I am sure, nobody would have heard about 'Wayanadan Mala', when I start writing this. But, most people would know what I am talking about, if I say 'Real' Chembra, instead. Yes, the Chembra peak where a lot of people (me including - that too twice as of now) have trekked up to is not the tallest peak in Wayanad district. It is not even a tall peak! Many have suspected this for a while, but now, having scaled the real 2100m tall peak of Wayanad and spotted Chembra at much lower altitude, I can safely confirm it!
Like a lot of other people, I too went for a trek to Chembra in January 2005 and questioned why some of the nearby hills look taller! Chembra, touted to be at an altitude of 2100m, was the tallest in Wayanad district and should not have anything taller than it towards North, until Himalayas! The answer I got from the guide was that the hills I saw may be part of Kozhikode district and belongs to another range caled Vellarimala.
I had seen a few other websites talking about GPS measurements atop Chembra showing only 1850m . But, I believed that the taller peaks were actually part of Vellarimala ranges and was looking out for access to the same. I scaled Vellarimala hills in January 2007 and reached atop Vavul Mala, the tallest peak in Vellarimala ranges, in February 2009. But, the confusion only increased further. The peaks of Wayanad, which should include Chembra, looked too far away and did not resemble what I climbed earlier.
I headed to Chembra again in September 2010 and finally figured it out. Comparing the pictures I took during the trek with that in Google Earth made it very obvious. The Chembra I climbed is not the tallest peak in Wayanad, but stands at an altitude of 1850m. The Wayanadan hill ranges is not about one peak and this 1850m may be one of them. The real 'Wayanadan Mala' (translates to the 'hill of Wayanad' in Malayalam), is further out there in the jungle.
Now, that the truth is out, I wanted to find a way to reach atop Wayanadan Mala to confirm what was obvious. As expected, the Wayanad Forest department denied any knowledge of this and turned down my requests to scale some other nearby peaks - mainly the hill called Vattapara adjascent to Vellarimala ranges, which I mistook for Nilgiri hills during the trek to Vavul Mala. This peak could have been an ideal vantage point to see both Wayanadan Mala as well as Vavul Mala. Nothing much was visible from the top of Banasura either. So, I was back to Google Earth looking for trails leading to Wayanadan Mala.
There were four possible trails:
The plan to hit Thusharagiri did not materialize immediately, but I talked to Josettan and planned a Muthapanpuzha - Kalladi trek in October 2010. This is where I had a first up-close view of Wayanadan Mala. Also, Ramettan, our companion for this trek, aided with a great knowledge of the hills around this area, mentioned that he saw this peak even closer in one of his off-track expeditions. This is exactly what I wantd to hear and we, Josettan, Ramettan and myself, planned to reach the unseen!
The trail from Muthapanpuzha till Wayanadan Mala was reasonably long, but the first half of that - till we reach the base of a hill called Neelimala - was reasonably flat. We would also have to carry enough supplies for 3-4 days. Our plan was to do a trailer trek in January and then do the real thing in February. But, Ramettan got busy with his work and we had to wait till March, before planning it out. By then, the summer already started and we had to do it in one go!
Finally, I took a couple of days off to make it a 4-day weekend and headed to Muthappanpuzha. It was tough to expect anybody else to come along for a crazy / unplanned trek like this - so, it was just me. I took a Volvo bus (only two Volvo buses are permitted to pass through Bandipur forest in the night) to Kozhikode and reached Thamarassery by 5. I waited at Thamarassery KSRTC stand (this is further ahead of the normal bus stand) for a 6AM bus to Muthappanpuzha and was the first person on board.
The bus passes via Omassery, Thiruvambady, Pullurambara and Anakampoyil before reaching Muthappanpuzha at about 7.30. Josettan was waiting for me at the bus stop. I had a look at the surrounding hills - the Vavul Mala and Masthakappara (one of the most prominent peaks in Vellarimala ranges when seen from Muthappanpuzha) where most dominant in the landscape. To the north west direction, I could also spot the Neelimala hill, which hides Wayanadan Mala, when seen from Muthappanpuzha.
