Thursday, August 27, 2009

Kodaikanal - A different approach



                     Long back, there was a road from Munnar to Kodaikanal, which went through Top Station, Vandaravu, Berijam and Moir’s pont. In the 90’s, the road between Topslip and Berijam was permanently closed, on wild life concerns. There after, the one via Udumalpet, Palani, and the other one via Batlagundu in the Munnar – Madurai stretch, were the only known routes to Kodaikanal. Then I read somewhere that there is a Jeep track up to Kadavari in Kerala and also from Kilavara in TN up to Kodaikanal. That meant, the 5 km stretch between Kadavari and Kilavara remains unconnected. Did some research on it and got different opinions. Some said there is a horse track used by farmers of Kadavari (infamous for Ganja cultivation) to take their products to Kodaikanal, via Kilavara. And another one said, it’s a Jeep track, which is a test even for a 4 wheel drive. Let’s see……………


                      A family visit to Kanthalloor and surroundings has long been under discussion, and we decided to club it with our Poonchira visit. On the return from Poonchira, had a stop at Thodupuzha for lunch, and headed for Kanthalloor by 1.30 PM. Just after Thodupuzha, took a right deviation from Vengalloor, to have a narrow but smooth stretch, which joins the Cochin - Munnar route at Oonnukal, near Neriamangalam. There after, the regular road up to Munnar, and further to Marayoor, 40 kms of picturesque stretch from Munnar. Just after Marayoor, a right turn and another 15 kms, took us to Kanthalloor by around 7 PM. 

                I rang up Suresh, the care taker of ‘Cheeni Farm house’, where we had booked a cottage for two days. As per directions of Suresh, we took a right turn from the Panchayath Office junction, and after covering a km, along the bumpy road, reached the gates of the resort. Some sort of construction work was going on and we couldn’t take our vehicle inside. Suresh transported our luggage in his bike, and we had a small walk to our cottage. The cottage is atop a cliff, inside an orchard of about 10 acres. They had about 200 apple trees, oranges, tree tomato, suberjill etc., in their farm. The cottage was a two storied building, with well appointed bed rooms and a balcony in each floor. 

             The temperature was then around 18 degree C, and we went into sweaters. The cottage over looked vegetable farms of Kanthalloor, and it had a nice lawn, with camp fire and barbeque facilities. Suresh’s wife prepared Chapathi and Chicken curry, as he was busy with our barbeque. As we had planned earlier, Suresh had arranged a new 4 wheel drive Jeep, in excellent condition, for our expedition, the next day. Even Suresh tried to pull us back, from a family adventure along unknown terrain, but we stood by it. I had also an agreement with Suresh, to send a search mission along the terrain, if we haven’t returned by the next morning, for I knew that mobiles may not come to help. Went to bed early.

7-8-09

             We were ready by 7.30 in the morning, and Satheesh, the hero of our journey, was waiting with his new Mahindra 4WD. Packed breakfast from a hotel at Kanthalloor town, with enough water and drove off towards Anamudi Shola National Park – earlier known as Mannavanchola. Tar road ended just 2 kms from Kanthalloor town, and the next time we saw tar mark, was after dusk. Jeep slowly crawled along the bumpy path, through the thick woods of Anamudi shola.         We spotted the rare species of Giant tree fern in the woods, and stopped a while, to have a snap.                Satheesh says that the locals call this tree ‘Kalyana theva’ and it is found only in Anamudi shola. After one hours drive, reached a forest check post named ‘Methappu’.There is a forest log house at this place, which overlooks Kanthalloor, and the thick shola forest, which can be rented for Rs.1500 per day.                 At Methappu, road split into two. Right deviation goes to Kundala dam – Topstation – Munnar. We took the left. Our first destination was ‘Kudalar Kudi’, a remote tribal settlement. Our plan was to move over to ‘Chilanthiyaar’, via KudalarKudi, and then to ‘Koviloor’, which is accessible from Munnar, via Top station. We found some tribals on the way, and Satheesh enquired about the track condition. They said the track is just motorable, and that a jeep has passed this way, 2 days back. 

