Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Parambikulam - Oru Komban Kutti : The Tramway Trek


         Lemme start with a piece of history. Promise, I wont stretch it too long..

           The city of Cochin is the most developed one in K
erala, today, and all that owes to the harbor, it boasts of. The development of this harbor was through the hands of Maharaja Ramavarma XV, who ruled the state of Cochin from 1895 to 1914. The then state of Cochin was mean in resources, and the only way, the visionary could find, to fund the project, was the exploitation of the immense wealth in the form of Teak and Rosewood, from the highland jungles of Parambikulam and Nelliampathi. Access to these regions was very limited and then came up the need of a transportation system. With the assistance of the British rulers, a tramway was laid between Chalakudi and Parambikulam, which went into regular operation by 1907. The tramway operated restless for the next 40 or so years and I wonder what would have been the majesty of these woods, if not for the 40 years of continuous deforestation. The Aanamalai road connecting Chalakudy and Valparai was laid in the 1940s, thus limiting the necessity of the expensive tramway. Eventually trams came to a halt by 1951. By 1963 the tramway era was over and even the rails were removed as scrap. The entire region was left to nature, for a rebuild.

                  Three of us,Pramod, Anoj and the blogger took
off by around 4.30 AM on 20th May 2010, solely to retrace the tramway track and its remains, in the thick woods of Parambikulam, where trams stopped puffing, before we were born. Took MC road up to Angamali and turned right at Karayamparampu, just after Angamali, to join Aanamalai road at Vettilappara. Went past Athirappily and Vazhachal falls, and traversed the forest track to Valpara, under the thick foliage. 
                At this point, let me squeeze in a data, that a forest track leads to Parambikulam from Poringalkuthu, just after Vazhachal, but only a 4WD can cut through - and of course with a consent.

Reaching Valpara, rang up Damodarji, who made my earlier Valpara exploration memorable. Had lunch with him, renewed acquaintance with Mr.Shaji, the manager of Hotel Green Hill, Valpara, and headed for Aanamalai by around 3 PM. Had a stop over at Aanakatti TNEB colony, to capture the mind blowing, lower and Upper Aaliyar views.

            Negotiated the hair pins down, turned left at Kotoor, just after lower Aliyaar dam, to hit Aanamalai town, at the foot hill, by around 7 PM. A little effort to convince the care taker of VPR lodge, that an Ac room shall never go beyond Rs.650, for a short span of 10 hours, and retired comfortably.


                         Rose early, paid a short visit to Maasani Amman coil, which shared the lane with our night stay, and left for Parambikulam by around six in the morning. Went past Vettakaranputhoor, took a right turn at Sethumadai and reached the entry point to Indira Gandhi National Park, maintained by Tamilnadu govt.

I think it’s worth a quote here that, though Parambikulam Tiger Reserve is in Kerala, normal access to the place is only through Tamilnadu, if not for the forest track from Poringalkuthu, I had mentioned earlier.
       Slowly cruised along the winding road, that hasn’t seen tar for long, to reach Top Slip.
            Tamilnadu forest dept. provides accommodation for tourists here and it is the base camp for trekkings arranged by them. Just after Top Slip is the entry to Parambikulam Tiger Reserve.

                 A regular visitor should be aware that private vehicles are normally not let in. For them, mini buses, belonging to the reserve, ply in pre defined routes. During my earlier visit in mid 2008, entry was permitted with a restriction of 30 vehicles per day, I remember. Even this time we could drive in, as we were on a two day trekking program.

             Just into the reserve and we were welco
med by a peacock, wayside, in his full glory. He really did a show off in a full circle.
               A herd of Gaur, near a water hole, opted to move away from the intruders. The leader struggled to carry him along, owing to the weight he had put on these years.

                               Another tip on Gaur – older the darker.

Drove to the Eco Care centre at Aanapadi, completed the formalities, and Mr. Babu, A grade guide, was assigned to head our delegation. The location of the starting station of the old tramway is presently submerged in Parambikulam reservoir, and our trek is to start from that point. Drove along the forest road to Parambikulam, via Thunakadavu reservoir, which is around 16 kms from Aanapadi.

                Parambikulam is a small junction hosting Govt. offices, staff quarters, and a small number of shops, including two or three hotels.

           Had breakfast from one such hotel, parked our vehicle at a forest office premise, and got geared for the trek.

                  From here another guide by name Sulaiman joined our team. Walked along the tarred road up to Parambikulam dam and reservoir, within which the old tram station is submerged.

            The road ends here and we continued the trail along the Parambiar river bank. 

                 Dams choke rivers and the course of the river alongside was pathetic as a drainage flow in our city. On the other side, the richness of greenery around, took away the ill feeling and the chirping birds and their fly friends were pleasure for the apex senses. It was as if, the recovery from the severe blow, the tramway had imposed, is almost complete. To add to the scenic beauty, Parambiar had, by then, gained strength from the confluence of rivulets.

The magical spell came to a sudden halt on spotting a pack of dholes (wild dogs) crossing our path in a hurry.
                To our surprise they weren’t moving away from us, but holding on behind the ground foliage, reluctant to leave the place. That’s an indication to some thing of interest they have, some where around. Few searching steps ahead, and we found what it was.

