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Chinnar - Kanthaloor - Munnar trip in November 2017

I first heard about Kanthaloor during a Kodaikanal - Berijam - Kavunji - Kilavarai - Vattavada - Top Station - Munnar trek in February 2012 - when our guide casually mentioned about Kanthaloor, while describing the places in front of us, as we descended down towards Vattavada. Later on, I saw in the map that Kanthaloor is about 50kms from Munnar, but the place was practically forgotten for the next few years, until I read a small write-up about the place in Facebook. I was planning a trek to Chokramudi and wondered if I could include Kanthaloor in the intinerary.

It was about 5 years back that I had done a bike trip (Meghamalai - Rajapalayam in January 2013) and the only time I had done a trek & ride was for the Savandurga trek in December 2011. A quick revisit to Antharagange - where I took the Avenger to the foothills - changed the travel plans to Chokramudi and I was seriously contemplating a ride to Munnar as well. The way was quite familiar as I had been to Munnar more than once, including a 4-day solo road trip through Valparai, Athirapally & Munnar way back in December 2010. It did sound a bit too hectic for a weekend - ride to Munnar and Kanthaloor, stay overnight, finish Chokramudi trek and start riding back by noon. But, I was in a mood to do something hectic and crazy!

When the Saturday came, I started as early as 2 in the morning, to make sure that I had enough time in hand. During the CBZ days, I would always avoid riding in the night, but with a lot of highways being 4-lane or wider now, with dividers, it is not as bad to ride in the night. I was nervous and cautious as I had not done any long bike rides for a while now - starting so early made it a little more difficult. Avenger had mostly been used for office commute and over time I had become a more careful driver as opposed to the days when I used to zip at 90kmph+ all the time. In-fact, with Avenger in Bangalore I hardly used to touch even 80kmph.

Bangalore traffic can always be counted on to throw up surprises - even at 2am, there were traffic jams at ORR (near Bellandur, mostly due to office cabs). I crawled towards Silk board and missed the turn in the confusion created by a few barricades and had to come back after almost reaching BTM. Post Silk board, the traffic was low and I skipped the elevated fly over. It was past 3 by the time I reached E-city and started picking up some speed. Just when I was feeling comfortable, the bike went over a huge gutter and jumped high up. Going at almost 80kmph, I somehow managed to hang on without falling - the lesson was clear - dont take the eyes off the road, boy!

By 3.20, I was near Hosur, in the 6-lane stretch between Hosur and Krishnagiri. The roads were all wet, possibly due to the overnight rains, making it difficult to move fast. I kept myself at the left most lane and stayed at about 70kmph throughout this stretch. The problem with going slow on highways in a bike is that you are vulnerable to getting knocked out by other big vehicles zipping past. So, I was confined to the left-most lane - which becomes a problem with some slow moving trucks going in the same lane. Overtaking such trucks typically gets a little scary as it requires moving right. For bikes though, it is always an option to overtake on the pedestrian / service lane (left of the left-most lane for vehicles), whenever space is available.

The cars zipping past occassionaly throws up a good amount of water droplets as well, making the helmet visor all wet and dirty. I had to stop multiple times to clean the visor and specs. The slow moving trucks were a bigger problem due to the wet roads - as trying to overtake them was not at all worth it - the helmet visor would get totally wet by the time I am done and truck would go aheaad again if I stopped! A while in to this game, I realized that I could always hide behind the wind shield and partially escape from the shower!

As I was passing by the Sanamavu reserved forest, it started drizzling a bit as well, making the progress even slower. I had to stop multiple times to wipe the helmet visor and could only move slow. I got some more drizzle as I passed by the forest stretch near Melumalai as well. The drizzle was not heavy, but just enough to slow you down and keep the roads wet.

By about 4.20, I passed by Krishnagiri and entered the stretch towards Salem. I did a few squats and stretched a bit as the rear was already feeling soar. Had read that squats are good for blood circulation to the rear side and it felt good to do some. I was planning to take a few minutes break everywhere and atleast do a few squats, to avoid too much pain and strain in the rear side. The roads looked dry by now and I could go a bit more faster, making it easier. Still, I was cautious and kept under 80kmph.

