I was also excited to see the scene but it took me a while to climb the rock boulder but once I did that what I could see was something really beautiful. A 100 foot at least tall rock wall and water was dripping from the top. We went close to the rock after climbing some more huge rocks and what we found was more interesting. There were two caves in the rock one on the right side and the other on the left side of the falls. The caves were home to bats and we could see their waste has filled the floor of the caves.
We both were really happy to be there where no one has ever reached. He asked me to take some picture of him there as he wanted to show others that he reached there. After taking some pictures we decided to have our lunch there. I was terribly hungry and tired.
Jache insisted that I should have his lunch because he has to take his breakfast he was carrying otherwise we have to carry it back. So I decided to take his meals. It was one of the tastiest foods I have ever had ( may be because I was that much hungry). I had rice sambar and dried fish fry. He said it was a fish called “palli” and it tasted good. After having lunch we rested for 15 minutes and Jache reminded me the time and it was 2pm by then. I could also understand the importance of keeping up the time as we may take the same time to cover the distance back or may be more than that as we were so tired . Here is the difference between hiking and trekking. When it comes to hiking the ascending takes more time and usually it takes only half the time to descent unless it is a hard trail rated severe. But normal trekking will take the same time or more for return as we have to cover the same distance through the same terrain.
Jache said We can take time for the first half that is till Palunkan allu because the terrain is so dangerous. But after that when we reach the known trail he wanted me to rush. And we should minimize breaks in between and only take breaks when it is inevitable . I agreed and packed up for return trip. My bag was still heavy as I didn’t have the food. The first stretch we moved very carefully slow and study. He was having good sense of direction as at most of the places he remembered something or the other wherein I was completely dark which way to go.
Just past 4 we reached Palunkan allu again. I needed a stretcher and four people to carry me. But the thought that from this point we need to move fast slowed me again down. I wanted a break so badly and it was then he gave me an idea . He showed me a shallow pond and asked me to have a quick dip and not to take much time. I didn’t know it was a good or bad idea. But decided to do so. Changed my dress and had a dip in the ice cold water. Proving Jache true it had a rejuvenating effect on me and in 10 minutes energy level returned to me and I was ready to proceed. From that point we wanted to move fast as light will go off inside the forest before 5 and the last 2.5 km we have to cover through dense forest to reach the base camp. We moved really fast and could hardly take any pics.
By 6.10 when we were reaching base camp it was almost pitch dark and we ran to the camp office for having water. Having water I took another dip in the open area of the river near the base camp and rested in the hut taking a power nap. After 30 minutes Jache woke me up. It was time for me to return. I said good bye to Jache paid him well and not for accompanying me but for the enthusiasm he has shown to reach the untapped area of the forest giving me one of the most memorable day in my life. Started from Thommankuthu by 6.45 pm I rode through the same route and reached Cochin by nine. All I remember was taking a bath and collapsing to my bed. Woke up the next morning with considerable pain in the calf and thighs.
Though it was a strenuous one it will remain as a good memorable day through out.
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