April 28th, 2011
The silence was overwhelming. The crisp morning wind was blowing across, ruffling my hair. The sun was playing hide-and-seek with the clouds. As the reality of standing at 2300+ meters altitude sunk in, I was filled with a strange euphoria. Just as if to make the moment perfect, the mist/cloud cover below us parted – as if the curtains are parted in a play – and what lay in front of us was stuff [usually] made out of dreams.
That was the feeling that I was exactly going through when we reached the peak of Vavul Mala on Sunday morning. We were at one of the highest spots in Western Ghats & nothing could have made me more happier at that moment than the silence that I was experiencing from the hills surrounding us. Miles and miles in all directions had views of beautiful undulating mountains. Weather was perfect. It had rained the whole of the previous night and nature was bright green all around us. Leeches took a break at that altitude. It was just silence and myself for those few precious minutes.
The vegetation was dense right from the start of the trek. Few minutes in to the trek, the steepness began and it held up relentlessly until the very top. Unlike Ombattu Gudde where the shola grasslands start at about 700 m, peaks in the Vellarimala range didn’t have any grasslands at all. Would you believe it if I said that the very top was covered in dense foliage?
About 1.5 hours of trekking brought us to the awesome Olichuchattam Falls. When we reached the falls it was drizzling and the sun was not yet fully out. Weather had played a superb part in keeping us energetic. We were all dry, warm and comfortable – a perfect combination for the steep trek. Water on the falls took a turn somewhere at the top and was flowing furiously straight down the smooth rock face of about 50 m in length. The very magnitude of the falls was breathtaking. Am sure during peak monsoon, much of the rock will be flooded. Away from the falls, the trail split in to two. One went upwards and we took that. Due to heavy rains the previous day, lots of shrubs and small trees had fallen on the trail. Our guide had a sickle and he went about clearing the trail for us as we closely followed him.
Forty five minutes later, we reached the first stream crossing. The steep climb took us to the top of the falls from where the water was taking a turn to flow down the smooth rock face. With mist covering the distant mountains and a slight drizzle for company, the moment was superb. Clouds were at touching distance and were playing with the smaller peaks around. The cloudscape changed continuously. People were gamboling here and there, splashing water and generally going crazy .
Soon, the guide announced it was time to leave. A quick climb and another stream crossing later, we took a short break at the next stream crossing. By that time, leeches had been feasting on our legs. For some people, there were blood spots near their thighs and tummy! Wearing floaters kinda saved me because as soon as I spotted those blood suckers cling to my feet, I plucked them and threw them away. Some were really persistent though.
Damodaran Kolli and Vellarimala Top
The last water point of the day was Damodaran Kolli. The water was pure, crystal clear, ice cold and flowing out of the rocks. The water was so cold that my gums got tickled when I sipped it. A short break later, we climbed for about 2 hours and reached the Vellarimala Top. It was not like any other regular top. This ‘top’ had lot of foliage around. The breeze was missing and so were those awesome views. Slightly disappointed at the absence of views, we opened the lunch packets and had our fill; followed by a group photo session. However, the guide had a twinkle in his eye. He didn’t reveal it yet. The magic was yet to come.
The surprise revealed itself in the name of Kethan Paara (Kethan – Name of the place, Paara – Rock). Since it was one of the high points in Vellarimala region, the view from this place was good. As if it was our luck, the clouds parted again, giving a breathtaking view of the valley below. Masthakapara and the elephant’s trunk like slope of the rock was clearly visible. Just like how the trunk attaches itself to the elephant’s head, that huge piece of rock was attached to the hill top. With a small dip after the rock and a clearing there, it looked just like an elephant. One of the trekkers claimed that he spotted an actual elephant in the adjacent valley running towards the foliage as soon as it heard our noise. But since no one else saw the elephant, we found it hard to believe. All through the trail, there was fresh elephant dung. If those mammoths made their presence in our presence, only one of us would be alive!
A quick trek from Kethan Paara took us to the base of Vavul Mala. This place was named REC Paara. Since it had rained quite heavily the previous day, the place had a water source with a good amount of flowing water. Sky was already overcast. The guide said it would surely rain and that we have to setup our tents quickly. Just as the tenting was completed, it started raining. It drizzled heavily for about 5 minutes before turning in to a full blown fury. The tent was quite stable. It was getting cold at 5.45 PM itself and we crawled in to our sleeping bags. The view of Vavul Mala from the tent gaps and the clouds over it made me enter a different world. Vavul Mala was not in the initial plan and I wished to trek to the peak. Since it was the highest peak in the range, I was pretty sure the wind and views would be there .
