The first time I heard abt Vellarimala, when I was @ the top of Chembra from our guide. Who can stand a taller looking peak just a few kms away after a tedious trek? Chembra was supposed to be the tallest peak in Wayanad and there was no way this peak cud've been taller. Well ... at that time I was told that Vellarimala is in Kozhikode district and stands as tall as 2240m above msl.
Second time I encountered this hill was from the top of Mukurthi and I could easily identify the majestic looking hills. Now ... I had to do some research and figure out whats this all about and if there is any possibility of climbing it. Thanks to an article in Hindu  the answers led me to Anakkampoyil ... abt 20kms from my maternal house ... and abt 50 from Kozhikode. How cud I've missed something this huge at my own backyard???
Trek to Vellarimala starts from Muthappanpuzha, 3kms off Anakkampoyil in Kozhikode district. There are regular KSRTC buses from Kozhikode (aka Calicut) to Anakkampoyil (starting as early as 5'O clock in the morning from Kozhikode) and the ride takes abt 2 hrs. While coming from Bangalore (Bengaluru) one can get down @ Thamarassery and there are buses (again, mostly KSRTC) available till Muthappanpuzha (first of them starts @ 6.15am). Iruvanjippuzha originates at Vellarimala and forms 'Olichuchattam' in its path down the hill.
So ... on one of those days, while enjoying a quite vaccation at home, I decided to checkout Anakkampoyil. I planned to stay @ my maternal house and drive down to Anakkampoyil early morning and do the trek. Sajuettan, my cousin brother (ettan = elder brother), promised to give me company and Gopalankuttiettan provided us with some much needed information. He, infact promised to accompany us, but cudnt make it in the last minute. Finally ... me and Sajuettan were off on my Versa and hit Anakkampoyil early morning. At Anakkampoyil we were directed towards Muthappanpuzha and a deviation to the right, 1km before Muthappanpuzha. The Versa cudnt go much ahead from there. It was time to stop the car and start walking.
Btw ... we were already warned of the impossibility of the task we had undertaken. According to the locals, climbing Vellarimala wud take one full day and one can return only on the next day. Apart from that, the route cud be treacherous and it was unsafe to go without a guide. They suggested to come back after getting to 'Olichuchattam', which is on the way to the Vellarimala. By then, it was too late to search for a guide and We decided to go ahead and trek upto as far as we can. The initial part of the trek was a jeep track. Jeeps may be hired from Muthappanpuzha to cover this distance at a cost of abt Rs. 250-300. The jeep track finally took us to a fenced enclosure and two trek paths from there. Since, we had no idea which was the actual route, we tried both and finally decided, we had to go right. The path to the left leads to Iruvanjippuzha.
|The Stream Before Olichuchattam
Beyond this point, the path is narrow amongst thick vegetation. Another 40 mins of walk will take u back to the stream, which looked like a dried up waterfall. Just before the stream, there is a path to the right and going up. We initially assumed that this was 'Olichuchattam' and the path going up will be towards Vellarimala. After having breakfast (bread, butter, jam, milk) here, we proceeded again through the other path and met some locals coming back from Vellarimala. They told us that 'Olichuchattam' is further up (abt 10 more minutes) and the route to Vellarimala goes towards the right from near 'Olichuchattam'. They also told us that reaching Vellarimala and coming back on the same day wud be next to impossible. It was already close to 9.30 by then and we had to believe them. But, we decided to check out 'Olichuchattam' first and then trek up as much as we can, say till 12 and then return. 'Olichuchattam' is not strictly a waterfall, but a thin layer of frothing water gliding down a huge inclined hill. It was a delighful sight. With hills all around us and high up, we knew that we had a long way to go.
Past 'Olichuchattam', the path became wilder and strewn with elephant dung all over the place, invoking fears of hitting the wild animal anytime. The path went to the far right before we climb up again, and went back towards the left, to take us to the top of the waterfalls. The route was not very clear and we needed a few trial and error iterations before getting it right. Besides, the climb wasnt easy either. It took us almost an hour to complete this stretch and get back to the stream and some more time to figure out where the route goes from there. Finally, Sajuettan located the path going through the jungle on the other side of the river and we continued along that. We were gaining a lot of height and the path took us right back to the stream, which we crossed again and continued on the right side of the stream. From here, it was a longer stretch and we crossed some dried up streams full of boulders before getting back to the stream.
