A week after the Chembra Trek, I planned the next one. I had talked to the officials at Range Forest Office, Meppadi and got to know that trekking to Banasura is now allowed. There was no point in waiting and I decided to visit Banasura before the forest department change their mind :)
Banasura peak is the second tallest in Wayanad, standing at 2073m. The peak is accessible from Padinjarethara, about 18kms off Kalpetta in Kalpetta - Kavumannam - Padinjarethara - Tharuvana - Naalam Mile - Mananthavady state highway. At the foothills is the Banasura Sagar dam, the largest earth dam in India. The peak also features in the legend of Banasura - a daemon in Hindu mythology.
I had to go to Kozhikode for some personal work and so the plan was to take a bus to Mananthavady, do the trek on a saturday and head to Kozhikode the same day. Sunil and Amit could not make it this time, but Thejas jumped in as soon as I mentioned the plan. I booked the tickets to Mananthavady a day before and also called up people at the Forest department to take the necessary permissions. The only problem was that return tickets could not be booked from Mananthavady for Thejas, but I assured him that he could catch get a bus heading to Mysore after the trek.
On the day of travel, Thejas called me and told that one of his friends, Kaverappa, would also like to come and he offered to take his car so that its easier for them to come back to Bangalore. I had my reservations as the road through Bandipur is closed during the night, making it difficult for us to reach the foothills before 10. Also, driving overnight to Wayanad and doing the trek may be a little too hectic. But, since it made things easier for Thejas and Kaverappa, we decided to go for it.
The plan was to cancel the tickets at Majestic (as the tickets were booked in Kerala SRTC, I had to go to Majestic or Satellite Bus Stand to cancel them). Me and Thejas could leave office early tp Majestic and then take a bus towards Hosekarahalli cross (near Outer Ring Road) where we could meet Kaverappa in his Swift. After that we would head towards Mysore, stop for dinner at my in-laws place in Mandya, stay at Mysore at our relative's places and continue early morning to Wayanad.
In the evening, everything went wrong. First, I had an interview to take, making me late to get out of the office. When we finally could, it started raining heavily. When I started from our M G Road office, with Thejas, it was raining cats and dogs! The roads were flooded and blocked, everything was in stand still and we got caught twice in huge traffic jams. Almost an hour near the corporation and yet another hour waiting to get out of Majestic bus stand.
Finally, it was 10.30 when we met Kaverappa at Outer Ring Road and 11 by the time we reached Kengeri via NICE link road. It was too late and we decided to have dinner at a cafe called SH-17 near Bidadi. After a sandwitch dinner and french fries, we headed towards Mysore to reach there way past midnight. It did not make sense to disturb anybody now and we decided to continue.
We took two breaks - first one near Nanjangud, where a Police jeep came and asked us to leave after checking the vehicle papers. On reaching Gundlupet, by about 4, we stopped again for the second break and dosed off till day break. We crossed the check post by 6.30 and reached Sulthan Bathery past 7. After breakfast, we also packed lunch and then continued towards Padinjarethara.
|First impressions is the best impression!
From Kalpetta town, we took the Mananthavady road and 18kms on this road took us to Padinjarethara. We took the Vythiri road here and turned right towards Banasura Sagar after a couple of kms. Just before entering the Padinjarethara town, we got a spectacular view of the Banasura hills and the fact that it was a clear day helped. We had to reach the Meenmutty falls ticket counter (not the Meenmutty near Vaduvanchal, this is another small falls near Banasura), which is past the Banasura Sagar reservoir entrance. Sijo 'Chettan', of 'Vana Samrakshana Samithi' / VSS, whom I had contacted earlier was waiting for us the ticket counter.
He gave us a bad news straightaway - since its already 10 we will not be able to reach the peak! Instead, he suggested that we can trek to some other peaks in the vicinity! This was a shocker and I refused. It did not make sense to come all the way here and go back without going up the Banasura peak. I told him that we will climb the peak, in whatever time is available and he finally agreed. Sijo Chettan was also going to be our guide for the trek as the regular guide was not available.
In no time, we got ready and started walking on a steep trail. The tar road was there for only the first 100meters and then we got in to a foot path, which was even more steep. In the first 10 minutes we realized why this trek is rated as a tough one! I was breathing so heavily and was only hoping that it will slow down after a while!
Impressions getting better
There was a trail going to our right leading to the Meenmutty falls and we could hear the roar of the water after a while. Soon, we reached a small shed and Sijo Chettan asked us to turn around for a view of the Banasura Sagar reservoir! It was an awesome sight - with the clear blue sky and cotton clouds floating around forming reflections in the water body and lush greenery all around to go with it.
