Vakavanam Trekking – Idukki Wild Life Sanctuary
This travelogue could be not be finished without shivering fingers and a broken heart. It was the day when 22 lives were taken by Nature rather lost in a Natural accident in Kurangini. On the very same day of the accident I was also in a trek in another part of Kerala. It was the materialization of a long desire. I trekked in Vakavanam with another group before 4 years and always wanted to go back to that place for a long time now. It was when I started trekking with groups rather trekking alone. Due to permission issues and other obstacles that trip didn’t get materialized. After several years of waiting that trek was coming true. Though last time it was a one day trek, this time I planned it as a two day event with night camping and trekking on the second day. Vakavanam has always been a very special place to go back as the terrain is so very inviting. Vakavanam is in the core area of Idukki wild life sanctuary. The permissions have to be taken from Idukki forest division and the program is conducted by EDC.
As soon as the event got announced almost 20 people have registered for the trek and most of them could make it to the trek. There were people from All over Kerala and some from Chennai and Bangalore. All were advised to report at Vagamon. From Vagamon pick was arranged. Some of them came in their own vehicles and some came by public transport. I started from Kuravilangadu early morning and reached Vagamon by 10.30. As I have visited Vagamon many times I proceeded to our camp site directly without stopping anywhere in Vagamon. Our base camp Ottamarampara is around 14 km from Vagamon towards the Upputhura road. I reached the forest office there and acquired proper permissions and passes. After completing the formalities there I went to have a look at our camping site. The camping area which was finalized by the EDC members where not so very appealing to me and I wanted to look out for some other places. I roamed around in the vicinity and found another place which I like better than the first one. I went back to Vagamon after that to pick up other people. I had my lunch and by then almost all the people have reached. I directed those who have come in their vehicles to come to camp site. I picked up other in a jeep and went to camp site. By 4.30 we reached the forest office.
Everyone gathered there and we went to our camp site which is a 15 minutes’ walk up the hill from the road. I had to carry the tents which were meant for all and fall behind due to the weight. By the time I joined them in the camping area I could hear somebody playfully calling me Kerala Sherpa. The sunlight has subsided within some time and soon followed the Sunset. Before the lights went off we pitched our tents and rested on the grass lands gazing at the red sky bidding good bye to the setting sun. Soon it was dark and we deliberately avoided camp fire so as to rule out any possibility of the dry grass catching fire. Thankfully everyone voted against setting up a camp fire. We sat near a solar powered lamp and discussions went into all directions. By 8.00 pm our dinner has come. Chapatti, chicken curry, Vegetable curry, tapioca chutney pickles etc cooked with local recipes was delicious. Night was still young we again gathered around the light after the dinner again and the discussions went on. We could see a small fire on the opposite mountain. We informed the concerned and later it was ruled out that it was in private land. Some of the team members went to sleep after dinner as they have travelled all the way from Bangalore and Chennai for this trek. I was also awake till midnight and fell off to sleep sometime after that.
I woke up in the morning hearing someone’s sound. People were gathering to get the sunrise view. It was not a very prominent rise but a descent view we could see. All Sun rises and sun sets are beautiful in one or the other way. The morning ablutions have to be done in the Nature itself. It would be a new experience for sure for those who are accustomed to the urban styles. But we had no other go than to get accustomed to it. We were camping in the middle of nowhere. By 8.am our breakfast came. Appam and vegetable curry was also delicious. Our lunch packets also accompanied with that and we got it distributed among all. Every one dismantled their tents and got ready for the trek. We kept all our luggage and excess baggage in a nearby house and By 9.15 we were able to start. It is not ideal to start a trek so late by any standards but it was all that we could make.
