Wild Wonderful Karnataka

Travelogue of the trek from Kodaikanal to Munnar


This is neither a forest region of mere subjective beauty nor one, which claims its greatness, based on just an overwhelming opinion of a large majority! The trek between Kodaikanal to Munnar is a treasure that few are aware about. A region so wild and exotic with such geographic extremes ensures its accessibility to the adventurous only. Of course a whole lot of patience to acquire the necessary permits from the forest authorities has to be coupled with the adventurous temperament.

The initial frenzied preparation to obtain trekking permits saw us call up the forest warden at Coimbatore who redirected us the DFO’s office at Kodaikanal from where we were directed to contact the PCCF at Chennai. A helpful clerk at the PCCF’s office asked us to fax a request for the trek and a week later, a friend of mine was able to pick the coveted permission letter just in time for us to use the long weekend for the trek. But permission from the DFO at Kodaikanal was required nonetheless since the ground realities are better known to the DFO. The fact that govt. offices are closed on ‘Gandhi jayanthi’ saw us loiter the whole day on the streets of Kodai. The same evening we bumped into Selvaraj, who offered to provide accommodation for a steal combined with guide services for the trek. The Concorde guesthouse suggested by him was a cozy place nestled among the hilly homes and we were offered a single room with 3 beds and an attached bathroom. The previous occupants had somehow managed to defile the room to such an extent that it was hard to believe that we were paying to stay there! But the curator and his team did a good job of restoring sanity to some extent before handing over the room to us. Early next morning, we promptly queued up in front of the DFO’s office and were granted the permission without much ado. The DFO himself seemed keen to encourage trekking activities in this area, which was indeed comforting. The first journey was by a Maruthi van to a place called Mannavanur about 30 km away from Kodai on the road to Kavunji from where we had to walk to Berijam. A couple of tents, 5 sleeping bags, food supplies for 3 days, a sickle, warm clothing for all 5 of us and sundry items like toiletries etc distributed among 5 heavy backpacks formed our luggage. We started the trek towards Berijam a couple of hours after noon. The abandoned road that linked Berijam and Kavunji was easy walking and the distance of 9 kms was covered in less than 2 hours. The first view of the lake was quite breathtaking and we took a few pictures. The easily accessible parts of the shores were littered with plastic bottles and food particles though the lake itself was sparkling with clear water. I can imagine the filth, the tourists would be leaving behind if no restrictions were placed on the entry to Berijam! After spending sometime at the lake, we trudged on the winding road towards Munnar. By now it had started raining which made the track slippery and the leeches could be seen waiting for the right opportunity to latch on to our legs. It was a bit disappointing that even after 3 hours in the forests, our only encounter with wildlife was an 18 inch long purple coloured earthworm (or maybe it was a millipede). But the scenery and the pleasant weather were good enough to have us all in good spirits. Another couple of hours later, the mist became heavy and visibility was reduced to about 15 feet. The incessant drizzle too increased to a heavy downpour and we weren’t sure if the mist would ever clear while the daylight lasted. Our guide Selvaraj said that the next nearest shelter was at least 20 kms away or we had the option of trekking back to Berijam which was ruled out since none of us were keen to backtrack! Selvaraj suggested that there was a small waterfall close-by and we could camp for the night there. We agreed that this was a good plan since camping near water helps for the morning ablutions. The campsite we chose was pretty even which enabled us to pitch tents easily. Each tent could accommodate 4 people and thus 5 of us comfortably slept in the 2 tents. Thankfully we weren’t troubled by sleep walking bison or bears or we didn’t notice them! We woke up to one of the best sunrises I’ve seen for a long time! Our guide warned us about the long trek ahead which prompted us to rush our ablutions and pack up for the arduous journey ahead. Any debris like the half-burnt twigs or plastic covers used to pack food was carefully cleaned and packed into our backpacks again. The detour to the campsite from the main track meant that we had to trek back an extra hour before resuming our journey to Munnar. We still had to trek around 70 kms to reach Munnar according to Selvaraj and he suggested that it might get too monotonous and tiring if we continue on the same path. He was aware of another route through a place called Kilaver to finally reach Koilur, a small town in Kerala located about 20 km from Munnar. He also advocated that we could reach Munnar by nightfall on the new route! Since he knew the topography better, we decided to try out this other route and strode on behind him. The next couple of hours were unexciting since we backtracked the same route we had done the previous day. By noon, the backpacks had started to hurt and we chose to rest for sometime and also have lunch. The packed chhapathis with tamarind and chilli paste for lunch was appreciated by all of us though the guide chose to smoke beedis for lunch rather than eat! To start the trek, we had to reach a small village called Poondhi, which was about 5 km, by road. We took a local bus (tickets cost just 3/-) to this place and started walking from there after a sumptuous meal of idlis and vadas. The road from Poondhi to Kilaver was extremely slushy after the recent rains, which caused a few tumbles! We finally entered the forests again after a couple of hours and were on our way to Koilur. We had 3 more hours of daylight left before which we hoped to reach our destination. At Kilaver, a friend of Selvaraj by name Mani, employed as a forest watcher, agreed to accompany us lest we lose our way in the thick jungles. The trek from Kilaver to Koilur was quite tough and the consistent rains further added to our woes. The continuous incline for long stretches and the lack of clean streams with drinking water along the way really sapped us. We finally found a stream along the way, which was supposedly frequented by wild animals according to Mani, and quenched our thirsts. We also filled our water bottles from the stream. We took a small break to refuel ourselves with some food and started the trek again. At one point, Mani pointed out that we were crossing into Kerala and it felt good to crossover state boundaries with just one step! It does sound crazy when I tell my family members that I walked from Tamilnadu to Kerala! The path started sloping downwards from this point onwards. Around 5 in the evening, we could faintly hear the bhajans emanating from a local temple and were relieved to note that our destination was quite close! Another hour of trekking downwards and the full village came into our view. By 7 p.m. we were down in Koilur sipping hot tea at a local restaurant. Neither Selvaraj nor Mani knew about any trekking path from Koilur to Munnar and they suggested that we travel this distance by either bus or jeep. The last bus and jeep had departed before we arrived and the only means of transportation was a carrot-laden truck into which we piled on. The journey to Bangalore was without incident.

The entire trek was absolutely fabulous though we were sort of dejected at not having encountered any wildlife. The sheer absence of human habitation makes the trek a wonderful experience.

We would wish to thank the PCCF and the DFO for trusting us to trek the forests without spoiling the Ecosystem. We would be definitely interested to trek again (while it isn’t raining maybe) sometime in the future for which we hope we would be granted permission again.

Warm regards,

Sundeep M S
Anand H N
Suresh Ramaswamy
Ajay Nitin
Raghunath G

8th October 2003, Bangalore.

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