Thursday, October 28, 2010

KM Tiger Reserve - Approach from the west

          

          Kalakkad Mundanthurai is the southern most tiger reserve of India, shortly known as KMTR. Normal access to the reserve is through Ambasamudram, in Thirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu, the eastern side of Western Ghats. There are pockets of tea plantations within the reserve viz. Manjolai, Nalumukku, Oothu etc. I had explored these place during March 2009 and could reach up to Upper Kodayar reservoir along the road from Ambasamudram (For that travelogue click here)


              Though the track extended beyond the reservoir, couldn't explore further as there was a gate with three locks, across the dam, blocking the passage. A TNEB employee who was guiding us then, revealed that the track beyond the gate lead to Muthukuli, the core of KMTR, to which permission is strictly denied. Muthukuli, being the western side of KMTR, is more close to my home town Trivandrum, but access to the place, as I knew, was only through the east, via Ambasamudram.


            In July 2010, Sunil, Dinesh and I had a two day trip to Kanyakumari, with our families. As it was a leisure trip, we avoided the regular NH 47 and opted SH 45 of Tamil Nadu, which went along the foot hills of Western Ghats and ended up at Aaralvaimozhi, just 30 kms from Kanyakumari. I had 'Kalikesham', a small waterfall, in my mind, which was a mere 11 km deviation from SH 45. Convinced Dinesh, a DFO with the Forest Dept., that it wouldn't consume much time, and took a left turn at Thadikarankonam, to reach Keeripara, which is 9 km from SH 45. As Dinesh had intimated Forest Dept. officials about the journey, we had Murukan and Subbalekshmi, dept. staff, waiting for us at Keeripara. They took us to Kalikesham river, just four kms from Keeripara, where the road ended by the river side.


                A chat with Murukan revealed that 4WD jeeps and heavier vehicles can cross the river flow, to get on to the track on the other side, which leads to Balamore Estate, a spice plantation. He continued that the estate authorities will not allow vehicles to enter the estate, with out permission from forest dept. and hence vehicles seldom cross the river. Why should it be so and what would happen to the track, once it crossed Balamore estate? Murukan, the poor chap, unaware of my intentions, opened up that its KMTR beyond the estate and 14 km up the slippery forest track, from the estate limit is 'Muthukuli' !!.


                          I had what I wanted and Murukan was in trouble. He opted defense and found it hard to convince us that the track beyond the estate is blocked by a gate and its key is under the custody of Kulasekharam Range officer, which shall be handed over only on direction from DFO Kanyakumari and so on. Of course that would take time, but Murukan can take us to Balamore at least. He conceded and we had two 4WD jeeps from Keeripara, on which we crossed Kalikesham river and drove up to 'Kaduva Pori', the eastern end of Balamore estate.




             The track to Balamore is about 8 km long from Kalikesham and winds through thick woods, along the side of Kalikesham river. 

 
         Just on crossing the river, Kalikesham Falls can be spotted below the track, to its right.



        Our chauffeur, Vincent, was born and brought up at Keeripara and he was well versed with the geography of the place. At a turning he stopped the vehicle, by a boulder, which had burrows drilled into it. It was not burrows but marks of elephant attacks, to taste the salt content, the boulders had, and the place was meaningfully named 'Aana Kuthi Modangu'.


                       At the estate entrance, Subbalekshmi got out of the vehicle, and we were allowed in. 


                   An abandoned tea factory by the way side indicated the past glory of the property.


              The mountain folds of Maramalai, spread opposite to ours, is famous for its clove plantations. Finally after an hours drive, we reached 'Kaduva Pori', which means 'Tiger Trap'. Many good old ones would have lost their lives here. While Vincent was turning the vehicle, for our return, I was watching the track, which went further winding up, inviting.


             Thus, for the second time, Muthukuli is just out of our cup. Returned to Kalikesham by 3 PM, had a late lunch at a remote joint there, and continued with our trip to Kanyakumari.