It was a lovely morning in Muthappanpuzha, with the sound of chirruping birds all around. A refreshing bath at the Muthappanpuzha river later, we were headed to Josettan's house. Ramettan joined us en route and we were welcomed by Josettan's children as his wife had gone for work. His eldest son - 15 year old Jobish - was ready to declare himself as a grown up and convinced Josettan to take him along. So, it was going to be four of us heading to Wayanadan Mala.
Earlier, Josettan had checked with me, if I started eating non-veg again (I am a veggie-by-choice for the last couple of years). The ulterior motive behind the query was to know whether he could carry chicken :) Since I was not a very strict vegetarian, I told him that he can carry chicken and I am ok having gravy :) Apart from chicken, he also arranged for tapioca, rice, curd and a lot of vegetables - enough for upto four days.
Packing and breakfast (Tapioca and green gram curry) took a while and it was almost 10 by the time we started. The start of the trail is same as Muthapanpuzha - Kalladi trek, but this time water was less in Muthappanpuzha and we did not require the hanging bridge to cross it. After crossing the river, at Kundanthodu, we took a left turn towards Swamiyottam, instead of the right turn which would take us towards Swargakunnu.
Soon, we left the civilization behind and was amidst colorful butterflies and chirruping birds. The trail became wilder as well with a layered forest around us - a very thick layer of fallen leaves, a layer of shrubs and tall trees forming a thick canopy. There was a sudden drop in temperature as well. The trail we were following forked after a while, with the main trail turning right towards Swargakunnu and we taking the one towards left. We started seeing more obstacles after the fork - a clear indication of the trail not being used for a while now.
- From, Chembra peak through the forest. This is about 5kms and involves a few tough ascends / descends. But, Chembra peak and the areas around it is heavily guarded by the forest department and there was no chance that they will allow anybody ahead of the Chembra peak.
- There is a trail starting from the village of Kalladi, which lies on the way from Meppadi to Soochippara, along a few grasslands. This trail should ideally be a day's trek unless there is some tough obstacles en route. The physical distance should be about 7 kms. But here again, there was no local help available and I would have to simply turn up at the village and start climbing on my own!
- Wayanadan Mala is also at the topmost point of the hills hosting Thusharagiri waterfalls. But, this trail could not be taken without some knowledge of the terrain, which I lacked. So, I started looking for contacts at Thusharagiri so that I can do a few treks in that area, before undertaking the real adventure.
- There is also a trail leading from Kalladi to Muthapanpuzha, the base for Vellarimala - Vavul Mala treks. This trail is less than two days and must pass near Wayanadan Mala. I have even done a short trek from Muthappanpuzha till Swargakunnu in April 2008.
Jobish in the woods
A little later, we could hear the sound of a stream - the Swamiyottam stream - and then the trail started going parallel to the stream. We crossed a few small rivulets which joined the main stream. Most of them were looking dry as it was already summer. It was quite sunny and hot, but we were nicely sheltered by the thick canopy. I was sweating profusely by now and was wondering what would have happened if the canopy was not there!
We were going only at an average pace and kept taking regular breaks. Our target till now was towards Neelimala hills, unmistakeable with a proud rocky top basking in bright sunlight. But, as we approached the hill, it was seperated from us by a valley. As we gained some altitude, the valley became deeper and deeper.
Soon, the stream took a right turn, towards east. If we follow the stream we would eventually reach Thollayiram and the trail to Kalladi. Similarly, if we go towards west, cross Neelimala and go gurther west, we will be near Thusharagiri falls. But, our target was more towards north and from now on, the slope was expected to be steeper.