               Went on and had a break, in the midst of woods, to have the food, we carried along. It was about 10.30 AM then, and we weren’t aware that the next stop for food will be at 7.45 PM. After about 10 minutes drive, we could have an aerial view of Kudalar Kudi.            There were around 30 huts, scattered on a nature made lawn, covered on all sides by towering green peaks. They had cultivated potatoes, carrots, garlic and cabbage all around their settlement.

Potatoe
Carrot

Onion
Cabbage
            They take these products to Kanthalloor on pony back and purchase essentials. Satheesh pointed to the track passing through the top of the opposite peak. That means we have to go down this peak and to climb the other. The track became more treacherous after Kudalar Kudi.           Slowly descended and then ascended the opposite peak to have another view of Kudalar Kudi.             Two more turnings, and at the valley of two giant grass hills, we saw another small settlement, and Satheesh names it ‘Valassappetti’.            This one is accessible only on foot or on horse back. The great grass hills that fenced the settlement had caps of thick woods.                 Stopped a while to enjoy the sight, and continued. Soon we approached Chilanthiyaar, and after that,the road went more smooth.               We entered Koviloor – Vattavada region famous for terraced cultivation of vegetables like Cabbage, Carrot, Potatoe etc. The hill slopes, terraced for farming, presented another panorama.                   And we reached Koviloor by 12 noon. Satheesh parked the vehicle just in the midst of the road, not to fear traffic.
Koviloor Junction
Koviloor's Barbar shop
                                Satheesh hasn’t gone beyond this point, and we went in search of some one, who has actually traversed the route. Many said they have gone up to Kadavari earlier, and not recently. Finally met a man, who had visited Kadavari, a week back. He says a 4WD can try up to Kadavari, but Kodaikanal….., he nods his head. Another news was that, in the recent rain, a stream had washed away the track to Kadavari top, and it still remains so.

