|With Raj Vridhachalam|
Heading west from Kodaikanal town and a drive of 30 km through the woods, would take you to Poomparai village.
A little further to the west the road forks. Straight one leads to Mannavannur & Kavunji and the right deviation is to Kukkal village. Another 8 km and just before the road ends, is the Kukkal lake. Our camping site is the small but elegant hut, facing the lake, which belongs to a friend of Raj. Normally we reach there by evening and one would long for the dawn, for the view in the morning light is something beyond words...
|Camp Kukkal Lake|
With the sun up, the lake will still be under mist, and sitting by the side, you will have the company of Indian Coots and Dabchicks (Little Greb) wading the waters, least bothered of you. But can't be there for long as the trek is to start soon.
|Misty Lake Reflecting Kukkal Shola|
A quick breakfast and the team is geared for the trek. Gireesh, a manager of Raj's establishments, and later a very good friend of mine, is an inevitable part of treks in this terrain, and he is in the lead.
Hiking by the side of the lake and crossing a small plantation you are into it - The Kukkal Shola. The jungle is so dense - believe me - you won't see the sun for an hour and its that moist, to save your blood, you won't like to stop for a second. The hike is moderate and the air is so cool, you will never feel exhausted. Small rivulets run across the track and you will definitely love to send the flow down the throat.
May not be in need of breaks, with in the shola, but still can afford one or two if you are not in a hurry. While with ladies and kids, we had breaks for snacks and with others, a bird there, a butterfly here or even a mantis would force a break. Thus proceeding, nearly for an hour, there it is, the opening of the foliage cave, and there ends the Kukkal Shola,,
Enter the montane grass spread of the Palani Hills, bordering the Kuthirayar basin. To the west is the Kilanavayal ridge and to the north - west, is the infinite spread of Manjampatti valley. Should stay there a while, enjoying the misty vista, as the hardest part of the trek starts here.
The climb to the east, up to Pappilai Amman ridge would take around twenty to thirty minutes. Droppings, all around would remind you to be quite, for its the abode of Nilgiri Thar, and you may be lucky enough to spot them at the peak.
The climb ends at the ridge and the next part is a short walk along the ridge line. At places the mount drops vertically, presenting some frightening views of the Kukkal valley beneath. Soon you will find a small swing on rock pillars, by the edge of the ridge.
The deity is believed to be fond of swinging above the Kukkal valley and there are many such tiny swings, all over the Kukkal temple premise, symbolising this.
Just after the old swing, comes the dangerous part of the trek. Here you have to climb up a rocky terrain, atop which the temple structure is built. There are crude steps cut over the rock, to make the climb easy, but there is nothing to hold on, and just by the side of your foot step, the ridge drops vertically down.
One misstep would cause you land in Kukkal valley, some 1500 ft below. The best way to negotiate, as my wife puts it, is not to look at the other side. And finally you are at the shrine. Its a small structure built on polished rock stones with some recent extensions.
You are now at an elevation of 6900 ft and the whole world, within vision, is beneath you. The cold breeze and occasional mist adds to the fabulous ambience. Just roam the premises; its a treat for your eyes and camera sensors.
|The Fog Falls|
|Chinnamudiyan & Periyamudiyan Hills at the backdrop|
All of a sudden mist may veil the scenario; just lie over the grass bed and have a nice nap. Wake up to the call of a grass bird, a reminder, its time to leave.
|Broad Tailed Grass Bird|
At the thought of leaving, the first thing that may worry you, would be the rock steps that you have to climb down. If you are that fearful of an unsteady limb, just sit and crawl down, as one among us successfully experimented once.
As you walk past the old swing, leaving the ridge, stop, turn back and have a last look around.... What a different patch of this world has Pappilai Amman chosen to dwell....Isn't that a deity distinct .....