Saturday, March 21, 2009

Manjolai - Kodayar



8 - 03 - 09

                        Mr.Robert Manjolai, a man I got acquainted through the web, made this trip happen. As I have stated in my previous post, I was determined to drive past Manimuthar dam for Upper Kodayar. While I was busy searching for details regarding Manjolai and Upper Kodayar ,which falls within Kalakkad – Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve (KMTR) , hit upon this man, who had made avail his contact no., on the net, offering all details regarding Manjolai. He was born and brought up at Manjolai and now a legal practitioner at Madurai. Rang him up and he offered every help that he could extent. Would you believe that, it even included a free stay at his relative’s residence, inside Manimuthar tea estate.

              For the required permission from the Forest dept., I directly contacted the Range Officer, Ambasamudram, and he turned down my request, stating possibility of forest fire, as a reason. Using other contacts, I had a forest dept. official from Trivandrum, ring him up again, and now he conceded. However, the request for a night’s stay in the guest house, within the reserve, was declined as it wasn’t available on the day of our travel. Contacted Robert again and he connected me with Mr. Moses, a social worker at Ambasamudram, who had roots at Nalumukku, within the Tiger reserve. Moses offered night stay in a line house close to that of his brother’s, who worked in Nalumukku Tea Estate. All these were done on the previous day, of our planned date of travel.

        I and Manu started off, in his Paleo 1.3 multijet, by 7 in the morning, 8-03-09. Took the same route, I have explained in detail in my earlier post, and reached Kallidakurichi, near Ambasamudram, by 12 noon. Had to wait a little for Moses to arrive. Moses confirmed the place of stay and asked us to meet one Mr.Nehru, who runs an STD booth at Nalumukku. This booth, using a WLL phone, is the loan means of electronic communication for the workers within KMTR. We packed our lunch, bought some broiler for night, and went ahead for KMTR. We didn’t have much problem at the forest check post at Manimuthar dam, as the R.O. had informed them earlier, of our visit. Had a refreshing bath at Manimuthar falls and went on slowly, negotiating the pot holes and keeping a close watch on the wild beauty of KMTR.

               Had a small stop on the way, to have our packed lunch, taking utmost care not to leave a single piece of plastic around. After an hours climb, the dense woods slowly transformed to beautiful tea plantations.

               We were approaching Manjolai. There is a check post here and a copy of the permission letter is to be handed over. Manjolai is a small junction with a post office. We proceeded further and now the reverse transform – we were again in the midst of thick forest. Passed another pocket of plantation named Kakkachi.



       There was a nature made Golf course at Kakkachi.

                 Finally, after nearly 4 hours of drive through splendid patches of greenery, we were at Nalumukku – earlier known as Manimuthar – by around 6 PM. Spotted Nehru’s telephone booth to find Mr. Jakkayya , Moses’s elder brother, waiting for us, for long. We knew from Jakkayya, that view of sunset from Kuthiravetti is splendid, and now we had to hurry, for Kuthiravetti is about 8 kms of pot holes from Nalumukku. Some how managed to reach the view point before light faded, but the sun didn’t wait for us. View from this point is mind blowing, with Manimuthar dam and Karayar dam lying beneath well separated by woods.

                    Jakkayya pointed to folds of mountains in the backdrop naming them Kakkachi, Manjolai…., the route we had taken. There is a watch tower here, on top of which we spent a while, listening to Jakkayya, on how he used to climb down these cliffs up to the dams beneath, in his good old times. Jakkayya turned out to be a great narrator as he recalled his child hood at this wonderful place. They freely hunted Sambars, mouse deers and rabbits in those days, for their daily ‘Sambaar’. But now, he continues – “Sambars come near and we are to smile at them, for they are reserved for leopards & tigers”. When asked about rabbits this was the response – “No rabbits Sir, nothing remains. We (leopards & ourselves) competed in eating them up”. Left the place after dusk and reached back Nalumukku. 

                We were to stay in an abandoned line house very next to that of Jakkayya. We parked our vehicle, took our baggage, and visited Jakkayya’s dwelling. Jakkayya lived there with his wife, a worker in Nalumukku tea estate, and his elder daughter Gayatri. And here, we were to discover a new dimension in hospitality, never experienced before. These people opted to stay at the abandoned house, leaving their furnished house for us. We found it very difficult to convince them that we were happy with the other. They themselves cleaned up the house, brought in the blankets and rugs, that they were to use, so as to keep us comfortable. 