         

                   Before the third journey to KMTR, did a lot of home work. Though a bit risky, decided to take our family along with. Made use of all available contacts and Thiruvananthapuram DFO, Mr. Pradeep Kumar, was of real help. He had direct contacts with Kanyakumari DFO and KMTR DFO and he introduced us to them, over telephone. Decided Vincent to be our chauffeur and Murukan to be our guide, and obtained permissions accordingly.


                        Thus by 6.30 AM on 10 - 09 - 2010, Sunil, Renchi, Sreedevi, I and our kids, were off in our Alto, for Keeripara. Reached Keeripara by 9 AM to find Murukan, Vincent and Jayasekhar, the forest official in charge of the place, waiting for us. On producing the permission letter, Jayasekhar handed over the keys to Murukan, and we boarded Vincent's 4WD by 9.15 AM. Crossed Kalikesham river, went through Balamore estate, exited at Kaduva Pori, and we were in KMTR. 


              Woods slowly transformed to grass lands, with altitude, and pockets of canopies appeared occasionally. Pechipara reservoir, in the valley, went on shrinking, as we climbed.





                          About a km from the first gate, Vincent asked us to alight. We found ourselves surrounded by towering grass hillocks. 


 
 


                Vincent drove towards the gate alone and we followed the track walking. Thick greenery is peace and flowing water is hope - what I expect in all my journeys and what  I achieve most often.


           The track we were to follow, went along the hillside, to the top of the adjacent mount.


                Kids ran along the track to reach the gate earlier. Murukan had by then opened the gate and got the vehicle through. 



           Continued to the hill top amidst the drizzle, and had another stop. 


                     Had a wide angle view from the hilltop and could trace the winding path, we had already covered.

Perunchanni Reservoir

Pechipara Reservoir

           The climb was almost over and the descent to Muthukuli sector started. Unfortunately mist spread by then, limiting our view. It was interesting to hear that the Maharaja of Travancore had a palace at Muthukuli, which has now ruined to pebbles. Even the British had interest in this place, for gaming purposes. They even used to play football at this altitude, it seems. Vincent pointed to a plane meadow atop the hill, naming it 'Panthadikalam' - the football court.


                 The light greenery of the meadows slowly thickened to dark woods of KMTR core. The drizzling persisted, reducing the chances of wildlife sightings. 



            Sighting Bisons run along the track, Vincent stopped the vehicle. I got out and walked cautiously to the next bend, expecting them there, but in vain. From that point onwards, I opted to travel by the top of the vehicle, to have a majestic view of the woods. The ride wasn't that smooth, as I was seated on the spare Tyre, with both hands engaged in handling a handy-cam and a still camera. Low lying branches and thorny bamboo stems added to the woe.


           Spotted a patch of water storage, at a distance, to realize that we were at the extreme end of Upper Kodayar reservoir. 


                    Onward journey was along side the reservoir, with canopies and water columns alternating. 

 
                The jeep went over many bridge like structures, constructed to block water leakage from the reservoir.


            Atop one such structure, Vincent stopped the vehicle abruptly, indicating a trouble. Got out to find the left front wheel flat. He had a lone spare Tyre and he got armed with the jack, for the replacement. That was a cause of worry, as we have to travel all the way back, with out another spare. Beauty of the nature around washed away all  the ill thoughts in seconds, and I roamed around clicking, while the kids were busy with the Tyre change. 


             Got it right and, drove up to Upper Kodayar dam, and parked the vehicle by the dam side, in front of the gate with three locks, which I had mentioned in the very beginning. Thus I have reached up to this gate, from both sides; from the eastern side earlier, and now from the western side of KMTR. And, if not for these locked gates, slippery tracks of KMTR, and stringent restrictions imposed by the forest dept., this would have been the shortest path to Ambasamudram and Thirunelveli, from Trivandrum. But let it not be so.