Three hours in to our sleep, it felt as if a huge bucket of ice-cold water was poured on us. Gasping for breath, we woke up to find that the heavy rain and furious winds had blown away our tent. The tent looked like it was screaming for help as it held on to the last string tied to the rock. We brought it together and tied it again; not before it was torn apart again by the wind. I asked for the time and someone said it was 11.45 PM. I thought, “Whoa! We have a long night.” The rain never abated. With every passing minute, it only seemed to be getting worse. Tiny streams were forming behind us, threatening to wet everyone’s sleeping bags. An hour or so later, the tents were blown away for the third time. It was enough already . So, Pratik (one of the trekkers) sat through the whole night and held the tent. He probably slept for about 5-10 minutes in all. With the occasional droplets of water falling on my face and cold feet, I was somehow lulled in to sleep. Once sleep came, my senses shut out the howling of the wind and it instead became musical. I wandered in to my dreams. It was good. I still can’t believe I actually slept!
I woke up totally refreshed. At 6 AM, the sun was not yet up but the whole landscape around me was bright green. The rain had polished every leaf to be as shiny as a mirror and the whole environment had a wonderful aroma. Everything was fresh. Everything was alive. I was totally in tune with the silence and greenery around me. With a few clouds here and there, the sky was in its superb blue. The sun had started to rise on the horizon and coloured the peaks in its brilliant morning rays. It was … it was … Sorry, am unable to explain that feeling of awesomeness.
Eight of us started moving towards Vavul Mala that morning. With just a sickle in his hand and rough animal trails for guidance, the guide took us through the forest as if he knew them in and out. He seemed to know every plant and rock over there. For brief moments, he would disappear in to the foliage. Whenever a grunt followed, we would follow him inside. The foliage was so thick that sunlight never penetrated it. From all the previous night’s rain, the floor was pretty wet and slippery. Leeches didn’t attack us though. The animal trails cris-crossed each other. With the silent confidence of an expert, he led us through the maze of trees, rocks and trails. After one hour and 45 minutes of trekking through the foliage, we came to a big clearing. He didn’t say much. He just went to a place and sat down there.
Suddenly, it hit me that we were at one of the highest points in the western ghats. We had reached the peak. The silence was overwhelming. The crisp morning wind was blowing across, ruffling my hair. The sun was playing hide-and-seek with the clouds. As the reality of standing at 2300+ meters altitude sunk in, I was filled with a strange euphoria. Just as if to make the moment perfect, the mist/cloud cover below us parted – as if the curtains are parted in a play – and what lay in front of us was stuff [usually] made out of dreams. The moment was special. The guide pointed out the Chembra peak to the north. Masthakapara looked way more beautiful from 2300+ m altitude than from Kethan Paara. The peak had a deep crevasse running down its height, never revealing where it ended. It was home for the bats & somewhere deep below, there was water.
After spending enough time at the peak, we started trekking down to the camp. Slipping and sliding through the foliage, we reached the camp in half the time we took to reach the top. It gave an indication of what was to come for the day in terms of climbing down.
The trail was totally slippery and we had entered leech territory. I had multiple leech bites on my feet. But the view and winds at the top of Vavul Mala was worth every leech bite and steepness it took to get there. What’s a sweet success without some struggle? The jeep trail towards the end of the trek was never ending as usual. One of the locals pointed us to a small trail that led to the stream. The chill water was refreshing and it was totally soothing on the arms and legs. A beautiful trek had come to an end. We started with a tea at the tea shop at Muthappanpuzha and finished the trek at the same place with Pazha Pori (Banana Fry) and tea .
Where – Vellarimala and Vavul Mala are reachable from Muthappanpuzha village in Kozhikode (Calicut) district of Kerala. To reach there, take a bus that goes to Kozhikode and get down at Thamarasery. From there, take KSRTC buses that go to Muthappanpuzha. Alternatively, you can go to Thiruvambady or Omasery and take a share auto/jeep from there.
Guide – We hired a guide named Binish, whose dad Raman accompanied us on the trek. He was totally awesome and knew the area like the back of his hand.
Season – Post monsoon is the best time to go there. For us, even though we went in summer, the weather during those 2 days felt like it was monsoon. I should say we were lucky.
- When we went to Kethan Paara on the way back, the area was taken over by fast moving clouds. Someone (I think Dinesh) pointed out that Rajinikanth was smoking from the valley .
- Keerthana sang “Top of the world” at Kethan Paara. Nice song!
What’s a trek without photos. Here are some of the clicks: