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Thirunelli - Brahmagiri in February 2008

Thirunelli is an old temple with a beautiful backdrop provided by mist covered green hills on three sides. One of my most favourite destinations, I was first drawn to it after a trek to Brahmagiri from the Iruppu side and heard stories about the mesmerizing trek from the Thirunelli side. I was there once during monsoon and was enchanted by the beautiful spectacles and wowed to come there again for a trek. The trek had happened this January, from Thirunelli to Pakshipathalam and I decided to come back within a month for another go @ Brahmagiri.

Thirunelli is abt 25kms off Mananthavady in Wayanad district, Kerala. Last time I had come along the Mysore - HD Kote - Kabini - Mananthavady road. The stretch between Kabini and Bavali (abt 25kms, which goes through the heart of Nagarhole) is broken so badly for the last few years and I had horrible experiences the last few times I had taken it. I decided to skip that road this time around and use the Mysore - Hunsur - Gonikoppal - Srimangala - Kutta and Appappara route.

This time I also spoke to the RFO of North Wayanad (sitting in Mananthavady) in advance and took permission specifically for trekking upto Brahmagiri. I also asked for the same guide, Narayanan! Just past the border near Kutta, I stopped at a small roadside restaurant for favourite food, Puttu (steamed rice cake) and Fishcurry, kept ordering more, licking my fingers and finally packed more puttu and kadala (chana curry) for lunch :-)

Well ... the trek started @ abt 10.30 in the morning. We started off via the same road that leads to Pakshipathalam, but soon took a small opening through the jungle and goes up the hill. Its a steep climb right away, through thick jungles. Narayanan updated me that this path is not been used for a while now and we do have a good chance of meeting wild animals. Indeed we did ... straight away a wild goat - hurrying up in to the bushes as soon as it saw us!

Narayanan @ a Vantage Point

Face of mountain with the watch tower
From the Slopes of Brahmagiri - can u spot the watch tower and the path to Pakshipathalam?

We soon emerged out of the woods and the views got better. Brahmagiri hill ranges on one side and the beautiful valley and Thirunelli town / temple on the other side. As we went up, the view only got better! The watch tower was also visible onto our left side and it looked miniscule compared to the gigantic hills! There was no visible path up the hills here and the dry grass looked frail and slippery for any foot/hand hold. We were literally inventing our way up and I was now convinced that the path is indeed not used for a while now. Elephant dung was strewn all over the place - and the presence of the big mammal was felt within a short distance. But, I was still waiting for my first kodak moment! or shall I say 'canon moment' :)

Thirunelli temple
Thirunelli temple and our way up

Narayanan was busy collecting the goose berries which were all over the place before heading to the next vantage point and watching over the valley, while waiting for my arrival. Meanwhile, I laboured up the hill, frequently pausing to enjoy the beauty of the surroundings, to capture the tiny flowers and fruits in my camera and also to catch my breath. It was indeed a tough steep climb and we were doing it extremely slow! I soon had to take a break and was sitting on the rocks watching the beautiful world below me, when I heard a very loud shrill sound. I was soon on my feet and turned around to Narayanan who shouted back at me pointing to the valley and saying 'maan ... kalamaan', a Sambar deer ... no ... two of them looking up at us from down there. They soon turned around and sprinted down the hill ... that was my first kodak moment!

Slopes of Brahmagiri
Slopes of Brahmagiri

Meanwhile, we were past the only possible water source on our way up and the stream had dried up. I only had a single water bottle with me and we were suddenly faced with a shortage! Nevertheless, it was already abt 12.30 and we decided to open up the lunch parcel. The peak was almost visible to us by now and looked just abt a km. We started again soon and found ourselves at the top of the hill ranges in hardly any time. But, looking around I could see hills taller than us and I found it a little disappointing.

We started off towards our left, almost the edge of the hill ranges which gives an awesome view of the surrounding valley, Kutta, Thirunelli and Poochakkallu. But the hills on the other side still looked taller. Neither did the hills look familiar to me nor could I identify the actual Brahmagiri peak. Narayanan told me that the path from Iruppu is not visible from where I am and neither is the face of Brahmagiri that we had climbed up last time. He said its on the other side of the hill ranges and I asked him if we can go there. He said, sure, and started off walking to the other side!

