Into the woods of Agatyamala Hill ranges to the beauty hidden inside…
It was before two years I first heard about this place from a traveler friend. Though waterfalls were not in my lists then later on I developed an interest in visiting falls. This time it was commenced with Syam. I remember our last bike trip to Ponmudi (Syam and me). When we returned back just out of curiosity we took the road to Bonacaud. We were stopped at Kanithadam check post. The officials said that visitors to the falls are restricted due to increases no of accidents happening in the falls. Two weeks before we went an engineering student lost his life in the abyss of the falls. I forgot about the same and continued with my usual stuffs. Later last month I was realizing that though I have been traveling extensively in the central and north Kerala I have missed out lot of places in the south where lies my home town. Though I had serious intentions in visiting Agastyarkoodam I missed three times. So I thought of doing some lighter trek in the area so as to know the terrain. KTDC had started package tours to Vazhvanthol falls (1000 Rs for a team of 10 members) but I didn’t want to do the usual one. Knowing that the permissions had to be obtained for venturing into the unseen of Vazhvanthol I visited Trivandrum divisional forest office and obtained necessary permission to cover up the falls and to explore somewhat deep into the woods than the usual tourists. Thus on August 15 2015. I and Syam started off from Trivandrum in his bike. The early morning ride was cool except a back pain which has been troubling me for some time now. Getting older or am I getting mellowed now?? . No no … Not a chance … I won’t.
The trek has to be commenced from the Kanithadam Check post which is 43 km from Trivandrum city. For reaching Kanithadam check post one has to take diversion from Theviyode which is hardly two km after Vithura in the SH 45 (Trivandrum Ponmudi road) From Theviyode. Kanithadam Check post is 9 km and Chathancode (a tribal colony) which is the starting point of the trek is 800 mtrs from the check post. Road diverts into two at Check post the left road goes to Bonacaud (13 km from Kanithadam) and the right one to Chathancode ( 800mtrs). We can reach till Chathancode in own vehicle and the rest of the distance to be covered by walk only. From Chathancode we need to walk precisely 2.3 km to reach the falls. We reached the Check post by 8 am and completed the formalities but we could start the trek from Chathancode by 8.30 only as our guide was yet to come. We parked our bike at Chathancode. Mallan chettan (chettan in Brother in Malayalam) the elder Son of well-known Bhagavaan Kaani moopan who knew the forest in and out and had contributed much to the assistance of forest officials and authorities for flora and fauna senses in the past and assisted so many research team with his immense knowledge about the jungle introduced us to our guide Chandran.( younger son of Bhagavaan Kaani).
We started our trek by the side of Thodayar River. Thodayar River is one of the 3 rivers originating from the Chemmunjimotta peak near Pandipath in Agastya hill range. Thodayar flows into the Peppara Dam and from there it flows to Aruvikkara Dam later becoming Karamana River. Kallar flows right into Trivandrum city flowing west almost 66 kms and merges with the Arabian see at Panathura near kovalam. Peyar River flows into Tamilnadu to reach Ambasamudram.
We started the walk near to a Eucalyptus plantation but very soon got into the forest. Every step we took was taking us into the deep jungle with healthy undergrowth and hence we could see a lot many varieties of leaches, grass hoppers, frogs, snakes and butter flies. We were moving through a narrow trail adjacent to the river. Evidences of the movement of Pachyderm were very much visible and our guide also said that we were moving through an Anathara (local word for Elephant moving routes). At some points we had to get into the stream to move easily through the open space. Most of the walk was through easy plain grounds and we had some occasional ascends and rocky paths. We didn’t take any refreshments or food as it was just a walk of 5 km to and fro. We took some brief stops in the stream and the chilling cold water was more than enough to wash away any fatigue or tiredness.( Though we were not feeling any).
One cannot find the way alone inside the woods to the falls as at some places there is hardly ant trails we need to walk over rocky boulders or by the side of the stream. In one hour we covered Muthiyaankettu appu and kannadi appu which were small caves formed due to the inclination of huge rocks. These places could be opted for taking rest while going to Vazhvanthol. It was cool to stay there. We can see board with place names and arrows pointing to the trail to the falls. Without much stops we continued to proceed.
