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Vaduvanchal - Neerpuzha - Munderi - Thamburattikkallu trek in June 2010

I planned to trek from Vaduvanchal to Nilambur via Meenumutty falls as early as in March 2008, but due to a wild fire it was curtailed to a small picnic to different tiers of Meenmutty Falls. Our guide Thomas Chettan ('Chettan' is not his surname, but translates to elder brother or any elder male in Malayalam), promised to take me through this trail as soon as the situation changes. But, it did not happen for a while. It was possible to take this trail only during summer and we faced some permission issues the whole of 2009. Hence, this summer when he called me up and told that he has managed the permission, I was thrilled.

I also had company this time - Santhosh of Exotic Expeditions [1] was already a good friend of Thomas Chettan and taken this trail once, was more than willing to take it again. I found it hard to eke out a weekend almost till the end of May. When we finally made a plan, it did not work out. The monsoon almost started by then and I was feeling so disappointed to have missed it this summer as well. Then I saw a report in news paper saying that the monsoon will be late by a couple of weeks. Just then I got a day as comp-off and opted to take it on a tuesday after discussing with Santhosh and Thomas Chettan.

Santhosh was in Coorg during that weekend and decided to come directly to Wayanad on monday. In the last minute he was caught up with some personal assignment and opted out. I had a few problems myself:
  1. I only had a day off - that means I should start on monday evening, start trekking as early as I can on tuesday and reach Nilambur by evening and start back and go for work on wednesday!
  2. The NH212 connecting Wayanad / Kozhikode to Mysore / Bangalore is closed at night at the Bandipur sanctuary limits. This meant I could not take a night bus as usual.
  3. There are KSRTC buses playing in this highway. They would stop at the checkpost during night and resume as soon as the check post opens. This means, they would reach Wayanad by 7. I decided to book my tickets in one of these buses, but there were not any by the time I went to book!
  4. I should start back early enough from Nilambur to cross the check post before it closes - this means less time for trek.

Well ... if I did not go now, it would not happen for atleast an year and I did decide to go. But, little did I know that I was about to go for one of the craziest trek schedules I have come up with!

I called up my cousin 'Rejuettan' (well ... his real name is Rejaneesh and you should now know what 'Ettan' means :)) who stays in Mysore and got to know that the first bus leaving to Sulthan Bathery from Mysore is at 4.30. I started after dinner from Bangalore and took a bus headed to Mysore. I was thinking of taking a nice Volvo and sleeping comfortably till Mysore, but ended up in a normal 'red' bus as they were the only ones running in the night. At about 12.30 in the night, I was at Mysore, took a pre-paid auto and headed to 'Rejuettan's' place near Ramaswamy circle. Everybody there was asleep and I also crashed quickly as I had to wake up atleast by 4!

Next day, early morning, 'Rejuettan' dropped me at Mysore bus stand, where I boarded a Kerala State RTC bus towards Sulthan Bathery. The bus reached Sulthan Bathery at about 7.30 and I got out near the 'Solar' hotel for breakfast - the usual favourites of Poori and Masala Dosa. Then, with a heavily stuffed stomach I took a small walk towards the bus stand which is abt a km away, looking for a bus towards Vaduvanchal, which arrived a few minutes later.

That being a working day, the ride was fun. To start with, they put some nostalgic old malayalam songs in the bus and I was taken back to my school days when these bus travels were quite common. Soon, the bus got crowded and a majority of the people were school kids in their uniforms. The 'Kili' (the word literally translates to a 'bird' but here refers to the person maning the doors of a private bus) was asking everybody in the back side to move forward so that they can make space for more and the kids were coming up with repartees of their own. I could not help remembering the days I used to shuttle between my home and school everyday!

Vaduvanchal is about 25kms from Sulthan Bathery and I had taken this road during our earlier trip to Meenmutty. It passes via Edakkal and then Ambalavayal, where most of the school kids got down. I reached Vaduvanchal by about 9.15, took an auto towards Meenmutty falls and got down at Thomas 'Chettan's house, which was on the way to Meenmutty. He was all set to go and without wasting much time we headed back to the jeep track taking us towards Meenmutty falls.

