Friday, November 5, 2010

Maramalai – The Clove Enclave


                   Maramalai, southern part of Western Ghats, is contiguous with KM Tiger reserve, and a small pocket with in it was released for clove plantations in early days. The plantation was under single ownership for long and later it was disposed off, part by part, and now there are 42 or so divisions. The residents of the place are the workers of the plantations and the caretakers. Clove is a seasonal crop and the presence of the estate owners, at the place, will be only during the season. Apart from that, they are occasional visitors, for paying the wages, and other such activities. 

                Maramalai, not being a tourist destination, do not have any accommodation facility, other than those connected with the plantations. Thus, if you wish to have a stay at the place, the only option is to share the available mean facilities with the residents, and that too is not readily granted. For instance, we had Vincent, a jeep driver at Keeripara, the base of Maramalai mount, a popular guy among the estate residents, being the lone conveyance dependant, to our help. Vincent was most welcome to all these dwellings, and it was he who had arranged our night stay at the place during the two visits, I had already done.

                And as I had mentioned in the earlier post, Keeripara, the base of the mount, is just a two hour drive from Trivandrum, in the south – east direction.

                My first trip to Maramalai was in continuation to the KMTR adventure, which I had shared with you in my earlier post. It was 6.30 PM, 10th September 2010, and we were at Keeripara, with our bellies longing for something solid, as were living on biscuits, the entire day, in the company of mist and rain, negotiating the slippery and bumpy tracks of KM Tiger reserve. And what Keeripara could offer was just tea and the same old biscuits. We were to head to Maramalai soon, and the next possibility of getting something eatable was Thadikarankonam, a small junction, about 9 kms from where we are now. Leaving our ladies and kids with Sunil, I left for Thadikarankonam with Vincent – our travel adviser, tour coordinator, accommodation manager, guide, driver and what not. 

              The lone tea shop at Thadikarankonam was about to close, left with Porotta and a dark red colored liquid- they call it curry. On Vincent’s special request the vendor, though hesitantly, leaned to serve Omelets. Gathering the treasure, reached back Keeripara by around 8 PM, and took off, in Vincent’s 4WD, for the night safari along the woods of Maramalai.
                  Though we expected elephants in the track, we were to satisfy with the sighting of a lone mouse deer. After a 40 minute drive along the thick woods, we entered the clove plantations. Another 20 minutes took us to the gate of the office cum residence of the care taker of ‘Star Plantations’. The temperature had dropped by then and our ladies went into sweaters. We were allotted a two bedded, bath attached room – possibly the owner’s room – and a corridor with two more beds. Raided on the packet food and the ladies and kids retired to the lone room, while Sunil and I hit the corridor beds. The night was cold that I seldom went out of the cover.

                               Got up by around 6.30 and rushed out to see where we were. The estate dwelling was in the midst of clove greenery extending to wooded hillocks.

               The care taker’s wife had made black tea for us and while enjoying the same, we had an informative lecture from Vincent, on the geography and history of the place. 

                Vincent was a plantation worker in Maramalai, from the age of 10 and he used to walk up and down the entire distance from Keeripara, daily, to keep life ticking. He had spent all these years in this region and even the remote dark jungles are familiar to him. I got ready earlier and went for a walk, down the path, with Vincent. About half a km down the path, there was an abandoned tea factory.

              From its premises, could have a wide angle view of Balamore estate with KM Tiger Reserve at the back drop. 

             The church of Maramalai, far down our path, was the lonely building that got into my frame.

          Returned soon to find our co travelers impatiently waiting for us.

                     Our lady host, had by then prepared rice porridge and chutney, for our break fast and that tasted great. It was time to explore Maramalai in day light and we got out from Star plantations. About half a km up the track we spotted a small building and to our surprise, it was the Panchayath office of the place. Vincent continued that the entire office work is handled by a lady who has to climb up and down, the entire fourteen km stretch, from Keeripara, as the place is deprived of any mode of public transport.

                  Along a track just opposite to this building, we started our morning trek to ‘Tower Mottai’. 

               This, earlier, nameless, peak got its name recently, on the erection of a tower, by the forest dept., for their wireless communication. The half an hour trek to this place was along a ‘valley of flowers’ and the aroma boosted our energy levels.

            Once atop, you shall find the Perunchanni reservoir, stretch below you, like a house lizard.

             Even parts of Nagercoil sector were visible, but too far to be filmed. Leaches had already started their spell and many of us were bleeding.

                    Leaving ladies and kids at the watch tower, Sunil and I followed Vincent, to the other side of the peak along the rocky track. 

           The path ended abruptly at a rocky structure – and we named it ‘Suicide Rock’.

                 Atop Suicide Rock and one more step will let you fly for a while, before you find ground to land. The mist capped green hillocks of KMTR lied in folds to the north east. 


                     Just beneath the rock we had the thick woods of Maramalai, along which we had climbed up, the last night.

                  Just opposite to suicide rock was another protruding structure, over which, we were presented with a similar panorama of the woods towards the south.

                Left soon to the wireless station, as Vincent suspected presence of bear in the region. 

                    Got back to the Jeep track in another half an hour and started the descent to Keeripara. Had another stop, while we were close to Keeripara, to have a glimpse of Vattappara falls, on Masupathi River – locally called ‘Massar’. 

                 Though the small descent is not of much attraction, the odd shapes of the rocks all around, made a point. Kids had a dip, and left soon to reach Keeripara by noon. 
                     Just before Keeripara there is a bridge across Pambar River, from ‘Chamikuchi‘ hills.