As we crossed the stream, Ramettan told me that the small hill to our right was called 'Annankunnu' (squirrel hill in Malayalam), possibly because of the large population of Malabar Giant Squirrels around these hills. We could even spot a few of them swiftly moving across the trees. There was a trail to our right leading up to Annankunnu, but our target was straight ahead.
Jobish with Josettan and Ramettan
The trail, as expected, became steeper from this point onwards. Soon, we were at compareable heights to Neelimala and kept gaining more altitude. It was about 1.30 by now and time to feel hungry. Ramettan said that we can find water a little ahead and can stop there for food. So, for now, I opened up a milk packet. Apparently, we were on a hill right above Annankunnu and were aiming to go even higher.
We gained more altitude as we moved ahead. The only reference point here was Neelimala, as the top of the hill that we were trying to climb was not visible. This kept on for almost an hour and we were now at the same height as Neelimala. I was a little tired by now and Ramettan suggested that we take a turn towards the other side of this hill, where we can find water.
It was only a small detour - we turned towards right and then descended a little before reaching what looked like a dried stream. This was an open area in the hill, with Neelimala clearly visible on the other side of the valley. There was a small water-hole with some slushy water in it and it did not look very useable to begin with. But, Ramettan assured us that the ground water level is good enough to re-fill the water-hole with clean water, once we remove the slushy water.
Next to the water-hole, there were a few huge boulders, one of which formed a nice cave like structure under it - ideal for a night halt. The cave looked similar to the one were we stayed during the Muthapanpuzha - Kalladi trek. It was also doubtful if we could find any water sources ahead of this point and Ramettan suggested camping here for the night. I was a little worried that we will end up losing valuable time by calling it a day as soon as 2.30. But, this looked like a very safe option and I agreed to unpack.
The decision was immediately proven right - as it started pouring suddenly. Even with our cave shelter, water started seeping inside and four of us curled inside the cave for protection. Josettan tried to set up a tarpaulin sheet he was carrying, but with the rain pouring down, it was too difficult a task. I could not wonder how lucky we were to stay back at this cave shelter when it was raining heavily. Any other place, we could have been drenched.
It was about 4 and we were all extremely hungry. This is when some 'appam's packed from Josettan's house were unpacked and it was over in no time, even though there was no curry. The 'appam's only provided temporary relief and the stomachs remained mostly empty. Ultimately, almost two hours later, the rain subsided and we started to settle down hoping that the rain will not return!
Exotic stay inside the forest!
Firewood and fireplace was setup first and then Josettan started cooking. Ramettan took care of a few other things like proping up the tarpaulin shelter and then leveling the ground inside the cave. All the uneven rocks were moved around, before he picked up a few leaves and spread it around inside to make it a comfortable stay!
By now, Josettan had prepared tapioca and chicken curry! This has to be one of the tastiest meals I have ever eaten, considering the famished state that we were in! I guess, we had about 3kg of tapioca and it was all over in a matter of minutes! Now that the stomach is full, it was time to think about a few other things.
Josettan's BSNL mobile was getting some signal and I borrowed his mobile to call up Preethu. With the rest of the trek expected to be in tougher terrains, there was no idea when I will get signal again. I got some news too - India vs Australia World Cup quarter final match had just begun and Aus is batting! She promised to give me updates when I call next. With nothing much to do after that, we all moved inside the cave and lied down. Soon, it became dark and we all drifted to sleep - as early as about 8.
Next day started by 6 and we were done with breakfast and packing by 8. The trail for the day was quite steep and I was the first one to start panting for breath. Josettan waited for me, while Jobish was trying to keep up with Ramettan. The pace at which Ramettan was moving up was quite astonishing though ... unbelievable for a man who is on the other side of 50!
While I was taking frequent breaks to catch my breath, Ramettan volunteered to go up and check the path ahead. Most of the times, Jobish gave him company and Josettan stayed back with me. Slow and steady, we were above Neelimala and started gaining more and more altitude. Soon, the height of the trees came down and the thick canopy gave way to some views of the surroundings. By 9, we reached a point with a clear view of Neelimala and couple more taller hills connected to it. Infact, Neelimala was now a lot below us.