                As we were roaming around, a forest patrol jeep appeared from the eastern side, all of a sudden, and armed personnels surrounded us, threatening an arrest, for illegally trespassing the protected area.  They even ignored the presence of a forest dept. staff with us. The issue was that the KMTR DFO had failed to transmit the information about our visit, through the Muthukuli side, to the field staff of KMTR. The place was out of cellular coverage, and there was no scope of contacting the senior officials. Some how I managed to explain the whole story, to their head, a Range Officer. He was thankfully patient to listen, and the permission letter, we had carried along, brought them back to earth, to let us go free. Still I felt the discomfort in them and decided to clear off the place soon, to avoid further hassles.


              By around 3 PM, stopped the vehicle near a huge plane rock, to have our lunch, which was just bread and biscuits. Crossed Muthukuli and it started raining. Drove cautiously and deviated from Kaduva Pori, for Kilaviyaar falls, a small descent of  Kilaviyaar rivulet, which flows into Pechipara reservoir. 



         Spend there a while, fighting leaches and reached back Keeripara by 6.30 PM.


             This wasn't the end of the trip, but start of another, for we were heading to 'Maramalai', straight away, of which details will be shared in the next post.


                 Few days later, I had a sad message from Vincent. It was that the KMTR authorities had dug a trench across the Jeep track, we had traversed. Thus we remain the last vehicle riders to KMTR, through the west of Western Ghats.


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38 comments:

  1. Very good trip. Looking forward for the "maramalai" version.

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  2. Hi Shinu

    Adventure trip

    Good far view pictures of pechipparai and perunchani dams

    With family in forest is too risky

    good narration and picture

    very disappointment on trench across jeep track

    thanks for sharing adventure trip

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  3. Thanx Pramod
    As regards Maramalai, I'm on the draft.

    Krishna : Happy to have a regular visitor
    like You. Thanx for the good words.

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  4. Amazed as always. Keep on "jeeping"!

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  5. Why build the trench to stop all traffic? Some officials, researchers and fire fighters have legitimate need to use the road.

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  6. Marcus Sir: I'm privileged to have a comment on my post from a person of your kind. I had gone through your articles earlier. And I admire you. Your efforts are sure to inspire many like me

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  7. Shinu,
    I am also from Trivandrum, a software engineer by profession.I m excited reading your post, very nice narration and excellent photos. I am also planning a trip to KMTR, which route you will prefer from TVm. Is there any possibility of getting an advance booking in EB guest house, if not is there any way to get an accomodation. We are planning it for 4 days. Hoping a reply soon.

    PS: i am interested in talking to you. pls send your contact number to chinchunarayan@gmail.com

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  8. Chinchu: Details sent to your mailbox

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  9. Shinu,
    Came across your blog while looking for Muthukuli palace on the net. Very interesting pictures. I used to be a frequent visitor to Muthukuli 35 years before because i just loved the grassy hills especially between Balamore and Muthukuli. Your pictures brought back nostalgic memories and I thank you for it.

    Those days Muthukuli palace was in good shape and was managed by PWD. In fact I have stayed in the palace for a few days. I think the guys from Keeriparai and the Forest dept. officials who accompanied you were too young to be familiar with the fate of the palace.

    During the construction of the Upper Kodayar dam the officials who made the survey made an unfortunate blunder. According to their assessment the palace would get submerged once the water level went up. They were wrong. Based on the wrong assessment the palace was auctioned off and the palace was demolished and the valuables stripped off. The walls of the palace were lined with copper plates which was used as a heating system to keep the place warm.

    I visited Muthukuli in 2002 from Ambasamudram side after a gap of 20 odd years. When I saw the ruins of the palace that once should have been the prized possession of the State of Travancore I was upset. A wanton destruction of a heritage site.

    Anyway, being a nature lover like you I enjoyed your write-up and the pics.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Dear Anonymous Traveller

    The script above is not to be treated as a comment. It would have been a valuable piece, if I had it before compilation of the post. Still those visitors, who dip to the bottom is sure to admire your experience.

    Yet another request ; If you could reveal your identity please reach me at sshinu@hotmail.com

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  11. I am from Kalakad (K in KMTR stands for Kalakad). We have heard our village elders of the gone era state that we can reach Trivandrum by crossing over the mountains without going via Nagerkoil.