Pambar - Chamikuchi hill at the backdrop
               It is one of the three major water sources to Perunchanni reservoir, the other two being Kalikesham River from Muthukuli and Masupathi River from Maramalai. The confluence of the threesome, after the reservoir is called ‘Paraliyaar’. Paraliyar later joins Kodayar at Moovattumukham near Thiruvattar, named Kuzhithura River there after, joining Arabian Sea at Thengapattinam near Marthandam. Excuse me, if the river factor went too long, like the rivers.

             Assuring a return, by the next week end, with other DLC male members, boarded our vehicle to reach back Trivandrum by 4 PM.
                       Two weeks later, on 25th September 2010, four of us, Pramod, Sreekumar, Anoj and I reached Keeripara in our WagonR, by around 5 PM, with all provisions required to keep us going till the next day. Vincent was waiting there for us from noon. As other members were new to the place, thought of paying a visit to Kalikesham riverside, before proceeding to Maramalai. Reached Kalikesham to witness the sad plight of a Maruthi 800 team, who dared to take the tiny thing across the river. 

               Stood there watching the rescue mission, until we realized it was too late for the climb. 


                 Got back to Keeripara, parked our vehicle at Vincent’s place and boarded his 4WD jeep, for the ascent. Negotiated the woods with out any sightings and reached Star plantation by around 7.30 PM. Mr. Jnanasekhar, our host this time, being the supervisor of Achankadu Plantations, joined us here. Achankadu was another 45 minutes bumpy ride, which often tested the 4 WD option of Vincent’s jeep. Thus by around 8.30 PM, we reached our destination – Achankadu. It was pitch dark and we followed Jnanasekhar, leaving the jeep somewhere, feeling the leaches on our legs and hearing the roar of water by our side.

                 Within a few minutes, we reached a building and Jnanasekhar went into the darkness. Heard a click somewhere and it was light all around. They had a mini hydro electric plant of their own which tapped energy from the Achankadu Falls, close to the building. We could make out that the lone building was surrounded by hillocks and the water fall was some where very close, but beneath the highland, on which the building is located. The building had a large hall, a tiny bed room and a kitchen. Not to chill out, we opted to be in the kitchen, helping Jnanasekhar, in the preparation of our Chapattis and Chicken curry. Had food, long chat, and Anoj retired to the room, which had a bed, and we chose the hall, under the cover of two three blankets. 

                     Pramod and I went for an early morning walk, leaving others snoring.  We found our dwelling surrounded on three sides by clove hillocks, gradually fading into thick jungle, while the Achankadu rivulet on one side, bordered the woods. 

            Others too joined us and we followed the rivulet up stream. Few steps ahead found a huge rock nicely placed on others, forming a cave through which the rivulet went

          Heard from Jnanasekhar that the cave was a recent formation and the huge roof rock was brought here by a land slide in 1992. Crawled through the cave to the other side and climbed up the huge rock, fighting the leaches, all the while. 

         The climb presented us another view of the descent from the adjacent wooded mount. 

                   Got back to our dwelling and went for a dip in the falls. Owing to the height from which it plunged, we found it hard, to get beneath the flow.

             By then Jnanasekhar had prepared Upma and it tasted great when mixed with the remains of the curry, we had, the night before.

                 It was already 10 in the morning and we had to hurry, for this trip was not just to Maramalai but then to ‘Ulakkai Aruvi’ , a huge water fall, a bit further to the south. 

       I feel that I had become lazier, these days, of course not in the travel, but in writing. In fact I had done two more trips, by now, with write up pending. But I have to get through some how, for this blog has become a part of my life, as travelling is. So friends let me end up the Maramalai expedition here, promising to be back soon with the ‘Ulakkai Aruvi’ adventure. 

         And to those from my native city of Trivandrum, I once again assert that this place of immense natural beauty, is just three hours from your home, and there are no restrictions to visit the place, and and and that the total expenditure, the four of us had incurred, for the two day trip, was below Rs.3000.   

      Wasn’t that enough to tempt a nature enthu??????       
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  1. I visited Ullakaruvi some months before. Climb is tough. Locals polluted the waterfall

  2. Hi shinu

    Another adventure trip in forest....


    good pictures and narration

    expecting more...


  3. Hi boss...
    Is this DLC is an organised travel club?

    Or ur conceptual platform?

    But itz nice......
    Bcs I like this type of place more than the croud junky spots......

  4. Binu : I'll come up with the Ulakkai aruvi post soon.

    Krishna : Thanx again and I'll try my best to rise to your expectations, time and again.

    Renchi : Thanx for ur good words. DLC is just an introduction to my blog. Do visit frequently & feel free to comment.

  5. Shinu,

    iam waiting 4 ur travalogue to Pulmedu and Ponnambalamedu....

  6. Binu, both are up. The trek to Ponnambalamedu wasn't successful due to unfavorable climate.

  7. It's good to keep reading of your family's adventures Shinu, please keep up the trips and subsequent reportage. What on earth where those Maruti 800 drivers thinking? Maybe they weren't thinking hard enough...

  8. Hai Chris
    Happy to get u back
    Yeah.. They even refused get out of the tiny thing and people had to force them out

  9. maramalai oranubhavam ayirunnu. olakkayil pokan pattathil vishamam ondu..pinnae samayavum kittiyillallo

  10. Hi, we are planning to go to Maramalai on Nov 13. :)


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