Kottakudi - Kurangani - Kolukkumalai - Meesapulimala - Munnar Trek in February 2014
When myself and Preethu visited Gayathry at Ambala, after a Leh trip
, we had an agreement with her that whenever she and Deepak takes the next vaccation, we would plan a Western Ghats trek. When the time for their vaccation came, we discussed a few options, eventually narrowing down to the following three:
- Kudremukh / Thirumaleguppi: I had done a Mullodi - Hiremaleguppi - Navuru trek recently, apart from a trek to Kudremukh in November 2007, which made this a current favourite for me! Gayathry and Deepak had heard about Kudremukh as well, from other sources, making it a very possible choice. Preethu called up Mullodi house, enquired the possibilities of doing a trek and came back with a thumbs up.
- Vellarimala / Vavulmala: trek to Vellarimala in January 2007 and Vavulmala in February 2009 remains among the most memorable treks. Also, Gayathry and Deepak specifically wanted a "tough" and "challenging" trek - making this one of the first options! But, the fact that this place is not very well known went against it.
- Meesapulimala: I had done a trek to Meesapulimala in December 2006 and felt that this was always a good place to go back to. The peak, in Munnar region, located at the Kerala - Tamil Nadu border is also considered the 2nd tallest peak south of Himalayas with an altitude of 2640m.
Eventually, the general popularity of Munnar and the proximity for Deepak / Gayathry made it the preferred choice. Apart from them, Gautham - a friend of Deepak, also planned to join from Ernakulam and preferred Meesapulimala due to proximity. For us, all the options were reachable after a one night journey and Meesapulimala was decided as the destination. We had called Amit and Priya as well, with Amit agreeing to join, but Priya was out of station during that weekend.
During the Top Station trek
, I had done the Top Station - Kurangani (or Kurangani) trail and Rajan, our guide, had shown me a steep trail connecting Kolukkumalai and Kurangani. Rather than doing a Rhodo (Rodo) Valley - Meesaapulimala - Suryanelli trek, which is essentially what I followed during the December 2006 Meesapulimala trek
, I wanted to explore the trail to Kurangani this time.
I talked to Rajan, who mentioned that camping in Rhodo Valley is costly and trekking up from Kurangani will make sense because of many reasons. My only concern was that this may turn out to be a bit too "tough" for the group - but, Gayathry ended all concerns asserting "tougher the better"! Preethu briefly protested that and was worried that she will lag behind the army couple and the rest of the guys - but, I was confident that she will manage to keep up with everybody. I also tried to throw in a visit to Anayirankal lake and briefly discussed camping at Suryanelli, but Rajan recommended Kolukkumalai as he can arrange our stay there in an estate. He suggested that, if we manage to reach Kolukkumalai on time, we can always hire a vehicle and go for sight seeing towards Suryanelli and Anayirankal lake.
In the last minute, two more of Deepak / Gautham's friend's - Sreekanth and Dilkar - along with Dilkar's wife Misba agreed to join. The four guys - along with another of their friend - were long-term friends and called themselve's five idiots
], with just one idiot
missing now. They had some other get-together plans prior to the trek and promised to come to Kurangani by jeep, while myself, Preethu and Amit would take a KSRTC bus to Theni and join them near Kurangani.
Somehow, I had an impression that our bus will reach Theni by 4AM and we planned accordingly for an early start. But, when I confirmed with the conductor on the day of travel, it turned out that the bus will arrive at Theni only by 7! It would take us a couple more hours to take a bus to Bodi and then to Kottakudi. So, we tried calling up Gayathry to delay their arrival, only to find their phone "not-reachable". Eventually, we sent a message hoping that they will see it and not end up waiting for us in Theni for hours. At the same time, I did manage to call Rajan and update our arrival time - who said that 7'O clock is saner time to reach and we could easily take a bus to reach Kottakudi / Kurangani.
