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Agasthyakoodam Trek : A Travalogue by Techie Mukesh Seetharaman>> “If happiness is the goal – and it should be, then adventures should be top priority.” – Richard Branson And mountains provide it, maybe Richard forgot to mention. I’m writing about Agasthyakoodam trek, for it’s season have come, and some people will be on their way to the peak. Sharing my last year’s experiences.

Of many treks this divine western ghats have to offer, Agasthyakoodam or Agasthya mala should be in top list of them. It is special, Its in top five highest peaks in Kerala/Tamilnadu, It is source for perennial rivers of both south Kerala and south Tamilnadu, Its a UNESCO biosphere reserve, And not to forget, its the home for sage Agasthyar, founding fathers of literary Tamil (one of ancient languages of Indian mainland).

Though Agasthyakoodam trek is opened to all throughout the year, it is special to trek in January month.
As an ancient tradition, it must be because of local diety Sage Agasthya, consider Mid-January as the beginning of their calendrical New Year (which also coincides with Pongal festival).

Interestingly though the Hill is sandwiched between Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the entry is through Neyyar wildlife Sanctuary (Kerala) only. Since the other side Kalakkad-Mundanthura Tiger Reserve (Tamil Nadu) is restriced for trekking by Tamil Nadu Forest Dept. to avoid poaching activities. Agasthyamala is also home for many tribal community people, infact the main preist of Sage Agasthya deity is a local tribal, they also govern the pooja activities.

Coming back to trekking. We, few friends from technopark, trivandrum have been longing to trek Agasthyamala, since we heard all kinds of stories of it. Like its the toughest last climb for beginners, its full of wildlife, longest coverage by foot (30k~40k). Aftering hearing all these, who wants to reject it !!! So we were planning to go somehow, luckily its Jan and we saw the ad in Newspapers like the bookings for Agasthyamala are opened. Thanks to Kerala Forest Dept. who offers this pilgrimage cum trek. Somehow we booked it online. And it was one of the toughest online booking ever, very difficult to get seat unless you are expert in typing, all dates would be filled very quickly.

I’ll share full details of registering part, toughness, number of days trek, food, stay later. If you are planning to finish this on weekend, make sure you are good trekker. Since for beginners it might take three days depends upon their physic. The reporting place is Bonacaud Top Forest office, that fine moring we started early to reach on reporting time (9am). Though people can join later, but it will be their unfortunate to trek in hot sun. Way to bonacaud, shoud not be much confusing. Since trivandrumite would not have missed Ponmudi ride, bonacaud is a deviation on your journey towards ponmudi some 5 to 10 km from vithura junction. The IISER board is the landmark. By they way bonacaud itself offers lots of adventures, especially The Vaazhvathol Falls trek. But don’t club this together.

We reached somehow to Bonacaud top on time, mind you the ride from Bonacaud forest office below to Bonacaud top is extremely awesome in early morning. Every rider would love it, the dense and silence woods on both sides offers you great thrill. Now the funny part is from Bonacaud top to its forest office is extremely Off road. And normal cars will not do good. So beware of it. Because of this reason, we were quite late, but no worries. The Officer is yet to arrive. Once the officer arrives, he checks the bookings and completes the formalities. Meanwhile there will be small chai shop, where you can refresh yourself. And you can take some support sticks for trek, which was sold for 5 Rs. So before starting the trek, guides will be introduced. There will be few camps ahead, so each guide will take their turns at the camps. It is very important to go with the guides, if you are on for first time.

So the trek begins from behind the forest dept, into the forest. There will be many camps build for you to take rest ahead. But we took rest where ever we found it awesome 😉 The first stretch will be through somewhat dense forest. You can find small streams, to hydrate yourself, and it is very important too. And after around 5 to 7km walk into the forest, you will reach to a smaller waterfall place. During my time, the water was less. So we just hydrated our self. The first stretch offers you with glimpse of many variety of trees, some forest fruits. And some beautiful birds. And when we are resting nearby the stream, we spotted a green pit viper swirled around and taking rest. I know its venomous so we moved out early with some pics of it. And from now on wards the climb begins to the next waterfall camp. Its not a arduous one, with another 30 minutes, you will reach that spot. And now its a fall, where you can actually take bath. Though its bone freezing chill. We enjoyed it, there we met friends who did the trek on the previous day. Hearing thrilling stories of final climb and wind excites us even more.