                         We were confused, and Satheesh came up with the solution. ‘Let’s go and see. If it’s impossible we shall return’. Stocked more water and biscuits and went on. From the main track, a right deviation goes to Kadavari. Just got into the track, and we knew that things won’t be smooth ahead.                There was a track, of course, but it was full of huge rocks and deep holes all around. The track went through beautiful fern hills and Eucalyptus plantations.                At a place, while Satheesh was negotiating two deep pits on either side of the wheels, land slid, left front wheel dropped into the pit and as the vehicle was about to turn over, it rammed into a bund aside, and got stuck. Not for the bund, it would have gone upside down. Got the passengers down and asked them to walk up.                I and Sunil stood on the right foot board, and Satheesh tried the reverse. Luckily we got it out of the pit, with a bent bumper and a broken suspension plate.                 
Kadavari Valley
                 Wandered around and collected rocks to level the hole and after about 20 minutes, could pass that point. By this time our ladies and kids walked up ahead. After this incident, at regions of doubt, we people walked ahead, and Satheesh drove the jeep alone, on our guide lines. Further ahead the track split into three. We knew, among these, two goes to Eucalyptus plantations and one to Kadavari – But which one is that? No time to loose and we went for a wild guess, and proceeded along the left most one. As we went further the track went narrower and harder and we thought that our guess went wrong. Satheesh was determined and his gesture read– Let us see where it ends. At places, even Satheesh walked with us, leaving the Jeep, to explore how the track went ahead.                      At a turning, we found a horse on the wayside. That indicated presence of human around, and we yelled and howled, but no one turned up. Surprisingly, the horse ran ahead and waited for us at the next bend. We went following, and after two more bends, we found ourselves on a hillside, with green farms and small huts lying in the valley beneath us, surrounded by much more green mountains.                        We went down the winding track slowly to reach a carrot farm, where three farmers stood, simply watching our plight. This was the first time in my life, that I was thrilled in seeing a human being. The first enquiry line was, “which is this place?” And we yelled in happiness on hearing that, “This is Kadavari”. It was 2.30 PM by then. That meant, we took more than 2 hours to travel the 20 or so kms from Koviloor. Few meters ahead, we were to face the next problem – track washed away by stream – as we heard from Koviloor. To our luck, the farmers had ditched the sides of the stream, for their horses to pass through. And now its on Satheesh, to test whether a Jeep would go through. Satheesh went on with some construction work, and finally he could get it to the other side. But that wasn’t the end.                The track ahead proved more testing. The next three kms we walked, and found it very difficult to take the vehicle along.                   At the muddy spot in the picture above, the jeep got stuck. The four wheel drive option, which had helped us all along, failed here. Two people, who were working in the near by farm came to our help with their spades. We dropped in rocks, dry soil, pushed and pulled the vehicle from all sides, and after half an hour’s effort, the Jeep screamed out of it, jumping over the rock aside. The performance of a Mahindra 4WD Jeep, is admirable in such terrains, for it’s not a vehicle then, it’s a creature. By then, we were all mud and dirt. Our ladies were watching our fight, happily chatting with a village woman, and our kids were playing around, all these time. And the chat revealed that each hut has, at least, one horse, and these animals are their lone mode of transport. This place is so isolated that, not even law enforcing agencies, reach here. Thus Kadavari remained a heaven of Ganja cultivators, for long. It was in a recent attempt by the Kerala Govt. , Kadavari got released from the clutches of Ganja mafia, though not completely. Two kms ahead, it was Kadavari top, Tamil nadu ahead. The next three kms went through Pine forests, and the track was steadier.             Then again carrot plantations appeared, and we happily realized that we were appraoaching Kilavara.             Rang up Suresh, to convey the good news, and to inform that we will reach back by midnight. From Kilavira we took a right deviation to Poondi, where we stopped to have tea. We had a talk with tea vendor about our previous hours, and soon people gathered around us, as if we were some aliens. Some others went around the vehicle. The tea vendor went ahead with a lecture, on how to go to Kodaikanal from Kanthalloor, via Palani, and adviced me to take that path on the return – I just smiled. After the tea, drove through the picturesque agricultural lands of Mannavannur and Poombarai, and again entered the reserve forests belonging to the Kodaikanal range.          A herd of Bisons jumped off the road to give us way.                 Roads were in good shape and we could drive into Hotel Meenakshi Bhavan, Kodaikanal, by 7.45 PM. The Masal Dosas and Ghee roasts were tastier than ever. Took the Palani-Manuppatti- Chinnar road, and entered Chinnar Wild life sanctuary by around 11 at night. A tusker, on the wayside, stole another 15 minutes, as he was reluctant to move away.                 Finally we decided to accept the risk, and drove by his side, in lightning speed. As we went past, he turned a bit to the right, and I heard someone scream – don’t know who! Back at Cheeni Farm by 12.30, and went to bed, after a thorough wash up, by 1 AM.


              After long trips, drivers usually hand over their mobile numbers, for future communications. But here, I had to ask for it.......


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58 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing your rather amazing adventure! Your reporting & photos are excellent (and I am not volunteering my "mobile" number either).

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  2. Kuthirakkaaran patticha kaaryam enthe ezhuthathe?he he he..

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  3. I like all your journey discriptions
    have great journeys

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  4. What else can u expect... forest, mountains, unexplored places, 4X4 drive. this was an awesome adventure.... feel like experiencing

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  5. Just read about a more recent travel along the same route by Mr. Sidney Winer, on a bicycle. He took me along virtually, through the terrain, we had once experienced. You may get him at
    http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/page/?o=RrzKj&page_id=130523&v=4V

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  6. Thanks for sharing your wonderful travel experience. I am planning to visit Poondi this saturday(Yes, after reading your article).
    Did you take any approval from forest dept. for this route?
    If possible please give me your phone number or email ID.

    nimishchackalackal@gmail.com

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  7. Nimish : No permissions are required, as far as I know. Donno wat the track condition is, after the rains.
    Mail Id and Phone no. forwarded to ur mail box

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  8. Really amazing ........ Can i hav his no?
    unnimanchady@gmail.com

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  9. Unni, Welcome to my blog.
    Satheesh's no. has been forwarded

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  10. see our site www.savakurinji.org for more photos ana details about kurinji

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  11. Another exciting travelogue from you Shinu. Really enjoyed this as we are familiar with Manavannur from that side, and Kanthaloor on the other. The "road" is really bad as per your pics. Congratulations for discovering this route.

