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Edakkal caves / Ambukuthi Mala and Meenmutty trek in March 2008

Though, I drive thro' Wayanad almost every month and have seen the sign boards talking about Meenmutty, the first time I heard in detail about the place was last year from Arun[1]. He and couple of friends (including Prabul) had trekked and camped there. After, seeing the pics I wanted to go there but it took almost year before I cud actually go. Well ... for the usual piece on information, Meenmutty is the largest waterfall in Wayanad (both in terms of height and volume), as tall as 300m and three tiers and has water all around the year. To reach Meenmutty one has to hit the Ooty road from Chundale / Chundel in Wayanad and the turn to Meenmutty will come abt 4kms past Vaduvanchal. While coming from Bengaluru (Bangalore), one can take a district road connecting Beenachi (a few kms after Sulthan Bathery in Kozhikode - Mysuru / Mysore - Kollegal highway aka NH212) and Vaduvanchal.

Arun had given me the contacts to Thomas chettan, who stays near Meenmutty and takes people to spots around Meenmutty. I called up Thomas chettan and he offered to take us all the way to Nilambur via Meenmutty. A mail to the group found hardly any response from anyone other than Vishal. Just, a day before the actual trip, I had a chat with Naga and he was excited about joining and succesfully pulled in Sai too. Now, we had a good sized team!

Elephants @ Bandipur
Herd of Elephants @ Bandipur

So, we started on a early saturday morning and reached Mysuru by breakfast time. Before and after Mysuru in the paddy fields and tank bunds @ Maddur and Mysuru - Nanjangud road, we sited a few migratory birds, ranging from Cormorants, Pelicans and a few varieties of Kokkares. Past Gundulpet, while in the Bandipur sanctuary Naga was narrating his elephant siting episodes in Bandipur and I wondered why I dont get to see much wildlife in Bandipur, though I pass thru' the sanctuary limits almost every month. Just as Sai said, now that I have the two lucky mascots (Sai himself & Naga) we were in with a good chance ... bang ... there they were - a herd of elephants right next to the highway. We had ample time to watch them and take photographs, before we moved. Only to spot another herd a little ahead and a third one a little more ahead :) Lucky mascots were indeed lucky!

We reached Sulthan Bathery at about 11.30, filled up the tank and headed to my usual Jubilee hotel for lunch. Since, it was a li'l early, we roamed arnd the town for a while. I located a digital studio and got my pics copied to a CD, so that the flash card has enuf space for the next rest of the trip.

Post lunch, we continued on the highway till the left turn to Vaduvanchal / Meenmutty arrived. This is a district road connecting the NH212 to Chundale / Chundel (in NH212 again) - Ooty road. Edakkal caves is about 4kms detour from this road and we had planned to hit Edakkal caves on our way to Meenmutty. In spite of giving warnings that the place has very few positives, Naga and Vishal were ready to come for a second time.

Rock in between
'Edakkallu' @ Edakkal

We parked the car at the entry point and took a jeep to the base of the caves. Abt 10 minutes climb through the caves took us to the topmost chamber, where the Neolithic age carvings were present along with an official to explain the carvings. He told us that a rock trapped at the ceiling of the cave, with sunlight seeping in from its sides, is the origin of the name 'Edakkal' (Edakku = in between and Kallu = rock or stone in malayalam, to form Edakkallu or Edakkal meaning the rock in between). Another interesting view were two flat rocks spaced apart about a feet from each other. A magnificient view of the surroundings was available through this ridge.

We were almost done with Edakkal caves when a group of guys (guess, from Bengaluru) arrived at the spot, said 'hi' to us and one of the guys asked me "Have u been to the top?". Ofcourse, we hadnt and said so, also enquiring how was it? His reply was ... "I wudnt recommend ... its ... u know ... life threatening!". Wow ... this was something! Further enquiries with the official gave us enough information. One can take the route from outside the caves and get to the top of the hills, which is called Ambukuthi Mala, abt 1000ft above where we were right now. It was abt 3'O clock by then and according to the official the climb up and down wud take about an hour. Enough time to go and come back :)

The climb up to the top was one of the steepest I ever did. I started panting by the time we reached the next cave, crawled in through a small space to get to the open ground. There, a huge peak awaited us. Naga was ahead of all of us and I was trying hard to keep up with him. Soon after this cave we had to climb up a steep boulder. Luckily, there was an iron ladder installed there along with a rope to hold on. At this point, I felt a little giddy, especially with a heavy (and costly) lens/camera on my shoulder and the camera bag on the other. Again, I was hardly prepared for this climb, wearing just slippers, which had no grip and the sand along the rocks were very slippery. I held on to the rope, moved the camera / lens away from the rocks, turned around for a better foothold and mused for a while. Somehow the fear faded away I and told myself to go ahead :) How cud I fear and get back?