The views and sceneries were the only good things to mention about in this whole trek. Almost everything else went wrong. The steepness of the trail stayed high for some more time, before we took a small trail covered with thick bushes and we had to make our way through the bushes. To add to our woes, there were many blood thirsty leeches here, looking to latch on to our feets. I, along with Sijo Chetttan, ran through this stretch to escape from the leeches and soon reached a stream.
Kaverappa had climbed on a rock to cull out the leeches and Thejas was nowhere to be seen. It took him some time to catch up with us and he already sounded very tired. It was only the beginning and doubts started to creep in whether we can complete the trek. This was surely going to be a tough one! But it was too early to give up ... and giving up was always a bad thing to do.
The stream we crossed
There was an electrified fence next to the stream, which is powered on by evening. The stream was actually a merging point of two streams coming from either sides of the Banasura hills. After crossing the main stream, we had to once again cross the stream coming from the other side and continue between these two streams. Soon after crossing the streams, we could spot some hills on either sides. The one on our left side was very prominent and Sijo Chettan mentioned that it is the 'Kattu Kunnu' (meaning windy hill, 'kattu', with 'tt' pronounced as in cat, means wind and 'kunnu' means hill in Malayalam), where some people go for treks. It was only the first of the three main hills, which will be visible during the trek to Banasura. The next one being 'Sayippu Kunnu' ('Sayippu' refers to an English man who stayed behind those hills where he had an estate long time back) and the last one being Banasura itself, which was a long long way to go.
Windy hills and the water
Soon, the climb started again ... and the views got better and better. More hills with lush green cover and clear blue skies around them became visible and we negotiated the climb slowly and steadily. At 11.30 we reached the foothills of a hill and reached a well marked trail, which will takes us around it. We walked on this trail for almost half an hour and crossed a small shola in between. Soon, we were at the same height as Kattu Kunnu and could see peaks on our left side, which included the majestic Sayippu Kunnu and a valley seperating the hills we were in and the other two. A stream was flowing along this valley, which is eventually the one we crossed earlier.
It was almost level ground here and the walk became much more comfortable. Slowly, things were looking positive and all of us were feeling confident. Sijo Chettan told that we will eventually start climbing the hill that we are going around and Thejas wondered if we could start climbing right away instead of taking a longer route around it? I had my reservations, but Sijo Chettan also said that it was not a bad option. While we were still contemplating, Thejas already started climbing now and we all followed him!
Kaverappa and Sijo Chettan
This was going to be a cruel climb, with the sun beating down and tall grass almost to the knee height and a few rocks to block our ways. To say the least, we may have made a mistake by chosing this path. As we climbed up, there were some trails visible, but we soon realized that this was created by the movement of Elephant herds. Grass was thrashed in some areas and there were huge piles of fresh elephant dung!
Thejas taking a break
We took several breaks and by the time we finally reached a somewhat smaller gradient, we were all exhausted. Thejas chose to stay back and I was really worried as this looked like Elephant land! I was trying to convince him to push a little harder and come along with us, thinking we were almost near the peak. But, I was in for a surprise as we reached along a ridge with a view of the other side of the valley. The trail to Banasura seems to be going up and the peak looked far far away. We may have just done about half the distance!
A glance behind us
Thejas spotted a tall rock from where he can get a good view of the surroundings, possibly a mighty pachyderm, and opted to stay back. The rest of us continued the trek, dragging our feets up one hill after the other. The main problem we faced then was the heat and non-availability of water. Streams were expected to be there, but we did not find any one and the bottles were empty. Our guide, searched around the hill for the streams but came back empty handed. Since, we did not have water, eating food was postponed till we start back and reach the water source near the trail around the hill.
This is the time I had a revelation about bad water and good water! What happens, when I am sitting at office ... and realize that I have not had enough water that day? I will get up reluctantly, fill my water bottle and make sure I finish the bottle before I leave. This is what bad water is!!! On the contrary, here ... while pulling myself up in this heat ... in an almost de-hydrated condition, with no water supply left with us, I pulled on to a grass shoot and it came out. I had it in my hand for a while and ended up biting on to the white tender bottom side of it - which had some amount of moisture! Boy ... this is good water!
The trek up from this point seemed to be never ending. As we climb a hill, yet another hill will be ahead of us. It was also becoming misty and we could not see well around us. I kept chewing on to small and tender grass shoots and we soon reached a rock face which gave us a vantage point in case the mist clears. The time was about 3'O clock by then and it seemed that the best choice was to abort. This is when we heard loud trumpetting sounds of elephants coming from the dense shola forest between Sayippu Kunnu and Banasura peak. The shola forest was incidentally called 'Anachola' (which means Elephant's Shola in Malayalam) - could it be more apt! As we got a little worried about Thejas who was sitting alone, we heard a loud call from him. We told him that we are fine and is about to come back.
