Tuesday, November 6, 2012

PampadumChola - Vandaravu : Khardung La of Kerala


           The peak of Vandaravu aka Bandaravu locally known as Bandar, falls on Kerala Tamilnadu border, on the erstwhile escapade route connecting Munnar Top Station and Berijam near Kodaikanal. While on an earlier visit to Paampadumchola, this particular board caught my attention which read “Highest road south of Himalayas”, and it was a wonder info for me, as it was in Kerala. Further enquiry revealed that the road was once motorable, but deprived of traffic since early 90s, for wild life concern.

        The journey, with an aim that high, started as early as on 3 AM and reached Pampaadumchola checkpost, near Top Station, by noon. As the trek was scheduled for the next morning, thought of some rest and occupied the log house maintained by the Forest dept., well inside Paampaadumchola national park. Pampadumshola itself is worth a visit and a night stay at the log house, aptly located at a misty hill side, will be an experience, memorable indeed. 


           Thickly weeded marshy sector just beneath the hillock, which hosts the log house, is a sought after gracing field of Indian Gaur. 






            The evening at Paampadumshola was spent in search of a bird - Black and Orange Flycatcher – and a photo session with a Giant Malabar squirrel, in the woods surrounding the log house. 

Photo : Biju PB

                   Prepared rice porridge for dinner and crawled into the warmth of well appointed log house, at 1900m above MSL.

       As the trek was to start by 9 in the morning, we had enough time to pay a visit to the beautiful villages of Vattavada and Koviloor, which falls the northern border of Pampaadumchola National Park.


               The morning light played magic on the greenery of carrot and potato fields and the beauty is something beyond description. Had a quick break fast – previous night’s left over – and got geared for the trek.


        The road from Berijam to Top station is believed to have been built as early as on 1925, but wasn’t of much use for long. British had their army camps at Berijam, close to Kodaikanal, in early 1900s itself. Japanese invasion was suspected, during the Second World War in 1942, and the need for a track to evacuate British soldiers from Berijam, arose. As there was proper road from Top station to Cochin Port, from where an escape is easy, this track was rebuilt, to connect Berijam camp with Top station, and named it ‘The Escape Road’, aptly. After the war, the road continued to be in use, without proper maintenance, till 1990, and was deprived of vehicular traffic there after. Vandaravu is the most elevated part of the track, at about 2500m above MSL, where the track crosses inter state border.


      Weather wasn’t favorable and it rained almost along the entire 13 km trek from Pampadumchola to Vandaravu. The initial part went along lesser gradient and the trek was easy, if not for the abundance of leach species, enjoying the best part of the year. The tarmac was still there, though over growth had thinned the lane. In half an hour we were at a position exactly above our night stay and could spot the log house, in the valley. Half a km hike, further, the beautiful villages of Vattavada and Koviloor, opened up as a distant view.

    
       The track condition worsened thereafter and at places over growth had eaten it up entirely. 


              Pachyderm presence was evident from the track and Bison we found were pretty bold.


            Fallen trees across the track were aplenty and had to clear it to proceed. 


           The good old milestone by the track side read it is 33 miles to Kodaikanal, indicating the closeness to Vandaravu and the hike went steeper, obviously. 


        At the fifteenth or so hairpin curve along the track, the peak of Vandaravu, came into sight. The high altitude grass land under the thin veil of mist, was a sight indeed and people brought out their cameras, daring the downpour.


      Two more curves ahead, could spot the wireless station of Vandaravu, and the rain soaked lot longed for a cup of steaming hot decoction, which, Mr.Joy, the wireless operator, took care of. 



Mr.Joy (extreme left) with the team
               A bison appeared from the adjoining woods, roamed around grazing and retired, heeding a peer at us. A watch tower about a Km ahead, where the track crosses to Tamil Nadu, was irresistible, and the downpour strengthened as we were atop, limiting vision.


 It was half past three then and as we were walking back to the wireless station, doubt arose whether we had enough time to trek back before dusk, with added woe of heavy downpour. And at the wireless station of Vandaravu, we found Mr.Joy, busy, preparing porridge for our dinner.