Through the Jungle
It was almost 11.30 by this time and there was no indication that we've reached anywhere near the peak. After crossing the stream once again, we checked out the route to the right of the stream and got stuck at some boulders. There might have been a route after crossing the boulders, but we were never sure and decided to give up. We did a slow climb down, with long breaks for lunch and lots of time @ the streams, and reached Muthappanpuzha by abt 4.30. I wanted to come back for another as soon as I can and tried enquiring local people for information, especially abt guides so that I can plan things properly for the next time.
Two weeks later, we decided to attempt Vellarimala once again. This time, with Jamshy, Rajeev and Rajesh. Shailendra also joined us later for his first trek with us. Gopalankuttiettan and Sajuettan helped in getting hold of a guide's number (Josettan) and he promised to take care of all the arrangements needed. We, only had to worry abt the sleeping bags. Sajuettan and Gopalankuttiettan cudnt join us this time.
At abt 5, we were in Thamarassery and instead of waiting for the 6.15 bus to Anakkampoyil, we hired a jeep. It cost us abt Rs. 400 in the end @ the usual Rs. 13 / km and took us to Muthappanpuzha as early as 6' O clock. But, it all went in vain, as a lot of time was lost in breakfast, bathing @ Muthappanpuzha river, collecting the groceries from Anakkampoyil ... etc. Josettan turned out to be a very colorful character and an incessant chatterbox :) He had declared himself as a foodie with a terrific capacity and the claim was vociferously supported by everybody around ... auto drivers, shop keepers ... etc. And he was quick to identify Rajesh as a close competitor. Now lets see the quantity of grocery he had ordered : 25 Porottas, 7 fish curries (these two are for breakfast/lunch, were all of us already had one round of breakfast), 3kg rice (for dinner or next day's lunch), 3.5kg of chicken and huge quantities of tapioca (again ... for dinner). Hmm ... I realised that this was going to be fun :)
Starting from Muthappanpuzha
Since, it was already late, we decided to hire a jeep and go as far as we can in the jeep. But, on a sunday, everybody in a christian majority town like Muthappanpuzha (except ofcourse, Josettan), were in the church. So, we waited for another half an hour for the jeep driver to come, only to realize that he already had some assignment. But, the nice people the villagers are, we got a drop for some distance ... essentially till the very bad road starts. Josettan, arranged us a small house, for getting ready and keeping the excess luggage a little ahead of where we got the drop.
It was abt 9.30, by the time we started trekking, abt 10, by the time we reached the fenced enclosure and half an hour more to reach 'Olichuchattam'. At 'Olichuchattam' we spent some time and had our late breakfast comprising of Porottas. They were very soft and nice that I ate two of them without any curry and one more with the fish curry. Now, I know why he ordered that many :)
|Taking a Break
Shailendra was the fastest among all of us and kept ahead. He and Josettan seemed to be the only two persons climbing up with ease and the rest of us were tired, sweating and exhausted. But, we all dragged ourself ... past 'Olichuchattam', past the thick jungle, all the steep climbs and the fresh elephant droppings and footmarks. Evidently, the huge mammal had taken this route as late as two days before. Another gang of guys, went ahead of us during our break near the stream above 'Olichuchattam'. We were almost getting ready to leave, when Jamshy attempted to drink some water near the slippery rocks and fell right into the water :( With all his dress and shoes soaked to the core, Jamshy had to suffer this fall throughout the day.
At abt 1'O clock we went past the last stream, the place were me and Sajuettan returned on our previous expedition. I realized that we had taken the right route and cud've made it to the top in another 2-3 hrs, according to Josettan. This was indeed the last abundant source of water. Beyond this point, water was a scarce commodity and we were asked to fill up all our water bottles. This was a good excuse for us to take a longer break, which we happily did. Soon after the stream we encountered some huge boulders forming a cave like structure. We had gained considerable height by then and was overlooking almost everything in the way we came. But, the peak seemed far away, since we were still in the forest.