We sat at the rock face for a while stealing views of the valley as and when the mist clears. I could not help turning back towards the unconquered Banasura peak. What I could see in between the mist was two small hillocks, one taller than the other and then the grass land ends. The area to the left side of these hillocks was covered with dense forest. I asked Sijo Chettan if we can atleast go up to the first hillock and come back and he said why not!
I prayed for Thejas, possibly sitting en route an elephant herd :) We pushed ourselves for another 10 minutes to reach the first hillock and I did not want to stop. Another five minutes, I was at the second hillock, perching myself at the topmost point and clicking a self-portrait! Ofcourse, the peak was unconquered, but I could always come back. There was one more hillock after this, but I thought not to endanger everybody by getting late. It was 3.30 and already late to head back.
Descend was not easy at all and was really steep. The heat was gone by now and it was quite misty - even drizzling at some point of time. Some 15 minutes, we met Thejas and found him in good health :) not having encountered any trumpetting wild elephants! He also did not see any elephants - only the sound!
We decided to get down the hill the same manner we came up. It would be dangerous to go closer to Anachola at this time. so Sijo Chettan suggested that we could go along the hill and descend further ahead in to the trail around the hill. We followed the trails created by elephants for most parts and stopped in between for food. There was no water, but the grass was quite wet, thanks to the drizzle and we could manage to wipe our hands after food :) Now, need I start talking about good food and bad food???
The stream down there
Some more time after the food break we reached a point from where the only option was to descend ... and we did exactly that. It was a very steep descend - almost vertical and covered with tall grass. Sijo Chettan went ahead clearing the path for us. The tall grass, though slippery and an impedement to our movement, was quite handy as it gave good grip. We moved slowly and steadily and by 5.30 we were back in the trail. Another couple of minutes from this point took us to the much awaited water source.
It was getting dark now and by the time we reached back at the stream, it was almost 7. We crossed the river in very little light, but had to use the mobile phone light to make sure that we did not get any shock at the electrified fence. In spite of it, Thejas ended up brushing against the fence and getting a shock!
Sijo Chettan took another trail towards the view point, slightly wider and clearer compared to the path covered in thick bushes, which we took in the morning. Even then, our progress was very slow as it was pitch dark. By the time we reached the view point, we had people coming to help us out with torches and boy ... it was good to get back to the civilization this time. The first and foremost thing was to take off the shoes and inspect for leech bites. Sure enough ... there were many of them clinging on to our feets!
The day ended with Thejas and Kaverappa stopping at a Kalpetta lodge, while I boarded a bus to Kozhikode to reach home by about 11PM. Blood was dripping off my feet from the leech bites eliciting concerned questions from my family - but knowing me they were not too worried! I was hardly worried about the leech bites - the only sad thing out of the whole exercise was that we could not reach the peak, in spite of all this adventures :(
Over the following week, the photographs were exchanged and stories were shared, eliciting many wows! One look at the photographs taken and the tales of a challenging trek convinced Amit and Sunil that this had to be done. Only question was when to do this? I had a few other places to go to and a lot of work to be done at home, for which I had to stay home for atleast one weekend. So, in the next weekend, it was a question of whether to go back to Banasura or check out a new places.
The lure of Banasura was too much to ignore and we finally decided to go there again, even though it sounded a little crazy to go to the same place in a span of two weeks! Preethu posed the same question, but she did understand my craving to complete the trek. Tiju was also looking for any plans in that weekend as Deepa was out of town and promptly joined us.
I was sure that, not carrying enough water and starting the trek late was indeed the reason we could not finish it. Hence, this time we planned to reach Padinjarethara by saturday evening and start the trek early morning on sunday. Also, we would carry enough water bottles and fill them up at the last stream, so that there is no dearth of water.
I also spent considerable time analyzing the trail in Google Earth and marked a trail going around the hill until we hit the Shola forest (the Anachola). From there onwards, the fire lines were very prominent and could be an ideal choice as the trees would give us some shade compared to the brutal sun at the open grass land.
We went in Tiju's Swift this time and reached Padinjarethara by evening. The biggest danger was the possibility of a rain - especially with the heavy rain we witnessed at Sulthan Bathery. We even spent a while at Kalpetta to buy rain coats and got the same for everybody. But, Amit and Sunil had offered bribes to the rain gods, which turned things in our favour ;-) In spite of the climate looking a bit cloudy, rain never happened at Padinjarethara.
