Sunday, December 30, 2012

Trek to Chembra Peak, Wayanad

Chembra Peak is the second highest peak in Wayanad. I know many of the sites and other sources list it as the highest peak in Wayanad but the highest peak in Wayanad is actually Wayanadan Mala. Chembra Peak was one of the treks which was pending in my list for a very long time now. Finally the chance to climb this peak came along during this December.
                 I have been part of HVK Forum, a forum for highway enthusiasts started by Mr. H V Kumar. This year the All India Meet was to be held at Wayanad on the 27th & 28th of December. A climb to Chembra peak was also in the programs for the meet. Kumar Sir had asked me to attend the meet and also the trek as he knew I was a trekking enthusiast. But I couldn’t commit myself due to commitments in work. By mid December I had almost resigned to the fact that I was going to miss the meet and also the trek. But almost a week before the meet a window of opportunity opened at work which I grabbed with both my hands. Although I couldn’t attend the meet on the first day I could attend the trek on the second day. I asked Kumar Sir whether I could join the meet on the second day for the trek and he said that I could join on the second day. Finally it seemed things were falling into place for the Chembra trek. One of my friends, Anil who was a trekking enthusiast himself tagged along with me for this trek.
                 As there were only 2 of us we decided to take the KSRTC bus to Wayanad.  27th evening we boarded the Super Fast bus to Wayanad from Thampanoor, Trivandrum. Anil, who worked in KSRTC had booked the seats for us. We settled in for the ride. The bus started promptly at 8 PM. After some time Anil dozed off. I was not in the habit of falling asleep during journeys and this time also I was wide awake the whole night. Next day morning around 6’o clock we reached Vythiri which is like the gateway to Wayanad. I had called Kumar Sir and he told that we could freshen up in the hotel itself. The organizers had booked rooms in various hotels for the participants of the meet. We went to the hotel where Kumar Sir was staying and he made arrangements for us to freshen up. We came down after freshening up and registered our names for the trek. Most of the members had driven to Wayanad from various parts of the country. Vehicles were being sent off on a convoy basis to Chembra and we got into one of the cars. Marshals had been positioned along the way to Chembra and we reached Fatima Estate from where the trek for Chembra started. 

We were a bit worried as both of us had completely forgotten about water, but fortunately for us the organizers of the meet were distributing water and chocolate at the base camp. After collecting the water and chocolate, we started the trek. The start of the trek was through the tea estate. The sprawling tea plantation made for some good photo opportunities which we were glad to take. We could see a watch tower in the distance as we started our trek. Soon we reached the watch tower but desisted from climbing to the top as there were a bunch of school children atop the tower. May be later, we thought and continued the trek. 

Soon the scenery started changing and the real climb started. I am using the word “climb” here specifically as I find the trek to the top of Chembra peak is a gradual climb. There is no let up except around the heart shaped lake or Hridaya Sarasu. The day was sunny and clear making for some good photos.

The trail is easily discernible right up to the top and there is no danger of any one losing their way here. In places the trail is a bit slippery, so be careful especially while coming down.

That is where we are aiming to reach - the top.

Hridaya Sarasu (Heart shaped lake)

Those dots that you see in the picture are not dead pixels. They are people. :)

We saw that marshals were placed along the trail to help people so we pushed on, taking photos as we went along. We reached the top at around 1’o clock. There was already a group of students and some foreigners at the top enjoying the view. We joined them, sipping water and munching on the chocolate which was thoughtfully provided by the organizers. After taking rest for some minutes, we started taking photos from the top.

Photography over, we started the descent to base camp. The climb down was relatively faster due to the fact that we didn’t stop to take any photos. 

A very big thanks to Kumar Sir and other HVK Forum members for making this possible. The meet was superbly organized and I got to meet people like Shibu, Ashish Pallod, Rajnishji and a whole lot of others whom I knew only through T Bhp and HVK Forums. Some parting shots..
Shibu, Bhaskar Mandapaka & my friend Ani along with the marshals

Chembra peak at sunset

Monday, December 24, 2012

Koonthankulam Bird Sanctuary (KBS) – A bird lover’s paradise near Trivandrum

Koonthankulam Bird Sanctuary is located in Nanguneri taluk of Tirunelveli district, Tamil Nadu. It is situated at a distance of 38 kms from Tirunelveli town and 65 kms from Trivandrum.
From December till June – July.
KBS is the largest reserve for breeding water birds in South India. The village community is actively involved in protecting and in the cases of injured birds and fledglings, even nurturing them. Miscreants who disturb their nests are punished by shaving their head, or making a public procession on a donkey. The festival of Diwali is not celebrated here as the loud crackers would scare away the birds.

Four of us – me, Venky, Ani and Narayan went to KBS during the last week of December on two bikes. The bike ride from Trivandrum to KBS takes you through congested roads from Trivandrum upto Nagercoil and then from Nagercoil up to Nanguneri the roads are part of the Golden Quadrilateral – which means they are quite superb. From Nanguneri you have to take the service lane and cross over to the opposite side under the bridge and from there onwards it is the usual village roads – which mean good in some places, broken up at many places. In between we asked for directions to the local people. After riding for some time we knew we were on the right track. Paddy fields filled with birds greeted us.

Moving on after taking the photos, we reached a water body where we found another flock of birds. A confession here - apart from the usual crow and peacock type of birds, I have no clue about the names of other birds – migratory or otherwise. And till now I have felt no inclination in memorizing the names of all of them. But I really enjoy watching these beautiful creatures and photographing them. So please bear with me if I don’t name these birds. Anyway, we clicked photos of this flock and moved onto the main show.

Angry bird 

Soon we reached the sanctuary. We saw that due to the paucity of rains, the turn out of the birds was relatively less. We enquired to the locals regarding the same and they also said that the numbers were less due to the lack of rains. But still there were a few as consolation.

Inside the sanctuary. The vegetation was typical of the region, thorny and shrubby.

The team – Venky on the phone, Narayan in the middle and Ani holding the camera.

Peaceful co – existence. If everyone learned from them, our world would be a much more peaceful one.

Some more pics.

We decided to return after taking rest for some time. We found one small hotel in the village but didn’t have food from there as it didn’t look very hygienic to us. We had some biscuits and other stuff on our way back and had food from Nagercoil. People going to KBS would do well to carry water and food/snacks along with them.