                    One thing that is not to be left out is a word about the climate there. Though days are pretty hot – remember, its March – as light fades, temperature falls dramatically. I went into sweater by 8 at night. One Mr. Rajendran, a man from Chadayamangalm, runs a tea shop in one such line house, allotted to his wife, who is a worker in the tea estate. We had earlier handed over the broiler, we brought from the plains, to this man and he had prepared a delicious curry and chappathy for us. Had food with Jakkayya, and went to bed by around 11. If not for the blankets the Jakkayyas had offered us, the night wouldn’t have been smooth.

9-03-09

            A siren woke me up by 6 in the morning. Stepped out to find how beautiful the line house premises were. Had a small walk around till the Jakkayyas called us back for tea.


             Mrs.Jakkayya had to leave for her work, at the tea estate by 7, in the morning. Still, she found time to make us coffee, heat up water for us and so on. She left by 7, reminding us several times to come again with our families. Didn’t have words in my vocabulary to thank her ; simply waved her off. We had breakfast from Rajendran’s and set out for Upper Kodayar, by 7.30, along with Jakkayya. Winding track through charming woods took us to the Forest check post at Kodayar. The officials here are very much insistent, that the word ‘Kodayar’ should be mentioned in the permission letter, to let one in. I knew this earlier from Robert and had it in the letter. Another half a kilometer and we are at the reservoir.

               Penstock pipe from this reservoir, tunnels through huge rocky mountains, emerges out at the valve house point and then drops down to the Lower Kodayar Power station, which I have mentioned in my earlier post. Interestingly, not all forest streams in this region, directly cater to the Kodayar reservoir. Water from these odd sources are collected at a lower dam and then pumped up to the Kodayar reservoir. Much more… there is another small dam within the forest, named Kuttiyar dam, which caters to the above said lower dam, through an underground tunnel. Got these details from Mr.Socretes, Jakkayya’s relative, who is an employee at the EB Guest house. As Jakkayya insisted, Socretes reluctantly agreed to come along with us to the valve house point. We had to pass through the lower dam, where there is a police check post and presence of an EB man with us made things easy. We were not even questioned. Socretes first lead us to Kuttiyar dam, for which we had to deviate a little through a forest track. It was surprising to know that even Jakkayya is visiting this place for the first time. Took some snaps and again back on track.

            At a point, Socretes asked us to park the vehicle and to follow him. A few steps up a hill and then…… woooow what a view…There lie beneath us, directly in front, a series of reservoirs. Socretes names them – Pechippara, Perumchanni, Chittar….And we have on our sides Agasthya Mountains in its full glory.

             Slowly mist covered the region and view blurred.

                 Back to the vehicle and started the the descend to valve house point. Again Socretes calls for another stop. This man of suspense leads us along a narrow forest track, on foot. About 5 minutes walk and we are in front of a cave.

          Socretes explains this as a man made one which runs parallel to the penstock pipe that tunnels the mountain. He continues.. its about a quarter km in length and it ends at a valve door which opens to the penstock pipe tunneling through the mountains. For inspecting those pipes, the valve at the reservoir is closed, pipe is cleared of water, and he himself enters it through this valve door, in the presence of a higher official. A photograph will be taken while he enters and the official will lock the valve door from outside. Socretes would walk along the huge penstock up to the reservoir, where there is another valve door for his exit. Exit will also be photographed. Excited, we compelled Socretes to take us up to the valve door. Socretes declined our request, for its pitch dark inside the cave. Suddenly I recalled that I have a Britelite in my baggage. Manu ran back and collected it within minutes. And thus we started our walk through the cave towards the valve door.

          A few steps inside and we found that it’s a bat house. Agitated, they started flying against us. We crossed our hands at the face and moved on.

            Here and there water drips from the cave ceiling and that’s the lone sound we here. Now we hear a faint roar of water through the penstock and we are at the valve door.

         The thought, of water gushing with immense pressure along the other side of the door, was itself frightening, and we got out soon. Back to the vehicle and the descent continued. The track soon changed to be astonishingly scenic. We were driving along, almost the centre of a huge peak, with half the mountain on one side, and depth of same order on the other side.

                The road ends at the valve house which itself is another view point. The employees there told us that the meadow that lies below is frequented by Tahr and Bison, and the very recent forest fire in this region has kept them away. The penstock pipe emerges out of the mountains at this point and steeply runs down to the lower power plant. The power station is not visible from this point. The winch track, used to transport inspection staff, too runs along. 