Sai climbing
Sai climbing up along the rope

Sai was waiting for me at the base of the ladder and Naga was already ahead. Vishal was nowhere to be seen and Sai called out his name only to hear his sound which said something like "Am fine ... u go ahead". After I reached past the rope, I saw Naga trying to slide down the next hill. He told me that the route he has taken must be wrong and pointed me towards the left, which had better footholds.

View from the top
View from the top

View from the top
Another view from the top

Few more steps up, Sai started having doubts and prefered to stay back. Naga and myself were all excited by then and decided to move on. The climb was not getting any easier and the views were getting better and better. As told by the official, one could actually see all three states from the top of the Ambukuthi Mala, Kerala, Karnataka and Tamilnadu, as the peak is located close to the trijunction of the states. Also, just ahead of us was another neat looking peak. Couple of more trecherous climbs and about 10 mins later, we were faced with a roadblock - a flat rock face with not much of a foothold to climb up. I packed the camera looked around for a while and used a small patch of grass to my left for a foothold and pulled myself up. Later, Naga said that my choice of foothold was pretty scary :) but I kinda felt comfortable with that foothold and did manage to get to the next level and the iron ladder on the vertical face of the rock.

Me @ the top
Me @ the top of Ambukuthi Mala

Naga @ the top
Naga @ the top of Ambukuthi Mala

After the iron ladder, except for the fear factor, things were simple - atleast compared to what was done. About 10 mins later we were up @ the top of Ambukuthi Mala, screaming at the top of our voice :) and taking pictures of the deep valleys around us. One special thing abt the place was that it indeed looked way taller than the surroundings. I tried to find reference hills, like Chembra or Nilgiri hills, but didnt manage to find anything. Atleast they were a li'l far and we indeed felt @ the top of the world.

Inside the cave
On our way back

While we were coming down, we did see Vishal and Sai too trying to come up, but they gave up as soon as they saw us, due to the time factor. Climbing down wasnt as difficult as we feared and we did it briskly. I was parched by then as we didnt carry any water with us and it was quite dry and arid. Past, the main Edakkal caves, there was a water source, which tasted like elixir! We did drink a lot of water and felt much better. Back, at the entry point to the caves, was a small shop serving lime juice, 'sarbath' and butter milk, which we utilized. A very good way to end one of the most challenging climbs I've done. The place also had a lot of honey bees and the shop keeper helped me and Vishal to take a few shots :)

We decided to walk back to the parking lot and it was a nice stroll downhill on the jeep track. At about 5.30, we were headed to Vaduvanchal, about 18kms from Edakkal. Thomas chettan had suggested a lodge called 'Megha residency', to which we headed and took two double rooms for Rs. 300 each. There was a small restaurant and bakery just next to the lodge were we had tea and juice before taking a stroll in the town.

In between, I called up Thomas chettan and he dropped down at the hotel to give us a bad news. There was a forest fire in the route to Nilambur and trekking to Nilambur may not be possible the next day :( Infact, the fire already accounted for some forest land and may have been the reason behind the elephants parade in the Bandipur forests. We decided to drop the plan to go to Nilambur forests and instead chose to explore around Meenmutty falls and trek back. To facilitate an early start of the trek, Thomas chettan offered to keep the breakfast ready and we had to get something light for lunch. After, Thomas chettan left, we headed for a dosa dinner in the nearby restaurant and did some shopping, bananas (the larger variety called 'Nenthrappazham', which is more popular in Kerala), grapes, chocolates and enough water.

