Saturday, October 1, 2011

Chinnapullu - The Shendurney Summit

               Though being exploring Shendurni for a while, the summit was a dream, until Dinesh , our DFO friend, finally conceded to our plea. As it came all of a sudden, most of our DLC members, weren’t available and this turned out to be a boon, as the numbers were to be restricted to a maximum of five, owing to the space constraints of the vehicle available. Biju P B, Shanty, Sivaprasad sir, Mathew sir and the blogger were the lucky ones – proved to be more than lucky later -  to find place in the final select list and the five member delegation accompanied by Dinesh, reached Thenmala Forest Range office by 8.30 in the fine morning of 19 March 2011.

          Dinesh introduced us to Mr. Heera Lal, the Range Officer of Chendurney wild life sanctuary, who had already made arrangements for the program. Mr. Asokan, who later turned our saviour, and Mr. Rajan, were the forest staff assigned to guide us, and the 7 member team boarded the four wheel drive vehicle, by around 9.30 AM and headed for Paandimottai.  Asokan and Rajan had to squeeze them among the luggage and utensils, to ensure our comfort. Jose, our chauffeur, was well versed with the terrain and he whisked the old 4WD across the jungle track. 

         The jeep went hiking for the next 3 hours, lifting us to an elevation of 4000 feet from MSL and we were dropped at ‘Aanachantha’, close to the Pandimottai shelter. 

         The track to ‘Chinnappullu’, is there after not motorable, and we geared for the trek, which we knew, would continue to the day ahead. 

          Our shelter destination for the day was a cave formation, near a brook, somewhere in the depth, of which none among us was sure enough – not even the forest people. The only assurance was that from Shanty, who claimed to have spent a night in that cave, in an earlier occasion. 

                Half an hour of the initial part went smooth but another stretch of the track ahead was found entirely washed away by land slide. Opted a detour along the elevated side, and thick growth of reed, gave us a hard time, besides the difficult terrain. Asokan lead, working out with his sickle and we followed, slipping and crawling, for the next half an hour. End of the hardship got us out of the reeds and darkness, into the light of the fact that we were just on the track, immediately after the landslide damage. Relief boosted the admiration, Asokan gained, for his atom level accuracy, in determining the geographical envelope of the damaged stretch, even in that darkness. 

                Happy folk gained the path, clicking and watching, crossing flows quite often. 

          We were so pleased to leave Biju ahead, in his own world of flying beauties, that we – rest of nature watch creed – could have enough time on a distant mount, a tree after leaf shed, a silver line of water fall and so on. 

            Stuck on a fallen tree by the track side, identifying it to be the ‘Chenkurinji’, after which the sanctuary is named. Chenkurinji  is a species confined to this part of the western ghats and thus serve as unique identity of the reserve. Chen Kurinji – meaning red Kurinji - was very much claimed after in furniture manufactory, in the good old times, owing to its beauty and durability. Now it adds to the list of yet another endangered and the ‘to be protected’ species.

                Asokan ran his sickle over the surface, revealing the redness within, and couldn’t resist another click.

         Thought of some rest, as we approached an open patch, of course to the relief of Rajan, who had the burden of the entire cooking utensils, on his shoulders. A bird or two in the surrounding bushes, deprived Biju, of a well needed break, from the shoulder load of his weapon, his Camera – as put in by Prasad Sir. 

        In fact we had secretly named him ‘Hanuman’, as his plight with the long lens camera on the shoulder, resembled the monkey warrior with his mace. And No..I didn’t mean any physical resemblance.

                Got to heels soon, as we were to reach the, none – no – where, mystery of a cave, before it was dark.  The track then went steeper, the climb went harder and the light went fader. Everyone was anxiously watching Shanty’s gestures, he being the lone man to lead us to the cave, if there is one!  Shanty appeared confident and that was the sole hope of the rest. He took a left deviation from the track and his ‘believers’ followed suit. The climb ended at a huge rocky structure, with reeds and creepers grown over. 

            Asokan and Rajan took over the ‘open sesame’ activity and could sickle out the over growth, clearing the entrance, within a short while. Inside the structure, we found it spacious enough to accommodate us, though heavily leach infested. 

         Fire was lit, to get rid of the menace, while others tried to climb over to the ‘terrace’ of the huge structure, through a small opening in the ‘roof’, at the rear of the structure. The upper surface of the rock was amazingly flat and stood high enough from the ground beneath, ensuring isolation from the jungle folk. Without a second thought, I decided to be a roof dweller, for the night to follow.