                  Surprisingly, my mobile rings. We were out of coverage since yesterday afternoon. Attended the call and quickly searched for tower information. Yooo… I wasn’t roaming and found to be served by ‘Mundela’ tower. The ‘Mundela’ I know, is a place near Vellanad, pretty close to our city of Trivandrum. And I’m aware that the place were I’m now, is some where above the Tamil Nadu town of Kulasekharam. And how could signals from Mundela reach me; god knows. Spent a while over there ringing up home & friends. Returned along the same path, not to mention, for there is no other path. Dropped Socretes at Kodayar. He asked us to revisit the place after booking suits at the EB guest house, and he promised that he would then take us to ‘Muthukuli’, an earlier tribal settlement, evacuated and left to tigers. 

                Drove back to Nalumukku by around 11.45 AM. There’s still time for lunch, and we planned to visit Varakkattai, another view point. The track to Varakkattaai is through ‘Oothu’ organic tea estate. A word about Oothu organic tea – It’s not sold in India, but entirely exported. Famous for its medicinal value, it seems. Cost is approximately around Rs.3500 per kilogram. An officer belonging to the estate stopped our vehicle and denied permission to travel through the estate. Two reasons – Wild elephants are roaming in the region from morning itself and estate workers are busy plucking leaves in the Varakkattai region. Jakkayya steps out, the field officer who stopped us happens to be his old classmate, and there we go.

         Had a keen lookout for elephants, but none came across. Bumpy drive, for another 20 minutes, through beautifully maintained organic tea plantations and we were at Varakkatai. Another view point like Kuthiravetti, but from here, the Karayar dam is more clear and close. There is a wooden fencing at the edge and two benches built on logs.

             A supervisor of the estate was resting on one of these benches after lunch. Had a small chat with him and returned to Nalumukku by 1’O clock. The idea of having a wash up before the lunch came up and Jakkayya took us for a walk. After a short walk of about 20 minutes we reached a forest stream. The water was clear and too cold for this hour of the day.

            Returned to Rajendran’s for our pre ordered lunch and ate to our content. And it’s time to leave. Jakkayya and Gayathri , his daughter, insisted that we come back again by April, with family, for their festival in the nearby temple. We promised that we would return, and waved bye. Unlike all other trips, this time we didn’t feel like leaving these people and of course this beautiful place. On the way back, it rained and thick mist covered the area forcing us to descent at snail’s pace.

         
                       Met Moses at Ambasamudram, had tea with him and back to Trivandrum along the same route. Back at home by 10.30 PM. The Jakkayyas, Socretes, Moses and, above all, Robert Manjolai will be thankfully remembered, when ever the memories of this beautiful place wake.


Click Here for a Report on the visit to KMTR through the west

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Along Agasthya Mountain Base


              Holidays in chain always tempts. And this time planned a two day trip along the fringes of Agasthya Biosphere - a complete circular lap with occasional peep ins. As always Sunil & Renji conceded. Started off at 9 AM on 22nd Feb in Sunil’s Alto. Drove upto Kallikkad near Neyyar Dam, took a right turn, and we were on Nedumangad – Arulvaimozhi road.

Chittar Reservoir
         First stop at Thripparappu Falls. Little water and overcrowded.

                 Left the place soon for Kulasekharam. Mathoor is around five km from Kulasekharam which boasts of the hanging trough, which connects two peaks with streaming water. Place worth a visit and the view from the trough is somewhat decent, not to call awesome.

                   Fresh pineapple sold at this place was equally sweet. Now a sudden twist in our planned program and Pechipara dam site is being introduced. Another deviation from Kulasekharam towards the mountains, and after around 10 kms ,we were at Pechipara. From the security officer at the dam site, we came to know about Lower Kodayaar power plant. As we weren’t in a hurry, headed for the camp which was another 13 kms along the same stretch. Least optimistic, we approached the officials there for a permission to explore the plant. Though initially reluctant, they conceded, to our surprise. An official was even kind enough to come along with us and to explain how the power station functioned. 

                       The penstock pipes carry water from Upper Kodayaar reservoir to the plant, which drives the huge turbines. A steep track runs parallel to the pipes up the slope and a winch is employed to take workers from lower camp to the upper and back. The upper winch point and the Upper Kodayar reservoir falls within the Kalakkad – Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve and it can be accessed by road only through the other side of Agastya, via Ambasamudram. Thanked the officers and were back at Kulasekharam by 3 PM. 