We passed through the forest office and the guard there nodded his approval as Thomas 'Chettan' has already got the necessary approvals. After crossing the last stretch of tea plantations, we started descending down, where Joey 'Chettan' was waiting for us. He is Thomas 'Chettan's cousin and also works as a guide at Vaduvanchal. More importantly, he is adept at tracking elephant movements and Thomas 'Chettan' had requested him to join us for the trek as the pachyderms are regularly spotted in this stretch.

Meenmutty falls
A peep at the Meenmutty falls

The descend was very steep here, almost vertical with loose soil and leaves covering the ground. It was necessary to walk carefully and we moved very slowly. Soon, we reached close enough to the Meenmutty falls for a quick look at the voluminous falls. The time was against us as we should reach Nilambur atleast by 5 to avoid getting stuck at the Bandipur forest checkpost in the night. So, I clicked a few snaps from the distance and continued on our trail.

A little later, we had finished the steepest part of the descend and reached near the stream of water coming from the Meenmutty falls. Thomas 'Chettan' told me about a huge landslide that happened a couple of years back, washing down the soil, rocks and some vegetation from the hill overlooking the Meenmutty falls. I could see bare rock in some portion of the hill as the soil cover was lost. Because of the landslide and very few people moving around here since then, the trail was hardly visible. But, Thomas and Joey 'Chettan' simply used their sense of direction to move ahead.

Greenery around Meenmutty falls
Lush green around the falls

Right behind us, we could see the Meenmutty falls, covered in thick vegetation. The color of the water was noteably muddy, unlike what I had seen last time. Even the stream that we saw coming from the falls had a perceptible slushy hue to it. We quickly moved away from the stream and in to the thick vegetation. I could spot many types of flaura that I was seeing for the first time, including many ferns, creepers and wild flowers.

We soon reached yet another tiny stream, this time coming from the other side of the hill. Thomas 'Chettan' assured me we are going at good speed and on target to reach Nilambur early enough. We stopped a while near the water and washed our faces. Thomas and Joey 'Chettan' took their shirts off to beat the sweat, but I chose to keep it on, even though I was sweating profusely. Actually, the climate was quite cool and the sweat was mostly thanks to the quick descend.

Bamboo poles tied to the tree
Way to the bee hives!

A little ahead from here, we were in to the tribal land and Thomas 'Chettan' showed me a long tree, with bamboo poles tied to it - used by the tribals to reach the bee hives. It would have been some effort for them to climb up there and collect honey!
Dead tree due to land slide
Death of a tree

Soon, we witnessed the effect of the land slide, which happened a couple of years ago. Couple of dead trees which came down with the land slide had almost become fodder for the rest of the vegetation. Thomas 'Chettan' was saying that this area was much more verdant before the land slide and a lot of forest was lost to the land slide. Hope the vegetation will recover with a couple more rains.

A little while later, we reached yet another stream coming down from the hills opposite Meenmutty falls. It was locally referred to as 'Alakapuri Chola', thanks to its path through the Alakapuri estate and 'Chola' being the malayalam word for stream. According to the legends, Alakapuri is the home of Kubera :)

Alakapuri stream
From the home of Kubera

We could see the remains of a trail leading to Pandalur to our right side, most of which was already erased by the land slide. We followed the stream to our left side for a while, before crossing it. At the point we crossed, there was a tree fallen on to the river almost making a bridge. Almost midway, I felt a tremor and sat down! Both of my companions waiting at the other side, I hid my fears and pretended that I was taking photos :) It took me a while to gather the courage and when I could, I crossed over carefully and managed to reach the other side!

Crossing Soochipara stream
Crossing the Soochipara stream

Thomas 'Chettan' told that there is a tribal colony very close to where we are, but we skipped going through it and headed towards the next stream, which was quite bigger and the main stream coming from the Soochipara falls. This stream had clear water as opposed to the stream coming from Meenmutty falls.