The progress was slow and steady, as I took a coffee break after Dharmapuri bypass. The sunlight was just coming out then, making the ride easier after that. The road had dried up and the drizzle had disappeared and I could speed up to 90kmph and even higher when the road looked empty. The bike did not feel very good and started vibrating as I approached 100kmph. Even then, I was able to cover some ground and reached near Salem by 6. The traffic increased around Salem bypass and it was another 15 minutes or so, by the time I was outside the city limits and stopped for another squats and coffee break.

It was quite bright by now and I could spot the sun rising up from the left as I crossed an over-bridge before Sankari. The ride was much more comfortable and confident, once the sun came out - and I was able to cover a good distance in the next hour or so. After the Kaveri bridge near Bhavani, the stretch is all about bypasses - I passed by the Chithode, Nasiyanur, Perundurai and Vijayamangalam bypass roads, before stopping for a fuel fill. The break went longer as I made a call to the family and went on with the squats and stretches before starting again.

In about half an hour more, I was past the Pallagoundenpalayam, Chengapalli and Perumanallur bypass roads and nearing Avinashi. It was time for breakfast and I started looking for some eateries. I did not want to get in to any fancy places and skipped a few of them. It was almost 9 when I spotted the left turn towards Mangalam / Palladam and took it. As soon as I turned, there was a small eatery and I stopped for breakfast - yummy masala dosas and pooris.

The Avinashi - Mangalam - Palladam stretch is Tamil Nadu State Highway No. 166. It is in good condition, but a small road with a few villages and small towns en route. So, the speed had to be limited. I had been on this road on our way back from Valparai - but the roads around here were a bit messy and I had tried various other options like going via Tiruppur. But, now with the Avinashi bypass completed, Mangalam - Palladam - Udumalpet - Marayoor is the best option to reach Munnar.

Windmills near Palladam
Windmills dotting the landscape here!

I was at Palladam by 9.30 and was surprised to see that it has become a rather big town. I remembered the place as a small junction with a couple of shops and now it had traffic signals. I stopped at an ATM and withdrew some money before following the road signs towards Udumalpet, which goes towards left, while the straight road was towards Pollachi. Past this, the road is dotted with windmills on both sides and I stopped a couple of times for pictures.

It was pretty hot and dry with the sun blazing away and I was feeling a bit tired. By 10, I went past Kethanur and in another 30 minutes, I was at Gudimangalam. Typical of rural roads in Tamilnadu, some stretches on this road had tamarind trees growing on both sides, making a beautiful arch and providing much needed relief from the heat. I was at Udumalpet before 11, taking almost 1.5hrs for me to cover the 50kms from Palladam. At Udumalpet, the sign boards led me to a district road to Munnar. A couple of roads forks from this road - one towards Thirumoorthy dam and another one towards Amaravathi, the later also hosting a crocodile farm. I resisted the temptation to head in to these roads and kept towards Munnar.

Hills near Udumalpet
In to the hills now ...

Soon, there were sign boards indicating that I am entering Anamalai tiger reserve and hills started showing up on both sides. The road here is narrow and single lane, but freshly made and smooth. There were very few vehicles in this route, mostly tourist vehicles, including some people in bikes. I crossed a bridge - possibly a tributary of Amaravathi river - before starting to gain altitude. In another 15 minutes - by about 12 - I was at the Kerala border checkpost. All vehicles were to stop here and the details of vehicles and passengers had to be entered in the register.

From here on, it was the Chinnar wildlife sanctuary. Located at the rain shadow region of Munnar, the vegetation around was mostly thorny bushes. Altitude at the checkpost is about 500m, but one gains about 500m more in this stretch, with some of the mountains around rising up to about 2400m. It was very hot by now and I was very tired, not to mention the pain in the backside and shoulders. The speed was also very low as I was gaining altitude and the roads were narrow. I passed by the Chinnar watch tower - about 500m and a short trek off the road - which provides a bird's eye view of the entire sanctuary. But, in this heat, it made little sense to walk around.

View of Thoovanam waterfalls
Thoovanam Waterfalls

Another popular trek trail is towards Thoovanam water falls, which is visible from the main road itself and reachable in about 2-3hrs trekking. Right after the water fall view point, I was at Alampetty, were guides and permission for Thoovanam water falls was available. It was about 12.40 by then and I decided to move on. As I approached Marayoor, the temperature came down and I could spot a mist-capped hill towards right - apparently, this was Kumarikkal Mala, the highest peak in Chinnar wildlife sanctuary limits at an altitude of 2522m.