We reached Padinjarethara before 4 and headed towards Banasura Sagar reservoir as planned. We took the same Padinjarethara - Vythiri road and took the right turn towards Banasura after about a km. Like many tourist attractions in Wayanad, there were many tourists at the location, including school children.
|Serene waters at Banasura Sagar Reservoir
We paid the entry fee (Rs. 10 / head) and walked up to the reservoir wall, which had a small climb. Apparently, there is a jeep service for people who cannot walk. But, we had come for taking a walk in any case :) Since, the spead boating counter was open only till 5.30 we straight away went to the boating ticket counter, only to be told that we will have to wait almost 45 minutes. As we were in no hurry, we took the tickets and roamed around for a while near the reservoir. It was quite a beautiful place by itself, with a good view of the hill ranges around it, which includes the Banasura peak.
Boating was quite a nice experience, as we were taken around the many small islets inside the lake. Trees submerged in the lake gave a feel of the Periyar reservoir in Thekkady. The lake has natural barriers on three sides and the wall on one side completes the reservoir. The water stored here is meant for irrigation as well as to support the Kakkayam hydro electric project.
Tiju, Sunil, Amit and our Destination
After the boating, we went back to the wall on one side of the reservoir and strolled around on the road at the top. We spent time there till late evening, watching the clouds playing hide and seek with the Banasura hill ranges. It grew darker and darker and the hill ranges became a silhouette, signalling us that it was time to leave.
About 7, we headed to the lodge at Padinjarethara town, were our accomodation was booked. After a good dinner at 'Malabar hotel', the lights were off early enough. Next day morning, things mostly went according to the plan. All of us got up early enough and was ready by 6.30. The guys at Malabar hotel also was ready with our parcel by 7. They had even kept some curry, without mixing coconut oil, as Amit was finding coconut oil too hard to handle. After a good breakfast, we reached the Meenmutty falls ticket counter by 7.30.
The guide, Jose Chettan (not the Josettan @ Vellarimala / Vavul Mala), arrived in another 15 minutes and we started by 8. As before, the steep climb of the first 10 minutes prepared us well for what lies ahead! But, the pace was better this time, thanks to a cooler climate and an early start. After a brief stop at the view point, we reached the stream quickly, but spent some time to cross the stream as it was a little more fuller and slippery this time. Instead of crossing both the streams, we moved in to the middle of two streams and started climbing to reach the trail going around the hill by 9.
It was a little cloudy this time, making the views a little less breath taking compared to the last time. We passed the Kattu Kunnu quickly and were soon able to spot the set of rocks on Sayippu Kunnu, which looked like a pretty happy family! According to the locals, the rocks resembled the Sayippu, his wife, son and dog. Jose Chettan's plan was very similar to what I expected from my trail analysis - to continue on this trail until we reach the shola forest (the Anachola) and start climbing along the fire line next to the shola. I was a bit worried about water availability and kept checking with Jose Chettan when we should fill the bottles. But, he assured us that there is a good stream on this route and we can fill our water bottles there.
At 9.30, we reached the Anachola and the steep climb along the fire line looked menacing! Sunil, the fittest among us, looked all excited at finally having met his match! It was quite steep - almost vertical - atleast for the initial portions. We braced ourselves to climb up slowly and took more than half an hour before reaching our last water point.
Origins of a Stream
This was the virgin beginnings of the same stream which we crossed at the start of the trek. It falls from a 10 meters height here forming a small water fall. We got a glimpse of the falls through the thick vegetation and ended up at the top of it as we entered the forest. It was time for a longish break, to open up some of the snacks and milk packets, for photographs and to remove the shoes and relax.
The break became a little longer than usual and it was past 10.30 when we started again. Now, this is where the trek was becoming more and more interesting. The trail was along the fire line for some more time and the climb was quite steep at times. We quickly gained a lot of height and started getting views of the valley behind us - as well as the Banasura Sagar reservoir towards our right side.
Inching towards the ridge
More than an hour later, we started seeing the ridge that we were walking on during the last attempt. Once we are on the ridge we would be able to see the valley on the other side as well. I could identify the hillock from which I returned during the last attempt and another slightly taller one to its left. Jose Chettan told that we will go to the top of the taller one and rest there for a while before proceeding towards the peak, nestled in dense forest, further to our left.
What looked quite near at this point took us yet another hour! We avoided the hillock I climbed last time and headed towards the one to its left. I felt that we really dont need to climb up the hill and preferred to move to the left and join the ridge further ahead. But, Jose Chettan suggested that we climb the hillock for a clear view of the North Wayanad valley on the other side and we did just that.