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  12. GAM

    Thanx for the regular visit. Heard that the track condition had further worsened after the rains

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  13. There is another route but only on horse back or trekking. From mannavanur (tamil nadu) go to kilanavayal by road. From there you can trek to Manjampatti. From there you can trek to talanji tribal settlement. From there you can trek to chamba kadu tribal settlement on the chinnar road.. Marayoor is only 10 kilo meters by road from here. Done this trip few times. Very isolated but needs forest department permission as you will be crossing Kodaikanal forest division then indira Gandhi wild life sanctuary then china wild life sanctuary. With your contacts you can do it.

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  14. Hi Anonymous. Wish to know more. Would you mind reaching me at sshinu@hotmail.com?

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  15. hallo annan, its really a rare event and a bold attempt with family.

    Thanks for the detailed report.

    selvakumar, madurai

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  16. challenging and exciting trip! thanks for sharing Shinu!

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  17. hai shinu bhai..... its so coool...... enjoyed every words... thanx for sharing....

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  18. shinu bhai..... pls send me the number of satheesh....
    reshipm84@gmail.com

    and what is your opinion about a bike ride in your route?
    why dont you mention kottakamboor between koviloor and kadavari? forgotten or any other way? pls reply

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  19. Shinu,
    appreciate for sharing your experience. please advice is this route is o.k for a bi cycle trip (one person alone).please can you provide contact Number of concerned person who can help me to assist.if you dont mind expecting your Number Also.Iam Planning to travel by December 2012.
    if any intrested to accompany me from your circle please let me know.



    Regards,

    SHAJAN
    shajan2k03@gmail.com

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    Replies
    1. Shajan

      Sorry for being late to reply. Its an excellent route for bicycle journey and I had posted a link on such a travel by Sidney Winer, in a comment above. As such I don't have any contact details, enroute and u can reach me at sshinu@hotmail.com,if in need of further info

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  20. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  21. Dear Shinu,
    I've traveled to Kottakkamboor recently & am very keen to do the Kadavary - Klavara - Kodai route by jeep with my friends. I took the smooth tar road from Top station to reach Kovilur. The going gets tough right after Kottakkamboor , right? Do we need permissions from any authority to travel through that road? Is there any forest check posts en route? You did the trip in 2009 & i hope the road conditions will be better now.Can you tell me the approximate distance between Kovilur - Kadavari , Kadavari-Klavara & time taken?
    Thank you,
    vidurar@hotmail.com

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    Replies
    1. Nomad : Let me apologize for being late to reply. There are no check posts enroute and I don't think that permissions are required, as these places are inhabited. As regards the present condition of the track, you may contact Mr. Satheesh, who took us for the go and he may be reached at 09495651650. Please revert if in need of more info

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  22. You really make it seem so eaѕy with yοur presentation
    but I find thiѕ topic to bе really ѕomething thаt I think
    I woulԁ neνег understand. It ѕeems too compliсated
    and νеry brоad for me. I'm looking forward for your next post, I'll
    try tο gеt the hang of it!
    Also see my web page :: daily news paper

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  23. dear shinu...
    i'm a very regular follower of your blogs. it's really awesome. well i belong to a biker group. we 're really into conservation of nature and we 're actively participate in events related to the same. we'd like to take the same road on our 2 wheelers>>>do we need any permission form the authorities...we are all WWF members too...

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    Replies
    1. Dear Sri Balakrishnan Nair. This route is actually used by farmers of Kadavari and I don't think any permission is required

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    2. thank you very much for the prompt response...looking forward to see you in person....
      have a nice weekend boss

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  24. This is awesome. A great drive through those paths. Loved the post. Would love to do it on a bike someday.

    http://www.rajniranjandas.blogspot.in

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    Replies
    1. Thank You Niranjan Das. Yeah ...the track is most suitable for biking