Beginning of the trek
Start of the trek early morning

Next day, we were out on the highway by abt 6, soon on the diversion to Meenmutty and then on to the jeep track. Thomas chettan's house was right on this jeep track, were we parked the car and walked towards Meemutty. Thomas chettan stayed back after giving us directions, so that he can pack the breakfast. At the end of the jeep track, we waited abt 10 mins and after losing patience, headed in through the coffee plantation. We were about to take a wrong turn before Thomas chettan called us back :)

We then headed to a non-existent path thro' the forest, very trecherous with a lot of pitfalls, but managed to deal with it without much trouble under Thomas chettan's guidance. In about 20 mins time, we were near the main falls, which is the 2nd tier, but chose to go up to the top tier. After another trecherous climb, we managed to get to the top of the main falls and at the base of the top tier of the falls. This is were we had the first look at the falls and it was indeed voluminous even at the beginning of the summer. I thanked Arun for the assurance he gave 'Meenmutty has water throughout the year' that actually took the plan forward :)

Our gang at the falls
Posing with the falls

First tier of falls
First tier of Meenmutty falls

Climbing up
Where do I hold next?

After a few pics and an eyeful of the beautiful falls, we headed to the next view point. Crawling and climbing through the rocks had a few anxious moments too, but it was finally fun :) At the view point, close to the falls, Vishal had a small slip and Thomas chettan and myself watching it had a 'heart in the mouth' instant. He finally managed to hold on to the rocks, but scary enough, the grip he finally had was the last one ... and next grip could only have been at the base of the 2nd tier :( Well ... luckily nothing happened and we headed to the topmost tier.

Origin of the falls
Origin of Meenmutty falls

Naga at the top of the falls
Naga and the view from the topmost tier

At the topmost tier, there was a pool of water, slightly muddy, though. Thomas chettan mentioned that the name of the river is 'Kalakkappuzha', which kinda means muddy water. At the top of the pool was a sharp dropping fall, which according to Thomas chettan was as tall as Soochippara, another popular waterfall nearby.

Meenmutty falls
Full view of the main falls

Meenmutty falls
Bottom half of the main falls

Soon, the climb down started from here and by about 9, we were back at the base of the main falls - the 2nd tier. It was a wonderful site, with gallons of water tummbling down the rocks and I was busy clicking pics, until Thomas chettan opened the breakfast box - 'Puttu', 'Kadala' and 'Kappa' with extremely chilly 'chutney'! The green chilly content in the 'chutney' was high and our eyes/noses started watering and lips burnt. In spite of that, the breakfast was one of the best I had :)

Vishal @ the falls
Vishal at a vantage point!

By this time, more people started coming down to the falls and we decided to head to the 3rd tier. I was feeling a li'l lethargic after a heavy breakfast and the steep descend didnt help either. Even felt a li'l dizzy in between, but carried on. Almost an hour later, after a taxing descend through the slippery ridges and loose soil, we reached the base of the 3rd tier. In between we were through another view point but chose not to head down that much. At the base of the 3rd tier, the view was acually blocked by a few trees, but one cud get a feel of all the three tiers and how majestic the falls actually is. The point were we climbed up looked far far away :) We were all very tired by then and wanted to take a break and also take a dip in the river. Thomas chettan suggested that we can go just down the river and take a dip there, since the river is a li'l more calm there and we proceeded to that point.

But, half way through, we were sent back by Thomas chettan, since the way was too narrow and risky. Instead, we had to climb up some distance and then climb down to the river again - which took another 30 minutes or so and a lot more our energies! But, once near the pool, I quickly threw away the luggage and shoes and jumped right in to the water which was almost freezing! What a relief it was.

We did spend a while in the river and then opened up the food packets, grapes, bananas and all, which gave us some strength :) After about 2 hrs there, we finally headed back at abt 1'O clock. The climb up was equally tiring but somehow easier since the steps were a li'l more surer when we were climbing up. Thomas chettan made the climb easier with tales of elephant sitings, tigers, cheethas and pigs raiding the village. Finally, by abt 2, we reached the coffee estates and were greeted, by locals serving butter milk in a shed. Naga had one full bottle of butter milk and blamed us for stealing a few gulps in spite of having ordered more glasses!

After a leisurely walk along the jeep track listening to more stories from Thomas chettan, we reached his place by abt 3, headed to the hotel, took a bath and headed to Bengaluru by about 4.30. Passing via Bandipur, we had sitings of two more elephant herds, but we made it quicker this time :)

End of another trek, but as Thomas chettan suggested we had to come back some time in Dec - Jan soon after rains so that we can attempt the trail to Nilambur. I cant wait to see Meenmutty in the rains. It wud be quite a site!

References:
  1. Arunz one of the coolest dudes around who chases clouds and writes abt it @ chasing-the-clouds.blogspot.com.



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