Neelimala and Ramanpara from Choorathottippara
What really caught our attention was yet another peak to the north. This is where we would expect Wayanadan Mala to be - obvioulsy this peak was hiding our target! I was asking Ramettan what these peaks are called and he had no idea. It did not look like any of them had names. After a few minutes discussion we decided to name them for convenience - the peak we are in right now would be called 'Choorathottippara' (Choorathotti is Josettan's family name and 'Para' in Malayalam means hill)! The peak to the north would be called Ramanpara (in honour of Ramettan)
Ramanpara is quite rocky at the top and has a rocky vertical face towards west. In the valley towards west, past Neelimala and adjascent hills, we could see a few villages - the ones around Thusharagiri falls. The falls itself was not visible from here, but we could identify the location.
The problem now was that, since Wayanadan Mala is not visible from Choorathottippara, we now have to get to the top of Ramanpara to get a good view. This is exactly what we did in the next one hour time. I expected some confluence point of Ramanpara and Choorathottippara towards west, but there was none. We had to descend down some distance, get down to the forest and climb up again to reach Ramanpara. It was not as difficult as I expected and by 10 we emerged out of the canopy and spotted the elusive Wayanadan Mala.
Here it is ...
With its pointy head in the center, two side flanks, rocky patches and grass lands to the east, Wayanadan Mala was unmistakeable. It was a great feeling to finally see the peak from so near - real proof that the Wayanadan Mala actually exist and by the looks of it, towers above almost everything else in Wayanad. This is when all the tiredness evaporated and the effort for planning something crazy like this was justified.
Ramanpara peak was further ahead and we left the luggage at this point thinking that we should be coming back through the same way. It was much more easier to walk without the luggage in hand :) and we were soon at the top of Ramanpara, to get a great view of the hills on north and east, which includes some of the tallest hills in north Kerala (and western ghats) - Vavul Mala, Wayanadan Mala and Vattapara.
The view towards west was still blocked by the forest and we decided to take a look around. We headed towards the western edge of the hill and took a trail through the forest. It took us about 10 minutes, before we emerged out of the forest. What greeted us was a deep valley in the west and an even better view of the Wayanadan Mala. Even though, there was a sudden drop towards the west, the valley between Ramanapara and Wayanadan Mala looked not so deep at this point, making it easier to approach the peak from here. In comparison, the valley looked much more deeper at the eastern side of the hill - but we had no option but to go back and get the luggage!
By 11, we picked up the luggage and started going down to the valley once again. As we got down in to the forest, the view of the peak was missed, but the image of the peak was etched in our minds. Logically, the peak is still distant and should take a few hours to climb, if not more. But, I was feeling quite confident that we should be able to reach the peak by evening.
While, I was dreaming about reaching the peak, Ramettan noticed an increased presence of bees in this area. His trained eyes quickly spotted a tree where they were coming out from. Jobish got excited and climbed up a neighbouring tree to get a better look. It was indeed a honey comb. After some persuasion from Josettan, Ramettan decided to climb up the tree and check it out. But, the comb was hidden too far down a hole in the tree trunk and Ramettan said its better to leave it and go.
After walking for some more time, without any major ascend or descend, we reached a marshy area, housing a thin stream. Once, we crossed the slush, there was a rocky patch in the center. The area resembled RECpara on the way to Vavul Mala. It was an ideal place to take a break or even stay overnight. The danger at RECpara was the constant presence of the big mammal, thanks to the abundance of water. But here, even elephant presence seemed negligible. We could not even see much elephant dung - not even dry.
Break @ Madhavanpara
The place had a good population of butterflies and good green cover all around. We stopped down for a short break, opening up some food cooked in the morning and rusk / milk / juice packets. While sitting there, enjoying the serene surroundings, I felt that a place like this not having a fancy name - something on the likes of RECpara - is unfair! As Josettan and Ramettan already got hills named after them ;-) we decided to call this Madhavanpara!