    From Kalakad side also there is a track (not a road) upto a place called Sengaltheri. It has an accomodation of the British time as they used to go up and stay for the summers. A good vehicle, including a good mini lorry can travel thro it.

    However to the places mentioned in your write up, I do not know whether any approach is there or not from Kalakad side.

    Though the peak name Agastiyar malai is frequestnly used in our areas I do not know whether the actual spot falls in Kerala or Tamilnadu.

    We all know more about USA and all, but not about our own country and its treasures.

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  12. Yeah Mani, you had put it right.

    As far as I know there are no jeep tracks connecting Sengaltheri to Upper Kodayaar. Here I recall a visit to Thengai Uruli, in Pachayaaru, once, while the native Mr.Muthuswami who took us to the place, had revealed that he used to walk up to Upper Kodayaar, via Sengaltheri

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  13. dear shinu been an armchair traveller for long but have gazed for hours at the remote muthukuli hills from pechippara kaalikesam olakkaruvi and wherever possible dad had once told me that 60 yrs ago he had gone to muthukuli on plant collection tour never believed it then muthukuli still remains an unattainable goal thanhs for the travellogue MOHAN KUMAR TRIVANDRUM 9847749739

    ReplyDelete
  14. MOHAN KUMAR TRIVANDRUM 9847749139

    ReplyDelete
  15. Mohan : You may reach me at sshinu@hotmail.com

    Stephen : Thank You

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  16. Hi Shinu,
    Nice to read your travelogue. Now i have specific question.. Have you noticed any change in rock types there, especially the one u have mentioned in relation with elephant and salt. Interested to be in touch through bl6713@gmail.com

    biju

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  17. Wow!! Really a beautiful narration about the nature... I am also wishing to make a road trip via Kalikesam to Muthukuli...Can you help me please..@kaprian078@gmail.com

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    Replies
    1. Kannan : The possibilities are remote as I had mentioned in the last part of my post. Still I will let you know if a way opens up.

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  18. Hey Shinu,
    Ur narrations are wonderful.
    Gives a feeling of travelling along

    Hats off

    I saw other posts also.

    Visited KMTR sometime back - via Ambai. I plan to visit Mancholai also.


    I think apart from the route from Kalikesam, actually a route
    existed from Kattakada - Neyyar Dam - to Kodayar and to AMbai. Any idea abt it?

    A few years back Mr.Smpath -MP was sharing such info in a meeting.


    Once a friend's father who was a Congress Politician in Ambai told that along with some Minister, he travelled in the winch to lower Kodayar and went back via Kulasekaram - Thadikarankonam - VALLIYOOR to Ambai.


    Any way I liked ur blog verymuch. And I will continue to follow

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    Replies
    1. Chithu : The one through Kattakkada was used by rulers earlier and the route was blocked later, as far as I know. I had tried once to trace out the same and left as it was damn thick woods after a stream near Chonampara.

      As regards the other one, I had traveled up to Lower Kodayar Power house where the winch descends to, and had gone up to Upper Kodayar Valve house, where the winch starts. I have marked this path in wikimapia and have posted reports in my blog

      Thanks a lot

      Delete
    2. Sir treamandos effort. You are really fortunate

      Delete
  19. கலக்கல் ட்ரிப் நண்பா

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  20. hi .. i want d permit detal to go to muthukuli pls help me at kowsall4@gmail.com

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  21. Kowsal Kirthi : Sorry dear..I'm totally helpless as you could make it from the last part of my post.

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  22. hi shinu

    i am planing to go to balamore and from theere to manjolai.. can i go in bike till balamore? if its 4 wheeler then from where do i need o get permissions? can u pls help me? i am from kollam.. pls message me your contact number in my mail id skyney17@gmail.com

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  23. Sir you should really visit Athiri Malai near Azhvaarkuruchi near Ambasamuthiram

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  24. Anybody cant gi inside balamore now but u can go into maramalai

    ReplyDelete

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