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  25. We did this route on 1st of Dec 2012 on five bikes.For me it was an experience of a life time.My advice is that if you want to enjoy the route to the fullest, forget 4WD.You either walk the distance or do it on bike.We completed the stretch without any nasty fall or even a single puncture.If you are riding double then your pillion has to walk for most of the time, as it was impossible to negotiate the terrain with the additional weight.At Top Station forest check post, don't mention anything about Kodaikanal.If asked,just tell them you are going to 'Vattavada'.Or it's even better to ride under the check post poll without bothering them at all. The off road section starts right from 'Kottakamboor'. The first leg is an uphill climb of 12Km till Kadavari,then the descend to 'Kilavarai' begins.It's only for 3 Kms but much harder to negotiate.The locals warned us about a forest check post in 'Kilavarai'as they act greedy ( for money ) sometimes.They told us the best way to get past them is to look the other way and ignore them completely.We wait for about 5 minutes after each bike clears the check point and then follow them. After that if somebody at 'Poondi' asked you about where you are coming from, just answer 'Kilavarai', and all will be fine.It took us 5 hours to complete the off road with a lot of pushing and pulling.There are a number of small mountain streams to cross, so be prepared to get yourself dirty. At some places the rider has to get off the bike, put it into first gear and walk beside it.Carry enough food & plenty of water( I mean 'PLENTY')as there were no sight of safe drinking water anywhere in the hills. There are two junctions which may cause a little confusion.First one is between 'Kottakamboor' and 'Kadavari'. There is a green cottage of some sort there. Take the road that goes below it.The next junction is soon after 'Kadavari'. Just go straight.
    Route - Munnar -Topstation -34Kms, Topstation - Koviloor- Kottakamboor - 12Kms, Kottakamboor - Kadavari - 12 Kms, Kadavari - Kilavarai - 3Kms, Kilavarai - Poondi - Kavunji - Mannavanur - poombarai -Kodaikanal - 45Kms.
    Warning :-Almost everybody you met enroute will try their hardest to discourage you from doing the road and will tell you all types of scary tales.Just smile politely at them and do your thing.
    Thanks a lot Shinu, for being my inspiration.

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    Replies
    1. thats great. could you tell us whether is it possible to do this route in a 4X4 vehicle without any winches and all?

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    2. Yeah..There weren't any thing of that sort in our vehicle.

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  26. @Shan
    You can do this road on a 4WD for sure.But I bet you will be walking for most of the time :) Absolutely no need for winches or anything.IMO now is the best time of the year to attempt Koviloor - Klavara route, cause the rains has stopped and the climate is really cool up there.

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  27. Dear Shinu,
    If it is ok with you , i would like to share my experience with all.
    http://www.gotbhp.blogspot.in/

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  28. Hi Shinu,

    Wonderful write Up. Please share the contact details of the farmhouse and also other contacts to plan my next trip. sriram.g@outlook.com

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  29. Hi Shinu,
    Excellent journey. I had been to Kodaikanal a day back but through the normal route. I would like to have a journey like you did. Please give details of stay at Kanthalloor/Koviloor and phone numbers which will help.

    Vinayachandran
    vinayachandranv@gmail.com

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    1. Vinayachandran

      Satheesh, a driver at Kanthalloor, can help you in this respect. His Contact no. is 9495651650

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    2. Hi Shinu,
      Very Delighted after reading your blog... very good description and write up, Well i was enlightened a lot after reading this stuff. Me along with my friends planning to do this stretch some time during December in my Jeep which is MM 540 4x4. Can you please let us know the most difficult parts which we can come accross this route.. Difficult to tackle etc...

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  30. Great description interlaced with photographs. Kudos !!!

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  31. Hi Shinu,

    That was a thoroughly interesting reading. I admire your thorough narrative reporting style, your eye for detail and your adventure spirit.

    I stumbled across your Blog from the Wiki article on Old SH 18. I Was generally browsing through articles on Kodai as I am just back from there on a family trip- albeit a very tame one on a sedan.

    I was always fascinated with the Old SH 18 route, but somehow missed the chance to explore it when my Father-in-law could have arranged the DFO permissions from Kerala and TN to coincide and make it possible.

    What I instead did was, in 2004 on a Trivandrum-Munnar bike trip (I'm an avid biker at heart) with a likeminded chum of mine, one thing got to another and after watching the majestic hills from Munnar Top Station, we decided to do the Kodai route. You might remember the few shops beyond the Top Slip, just before the final observation point. We chatted up a local guy there, who reluctantly suggested the route you guys took to reach Kodai, but spared no words to explain the magnitude of such an undertaking.