The stream was filled with boulders and we tried crossing over using them as steps. But, at some point I had to choose between taking a giant leap or removing the shoes and opted not to take the risk of getting my shoes wet. Well, it felt good to remove the shoes and step in to the water.

Meenmutty stream joins Soochipara stream
Meenmutty meets Soochipara!

After crossing over the river, we walked along for a while. Soon, we met the stream coming from Meenmutty falls, which joined the Soochipara stream from the other side. There was a perceptible color difference between the streams and after joining they became one slush colored river - which is called 'Neerpuzha'!

It was about 12.30 by then and we stopped for lunch. Thomas 'Chettan' had packed 'Noolputtu' (a delicacy from Kerala made of rice, also called 'Idiyappam') and 'Kadala' (Chana) curry, which we all hogged. The place was a haven for birds and butterflies and I spotted many of them. But, the most important sighting was a very bright colored small kingfisher, which sat very close to us for a while. But, I had only a wide angle (16-35 mm) lens with me and could not get any photos.

Sand bank at the Meenmutty / Soochipara river
Sand, Green and Blue!

Post 1, we packed our stuff and continued our trek. The trail was along 'Neerpuzha', with thick forest to our right side. We watched the river forming a small islet at some point and then a small sand bank before settling down and becoming broader and broader. This was the place were elephant population was highest, but we did not see any evidence of elephant movements. Thomas and Joey 'Chettan' was relieved and I was a little disappointed :(

We walked briskly in this trail and passed along a tribal colony before taking our next break. The tribal colony had a few huts at the river bank and a few families surviving on fishing, cattles and forest produce. My guides knew couple of people at the colony and they confirmed with them that we are on the right track, but the village is still very far!

After the tribal colony we moved away from the river for a while. We also took a good break at about 2'O clock and I pulled out my milk packets and bananas to make it a refreshing break. We were still maintaining a good pace and my guides told that we covered good distance in the last one hour itself. The only problem we had was that the water bottles were empty and the slushy river water was not potable. But, I was assured by the other two that soon we would get to some drinking water

Soon, we entered a rubber plantation marking the end of the reserved forest area. The rubber plantation had a few sheds and I did find a water tap. A gulp of water from the tap was enough for some time. We also met a lady who enquired us where we were coming from. She did seem surprised at knowing that we walked 'all the way from Vaduvanchal' and wondered why we did that :)

Neerpuzha from the hanging bridge
View from the hanging bridge

At the exit point of the estate, we again met 'Neerpuzha'. There were already some signs of civilization around us. A little ahead we reached a long hanging bridge across 'Neerpuzha', crossing which we would enter the Munderi farm.

The delicate hanging bridge across Neerpuzha
The delicate hanging bridge

On the hanging bridge across Neerpuzha
Hanging on to the hanging bridge!

The hanging bridge was delicate and dilapidated and shook violently as we set our foot. But, this time (as opposed to the crossing of Alakapuri stream), I was not at all scared. The bridge had two segments, separated by a support around a tree. I took some shots from the top of the bridge and then handed over the camera to Thomas 'Chettan' so that he can take some shots of mine in the bridge.

After the bridge, we entered the Munderi farm - one of the largest agricultural farms in Kerala and known for its Seed Garden complex. We met a few workers at the farm and walked past plantations of different kinds, before ending up again on a jeep track along the 'Neerpuzha'. A little more on this jeep track, we reached a nice place to take bath and freshen up. Bus stop was only about half an hour away and this was indeed the best place to do it.

Pebbles at Neerpuzha bank
Banks of Neerpuzha

At the Neerpuzha banks
In to the water!

The river was a little slushy, but the water was very refreshing. A good bath in the river took away all the tiredness and invigorated me. I changed my dress, removed the shoe and got back to the chappals for the rest of the journey. By about 3.45 we were back on the jeep track heading towards the Thamburattikkallu junction. In between we went past the farm gate. The guides knew the people at the gate, so I did not have to face any questions here as well.