                Just about 100 m from the cave we had the jungle stream, Shanty promised, flowing all alone for us. 

             While we enjoyed the dip into the chill, Asokan and Rajan went busy with the rice porridge, by the side of the stream. 

         Carried the steaming stuff to our roof top dining hall and had a feast indeed. Five of the team opted the cover of rock and Rajan and I had the starry sky as roof. 
                Night was cold, as expected, and the believers slept in faith, unaware that their god would deceive them, the day to follow.

20 - 03 - 2011

        Previous night wasn't a smooth affair to me as it was the super moon night, which occur once in 20 years, with the full moon closest to earth. 

                The thing was so bright that the lone bed spread, I had as cover, could neither resist the chill nor the light. Waking from nap, around midnight, I realized that Rajan had escaped to safety, and I am all alone, atop the rock. 

            Brightly lit woods, loneliness, the chill and occasional wild cries altogether, wasn't a soothing experience and I longed for dawn. 

                         The ground floor dwellers were up by around 5.30, and they climbed up to the roof top, to have the setting view of the super moon, about which I wasn't any more enthusiastic. Black tea, quick fresh up and the trek resumed by 7AM. 

                    Shanty assured that Chinnapullu is another 2 hour's trek from our night halt and our chart went like this - Reach the grasslands by 9, explore until 11, return to the cave by 1, trek down to 'Sankili' - at the valley, which has 4WD vehicle access,  by 4PM, board the vehicle, that would wait for us there and get back to Thenmala, before it's too dark. And what took shape, was a different story!

         Crossed our brook, and had a pleasant walk along the jungle track, of smooth gradient, enjoying the morning rays, until we sensed a confusion, from the gestures of our lead man. It was 8 by then and we were by the side of another jungle stream. Asokan announced that we were suspected to be lost and called a return trek, to a more elevated position, to have a better view around. Walked back and climbed atop a rock, from where, stretching over a thorny bush, we could have a glimpse of a distant grassy hillock, which appeared to be a part of our destination, to our west. 

                Our task got reduced to finding a trekable track, of lesser under growth, which would take us to the opposite mount.  Asokan went around, ‘smelling’ a better direction to proceed, and finding nothing new, decided to retrace the earlier track. Reached back the stream and decided to move along it for a while, to avoid thick under growth. After about half an hour through the rocky stream, Asokan could sense, that we were in the right direction. As tension relieved, hunger crept in and a break was called. 
                          Everyone knew that noodle is easy to prepare, but none knew how. I dared an attempt and had a tragic end with a lump of yellow cream. I stood prepared to face the consequences, but was amazed to see our hungry tigers bouncing on their plates.

           And what else!; the left over was duly packed and carried along with, which was approached, later in the day, with much more enthusiasm.

          Just in half an hour, after the so called break fast, we could have the glimpse of the eastern part of our destination. We had just entered Chinnappullu, by around 11 AM, that is 2 hours off the schedule.

               A target, this hard to achieve, was majestically welcomed with clicks all around. It was just the start of the stretch and the vastness of greenery that was in store, was all the more rewarding. Folds and folds of carpeted mounts with scattered pools in their valleys, lifted us to a different world of serenity.

         Nature - the supreme gardener - had wonderfully maintained the thick woods, that border the meadow,in such a fashioned manner that not a single sapling had encroached the excellently set limit. 

         We were walking and walking, definitely to no where, until Asokan reminded us of the shattered schedule. It was at this juncture, that Shanty pointed to a distant mount and pronounced the revelation - that the western limit of the grass hill, is on the other side of that mount and from there, it would be just two hours down trek, through the woods, to 'Sankili', where our vehicle was expected to be. 

                 This sudden twist was equally tempting and repelling. If the sight of the steep grass mount, that is to be negotiated, sent a mind block, the burning desire to continue this heavenly walk, up to the western limit, pulled us close.

              It is very much worth a mention here, that Asokan strongly insisted that we return and stick to the earlier plans, as he was totally unaware of the jungle geography, beyond the grass hill limit.The faith that Shanty had earned, all this while, and the confidence he injected, forced us to turn a deaf ear to Asokan, which was very much regretted later. 

               Thus we moved ahead, all the more thrilled and recharged. Soon we reached the foot hill, which was wooded and with occasional reed growth.