At Damodaran Kolli
Almost 1.5 hrs later, we were near the next water source ... a few drops of water dripping from a group of boulders, which can be aggregated using a leaf. According to Josettan, this place had been christianed 'Damodaran kolli', after a person who met with an accident there ('kolli = gorge/precipice in malayalam). The terrain was still the same - steep climbs through the middle of the jungle. Fresh elephant dung all over the place and at some places trees visibly smashed by the elephants ... all evidence to a very strong presence of these mammals in the vicinity. Well ... after a good break here, we proceeded for the final leg of our climb. Vellarimala is little more than an hour from this place and it was some relief to know that we were close and some soothing for our tired legs.
Finally, by abt 4.30 we were on the top of Vellarimala. It looked like a small ground, right in the middle of the jungle. The taller peaks in this range were still away and Josettan told us that a good place to camp is Masthakappara, abt 45 minutes more from the place we are. After a few minutes rest, when we finished off the remaining parottas and juices, the trek had to continue. Masthakappara is towards the left from where we climbed from. But to reach there, one has to go straight, once again through the forest, get down a rock and take a ridge connecting the two hills, which is what we did. The route is wilder over here and there was hardly any path. Only Josettan's direction sense and the marks made by the previous groups took us there by about 6.
View from Masthakappara ... Right extreme is Vavul Mala
En route Masthakappara, while we were on the rock, the mist cleared for a while and we cud see the Vavul Mala straight up. Josettan told that this is the tallest peak in this range and I realized that this is exactly the peak, which I saw from the top of Chembra and Mukurthi. Vavul Mala has an altitude of abt 2339m and it is the tallest in western ghats to the north of Nilgiris. It is also one of the tallest in terms of re-ascend, with abt 1475m to go . If we try and scale Vavul Mala then or the next day it may have been a stretch. Also, considering that most of us were really exhausted. There was a thought that, if we cud start early next day, we can do that. Otherwise, it will need a 3rd attempt to scale Vavul Mala. Well ... there are few other ascends as well in this range, apart from Masthakappara and Vavul Mala, one can try Kanjippara or RECpara (named after a few guys from REC who camped there, para = rock) and a few other hills as well. Both Kanjippara and Masthakappara has a water source and was conducive for overnight camping. Masthakappara also had a good view of the western side (and the route we came through) and Vavul Mala, once the mist abated.
Rays of Light through the Forest
Camping was fun too. We went to the water source (again a dried up stream, with droplets of water dripping down) and collected water, washed the meat and tapioca, made the camp fire and Josettan prepared one of the best chicken curries I ever had. Tapioca had some bad portions, but we had carried some bread to compensate for it. In any case, dinner was a very yummeee affair. The group which went ahead of us after 'Olichuchattam' was also here after some wandering. They were doing some disturbing things including cutting down some of the reasonably healthy trees. It irked us a little bit with all the noice they were making throughout the night. It seemed that they were regular visitors here. Maybe its time for forest department to intervene and make sure the "eco tourists" doesnt distrupt the ecology.
Isnt he hogging?
Return from Masthakappara
Most of us didnt have the energy to get up early morning and head for Vavul Mala. Only Shailendra was confident of hitting Vavul Mala and everybody else voted "some other day", which is what we did in the end. It was almost 8, by the time everybody was ready to go and almost two more hours getting to the water source, finishing off the breakfast (remianing bread, chicken and tapioca), and reach back @ Vellarimala. At abt 10.45 we started climbing down and did it somewhat fast in the beginning. Only a li'll more than half an hour to Damodaran Kolli and one more hour to the cave, near the last stream. Then we slowed down considerably. It was abt 1.30 by the time we left the stream and 2 more hrs before we reached near the fence. Josettan had arranged for a jeep to come over there by 4'O clock, which took us back to Muthappanpuzha. After taking bath in the river, we caught the KSRTC bus heading for Thamarassery, got down @ Thiruvambady, had food there and headed to Kozhikode / Calicut from there.
Me 'n Josettan near the Cave
End of another eventful trek ... infact one of the toughest I've done. But, the disappointment of not scaling Vavul Mala remained. Shailendra was confident that we cud've done it in this trip itself, had we not became a li'l lazy after reaching up. Well ... anyways ... it will need a li'l better planning, some more spirits and one more attempt to scale Vavul Mala. And yeah ... it cant take too long!