We were in Batlagundu / Vathalagundu by 6.30 and the bus took a small break after that, before reaching Periyakulam by 7. In another 15 minutes, we were in Theni and again trying to reach Deepak and Gayathry - but, her phone was still not reachable! After a few tries, we decided to take the next bus to Bodi and managed to reach there by 7.45. At Bodi, we finally managed to reach Gayathry's number! They had recieved the message and delayed the start as required - but, it sounded like they over-used the extra time available! Having just started from Munnar, it looked like they would take atleast a couple more hours to reach Kottakudi.
With enough time in our hand now, we got in to a restaurant, finished our morning chores and proceeded to have a yummy breakfast. We managed to catch a bus heading to Munnar and got down at Munthal check-post by 8.45. The check-post is the beginning of the ghat section leading to Munnar (an interesting stretch of road that I had encountered during a Kodaikanal - Idukki trip in July 2006
and a Athirapally - Bodimettu trip in December 2010
), with a village road to Kottakudi / Kurangani forking off from here. A few autos were parked there and ready to come to Kurangani, but we decided to wait for the rest of the gang to arrive. Rajan and our hosts at Kurangani called up in between, but we had no choice but to request them to wait!
We managed to kill time by taking pictures of paddy fields, far away mountains, a golden oriole and even a rooster found by the road side. Preethu managed to strike up a conversation with a kid, which kept us entertained for a while :) Eventually, the gang arrived after a very long 2 hrs. We - me and Preethu - got introduced to those we had not met earlier, while Amit had not met any of them. The three of us managed to squeeze in to the same jeep and headed towards Kottakudi. A little ahead we also met Manikandan and Marimuthu - our hosts at Kottakudi - coming in a bike looking for us. We apologized to them for causing such a huge delay, before following them towards Kottakudi.
It was about 11.30 when we reached Kottakudi - they had kept breakfast ready for us, which we now decided to have as brunch! A yummy dose of idli, sambhar and chutney, were served to us in plaintain leaves. After the brunch, we took some time to get ready and re-arrange the bags. We also had to fill our water bottles, as there were not many water sources for the later part of the trail. Finally, by about 12.30, we were back on our feet, heading towards Kurangani.
Mist covered mountains
The initial part of the trek was on a village road connecting Kurangani and Kottakudi. We could see a few hill ranges surrounding us - with a pointy-needle like formation looking particularly noteable towards west. There was a ridge to its right side, with the Kolukkumalai valley at the top. But, a thick cloud cover all around Kolukkumalai valley area made it barely visible.
We passed by a bridge - across the Kottagudi river - to reach Kurangani village. Here, the guides asked me to accompany them to the police station and enter the details. The police asked me a few questions on the group and were particularly curious to know if we had any foreign members. Eventually, I had to show the group to them before they accepted that we are just a bunch of 'students'. Also, they asked Mari and Mani to come back and report to them after leaving us at Kolukkumalai.
By about 1.20, we crossed a few more streets in Kurangani village and entered a trail - cut through tall grass and meandering up on a steep mountain slope. The ridge that we saw earlier was now very prominent and clearly visible without any cloud cover. After a few "hairpin bends
" along the mountains slopes, we left the Kurangani village way below in the valley. We could see a hill range right across us and the Kottagudi river tumbling its way down to form the Sambalar falls. This was the trail connecting Top Station to Kurangani, which I had taken during the Top Station trek in March 2012
As we gained altitude, a few zig-zag brown lines were visible on the grass lands across the valley. There was a trail at the bottom, connecting the Kurangani village towards the Sambalar falls. Yet another trail was clearly visible towards Muthuvakudi village and continuing as a zig-zag further up. A third section of trails at the top leading towards another village - the Central station village - and then going behind the hills towards Top Station. I could not help remembering that our current trail looked like a brown zig-zag line in a green carpet as well, when seen from the Top Station - Kurangani trail!