At about 12.30, we continued from Madhavanpara. The peak was not very visible now and we were only following the directions. Neither was there any defenite trail. But, Ramettan somehow managed to find a way through the forest and we finally reached a dried up stream. This stream is to finally join Thusharagiri falls a few kms later, but for now, it had very little water. We followed the stream for a while, but ultimately spotted a trail going up the stream.
The trail was steep and the soil was loose all along. It looked as if a big mammal had taken this trail recently. Since, elephant presence was already ruled out, this had to be something else - either Bison or Sambar deer. Going by the abundance of Sambar deer stool we were seeing in the earlier part of the trek, Sambar looked like a better guess. But, a little ahead on this trail, I saw a Bison dung - that too quite fresh. Now, it was quite obvious who was the previous visitor to Wayanadan Mala!
The trail mostly went through the forest, but had a few nice open patches in between. Some of them looked like ideal camping spots, if water was available. But, we did not find water anywhere and that was now becoming a concern. It was not very hot - thanks to the canopy - but, without water we would find it difficult to spend the night.
Soon, the height of the forest came down and we came out of it in to a rocky patch of the peak. We walked up along the rock face to reach a vantage point and get a good look of the grassy eastern slopes of Wayanadan Mala, which we had seen upclose during the Muthappanpuzha - Kalladi trek. It was about 1.45 now and I felt that we were close to the peak. I was dying to get a look of the southern slopes of Wayanadan Mala, which hosts the 1850m Chembra peak.
Jobish was a little nervous climbing on the rocky face and Josettan guided him on his way up. Mist already started showing up and now it didnt make sense to go up till the peak - as the views may not be very good in mist. So, we decided to take a longer break here. With Kalladi village just down the slope, cell phone coverage was available in BSNL. I called up Preethu and got the news that India beat Australia and made it to the World Cup Semi Final. How did I celebrate the win - by calling this rocky vantage point Kangaroopara!
Grasslands near Kalladi - from Kangaroopara
We sat there lazily for a while and took an extended break enjoying the view of the grass lands, the hovering clouds and the ever changing mist formations. It felt almost as if we reached the peak and now the only worry was about finding water. In spite of Ramettan's warning, I could not help thinking that we are almost done. Little did we know about what lied ahead.
The adventure continued, when we again got in to the forest and started walking towards the topmost point of the peak. Few minutes later, the muscles started aching again and the euphoria was forgotten. What I thought to be a 30 minutes walk became a tough trek along the forest for more than an hour.
I was behind everybody else and Ramettan kept leading us. The other two - Josettan and Jobish - also looked tired. All this while, water sources still eluded us. After an hour or so, which felt much much longer and tiresome, the trail stopped going up and was flat for a while, before starting to become a small descend. There, I saw Jobish waiting with Ramettan's luggage. He had gone ahead to check the availability of water.
Ramettan came back with an encouraging piece of news. Apparently, there is a tiny water source just ahead of us. He was hopeful that we would get enough clean water from there. We moved ahead to this point and all I could see was some wet mud! Ramettan dug up the mud with a stick and moved around a few stones. But, even after waiting for a while, the water source did not look promising enough!
We debated a while about the next plan of action - with Josettan showing optimism that we could go down further and find water. But, myself and Ramettan felt that it made more sense to try and go up rather than going down the hill as there is not much chance of finding water. I had a few packs of milk, Josettan had some curd and we should be able to manage even without water.
I was actually under the impression that the peak is right here! Even if it is not, we should manage to get a good view of the surroundings and decide our next plan of action. Finally, Josettan relented and we headed back on the trail and tried going up the forest. This turned out to be a very tough exercise - we did reach up wriggling through thorny shrubs, but did not find any foothold or view points there. All we saw was a deep gorge on the other side of the hill - neither was there any way ahead.