At about 1, I was at a junction, about a km from Marayoor. There was a line of tender coconut and sugar cane juice vendors and I stopped at one of the shops for a sip of tender coconut, which turned out to be yummy and invigorating. I was quite tired and de-hydrated in the heat and the tender coconut went a long way in getting some energy back - enough to prepare me for a detour to Kanthaloor.

The road to Kanthaloor forks left just after the line of shops and I took the same. I passed by a small village and lost some altitude before signs of more greenery. Soon, there was a short ghat sections and some sudden altitude gain as I passed by some rocky terrain. There was a sign-board saying "Anakottapara Park", which looked like a park with some view points - but, it was more interesting to move forward and I could always check out the place on my way back, if there was enough time. I hardly knew anything about Kanthaloor other than a few articles I had read and was quite surprised to see sugar cane fields all around. As I went further, there were a few boards talking about "Marayoor Sharkara" ('Sharkara' being the Malayalam word for Jaggery) and even a few huts where the sugar canes were processed. I had to check out what this was all about, but it was past almost 1.30 now and I had to find a place for lunch.

Views at Kanthaloor
Sugar cane fields ...

For now, I was gaining altitude - the valley behind dotted with green and white patches of sugar cane fields in full bloom. I stopped for a few pictures before entering a small ghat section through a forest stretch. Soon, I was at Kovilkadavu village, amidst a few shops and restaurants. Even though, it was late for lunch, I wanted to avoid a full restaurant and find some home food - a 'thattukada' as they are called in Kerala. I kept going ahead after getting out of the village and was soon worried as there were no signs of any shops. But, just when I was thinking of going back to Kovilkadavu, there it was - Revathy Kutty thattukada. The shop was run by a family and named after the daughter. I was offered a full-fledged kerala meal along with fish and meat - as yummy as they come. I was a little reluctant to go for a full hog given my latest diet changes, but this was too tempting to resist and I had to dive in.

Lunch at Revathy Kutty Thattukada
Chow time ...

At Revathy Kutty Thattukada
With Revathy Kutty and her brother

Had a nice chat as well with the owner who sounded quite impressed by the fact that I had started off from Bangalore in the morning! I checked with him about the possibility of spotting Kanthaloor during the Kodaikanal - Munnar trek, but he was quite dismissive about it. He mentioned that Vattavada village and Vandaravu hills is on the other side of the hill and is not visible from Kanthaloor village. But then, I never saw the village during the trek - so, what the guide showed us must have been the hill and forest on top of Kanthaloor. He also pointed me to a rocky hill on one side - with a few honey combs on them and hence called as 'Thenmala' - where a few famous movies were shot. The other famous tourist attraction around here was the apple gardens, for which I came at the wrong time of the year.

I soon said my good bye to the family - and thanks for the yummy food - continuing the ride to figure out where the road will take me. I was soon at the Kanthaloor village - only to be disappointed to see that the road did not really "end" there! But, I was told that it heads to Kundala / Top Station, which is now closed for public traffic, as it passes via Anamudi Shola National park. It may have been interesting to take this road towards Munnar if the road was open - in any case, I decided to follow the road as far as I can. In about 5 minutes, I reached a sign board saying "Anamudi Shola National Park" and yet another one prohibiting vehicles from going further. Having reached the "end of the road", it was now time to go back. But, not before a quick stop by "Snowline Fruits Garden".

At Snowline Fruits Garden
At the Fruit Garden ...

Kanthaloor is famous for the many apple orchards and orange / fruit gardens - just that it was not the season for apple orchards. Instead, the "Snowline Fruits Garden" did have orange, kiwi, moosambi, passion fruit ... etc etc and allowed visitors to take a walk around for a nominal fee. Infact, there were many tourists walking around the garden and buying fruits as well. I spent about an hour walking around the fruit garden before reaching back to Kanthaloor village by about 3.