    The bike I was using then was an Enfield Bullet Machismo, a machine notorious for its clutch cable unreliability. Today I realize the foolhardy risk we undertook on this awesomely treacherous route, connecting all the places you mentioned. It was a wet season, and steep climbs on slippery smooth mud tracks, and bouncing through huge boulders constantly employing the clutch- was sheer terror. Some inclines had an ascent angle of above 50 degrees! The Jeep you heard travelled two days back is an every fortnight schedule. It usually is a machine- only 2WD- stripped down to the bare essentials of indeterminate colour and vintage. Engine, Chassis, a bare platform and not much else! The way the driver handled, and the way the machine reciprocated, was plain amazing. We rode ahead of it, so that had my bike broke down, the Jeep would have soon arrive. What a journey it was! Unfortunately, I failed to record or even observe the scenery, or take snaps. I was quite subdued, with the mammoth risk I'd taken on. (I had to be back in office the second day- and I was pretty sure I'd have to abandon the bike if the clutch gave up. There was no way- save an airlifting- to rescue the bike from that terrain.

    Miraculously, we sailed through. Approaching Kodai, there was extreme downpours every other KM we travelled it seemed. We took refuge under natural caves by the roadside formed by the exposed eroded root canopies of wayside jungle trees. We reached Kodai in one piece at around 11 PM, starting from Munnar around 11AM.

    Continued...

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  32. Continuing...

    Since then, one of the bike trips (on the same machine) I took was with my wife. Travelling the insane road from Kundala Dam to Marayoor (the local cheapo maps show it as a dotted line spanning 13 odd kms). We thought the road would be somehow "manageable" (some guys never learn). That trip was an excrutiatingly risky affair too, and the bike took some nasty falls and had a jammed brake pedal. Thankfully, no other mishaps.

    How I wish I had had arranged better local support to minimise the risk, and carry back some snaps and general details. However, our escapades had been extensively reported in magazines like Vanitha and Grihalakshmi among others. An interview with my wife was aired on a program called "Sakhi" on Amritha TV (she rides the bullet too).

    We still take every opportunity to bike extesively. However, doing the real Old SH 18 remains unfulfilled. I've decided it'd not be wise to take a girl along, so wifey is out of such an endeavour- if it ever take place. The only way to do it would be on foot- me thinks. With the relevent forest permissions collected, but with minimal intervention. Maybe a guide woud suffice. And two days to trek? What I think, is that this would start from Munnar (arriving by bus from various locations) and departing from Kodaikanal. Four days in toto?

    GPS navigation on the phone should help a long way from the point-by-point coordinate details provided on the Wiki page. Some time in Feb- Mar should be of ideal climate. I'm musing on the possibilities.

    Would the local contacts you know help with this trip?
    Are they connected well enough to coordinate with KL and TN forest depts?
    What in your opinion would be a per-person budget- very roughly?
    How far along has the new proposed SH 18 progressed?
    Can we get a beforehand idea of even rudimentary shelters en route?
    What's the level of wildlife threat during Feb-Mar?

    Please add your quick comments to the above.
    Or if it would not be an inconvenience to you, please share your contact details and any other detailed information on jh.praveen@yahoo.com. Would be a pleasure to speak with you on my phone numbers- 994 6000 100 or 808 6886 808.

    My heart yearns for such a trip. I'm keen to do this at the earliest, as I believe I'll be moving abroad in an year. Before that, the prospects of an Old SH 18 trek and an upcoming Himalaya bike ride are the top two on my adventure travel agenda.

    Regards
    JH

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  33. Could you describe the details to my mail?

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  34. Hello,

    Can you give me the details for me. I am very intersting for the trip as you done

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  35. Can you give me the full details regarding this trip?

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  36. Hello can I know if the route u travelled is known as the Escape route can u also give the guides info available for the trip.

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    Replies
    1. Its not the escape route.. That's through Vandaravu.. See http://sshinu.blogspot.in/2012/11/pampadumchola-vandaravu-khardung-la-of.html

      Actually we went on our own...There were no guides

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Pappilai Amman - The Deity Distinct

         Raj Vridhachalam, the man behind many of my trails, was the one to brief me on Pappilai Amman, the deity of a jungle shrine, deep i...