Edge of the range
This is where we climbed up!

Half an hour later, and already through a shola forest, my bravado had already given way to exhaustion :-) The place where we started off looked so far ... and pretty much the edge of the hill ranges with deep drops on three sides. At this point, I ran into a rather familiar line drawn by clearing the grass - a huge line drawn on top of the hill to mark the Kerala - Karnataka border! A little further up along this line we were again looking at deep valleys on both sides.

Brahmagiri valley
Valley from the top of Brahmagiri

Suddenly, I heard the same deep shrill cry I heard a while ago and both of us started looking around for the Sambar deers, but they seemed somewhere down the valley not visible to us. But, little did I know that I was in for a visual treat soon after this. A little ahead Narayanan signalled me to come up and showed me a herd of elephants grazing! A herd of abt 7-8 elephants and a tusker a little away from them. We were a little far away from them and safe to watch them for a while. Soon, Narayanan also spotted three Sambar deers sprinting down the hill. By this time, we were pretty much near the topmost point and could see the whole of the valley. It was one of the views that I had cherished for a while now since my last trek to Brahmagiri and the visual is now renewed for another few years. The hills coming up from all four sides and forming a table land with rollicking grass lands! A little less green compared to what it was in Oct, during my last trek, but spectacular even now! At abt 2.15 we reached the peak and I took out my tripod for a few photos. I actually carried a tripod, the first time for a trek, though I didnt find much use of it, except for a photo session at the top of the hill! I clicked as much as I could, until both of us got bored!

The return path was straight down the hills towards the watch tower. I am not sure if anybody takes this route nowadays or Narayanan just invented it, but neverthless I enjoyed it! It is an experience to be the slowest trekker in a group and is quite another, when the rest of the gang doesnt know that u r finding it difficult. I guess, the feeling is pretty much the same even though the group consists of only two people :-) I was finding it very hard to climb down the steep slopes, with frail and dried grass all over with hardly any grip ... slipped down couple of times and found it really hard to protect my camera from falling down. Besides, we were already short of any water and the bright 3'O clock sun wasnt of any help! Anyways, I knew that there were streams along the route to Thirunelli from the watch tower and was waiting to wet my drying lips.

Just when I was running out of steam, Narayanan stopped abruptly ahead of me! A Sambar deer right in front of us - and it sprinted down as soon as it saw us. We hurried down to the next clearing, to see a herd looking back at us from the valley - a herd of abt 6 Sambar deers and this time also there was a stag ... with beautiful horns! They looked a li'l scared of something ... possibly a predator lurching somewhere on the other side of the valley and looked hesitant to go there.

At abt 3.30, we were @ the watch tower and took a good break in its shade. My eyes were almost drooping with all the climb and driving (abt 300kms from Bangalore to Thirunelli and another 100 to go to reach Kozhikode) but the expedition was well worth all the trouble. Almost half an hour later, we said good bye to the Brahmagiri ranges and continued towards Thirunelli!

Moment of relief came, when we reached near the next rivulet, washed my face and gobbled up as much water as I could! The trek was much more enjoyable after this :-) A li'l later among the woods I had another sighting - this time the Malabar Giant Squirel, another endangered species. At abt 5, I was back in the Inspection Bungalow and saying good bye to Narayanan and the staff there and promising to come back for more. I've already made plans for another trek to Ambalappara / Karimala past Pakshipathalam and Narayanan has offered to take me there :-)

An hour later, I was driving down the hairpin bends in the Niravilpuzha - Thottilpalam ghat road of the Mananthavady - Kozhikode state highway and later negotiating the mad bus / truck traffic past Kuttiyadi towards Ulliyeri. This road has become one of my favourites by now and seems to be shorter to reach home, sweet home from Bangalore, provided the Kabini - Bavali stretch along the Mysore - Mananthavady road is repaired!

© 2018 Sandeep Unnimadhavan