There were some rocky part in between the walk which would be a serious matter of concern for ladies and kids. There are some risky places also where we need to cross a small bridge made of woods tied up together. We could see the bamboo sticks crushed by elephants, trees forced down and sand dunes scattered all over the places.
Within two hours we reached the main falls. The view of the falls was mesmerizing. Such a beauty hidden inside thick forest. The strain took by the forest officials and the Eco Development committee of Kanithadam is really commendable. We couldn’t find and plastic litters or garbage scattered around. The falls stood mighty inside the dense jungle roaring. The falls is a three tier and from base of the falls we could see only two steps. The last and the tallest step is little inside the forest close to the first two falls. Both first and second steps were relatively safe except for slippery rocks. Those who want to venture into the water can have a good time here. If you listen to the guide there is absolutely no room for any fatal error. To reach the third and the tallest step we need to ascend a bit through steep trail toward the left side of the falls. A bit strenuous but rewarding to the core at the very sight of it.
The third phase of the falls in the most dangerous. So many people have lost their lives in this area due to deep pool diving. Due to the force of the falls there is a 30-40 foot deep pool at the base of the falls. The water was dark green in color reflecting the depth of the. The rock also is very slippery and curvy to its base that if we get into trouble inside the water it would be almost something impossible to get out. The tragic instance of the Engineering student mentioned earlier in the post happened here. His body was recovered three days after the mishap. The accessibility to the place and the chilling water makes the rescue missions fail almost every time. But we had no intentions to get into the water. We just wanted to see enjoy and leave. We both believe in the golden rule of the forest and nature “”Take away memories and leave behind foot trails. Nothing Else”.
Vazhvanthol is one among the most beautiful water falls I have seen. I was surprised to realize myself that I have missed this scenic beauty for such a long time. That too just 50 km away from my home town. For us it was not the limit like ordinary tourists. We had taken permission to explore a bit more keeping all decorum of the forest. But things were not easy as we thought it would be. From the third phase of the falls there is literally no train up. We just have to cut out way to move further. The steep was almost 60 degree and the soil was so loose everywhere and tends to slip all the time. We had to catch hold on the roots and creepers to keep ourselves balanced. As the terrain was untouched the decaying leaves were home to hundreds of leeches and they have started crawling into our legs. We had to hurry but we couldn’t due to uneven terrain. As we progressed further for some more time we could hear the roar of another water falls to our right side. Chandran said there is a water falls down there but he was unsure whether we could make it to the falls as the way to get down to the falls was covered with very thick undergrowth and bamboo plants. It seemed to me something next to impossible to get down there. But I had to give it a try. Chandran said he would go first to check possibility to reach there and will come back to take us also. We stood there removing leeches from our legs. Chandran came back after some minutes and said it is very difficult and highly risky but we can make it to the falls if we dare to take the risk. It was a “YES” from both me and Syam. Slowly we crawled down. After a hell lot of trouble we finally made it to the falls. It was also equally beautiful. The more it gets wilder the beauty of the falls increases I thought. It was a heavenly feel when Chandran said that no one has come here apart from tribal people in the near past. The sun rays reflected from the falls and created colorful reflections. We tried moving into the woods again but the terrain was so resisting after this falls that we had to let it go. We decided to turn around.
It was 12.30 by then and was time to turn around. It would be a 1.5 hour walk back to the base of the trek. We took the same route back and deviated into another route after 1 km. Crossed the river and Chandran said he would take us to the reservoir of the Peppara Dam. Taking a detour from the regular path we moved inside some forest land on the other side of the river and there were some tribal houses also there. We didn’t get any good view of the reservoir as we couldn’t approach the banks of the river due to inclined water level at the Dam site.
We were half tired by this time. In another half an hour we reached the place where we started the trek. It was hard to come back from the lap of the nature. When we started from there the Agastya peak, Pandipath, Athirumala, Chemmunjimotta, and Bonacaud stood behind us paving an invite to us to visit back again. I had to come back to explore more of this untapped forest and hills. Sunil sir (assistant wild life warden) Anil and Jayakumar from Kanithadam Check post Mallan and Chandran from Chathancode were added to new acquaintance list. With beautiful memories of the whole day we headed back to the city life…