After a while, we gave up and headed back to the original trail. At the 'water source', the only direction that made sense was ahead. We lost some altitude and also saw an almost vertical rock face to our left - no wonder we could not find a way ahead. Even though Wayanadan Mala looked like a single peak from Ramanpara, it was probably two different hills seperated by a narrow rocky ridge!
Soon, we crossed the rock face and entered the forest. We now had to gain all the altitude we lost and fortunately, the trail again started going up. I was feeling thoroughly disappointed about totally mis-calculating the distance to the peak - what looked so near is now looking too far away. Another big worry was the fact that we had no water with us, except for three packs of milk and some curd. It was not just these psychological factors - I was also feeling totally dehydrated and found it extremely difficult to keep walking. Especially with the climb starting again, I had to take a break.
Josettan gave me company, while I panted for breath. Even after restarting, I found it tough to walk and ended up asking for another break. This indeed was one of the most difficult times I ever faced while trekking! After sitting down for a while, I realized that the problem was lack of hydration and energy level. So, I opened up the bag and found what I needed - a small can of pineapple juice and a pack of dates! I finished the juice in one go and munched on to some dates. Few minutes later, I could walk again, just barely.
Slope towards Wayanad
A little past 4, we came out of the forest once again and reached yet another - a smaller one this time - rocky patch. Josettan spotted some wet patch in the rock, but the water was too meagre for us to use. The good thing was that the place gave a beautiful view of the eastern slopes - towards Wayanad - complete with interesting cloud formations and a bit of mist. Taking another break here was mandatory and it felt good to finally see the open sky and the rest of the hills, all of which now looked small. Ramettan spotted Ambukuthi Mala - the peak which houses Edakkal caves - as a faint silhouette in the far east direction. The peak, located more than 20kms away and not very tall, is visible from far distances as there is hardly any tall peaks in that region.
By now, we almost accepted that we may not be able to find water and will have to manage with some milk and curd. It was a scary thought, which even made Josettan suggest that we should start going down and try to find water. I was not very keen, as there is no guarantee to find water even below. So, we decided to go ahead, even if it means that we will not get water till about noon next day!
Searching for water!
I felt rejuvenated after this break and did not have much issues following Ramettan when we started moving again. We entered the forest once again and walked for a few minutes, when Ramettan spotted another wet area. After digging up the place with a stick and moving a few rocks, we found enough water - even a few crabs hiding behind the rocks. We still had to remove the slush and wait for water to fill again, but this was promising!
While waiting for the water-hole to fill up again, Ramettan and Jobish moved ahead in the trail looking for camping spots. They came back with the news that they reached a - yet another - rocky patch, which looks like the peak! The altitude comes down in both direction, but there is still a forest on one side and we need to see in the morning.
We set up a camp next to the water-hole, found enough firewood, cleaned up the sleeping area and started preparing for food. As soon as Josettan said Sambar is ready, we pounced on it! In my life, I never had Sambar with Bread! But now, it felt like my favourite food. For a hungry and tired soul, hot food - immaterial of the name and type of cuisine - is unmatchable! I almost finished a pack of bread in hardly any time and was still licking my fingers for more! Rice was ready by then and I moved on to Rice and Sambar :)
Bed of leaves!
Once the stomachs were full, it was time to hit the bed. Though, it was quite cold - even with the campfire on - I could sleep comfortably, thanks to the sleeping bag. But, I am not sure if the rest of the guys had the same experience. Apparently, Jobish could not sleep well - it was his first trek and he was feeling that two days is a bit too longer than he expected - as he caught some cough as well. Josettan was cursing himself for not taking his sleeping bag. Even Ramettan was shivering when I got up early morning!