A happy bunch - Central station village, Muthuvakudi and Sambalar in the background
We took a few breaks to admire the mist capped green valley across us. Amit was mostly raising ahead of all of us - mostly in a bid to escape the chatter in Malayalam! The rest of the gang moved at an easy pace, even though we did have some time pressure to reach Kolukkumalai before dark.
The 4 idiots !
One major landmark in this otherwise vast stretch of grass lands was a lone tree in the middle of no-where. We could see the tree from a distance, standing tall among green carpet. On close examination, we did notice a few shrubs all around, but none of them looked anywhere as tall as the lone-tree. In fact, when we reached the lone-tree, there was another small tree right next to it - but it hardly looked noticeable from a distance.
Oh ... no ... please
Shooting down the Simians!
We took a half-an-hour break near the lone-tree, during which Deepak and Sreekanth climbed up the near-by small tree, triggering a photo shoot. One of the pics had Sreekanth aiming to thrash Dilkar and Misba, which was followed by group photos of all combinations - even Preethu and me managed to get a pic near the small tree with the vast green hills in the background.
The one and only ... and lonely
Before 4, we were back on our feet and soon had the lone-tree way below! By 4.30, the trail entered a shola forest and it suddenly looked a lot darker. With the energy reserves from an early brunch now depleted after a few hours of trek, the group started feeling the "challenge". The trail inside the shola forest felt never ending, the "huffs" and "puffs" grew loud and the slow-movers slowly turned in to refusing-to-move! With time, it slipped in to desperate "you guys go ahead, I'll stay here"!
Amit, Sreekanth and Gautham lead the way with encouraging words of "almost there", which kept the refusing-to-move back on their feets for a while. But then, "almost there" could not have saved us for too long! I was monitoring the altitude shown in the GPS device at this time and watched it going from about 1700m when we entered the shola to approaching 2100m by about 6.
From what I remembered, some of the tea plantations @ Kolukkumalai is at an altitude of about 2175m - touted as the "highest tea estates in the world". When we reached about 2100m, I knew that our destination is almost there, but there was still an uncertainty over the actual location of our camp site. At the same time, I could not help thinking that a trek from about 680m at Kurangani to 2100m+ at Kolukkumalai in about half a day could not have been easy. In fact, the group managed it a lot easier than I had initially anticipated.
Soon, we heard Gautham shouting that we have reached - which recieved a very skeptic response from the refusing-to-move :) But, this time, we indeed emerged out of the thick forest cover for whatever little sunlight was left. A small trail out of the woods - passing by tea plantations - lead us towards the Kolukkumalai tea estate.
Dont ask to get up now ...
A little later, we were sitting in front of a building with a board saying 'garden fresh Kolukkumalai tea "available for sale"'. We ordered a few cups of tea - one of them black, for myself - and some ended up going for an extra cup. But, I would suspect that the main reason why we ended up sitting there for almost an hour is the lack of energy!
Finally, by the time we got up and headed towards our accomodation, it was quite dark. Our guides lead us towards a hill-top, just outside the tea estate compound. When we reached the camp site, there was some confusion about the booking - especially with the delay. Eventually, we had to make a few phone calls to get things settled. Abu - our guide for the trek to Meesapulimala - was already there. The house keeper of the camp site initially offered to setup a tent outside, but we settled down for two of the rooms with the third one reserved for the guides and house keeper.
The rest of the night was peaceful with all of us sitting outside and chatting till the dinner was ready. Deepak shared some of their army experiences - especially from a time when he was posted in Arunachal Pradesh. The chat continued for some time even after dinner. We had an awkward moment when our house keeper - a young hot-headed fella and looking a little intoxicated - joined the conversation and wondered what is there in Meesapulimala! He called it a waste of effort and advised us not to go there and waste time. Even after mentioning that I had been to Meesapulimala before and assuring that we have a fair estimate of the effort required, he continued repeating his earlier statements!
