Sunday, October 17, 2010

Trekking to Agastyarkoodam


Agastyarkoodam literally means “the abode of Sage Agastya”. Sage Agastya is considered to be one of the seven rishis or Saptarishis of Hindu Puranas. Agastyarkoodam is a 1868 m (6129 ft) peak in the form of a sharp cone situated within the Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuary in Trivandrum. It is the second highest peak in Kerala, after Anamudi. It is accessible only on foot, with 24 kms of trekking from Bonacaud and 32 kms from Neyyar Dam. It is a haven of rare herbs and medicinal plants which are used extensively in Ayurveda, the traditional Indian form of medicine.

The season from December to April is considered to be the best season for trekking to Agastyarkoodam. For trekking in Agastyarkoodam, a forest pass has to be obtained from Wildlife Warden, Forest Dept., P.T.P. Nagar, Thiruvananthapuram. It is considered as a pilgrimage by devotees of Sage Agastya. There is a full sized stone statue of Sage Agastya at the top and the devotees can offer pujas themselves. Women are not allowed up the peak as Sage Agastya was believed to be a confirmed bachelor.

The trek to Agastyarkoodam starts from Bonacaud which is located around 65 kms from Trivandrum. You can either camp at Bonacaud in the night and start the trek in the morning or you can catch the morning bus to Bonacaud from Nedumangaud Bus station. A half an hour walk from Bonacaud tea estate brings you to the Forest Office and checkpost, which is the entry to Agastyarkoodam. Here, the passes issued from P.T.P. Nagar office are checked. You will also be checked for hidden bottles of liquor as liquor is strictly prohibited here. Also, any weapons like knife, etc are not allowed. After the inspection, you start the trek. Your destination for the day is the dilapidated forest shelter at Athirumala.

To reach Athirumala, you have to cross Attayar, Ezhumadakkaam theri, etc on the way. Don’t rush yourself. Enjoy nature at its pristine best and keep shooting  pictures of the beautiful vistas on the way. It will be evening by the time you reach Athirumala. Don’t be fazed by the board at the shelter which says “This building is in a dangerous condition. No one is permitted to stay in this building”. Well, even if you are unsettled by the warning, there are no other options out there, so put up a brave face and try to catch some winks. As for food, you will get rice gruel and pickle from the canteen run by Forest Office there. Next day you start the trek to the top in the early morning itself. If you leave by 6 AM, you can climb to the top, have “darshan” and offer pujas to the sage and return to Athirumala by 10 AM. Then it is time for the return trek back to Bonacaud. Although the trek is for 2 days only, it carries you through the heart of the Western Ghats. You will experience wilderness in pristine condition. One only hopes that it remains so.

Some relevant points.
1)       Most of the people will be coming for pilgrimage, so please restrain yourself and don’t act in an unruly manner.
2)       The passes are issued from the P.T.P. Nagar office usually in November. The date of the issue is announced via newspapers. Pl. note that the passes are issued in restricted numbers and are usually filled on the first day itself. So if you want to go for this trek, be there on the date of issue itself. Of course, if you have contacts in the forest office, then it is another matter altogether.
3)       Alcohol is strictly prohibited in this trek. Your luggage and your person will be inspected at the check post.
4)       This trek is a total of 24 kms (this info I have gathered from other web sites). This is a moderate trek till you reach Athirumala. From Athirumala to the top, the going gets progressively tougher. You have to be in a reasonably good condition of health to do this trek. Also, pl. note that there are no medical facilities inside the jungle. So go at your own risk.
5)       There is a waterfall called Bono Falls for which you have to take a detour. Usually people trek to the falls while coming back. Pl. note that the area in and around Bono Falls is the natural habitat for elephants, so be careful while going to this falls.
6)       This is a strenuous trek so travel light on this trek. Food can be had from the forest shelter. Water can be found everywhere on the way. Just carry bottles and some snacks to have on the way.
7)       Carry some cash with you for buying food at Athirmala.

I have done this trek some 4 or 5 times and the below photos are from all of those trips combined together. Pl. excuse the quality as they are scans of old photos.
The Canteen at Bonacaud. It opens only during the trekking season.

 A view of the Bonacaud tea factory. This factory is not functioning now.

 View of Bonacaud Tea Estate
On the trekking trail
Ezhumadakkaam Theri


Typical vegetation as one goes higher up the peak

The trail gets tougher as you near the top

At the top




Friday, March 5, 2010

Thrikadavur Mahadeva Temple Festival, Kollam

Thrikadavur Mahadeva temple is located in Kollam district, quite close to the town itself. It is one of the most famous Mahadeva temples in Kollam. The annual festival falls in the month of Kumbham (February). The festival is spread over 10 days, but the "kettukazcha" or the procession of the horses is on the 9th & 10th days of the festival. There are 8 artificial horses representing 8 karas or regions.
I came to know of this temple through my cousin's husband, who is a native of the place. He invited me to visit the place during the festival period.The below photos were taken on the 9th day of the festival.

Route: Kollam is around 71 kms from Trivandrum on the NH Road. Once you enter Kollam town, go straight to the KSRTC stand junction. Continue straight on the NH to the next junction which is High School Junction. Turn right from this junction. Moving straight you will come across Thevally Bridge. Cross the bridge & continue straight to go to Kadavur temple.
Now for the photos
The Temple

One of the artificial horses being taken around the temple
 A section of the crowd
 The Kodimaram (flag post) & the horses
 The procession of the deity around the temple
 Panchari melam
 Close up of the head
 Cute derriere

The horses are stabilised by these people through the ropes

Evening Sky above the temple
 Colourful balloons
 Hawkers with their wares

Hope you enjoyed this dose of Kerala festivities.