Again another climb starts to the third waterfall camp. Another 40 mins trek. Actually this waterfall is dangerous for bath or swim, but you can enjoy the streams. Here we had our packed lunches which was provided by forest dept. After lunch we started immediately, because more distance to cover before fall of the day. But not to forget, my friend took picture of a big crab hiding under the stones in the streams. It fascinates me how much cold this crab endures at this altitude. One good thing about agasthya trek is that you can find water everywhere. This is good in many ways, but the path is toiled a lot because of this too. So we have to climb carefully, after 30 mins of climb and walk, we finally reached grasslands. A long breath, at least from now on wards we can walk somewhat flat surfaces and see more scenic peaks ahead. Here all started to guess, this is the agasthya peak, that is Tamil Nadu and so on. And we walked and walked on, and is slowly climbing into another thick forest. We saw some settlements during this trail. Maybe guides or tribal homes. We rested a lot here. Some even took a nap for short while. Then one final climb to the first day halt at the school, from where you can the majestic view of the peak. Take binos to make it even more awesome. The last climb before the day halt will be toughest. So be prepared.

In camping site which is specially designed for us provides you all basic support. You can have Kanjj and payar for 100 bucks. Some snacks are also available. The stream is not far away too, so its ideal place to take bath in freezing waters. All are very tired, and that cool evening rest was a bless. We all tried to call home, but only few succeeded.

The next day is supposed to be the last day, we have to reach the peak and come back to first day halt for refreshments and can trek back to bonacaud on the same day. But as said Life is weird, nothing really turn out the way we expect. The second day is one of memorable ones in our adventure lives. We have to start early to finish the trek, and so we did. It all begins as a climb into the forest, and the climb never ends there after. And worst is it will be steeper as it goes. Wthinin few Km trek, we had stopped for few view points on top of some rocks with small deviations. It was blissful.

Then we started to move, and amazing things start to happen one by one. We were lucky to experience this. It started with rain, since we are usual trekkers, we had rain cover and good shoes, so we managed this. But the rain keeps coming, as we increase our altitude, with the paths becoming narrower and more sluggish, we started to feel the thrill. Then the next thing is waiting for us, the vayudeva (winds). It is always expected, when you reach some high peaks, which is not surrounded by other peaks to get huge winds. But we were lucky to get winds plus rains plus fog combined. It was not impacting until we were in the woods, once we come out to the open place (motta), It was breathtaking. We even stopped trekking and halted by side because of zero visibility. Even the nearest visible person should be within 2~3 meters. Since we are in some rocks we can slip anywhere.

Meanwhile we are able take beautiful pics of green and pristine forests. One must always live to see the ghats after the rain. And so we began again, this time with only rains and wind. We reached a point, now we have to climb through the rope thereafter to reach one top, from there another steep rope climb to the base of final Rock. Before this we happened to see pilgrimages praying and cooking before the rope climbs. I learned this is a tradition. The first rope climb was not that arduous, because of low winds, though the visibility is still low. And the second climb is THE climax of all. It is very steeper and reminds you of real life climbers. What happened is that the winds are strong and the ropes started to swing with us.

So we got hold of ropes and the rock like a lizard. Eventhough it was thrilling I must say it is with risk, with low visibility anything can happen with small mistake. But we climbed somehow, at this point both of my friends lost hope. They felt like giving up, due to the never ending climb and fog. But to our grace, we heard voices from top, that they have reached.

It was the last rock we have to climb, not easily though. We made it. The pleasure we got at the summit was divine. Since with no other high peaks nearby, you’ll get a view of entire biosphere. One must go to see this. There will be a small Agasthya diety at the top. I don’t know how people managed to take it there. Really amazing. Whats even more shocking is, to see the preist half naked and doing the poojas. We can’t even stay there for another 10-15mins because of high winds and ever stopping drizzles. With the blessings and breakfast finished there, we started to trek down fast, but due to pain in legs we reached the school late. So we rested for the evening.

It was a three day journey for us. Things happened to us there, was its first kind. Its all edged in my mind even after a year. I want to do it again. What I also feel is that the pilgrimages should take responsibility of our own ghats, which have been source of water and ecosystems for eons. Forest dept. earlier cancelled the trekking, because of disturbances to nature. Sometimes we nature lovers feel, it is right decision too.

The trekking can be rated from moderate to difficult, depends upon the climate. Basic food and water will be available throughout the trek. No worries about stay. Nights will be very colder, so pack accordingly. Brace for unexpected rains. Two days for good trekkers, three for others. We Indians have been blessed with so many ranges of hills and biospheres. We have to explore the world but with a great responsibility. It is always fun to explore, after all we are humans, we always wanted to see, know more and more things and live a adventurous life.

-Mukesh Seetharaman


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