Best part of the evening happened when somebody revealed that Sreekanth is a good singer. He obliged by singing a classic Malayalam song (chandana mani vathil ...), ending with a huge round of applause from all of us. Due to huge public demand, he followed this with a couple more songs - all ending in huge rounds of applause. We could have spent some more time listening to Sreekanth and chatting. But, it was getting late now and it made sense to call it a day and get some valuable rest for the big day ahead.
Next day, I was up by about 6.20 waiting for the sun to show up. It started with a small tinge of orange at a hills towards our east - which was actually the same ridge that we saw from Kurangani. Lights showed up from the buildings in the tea estate. Slowly and steadily the sky turned bluer revealing the layers of hill ranges towards our north - with a hint of white from the mist seperating those hill ranges. The clouds retained the reddish tinge for some more time, till the first rays of the sun started hitting the hill-tops.
View from the camp site
The furthest of the hill ranges - across the Kurangani valley - must be the Vandaravu ranges, in the Kerala - Tamilnadu border. I had passed by this range in two different occasions - during a Kodaikanal - Munnar trek in Feb 2012
and a Top Station trek
a month later. With the help of Abu, I tried to identify the peak as well as the watch tower, but the range had pretty much the same height throughout, making it difficult to identify individual features.
By 7, it was bright and sunny - still a little cold - prompting the entire team to come out and bask in the warm sun. As customary, we proceeded to take a few photos and then started packing up for another day of trekking. We had a long day ahead - the plan was to reach Meesapulimala by noon and spend some time there before taking the long trail towards Silent Valley - in Munnar, near Mattupetty lake, not to be confused with Silent Valley National Park - via Rhodo Valley. Three of us had a return bus to Bangalore booked at 4.30 and as per Rajan, we did not have much time to waste, if we were serious about catching that bus!
Breakfast - Poori and Bhaji, with a heavy dose of coconut oil, much to Amit's chagrin - was ready to be consumed by 8. Some more photos followed the breakfast, after which Mani and Mari - our guides till Kolukkumalai - said good bye and headed downhill. By 8.45, we thanked our house keeper and - in spite of his advice :) - took the trail to Meesapulimala.
The initial part of the trail passed along-side tea plantations. By now, the sky had turned in to a very bright blue - typical of high altitude locations. A hint of cotton cloud patterns and the lush greenery of the tea plantations made it look extremely colorful. With a slight gain of altitude, even the buildings and tin-roofs which marred the landscape in the morning were gone - what more could we ask for!
As bright as it can get
The foot trail entered a wider jeep track (the Kolukkumalai - Suryanelli estate road where I had trekked during the previous Meesapulimala trek
) for a short distance. As we were about to leave the estate road to enter a foot trail going uphill, Gayathry started feeling a little uneasy and complained of slight chest pain! We stopped by for a while, allowing Gayathry to rest.
As she mentioned that the uneasiness started after the breakfast, an obvious suspect was the potato bhaji that we had in the morning. Deepak suggested her to try Pudin Hara, which seemed to ease things a little. Abu warned us that the more we go up the foot trail, the more difficult it will be to get back to the town. As a worst case scenario, we looked at the available options, including calling for a jeep to quickly get back to Munnar town. But it looked like nobody - including Gayathry - wanted to do this.
Please ... take us too ...
Eventually, we decided to go ahead and return in case the uneasiness returns. A little later, we were back among the tea plantations - watching Gautham doing a superman imitation, with a towel tied around his neck as the cape! Even Gayathry was smiling and looked quite at ease - way to go Pudin Hara and way to go super man!
We had gained some altitude by now and the ridges which looked majestic from both Kurangani and Kolukkumalai now looked below us. A herd of cotton clouds were floating near the horizon above Kurangani valley making it look almost surreal. To our west, the hill looked taller with its slopes covered by tea plantation. We were moving northwards around this hill when we caught a glimpse of Meesapulimala peak through the green cover.