Making of Marayoor Sharkara
Making of Marayoor Sharkara

The sun was already going down and the mist started showing up as I was heading towards Marayoor, past the hilly road and many sugar cane fields. I had enough time to stop by one of the sugar cane mills - taking a look at how the "Marayoor Sharkara" is being made. The crushed sugar cane juice is first heated in a huge flat container - on top of firewood - before being poured to a large plastic sheet for cool down. Once, it cools down and soldifies, the jaggery takes a deep brown shade and is rolled in to many a small spherical balls. The owner claimed that the preparation is completely natural and avoids any chemical treatments, making "Marayoor Sharkara" famous for its purity. I was quite tempted to buy some, but with a trek and the return journey to go, it made sense not to take any additional weight.

I made another quick stop at "Anakottapara Park", more for a bathroom break. Entry fee was only Rs. 10, but they had extra charges for camera, so, I decided to skip the camera. There was indeed a view and the park looked like a good place to sit relax for families. I was soon on my way back and by 4, I was on the way up the ghat sections again, heading to Munnar. The light was quickly fading and the mist became heavier and heavier as I gained altitude. Marayoor to Munnar is about 40kms, but this stretch of road seemed never ending as I went around the hair pin bends one by one.

Tea Estates near Munnar
Misty Munnar ... almost there

Slowly, but steadily, I was at Gundumalai, followed by the Vaguvarai, Thalayar. After some up-close views of the Anamudi peak, I was at Nyamakad estate and then the Eravikulam national park. I was quite tired and looking forward for a good night's rest - hardly stopping by to "smell the flowers" during this entire stretch starting from Marayoor. By 6, I was at Munnar and called up my local contact, who had booked a lodge for me at Munnar, at a walkable distance from Saravana Bhavan.

Rest of the evening was eventless, call to family, a light dinner at Saravana Bhavan, a quick chat with the local contact for the Chokramudi trek, pack-up and lights off. Next day, I was out for the trek by day break and managed to come back to the hotel by noon. By 12.30, I was back on the highway - the target was to reach the 4-lane highway at Avinashi before the light goes out and I hardly had buffer time. In an hour, I was at Gundumalai and it took another hour - by about 2.30 - to reach Marayoor. I crossed the state border by about 3.15, but the progress was very slow after that due to the single lane road. There were a few slow moving vehicles in this stretch making the progress slow for the other cars as well - some of them honking heavily and zipping past me, only to get slowed down pretty soon. Overall, I was able to go faster than most of the cars and managed to reach Udumalpet by about 4.

There were only a few short stretching breaks till now as I wanted to reach Avinashi by dusk. The time pressure had already eased out and I took a coffee / snack break at Gudimangalam, soon after Udumalpet. I was at Palladam by 5.15 and Mangalam by 5.30, to make it to Avinashi, comfortably by about 5.45, with some light still around. I did stop for a while now, as the first target was done - but then, 4-lane highway or not, home was still about 300kms away and the rear side was already protesting!

I had an early and light dinner at A2B (Adyar Ananda Bhavan) near Perundurai. With the energy reserves refilled, I was able to cover some distance in the next half an hour - making it to Salem by 8.30, but then, it took me a while to cross the city and get back to the highway. With the crowded stretch of road near Thoppur ghat section, I slowed down even further. The breaks kept coming and I had to stretch and walk around for a while, with each of these stops. By 10, I barely reached Dharmapuri bypass and stopped at another A2B for a follow up dinner - some more idlis.

The toughest part of most trips is usually the return journey - the trip is done and it is just about reaching back home as soon as possible. The remaining distance is just a number now - a few 100 kms and a few hours - and the temptation is there to speed up and try to reach back as soon as possible. Combined with a tired body, the chance of making a mistake is pretty high as well. I decided to take it slow, take as many breaks as needed and reach home safely - better late than never. I messaged home to lock up the door and sleep, as I had the key with me. But then, she was watching a movie and decided to wait as well! I was at Krishnagiri by 11 and Hosur before midnight, eventually making home by 1.

As an intersting side note, it was about 2am by the time I unpacked and went to sleep - exactly 48 hrs after I started off on saturday morning! This had to be one of the most challening weekend trips I ever did - clocking a bit over 1000kms along with a 5 hour trek. But then, this was also one of the most memorable experiences ever.

© 2019 Sandeep Unnimadhavan