Agasthyaarkoodam wasn’t new to us, but the option truly odd. I remember it was raining heavily, even while our plot for the crazy trek was under incubation. We were sure that the authorities would turn down our request, owing to the extreme climate conditions and hence planned a multi headed approach, with all the resources we had in the dept. And finally, at the outbreak of two sunny days at a stretch, we were permitted to hike. Thus five of us presented ourselves at the Bonaccord picket post, with all anxieties and fears suppressed, on a pleasant morning, with the sun shining at its best.
We were allotted a three member team, to guide and assist, foreseeing the troubles ahead, perhaps. Thus eight of us commenced the expedition, which turned out to be the most adventurous, so far in my life.
A ‘warm’ welcome from leach brigade was well expected, and we weren’t annoyed, but hard set to fight. Couldn’t defend much longer, and I found many among us turning ‘Mahatmas’, preaching ‘Ahimsa’, to our opponents’ delight. The initial stretch didn’t pose much difficulty and could reach up to the tender flow of Karamana River, in just an hour.
Crossed the flow and the walk went leisurely, as the sector was dry comparatively, with less disturbance from the sucker folk. Thus it took another hour for the Vazhapeendi river to be audible. Flows were pretty rich, indicating recent down pours, but the day was sunny and hot, as if to spoil our intentions. Distant grass hillocks and canopies, which we have to cover before light fades, came into view, and people paced up.
Last of the mighty flows on the way, Attayar river, was in sight by around 12.30 and it was lunch break. Dry chapattis and pickle made a good combo, of course with added magic of Attayar flow.
Post lunch session commenced in half an hour, along the beautiful patch of grass hillocks of the Bharathappuli sector and the torching sun above, forced us to halt at almost all the springs along our trek path.
Beauty of the region is sure to slow you down and the sight of the treacherous ‘ Ezhu madakku theri ’ aka “Muttidichan theri ‘ falls yet another deterrent. Literarily, the name indicates the difficulty in negotiating the terrain and we had the bonus of slippery, together with leach menace.
While clearing this stretch, to be frank, I was happy that rain kept away. The last stretch of the day, along level patch, ended at the base camp at Athirumala, and it was just 4 in the evening - pretty early. While we were back after a dip in the nearby stream, a steaming dish of Tapioca was waiting to be raided over.
While the majority opted a nap, I sat out watching the towering mount of Agastyarkoodam, atop which lies our destination.
As I watched, dark clouds gathered from the corners all of a sudden and broke down, showering cats and dogs.
While having dinner – simple porridge – amidst heavy down pour, we decided to give a try to the extent possible, the next morning, even if the guides hesitate to accompany.
And it rained all the night.
Woke up into a cloudy and dark morning and got ready for the hike by 8 AM. Two youngsters among our guides were to accompany us, while the other stood back to cook our meals.
Within half an hour we knew, why the experienced lot objected, for the overgrowth had hidden the track, leaches dozen a step, rocky terrain slippery, mist veiled vision and it started drizzling, to add to the woe.
One among our guides led, sickling the way out of reed growth, and we followed at a distance, crawling and bleeding.
Cleared the reed patch and were at the base of Pongalappaara, a flat topped rocky mount, by around 10 AM. Situation worsened further, mist thickened, thinning vision and the downpour strengthened.
Our guides briefed us on the danger in hiking the steep rocky cliffs ahead, with running water beneath your feet, and left it to us to decide. The decision was unanimous – will move on until it’s impossible.
The rest of the path alternates between patches of shola woods and steep bare rocks. The wooded patch wasn’t a thing of worry, as we were that friendly with leaches, by then, but the other part was terrible.
Decided to be on bare foot, but even that couldn’t help at places. I got stuck amidst such a climb, and would have slipped to the bottom, if help, as a chain of my friends, wouldn’t have arrived in time. Despite this torture and agony, it’s worth a mention that a flower of beauty or a piece of action wasn’t deprived of a camera exposure, recording it to keep us thrilled for long.
Confidence grew with each conquer, and the folk yelled as we reached the last stretch of rope climb, for we knew the apex is close.
Thus by half past twelve, we were at the abode of the healer sage ‘Agasthya’, with no wounds to be healed. The idol of the ‘dwarf sage’, stood ruling the world beneath, within the canopy resisting the howling wind, all soaked in offerings of pilgrims, who climb up to this height of 1800 + metres, for a blissful moment.
Bliss, reason for which may be a variant, is what I experienced too, at this misty height.
I would like to end this travel experience here, as I think the return journey is not worth a description, if not for the sighting of a rear bird – The Forest Eagle Owl – and the fall I had from a height, while trying for a better shot of the bird, sustaining minor injuries.
And after all, I realize that it wasn’t a journey with an aim but the journey was the aim.