Ocean of clouds on top of top station
By 10, we reached the neck of this hill, which also seemed to mark the end of tea plantation. The trail became narrow as it entered a shola forest with thick vegetation all around, except for a beautiful view of the valley towards Top Station / Kurangani. The herd of cotton clouds which we saw far away had now reached very close and hovering directly above the Top Station / Kurangani region. The Top Station area was fully under the clouds, but we could still see the Muthuvakudi village through the clouds. The Vandaravu hill ranges, furthest away, had their heads above the clouds.
Which of them is taller  ?
While emerging out of the shola forest, we got a clear view of the two cone-shaped peaks of Meesapulimala. The one on the left - nearer to us - looked taller from this angle and had a lush green drape, while the other one looked more rocky. I remembered seeing the Meesapulimala from Top Station side, when it looks like three different peaks of almost equal height. Now, I was really not sure which one of these peaks I had seen from Top Station side. Also, it was difficult to tell if the peak closer to us is actually taller - or, is it just an illusion because of its closeness [2
Back at the grass-lands heading towards the peak, we now got clear views of Suryanelli valley - to our south - for the first time. The cotton clouds were hovering above the horizon to give a heavenly feel to the layers of mountains draped in green. We first had to descend down towards a valley seperating the green cone-shaped peak - the other one was now hidden - with the hill that we were in now.
We took a head count after descending down towards the valley - Amit was leading the way and was already half way up the peak. Preethu and Abu was slightly ahead of the rest of the group, with Gayathry at the tail and Deepak keeping her company. We waited a while to ensure that Gayathry caught up with the rest of the group - she was feeling a little tired, but otherwise alright and confirmed that she can continue the trek.
Just one more climb
Can u see the dam?
The final climb to the peak was very steep - with us gaining significant altitude in very little time. The direct trail was too steep and Abu suggested to use a slightly zig-zag route. Amit had already taken the direct steep trail and was practically on top of the peak by now. Some of the guys tried to take the direct trail and found it too steep - eventually changing the trail midway. The biggest bonus when we climbed up was the views of Anayirankal dam / reservoir - with a sea of green all around it and cotton white clouds hovering above it.
Is Amit contemplating a walk on the clouds!
As we were climbing up, the cloud cover also started to climb up - covering most of the valley towards our north. Soon, I saw Preethu and Abu joining Amit at the peak, with Gautham right behind them. By the time I reached - about 11.45 - we had a sea of clouds covering the entire area, with only the two peaks jutting out! The other peak looked clearly connected to the peak we are standing in and I was still not sure which of these two peaks were taller. Abu mentioned that this is the Meesapulimala peak that people normally trek to and I left it at that [2
Anamudi is the furthest towards right
First look at Chokramudi
We stopped at the peak for a while, taking out the bread-butter-jam and a few bananas for lunch. After a little wait, the clouds started clearing and we managed descent views all around. This included a fleeting view of the Anamudi peak - the tallest peak south of Himalayas @ 2695m - towards north-west. I could also spot a peak towards west and Abu identified it as Chokra Mudi (also spelt as Chokkan Mudi). He also mentioned that the trek to Chokra Mudi is quite interesting and I instantly added it to my To-Do list! For now though, we were at the top of Meesapulimala [2
] - the 2nd tallest peak south of Himalayas at an altitude of 2640m!
Usain Bolt is that way!
The gang of 9!
We could spot a herd of Nilgiri Thars grazing in an adjascent hill towards Suryanelli side. They gave us a display of their agility disappearing down a cliff in a matter of seconds - when another group of trekkers approached the peak from Munnar side. We spent some more time at the peak taking photographs - the '4 idiots
] wanted a picture with them imitating the Usain Bolt pose
! Apparently, this is their trademark pose during all their trips! This was followed by another set when Gayathry and Misba joined them. Finally, we had a full group pic - by then it was about 12.30 and getting late for us.
I am luving it here ... dont want to go back!