After about 20 minutes walk along a village road, we finally reached the Thamburattikkallu junction, where the Munderi farm road meets the Palunda - Pothukallu - Appankappu road. The name Appankappu road is from Up & Gap in English, which refers to the ghat road leading towards Pandalur. Infact, the name Munderi itself is supposed to be the local rendition of 'Mountain Area'. Some of the other names, Thamburattikkallu ('Thamburatti' = Queen, 'Kallu' = Stone / Rock) and Pothukallu ('Pothu' = Byson, 'Kallu' = Stone / Rock) have local meanings, loosely translating to 'rock in the shape of a queen' and 'stone in the shape of a byson', respectively! As for Palunda, 'Paalu' means Milk and 'Unda' means anything round or spherical in Malayalam, but I do not know what really is Palunda :)

Thamburattkallu welcomed us with the fervour of Football world cup, with huge cut-outs from Argentina and Brazil fans. I hope I am not offending Brazil fans by putting Argentina fans first, this is alphabetic order :) These cut-outs are a feature of Kerala, during world cup times, with every small village its own cut-out for atleast Argentina and Brazil, the two hugely popular teams. Some villages dedicate cut-outs for English, French, Italian and German teams too. Its another matter that as soon as their teams see the exit, the cut-outs are mostly taken out :)

Argentina Fans, Thamburattikkallu
Brazil, be warned!

Btw, the text in the cut-out loosely translates to the following:
  1. Will the Brazilian mad dogs bark or pant, while the Argentinian cubs excite the South African fields?
  2. King Cobras are not afraid of Water Snakes.
  3. Argentina Fans, Thamburattikkallu
Talk about mad following for anything! If anybody thought, this is only about a few crazy football fans, it is not. The Brazil cut-out right next to this had a few things to say as well!

We headed to a small shop at the junction, to find something to drink and the most available item was the locally made colas. Kerala has a self-imposed ban on colas, but only for Coca Cola and Pepsi - the rest are alright. Finally, we settled for a lime soda, which is my favourite choice, if plain water is not available!

In spite of the assurance from people that there is a bus in every 20 minutes, we waited for almost an hour to get one. It was a crowded one, once again with school kids going back to their homes. It was yet another fun ride raking up memories of my own school life! We got down at Palunda, where the Up & Gap road meets the Nilambur - Gudallur highway. Since, we had no clues about the availability of any long distance buses, we got in to the first bus towards Gudallur and got down at Vazhikadavu, which was its last stop.

It was about 5.30 by then and I had no time to waste as it was important to cross the Bandipur check post before it closes. I checked up the time table at the bus stand and found that there is a KSRTC bus heading to Gudallur, followed by yet another 20 minutes later, headed to Mysore. Since, there was a question mark over the check post getting closed, I prefered to take no risk and took the 5.50 bus to Gudallur.

The ghat road starts soon after Vazhikadavu, uptil Nadukani a small town past the Kerala - Tamil Nadu border. I had already settled the accounts with Thomas and Joey 'Chettan' and then I bid adieu to them at Nadukani, from where they could get buses towards Vaduvanchal. I reached Gudallur and the Thrissur - Mysore KSRTC bus reached Gudallur soon after, at about 7. Now, there was no danger of the check post getting closed!

My journey ended at Mysore at about 10, after a dinner break in Gundulpet and I hopped in to a Bangalore bound 'red' bus immediately. Reaching Majestic at about 1'O clock in the night, there was not BMTC buses, but I managed to find a decent auto guy and got home by 2AM. This was also my first auto ride in Bangalore after about 8 months!

This was the most eventful and jam packed trek I have ever done! And with the frequency of treks coming down off late, I will remember this for a while now - atleast till the next foray in to the jungles!
References:
  1. Santhosh runs an organization called Exotic Expeditions and takes people on treks and trips. Check out Exotic Expeditions here.



© 2015 Sandeep Unnimadhavan