A little after 12, we could see the valley on the other side and with the mist clearing the views were good. We could now get a good view of the Banasura Sagar reservoir as well and the Padinjarethara town, which was till now hidden behind the ridge. A small hillock way down towards the right side of the peak resembled the Kurishumala (also known as Cherumunderi peak) visible from the Makkiyad and Koroth villages, which christians climb (carrying a cross) as an ode to Jesus climbing Calvary hills.
Amit was having a stomach upset and opted not to have much food, but the rest of us ate well. We had a sense of being almost there, but it got battered soon after lunch. The remaining part of the trek was through very dense forest and the peak looked far away! We left some of the bags behind so that we could easily move through the bushes. After getting down from the hillock, we entered the forest for the most interesting part of the trek!
There was hardly any trail here and we literally crawled through the bushy forest! Tiju would have found it most difficult as he was the tallest among all of us. Especially with a bag getting stuck to the shrubs, it was quite tough to make a move. Jose Chettan told us that we are walking along a ridge and both sides are deep gorges, even though there was no visual evidence. All we could see around us was bushes.
Nice to see the sunlight
In between we did see a clear area with a view of the North Wayanad valley, but that was only for a short time. We also passed through an area with bushes up to chest height and no trail at all. I felt that it was easier in some places to push the bushes towards either sides and make way rather than trying to crawl underneath. But, most of the time, we had to crawl on all fours, trying hard to protect our faces (and cameras) from getting bruised.
Hip Hip Hurray
About 20 minutes later, we emerged out of the forest in to a rock with a good view of the surroundings. The forest looked a touch taller on the other side and still far away. Jose Chettan told that it will take quite a long time to go to the other side of the peak. I was expecting a view of the Mananthavady and Kuttiadi from the other side and was a touch disappointed, but we had to call this a trek well done now!
Jose Chettan and the North Wayanad valley
So, to celebrate the trek we climbed up on the rock and started with the photography sessions. The Banasura Sagar reservoir now looked far and tiny, clouds were hovering around us and it really felt like the top of the world. Technically, this is the tallest I had been in Wayanad, at about 2070m, as the Chembra peak, which people are taken to, is only about 1850m.
Sunil, Me and Tiju
Far away and tiny
Apparently, there is an approach to Banasura peak from the other side, starting from Kuttiyadi in Kozhikode district. Ofcourse, this is not allowed by the forest department, but Kuttiyadi happens to be only a few kms off my home town and it was a shame not to have done that trek. That would be an even more difficult trek as Kuttiyadi is much lower in altitude compared to Wayanad. I should surely check out how this trek can be done ... but that was for another day!
Making way through the bushes
We spent almost half an hour at the peak, before starting back at 2.15. After crawling through the bushes, we picked up our luggage from the lunch point and started our descend through the grass land. It was now time to think about getting back and the Bandipur check post which will be closed at 9. There was no time to waste now and we did not waste any! After a tough descend along the fire lines we reached the trail by 4'O clock and continued at an express pace towards the foothills.
With hardly any break, we managed to reach the other side of the hills in about half an hour and started descending towards the stream. We crossed the stream by 5 and was at the ticket counter in another 15 minutes, discussing what was a very challenging trek. Considering that we took almost 5.5 hours to climb up, this was one of my fastest descends!
We said good bye to Jose Chettan and the other VSS officials at the ticket counter and headed towards Padinjarethara. The checkpost at Bandipur would close by 9 and we did not have too much of a buffer time. So, we had to hurry up at the lodge and started our journey back by 6.30, after quick baths and a tea break at Malabar hotel. Thanks to a traffic block near the RTO check post, we had a close shave in crossing the Bandipur check post, but we managed to do it just in time!
The two attempts to Banasura was contrasting - if one of them offered too many beautiful sceneries, the 2nd one was one of the most efficient treks I was part of, were almost everything went as planned. Hence, the two attempts satisfied both the trekker and photographic enthusiast in me :) Besides, I felt that I am in good shape now, thanks to a stricter diet regime and regular walks to and from office.
I could not help calling this one of my most challenging treks as it had all the required ingrediants. Steep climbs, grass lands, streams, slippery trail, leeches, trumpetting wild elephants, finding way through the forest ... almost everything. There are very few treks which I can remember as a more challenging trek than Banasura and this one could match or better almost everything I have done so far! I could have been happier to reach the other side of the peak for a view of the Kuttiyadi valley, but that could be some other time!