           A closer examination of the carcass revealed that there were no bite marks in its neck. So they have been on to the prey, without even bothering to kill it. Poor thing – but that’s the way of the wild. Left the place soon, as the intruders are not to interfere, hearing the hunters return.

          A few steps ahead we had the first sigh
ting of the remains of the tramway in the form of a bridge across a rivulet.
              It was just a skeleton of a bridge and wondered, why the scrap people had left this behind – may be as part of a generous gesture, for the future ‘historians’ of our kind, to cross the rivulet. But approach to the next rivulet proved the assumption wrong, for we had just the supporting spans and not the bridge.

            But abuse won’t travel back in time. Hence slipped down to the water and then climbed up. Kept on up to a tree top hut (Machan), which served as an anti poaching shed, and thought of some rest and nourishment as we had done about two and a half hours by then. 

           Climbed up and spent about ten minutes there.
              Another half an hours walk took us to Kuriarkutti, where the Kuriarkutti River from the east joins our co traveler Parambiar, which after the confluence, is called Karappara River. The tramway which ran along Parambiar river side, for 8km, crosses Kuriarkutti River here and continues by the side of Karappara River further.

                 The wooden bridge of the tramway across Kuriarkutti is still intact. Though the rails have been removed, the fixing bolts are still on the bridge.

            Just after the bridge is the Salim Ali centre – a concrete building which houses a bird interpretation centre.

                    This new building had replaced the old building in which Salim Ali had spent his honey moon days. And he, with his spouse, reached this place, travelling in the same tram, which is under discussion.

Now there is a motorable road up to Kuriarkurrti from Parambikulam – we opted the forest track, just to follow the tram way. Two rooms in the ground floor of the building are to accommodate travelers. Kuriarkutti tribal colony is nearby, which was actually set up to provide man power to the tramway. Surprisingly each and every thing that come under discussion is some how related to the good old tramway. Gopal, a tribal from the colony joined us and he was assigned the duty of carrying our eatables, for the day and the next. 
                Continued the trail along Karappara river side till 3PM, and hunger didn’t let us any further. Took a refreshing dip in the river and opened the food packets. Raided on Idlis and bread slices, listening to Babu revealing that the place we are at,is called ‘Madam chal’, to commemorate the visit of a British lady – Madam – to this place, during the tram era.
            It started drizzling then, but that didn’t disturb us. Babu and Gopal being born and brought up in this region, had lots of transmitted information regarding the tramway, though they were not physically a part of it. During the rest of the trail we were just listeners and Gopal turned out to be a treasure. We stopped at a place where a school functioned in the tram era, for the laborers’ children, and this is what remains.

                  Went past two more bridges, of which the later one posed a threat, as a part of it had been washed off.
                   We had to jump to the other side from the remainings and Pramod ended up with a strap torn backpack.
                  At the twentieth Km from the start of the trek is ‘Oru Komban Kutti’, our destination, and we were there by 5 PM. A wireless station is there at this place, manned by a forest guard and a tribal to assist him. We were allotted a small building nearby, which had bamboo cots as the lone furniture and candles for lighting purpose. We opted to chill out the evening in the Karappara River flowing nearby.

             Back by dusk, to discover the cook in Sulaiman. The chapathi – egg curry combination was decent and went to bed around 11PM.

           
Woke up by 7 and headed for the river. Back by 8 to have Sulaiman’s Upma and went out for a small walk. Just 100 metres ahead the track turns left to Poringalkuthu.

                 That is, the nearest motorable road in Kerala is just 12 kms from here. If not for a 4WD, you will have to walk 20 kms back to Parambikulam and then drive nearly 200 kms, to reach the same place.

On the return to the wireless station hit upon an odd looking machine part of the old tram, built by The Anderston Foundry Co Ltd.
             It was a surprise that the year imprinted on it appeared as 1837. If it is so, then it is to be understood that the trams would have had another spell, at some other part of the world, before it was brought here. An internet search on the above ended up like this

John Houldsworth
1807-1859

The son of a Nottingham cotton-spinner
who moved to Cranstonhill and worked in Kelvinbridge, Houldsworth was educated in Glasgow, Geneva and Heidelberg. He entered the family business, and rose to become the head of spinning. The company expanded into iron, establishing the Anderston Foundry and Machine Works, later known as the Anderston Foundry Company.


             
The period of the founder of Anderston Foundry is from 1807 to 1859,which is some what in line with the view I have shared. Hmmm….what am I up to..Excuse me my readers, I will stick on to the travelogue.

            By around 11 AM, we got transported to Param
bikulam in a 4WD of the Forest dept. As Pramod and Anoj were new to this place, thought of some local sight seeing. Drove up to the tunnel view point, from where water from Parambikulam reservoir is fed to Thunakadavu reservoir, along an underground tunnel of about 2.5 km length.
            On the wayside stood a lone elephant and he tried to frighten us, as we went past.

          And on return, inadvertently, we frightened a Gaur – a huge, oily black one.
               Drove back to Thunakadavu and a left turn through the dirt road took us to ‘Kannimara teak’, known to be the largest living teak in the world.
 
And..that was it.

Drove back to Aanamalai, joined Pollachi – Thrissur road, hit NH 47 at Wadakkancheri and back home by midnight.

The vision of a ruler, an engineering marvel, a thunder blow to nature, root of Cochin's prosperity - the tramway - is almost nothing today. Tomorrow it will turn another story - but history.