The Initial trail was a jeep track behind our camp site. We started through the ascend slowly and gradually the gradient become steep. I was sweating like never before. I looked back to see almost all of them in high spirits and enjoying the trek. I realized that it is me who is only tired. It was a question mark to my regular routines. I have stopped walking and cycling for a while now and am getting some fat accumulated all over. Not ready to accept the fact that I am getting olderJ. I decided there itself that I would start working out again. Forest officers as well as EDC guides were accompanying us. The day was becoming hotter. I felt it was not the right time to do this terrain. Last time was awesome climate with rain and mist all over making it a cool trek. After climbing the first peak the views were getting better and we had to climb down to the valley to scale up the next peak. The descend was very steep. We took the rocky patches to descend as it was easier because the rocks were having more grips. The valley extended towards the east and ran into the shola forest. It was a huge “U” shaped valley and when we reached the base we felt like we are in a natural trough. When we climbed the next peak the climate completely changed. The wind was blowing with severe pace that we cannot even speak and hear others properly. The chaos of the hot day got dissolved in the roughness of the wind.
The view from the peak was again getting better. The clarity and the area of viewfinder increased. The rolling grasslands shared their boundaries with the shola forest and shola forest ended on the river banks which constituted the catchment of the Idukki dam. . The view of the catchment of the dam also brightened as we attained altitude. There was one more peak in front of us which our guards said will give us the best view of the dam’s catchment. I was interested in one more thing as I deduced that climbing the next peak would give me a closer and better view of the Keezhakallachi peak. Some of the team members didn’t wanted to climb the next peak and they opted to stay in the valley. The view was also great from this place. I took the other people to the peak and two guards accompanied us. Climbing up the peak made the views somewhat closer to us and we had a plaint ridge in front of us which connected the consecutive peaks and there was a vantage point at the end of the ridge. We moved towards the vantage point to get the best possible view of the surroundings. As expected, that was the best view point in the vicinity. There was a rock which bulged out of the edge which acted as a balcony for us to take the view. There was a photo session followed by so many selfie events. Having some descent time there we started back to the point where the other waited for us to join back.
Reached the other in half an hours’ time and took a detour through another route through the edge of the second peak. We were heading towards the watch tower on the valley. The view of the watch tower was visible from the top of first peak but after getting down the valley it was not seen. It was almost noon by then and we were planning to have our lunch at the watch tower. We traversed through the fire line to reach the grasslands. In between we entered into some shola forest but soon got out. In 20 minutes’ walk we reached the watch tower. The wind was mind blowing at the watch tower also. The lunch packets were opened and emptied. We took a small break there basking in the wind. After 30 minutes we started again and this time through the back side of the watch tower. We were heading towards the shola forest. We were planning to explore the shola covers post lunch. We can proudly say that we would be the first team to enter into this shola region for a trek. Usual packages don’t include this portion.
We entered into the shola covering the jeep track and realized the same as the trail was literally covered and over powered by fallen leaves. It was evident that no one has taken this route recently. The guards themselves accepted that they don’t come this route very often. The route was so very wild. Even at this peak summer it was mostly wet inside. The trail was clear but fully loaded with fallen leaves. Trees and creepers were huge and enormous which depicted the age of the forest.
Even sunlight was finding it difficult to reach inside the canopy as it was so thick. There were small ascends and descends on the way. We didn’t have to bother much about that. More or less the terrain was plan apart from initial parts. The lighting inside was like an overcast day but it was a hot sunny day in the outside world. The under growth was also thick when we moved inside. There were dried up streams on the way and some dried up water falls also. It would have been nice if water was there. It would have been a nice dip after such a long walk. Soon after the falls we entered again into the open grasslands for some time and again entered into the shola. By this time we have taken a large circle across the shola covers and it was time to return back to base.
We were some 4 km away from the base camp by 3 pm. It was a plain walk through the woods and by 4 pm we reached the watch tower again and proceeded towards the camp site. By 4.30 we reached camp site and collected our luggage. It was time to say good bye and One by one everyone started leaving the site. I was the last to leave and with a heavy heart I had to say good bye to the place and the people who supported us. I started by bike and one more team mate joined me to get dropped at Kottayam railway station. Dropping him there I reached home by 8.00 pm. It was a trek which is was longing for a long time and got materialized. It was another dream comes true. So many good memories to cherish. The terrain, the trek, the food, the camping, and our support staffs, everything was special in one or other sense. This trek will be there in my heart for a long time that is for sure.
For arranging trekking similar treks please contact Rakesh @ 9745112411