The moment of triumph :)
I got up as early as 4, but lied down for some more time. Everybody was up by daybreak and we ate some leftover food before packing up - there was a peak waiting to be scaled and we had no time to waste. The day started well and within a few minutes we were in to the rocky patch, which indeed looked like the peak. The forest covered area on the other side of the hill was slightly taller, but the views were best from here. Soon, I was busy spotting the 'who is who' of peaks in North Kerala!
Ramettan enjoying a view of Vellarimala hills
Vellarimala hills dominated the horizon in the southern side. Vavul Mala stood tallest in the entire range with the Vattapara hills (the section of Vellarimala in Wayanad district) also looking formidable. Masthakappara is not clearly seen as it was right in front of Vavul Mala and Ramettan could not help noting that the 'Masthakam' (means the forehead of an elephant in Malayalam) looks so formidable and menacing from Muthappanpuzha!
Josettan with the Twins
But, my interest was more towards the eastern side and as soon as we reached the top, I managed to spot the twin peaks adjascent to Chembra. The twins looked a very significant part of the landscape. Chembra itself was not very clear, until we walked towards the taller portion of the peak across the forest.
The 'so called Chembra' and neighbors
It was not much of an effort to reach the taller side of the peak. En route, we also managed to get a good and clear view of Chembra peak. Its pointed top and the sudden grassy slope was unmistakeable! Further ahead, I could see the valley to the west of Wayanadan Mala and spotted a few tall hills there as well. One of the most significant peaks may be Kurichyar Mala, but to confirm, I will have to go for a trek there ;-) Even Banasura was visible, though as a faint silhouette!
Perumkolli - the ridge we crossed!
As we reached the other side, it was clear why we had trouble finding the way to the peak on the previous day. Wayanadan Mala, though it looks like a single peak from Ramanpara, is actually consisting of two seperate sections, with a narrow ridge in between. To cross the ridge, we had to get down further! I did not have to ponder too long before coming up with a name for this ridge. In Malayalam 'Kolli' loosely translates to ridge. So, 'Perumkolli', which will translate to a large ridge, should be apt.
It was such a relief to have it all figured out - starting from 'Why there are taller hills visible from the top of Chembra?' and 'Why Chembra is looking so far away from Vavul Mala?' all the way to 'Why was it not possible to reach Wayanadan Mala without losing altitude?' It looked like the day of answers and it felt nice to have the landscape all figured!
Finally, it was time to get back to civilization. At about 8.30 we were on our way back. Instead of going back via the camping site, Ramettan suggested that we start descending through the forest, on the southern slopes of Wayanadan Mala. He was expecting us to get back to the trail we came up through. The descend was quite interesting - we almost slid down the forest taking support of the shrubs. In less than half an hour we were back at the trail and crossing back to the other side of Perumkolli.
It did not make sense to go back all the way to Muthappanpuzha, when we knew for sure that Kalladi is so near. Our initial plan was to go back to Madhavanpara and walk along the stream to get back to civilization. But, once again Ramettan came up with a seemingly interesting option. Instead of going back all the way to Madhavanpara, he said that we can try to descend down the hill towards east and reach the stream way ahead of Madhavanpara. I was not sure we will save much time this way, but nevertheless agreed, because we were sure to have some more adventure this way!
After crossing Perumkolli, we saw that the water source was now filled with ground water. But, it was a blessing in disguise that we did not wait for it to fill up. Had we got water here itself, we would not be at the peak before noon! Now, Ramettan spotted something else which interested him - a path going towards east. He offered to go ahead on that trail and check, but came back a little later - as the path looked difficult to proceed after a while.
How do I get out of this mess?
But, he was not at all ready to give up. In another 10 minutes, we reached the open clearing and he suggested that we go east yet again! This time we did and soon reached a dead end. The shrub growth was very high here and there was no way we could proceed. It was a deep valley to our left and the forest looked very wild to the right. But, with some struggle, we did manage to crawl down through the shrubs and finally came out of it to reach Kangaroopara.