                   Clearing the woods of thick under growth, which demanded a good amount of hiking, was a tedious job and we got out of it, to the open grass land, almost blind.When the vision cleared, what we could capture, was the sight of a life time! The stretch of the grass land that we had already covered, lied beneath us, presenting a panorama, sending all mouths open, in disbelief. 

                 The green patch appeared magically beautiful with thick woods tightly bordering, and the towering mounts of Pandimotta, playing the back drop.

              Sat there a while, breathing heavily, forgetting the tight schedule we had ahead. 

                  Back on the track, that went winding up the grass hillock and the green patch appeared to widen once we crossed the hillock. 

               Went past another pool, crossed another segment of shola woods and cleared out to the western edge of Chinnapullu. 

               The last stretch of meadow offered another hike and by half past1, the lazy stroll through the grass hills came to an end and we had thick woods to our west. 

           The distant mounts which appeared to our south were identified as Ponmudi Hills by Asokan, which boosted our confidence, that we were in the right direction.

            Shanty announced that its just another 2 hour trek to 'Sankili', at the base and we were all pleased that we would reach back, almost as scheduled. We knew, woods unexplored for long, would not present us a soothing experience, the grass land has been offering so far, and got to heels, without wasting much time. We found a struggling Shanty, to find an easy entrance, piercing the under growth, and that didn't bother us, as it is quite natural for the nature, to grow over once existed tracks, if left to itself for long. 

        For the next two hours Shanty commanded us and it was by around 3.30 in the evening, we fearfully accepted the fact that we were lost. To add to our woe, we could sense a Tusker, moving ahead in the same direction we were in, from the fashion in which saplings and tree branches were freshly lifted and broken. We weren't in a position to retrace the track even, as we may not make it to anywhere before its dark. I felt the panic radiating, throat drying  and we were nothing short of wandering clueless. 

        Thus descending, found a narrow stream, and Shanty confirmed that he is back in sense, and we are back on the right track. Unaware that it was just an illusion, the relieved lot, sat together by the stream and brought  the remains of the old cream of a noodle, out of Rajan's sack. And dear ones, I still wonder how we could take that stuff, across the tongue, mixed with pickle, to cover up its taste. Drank heavily from the stream and once again got up with good hope.

     It didn't take us too long to face the reality, in shape of thick and tall reed growth, blocking the advance. I read the despair in Asokan's face - the only man who can help us now. We unanimously decided that we stand by him, whatever be our fate.Asokan finally chose a direction, to stick on and decided that we shall not deviate, even if the track proved to be the most unfriendly. And it definitely was. Sickling away reeds to the extent possible, squeezing ourselves in between reed walls, crawling beneath thorny climbers and so on our plight continued. Light was fading and so the hope.

      Into the thirtieth hour from the start of the trek, with a sleepless night in between, finding it hard to carry along, an open patch appeared at a distance, boosting up the energy levels, for a final test.It happened to be a track, cleared long ago for reed transportation, from the woods. One end of this track should take us to civilization and by simple logic, it should be the down hill. 

          Brisk walk of another 20 minutes took us to Cheenikkala river. Crossed the flow and as we were all about to take out our torches, heard the feeble grunt of a jeep engine at a distance.



  1. So Biju got a new name, right. That may be the reason he spared a lens and reduced his camera size. Nice description and great snaps of chinnappullu. I missed it

  2. Thanx Stephen

    Pramod : I fear Biju is planning something big for me. Lets see..

  3. a nice tour through green woods...

    excellent shades created by nature...

    beautiful photos and nice write up

    My new post on Onam

    thanks shinu chetta

  4. Two cameras used for taking snaps

    me (Sony W570) and my friend Anulal (Sony W55)

    thanks for visiting and commenting

  5. Shinu chetta, i have a request. Would you brk down the articles to 2 or 3 parts. Sometimes i find the posts very very long and that does turn you off at times. I suggested your blog to many of my friends and even posted it my facebook page for my blog. Everyone has the same opinion. I can understand why you want to put everything into one article but not every reader is as enthusiastic as we are :)

  6. Thank you Nevin for a valuable suggestion. Feed back should always refine and I will have it in mind while I sit for the next post. Expects your support further

  7. i want to be a member of DLC. what should i do for it?

  8. Great. Chinna pullu is an ecological wonder


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