Saturday, December 7, 2013

Trekking to Agastyarkoodam - a pilgrimage into nature

Sweat was pouring out through every pore in my body. It was pouring over my eyes, stinging every time it got into my eyes. Now you all must be thinking “Why doesn’t the bugger just lift his hands and wipe the sweat away?” Quite natural to ask the question but when both your hands feel like lead from the weight that you have been carrying alternately and your whole body is focussed solely on the next step you take, believe me, wiping the sweat away from your brow just doesn’t seem to be worth the effort. You let it be, and trudge on. Friends, welcome to this log on trekking to Agastyarkoodam.
Day 1
                   We were a team of 7 including our guide, who proved invaluable with his knowledge of the terrain and medicinal plants during the trek. Trekking season to Agastyarkoodam starts in the month of January but we were keen on doing the trek via Kottoor and not the usual Bonacaud route. Necessary phone calls were made and it was agreed that our guide will meet us at Kottoor. We had to carry all necessary provisions with us as we were doing the trek during the off season. We had purchased the provisions the previous evening and once we reached Kottoor we shifted the provisions into each team members’ bags. I had also brought along my 2 kg stove which proved to be quite useful to us. None of us had any breakfast as all of us had started early in the morning itself, so we had our breakfast while we waited for our guide to come. Once he reached Kottoor we made the introductions and then we were off. Our first destination was Chonampara, a settlement inside the forest which we reached by bus. KSRTC operates bus services upto Kaithodu, just past Chonampara.
We got down at Chonampara and started on our trek without much delay. We walked past tribal settlements inside the forest one by one. Along the way we could see tracts of land cultivated being cordoned off by electric fences to ward off wild animals, mostly elephants and wild boar. Soon we came across a stream where we rested for a few minutes and quenched our thirst with some cold natural water.

















The topography ranges from Shola forests to grass lands to shrubby vegetation at the top.














































The trail to Agastyarkoodam is mostly uphill with a gradual gradient (for the most parts, there are some places where the gradient is not that gradual J) till Athirumala and rising from there on.
 Some 2 to 3 hours into the trek, we were past the last settlement. From here on till Athirumala where the dormitory is, there is no one to help you should you get into trouble. The scenery changed from forests to grass lands interspersed with some trees.
















My fellow trekkers who had done this route before had heard of a big wheel which was part of some machinery which was still lying somewhere along the way. They had looked for it the previous time but were not able to find it. This time however, we had our guide and he knew exactly where to find the old wheel. There was also a waterfall a slight distance away from the place.
A discussion ensued on how the wheel could have been brought up here and whether it was part of bigger machinery and how it still has not rusted one bit. After some time our guide reminded us that we still had a long way to go and so we wrapped up our discussion and started again for Athirumala.




































Waterfall 










































Mist was starting to fall in the upper reaches which prompted us to make haste on our way.




































We could see a clearing in the forest where our guide told us we could find bisons and elephants come to graze.




































We reached Athirumala in the evening and settled in for the night. Early morning next day we started our trek to the top. Upto Athirumala the trek is relatively easy. From Athirumala till the top, the trek becomes comparatively difficult as one goes higher up. The trail becomes steep and rocky and also slippery.



















Mist was covering many parts of the mountain.





































The vistas got spectacular as we went higher up. We could also see various flowers in full bloom.


















We continued onto our first destination for the day, Pongala Paara.


















On the way we found a Valley of Flowers in full bloom.
















































Pongala Paara
















More blooms





















Rocks overgrown with moss and creepers





















We could see the other mountain ranges close to Agastyarkoodam as we climbed higher.
































The trail got steeper and more dangerous from Pongala Paara.
















By this time all of us were tired but the feeling that we were close to the top kept us going.
































From this shot it doesn't seem that steep, does it?










































Try this perspective. :)










































Combined with the sheer drop on either side, this particular stretch is one of the most dangerous and difficult climbs in the entire trek.

Sheer drop to the side
















And if you have mist enveloping the entire area, then you can do nothing but wait till the mist clears away.





































Finally, we reach the top.















The view from the top is breathtakingly beautiful. We could see Nagamala to the side.















There is a small clearing at the top which is surrounded by  bushes where there is a statue of Sage Agastya.















Outside the clearing the wind blows hard and you can hardly stand or hear others talking. But inside the clearing, it is as if even the air has come to a total stand still. Silence reigns in this place. You bow down to the great Sage, pay your respects and pray for a "darsan" the next year also. I have been asked many times by people as to why I take such an arduous journey to Agastyarkoodam. How does one explain to them the sense of positive vibe, peace and the feeling of lightness one feels when you are in front of the Sage? One can only say that one cannot explain such feelings, one has to experience them.