                   Took a left turn from the junction and we were on SH45 leading to Arulvaimozhi, via Thiruvila, along the Agasthya base. Pretty smooth, picturesque route, less frequented by vehicles, and we were at Arulvaimozhi by 4.30 PM. Had nice food – call it lunch – from a small hotel over there. Arulvaimozhi is on the Nagercoil – Thirunelveli stretch. We proceeded upto Kavalkinaru in the Thirunelveli direction and took a right turn for Kanyakumari – 24 kms. We had bookings at the Kerala House there. Reached Kanyakumari by sunset.


23-02-09

                     Left Kanyakumari after breakfast by around 9AM, travelled back the same path up to Kavalkinaru and headed for Valliyoor, in the Thirunelveli direction. Hundreds of windmills on either sides of Kanyakumari – Kavalkinaru road resemble a plantation.


                  From Valliyoor took a left turn for Kalakkad via Kothasseri. Grass lands bordering Agasthya, flanks either sides of the road. Gracing cattle and goats and the mountain folds at the backdrop – great landscape.

                    Immediately after Kalakkadu took a narrow road to the left from Karuvelankulam which leads to Pachayaar dam (about 6 km) via Patahi village.

                        At the dam site, we were lucky to have Muthuswami – an employee at the dam site – who was willing to serve as a guide. As per his directions, we drove along a bumpy unlaid track, parallel to river Pachayaar, which caters to the dam. The river got its name from the green color of water it carried and the color is attributed to its medicinal values, acquired along the flow through the dense forests of the Kalakkad range. We parked the vehicle at the end of the track and then walked along a narrow path, following the upstream. After a 20 minutes walk, we found Pachayaar, within the woods ,inviting, bit shallow here and there, so clean and crystal clear, that no one could resist a dip – not even Muthuswami.

                    Spent a while, enjoying the cold flow, and in fact, Sunil went ahead in consuming the natural tonic, on inspiration from Muthuswami. Sunil even managed to whisk away finely rolled stones from the river base, of course, aided by Muthuswami.

                  On the return drive Muthuswami directed us through the road over the dam wall with the vast stretch of greenish water on one side and the greenery of plantations on the other side.

            The dam wall runs up to 3.6 kms – another interesting fact.

                   Bye to Muthuswami and back on the Kalakkad – Ambasamudram SH117 by 3 PM. SH 117 runs with Agasthya on one side and cattle grazing grasslands on the other side.

          At Kallidakurichi – just 2 kms before Ambasamudram – took a left turn for Manimuthar falls. This region is famous for granite of which idols are carved out. We found many such quarries and polished slabs of such granite, along the roadside.

          Manimuthar dam is on the way to the falls and there is a forest check post at this place.

             Normally private vehicles are permitted only up to the falls. Written permission is to be obtained from Ambasamudram Range Officer to proceed further into Kalakkad – Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve. This is the road which leads to Uupper Kodayaar (via Manjolai), which I have mentioned earlier in this blog, and its about 40 kms from here, through dense forest and Tea estates. Just after the check post we found two Sambar deers which ran into thorny bushes before we could shoot – using camera of course. Manimuthar falls is about 6kms from the check post. Even at this part of the year, with no recent rains at all, it had enough water which would force one, bent his spine. 


         Had a feeling of nice massage under the falls and the bath was refreshing.

                  Should come back again, in very near future,with permission to visit Manjolai and Upper Kodayar. Reached Ambasamudram by 5.30 PM. Had food from a vegetarian hotel – again call it lunch. Now, our plan was to travel through Tenkasi - Senkottai – Thenmala – Madathara – Nedumangad and to Trivandrum, thus completing the circular lap around Agasthya. After little hassles on the route, we reached Shenkottai by 8PM and we had our hearts sink to hear that, Shenkottai – Thenmala road is closed for repair works. The only deviation available was a lorry track that leads to Punalur via Achankovil. The local people strongly insisted not to try that route with our small Alto. We felt it difficult to convince ourselves that the only way out, is to travel back all these distance. Decided to take Shenkottai – Thirunelveli – Nagercoil – Trivandrum route and reluctantly shifted to reverse. 

               Driving heavy hearted, I jumped a red signal, it seems, and the traffic police cornered me. Even those rude minds fell soft on knowing our plight, and they let me go free with a sym-pathetic advice – “Pathu Ponga Sir”. Now – Everything is decided – No tensions – No worries - Smooth roads – Nice drive – Back home at 2 AM.

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