We descended down the peak towards Rhodo valley
- the base camp for KSFDC which hosts a forest hut. Rhodo valley derives its name from the Rhododendron trees which are seen abundantly in its slopes - and not many other trees due to the high altitude. During the last Meesapulimala trek
, we camped at Rhodo valley and trekked up to the peak in less than half an hour. There is also a jeep track all the way till Rhodo valley - which we had taken last time after failing to reach Munnar on time. But this time, the jeep is arranged from Silent valley and we had no option but to walk till then.
By 1.45, we were at the camping site - Amit, Preethu, Abu and myself at the front and the rest of the gang falling behind. I waited a while for Gautham to catch up and conveyed to him that we will go ahead to catch the Bangalore bus. Gautham promised to pass the message to the rest of the team and speed up a little to catch up with us.
at the valley of Rhododendrons
Past the camping site, we passed by a stream and then entered a stretch which had some tree cover. Since the trail was not very clear, we had to slow down here to ensure that the rest of the team could catch up - which did not take much time as Gautham kept his promise. A descend followed taking us to back to the stream, which had a few Rhododendron trees in full bloom by its side. For some time we followed the stream, before reaching another stretch lined with pine trees on both sides.
About ten minutes later, we were back near the stream, which seems to be getting voluminous - about to tumble down the slopes. We crossed the stream and took a more gradual descend - through a very colorful stretch full of shrubs carrying flowers of varying colors. The shrubs disappeared as we entered a stretch of shola forest and the slope started getting steeper as we go. By 2.30, we came out of the forest and crossed in to the jeep track connecting Rhodo valley with Silent valley and beyond. Since the jeep track takes a zig-zag path, we continued to follow the steep slope along the shola forest for some more time. The slope was too steep at some points and slippery due to dry leaves that the logic of not taking the jeep track was questioned a few times!
Look ... how far we walked!
By 3, we reached the forest watch tower at Silent Valley, with a good view of the hills to our north. The top portion of the hills were covered with trees, while the lower portions were steep and rocky with a stream tumbling its way down forming a water fall. Abu confirmed my suspicion that this stream is the same that we saw near Rhodo valley. Quite a distance we had covered in just about half an hours time!
About 15 mins more through a forest patch, we were near the estate. A row of public toilets is what we saw first, followed by a few more sheds and a garden. Preethu was particularly interested in a small heart shaped pool, with a few lotus flowers in full bloom. In spite of my protests, she managed to pluck one flower and steal it by hiding it in her bag!
A few paved steps down and we were back at the jeep track - also the end of the trek. The jeep arrived soon and we dumped all the luggage on the top before squeezing in. The jeep took us through a track which eventually entered the Top Station - Munnar road, near Mattupetty. As we approached Munnar, Abu said good bye to us and got down. A little later, we spotted Rajan waiting for us and followed us to Munnar in his bike.
At Munnar, we had some more time to go for the bus and got in to a restaurant, right next to the KSRTC pick-up point. We managed to have a quick feast of ghee rice, chicken and kerala paratha, apart from a quick visit to the rest room. I also managed to settle accounts with Rajan, thanked him for organizing this trek and even shared some feedback I had, which he promised to take care of! Soon, the good byes were said to the rest of the team as well and we all agreed to meet up for another trek.
I was quite happy with the way this trek turned out - a trek from Rhodo valley to Meesapulimala was hardly challenging. But this trail - starting from about 680m altitude to about 2640m at Meesapuliamala and descending down to about 2000m, covering about 22kms on foot in the process - turned out to be quite a "challenging" one and did justice to the majestic Meesapulimala!
- Gautham later refused that they ever had any such names! He also says that the correct group name is 'Calicut Casuals'. Never heard of them ... Idiots sounds so much better!
- From later analysis, I did realize that the rocky faced peak towards north is about 30m taller. Siva Subramanyam managed to scale the rocky faced peak and confirmed that it is taller with his GPS.
© 2015 Sandeep Unnimadhavan