The adventure did not stop here either. Once again, we refused to take the older trail and head towards Madhavanpara. Instead, we descended down the jungle - making our way through thorny shrubs. This decision made for a very interesting stretch of the trek. The jungle was really wild here and we felt a lot of animal movement in this area.
At one point, we spotted an antler fallen of a Sambar deer. This particular piece was partially eaten off by some other animal, but retained most of its shape. Apparently it is a costly item, but we left it where we found it, as it did not sound like a good idea to take it along. We even had our first sighting here - a Sambar stag. This is actually the second time I was seeing a Sambar in wild during a trek - the first was during the Tirunelli - Brahmagiri trek - and in both occassions the animal moved too quickly. It was far far away before I could even get a proper look - let alone taking a photograph!
After an hour long crawl through the thick jungle, we managed to reach a dried up stream. Now, all we had to do was to follow the stream as water would find the best path for us! The stream was mostly dry in the beginning, but soon showed signs of life and we took a good break at one of the points were we saw enough water. Josettan opened up his curd bottle, mixed the stream water and added some salt. Though a bit too salty, it had such a rejuvenating effect, leaving me with enough energy to run for the rest of the trek!
In the next one hour or so, we walked along the stream. Most of the time there were forest trails to the side of the stream, but both Ramettan and Josettan was reluctant to move off the stream. So, we mostly ended up walking through the stream and boulders, taking trails through the forest only when it stayed close to the stream. I did not see any risk in following one of those trails and did not bother even when the trail went a little upwards.
I was thinking that this is the same stream which flows along the Thollayiram - Kalladi road. If this was the case, even on following the trail we would have finally come back to the Thollayiram - Kalladi road. But, this stream was only one of the tributaries! If we moved too much away from the stream, we may have ended up back in the hills!
I realized all this after about 12, when Ramettan said that we are on the wrong trail! For last half an hour or so, we were walking along the right side of the river. We had just seen some signs of civilization and I was expecting to join the Thollayiram - Kalladi road any time. While, I was wondering how we could have gone wrong, Ramettan got down towards the river. We followed him a little later and got down to the river through a cardamom field.
This is when I noticed the direction of flow of the river and realized that we were walking upstream! Without any more doubts, we crossed the river, climbed up and joined the Thollayiram - Kalladi road. At some point - mostly about half an hour back - the tributary that we were following would have joined the main stream. Since, we were on the right side of the river and the main stream is also coming from the right side, we did not notice this and ended up walking upstream!
In any case, we were now at Thollayiram and back on the correct trail. This is the same jeep track which we reached towards the end of Muthappanpuzha - Thollayiram - Kalladi trek, making it a very familiar territory. Soon, we saw signs of civilization - Nirupama plantations, Brookside estate, a man-made lake, a resort and finally tarred road. At 1.30, we were at Kalladi village, took a good bath in the stream and headed to Meppadi by a public transport jeep.
I noticed that Wayanadan Mala is quite clearly visible from around Kalladi. Now that I know how it looks like, it was easy to recognize. Near Rippon estate - midway between Kalladi and Meppadi - I could see both Chembra and Wayanadan Mala. From there onwards, Chembra became more prominent. By the time we reached Meppadi it had a menacing presence. The peak dominates the landscape from many of the main towns in Wayanad - especially Kalpetta. No wonder that it can pass off as the tallest peak in Wayanad! It was hard to deny its steep grassy slopes and the sudden rise from the plateau.
After a good filling lunch at 'New Paris' restaurant, we were on our way to Chundale in Mysore - Kalpetta - Kozhikode highway. By now, the climate was totally different. The heat and the sun was gone. Black clouds were covering the sky and it soon started pouring - as if to welcome us back to civilization. I could not help noting how lucky we were during this trek. On day 1, the heavy rains started only after we reached the cave shelter. On day 2, we found water against all odds. Now on day 3, we were safely on board a bus, when the heavens opened. Would it be arrogant to assume that we had divine support?