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Monday, May 13, 2013

Vellarimala, Monsoon Rainforest Wild adventure in Mid Summer

Aching knees and limping legs, leech bite marks all over the feet, tired body, almost 3 sleepless nights but a refreshed and rejuvenated mind, well what can be better than that on a Monday morning. Back from another awesome adventure, and this is a painfully long log of everything that went on in my mind related to this trek.

Vellarimala trekking group

ASCENDers team at Vellarimala

 

Preamble

My gmail desktop notification popped, a mail from BASC, Jinu John is organizing a trek. I just glimpsed through the mail, all I noticed was Kerala and 36+ kms. I had heard Jinu's name a lot of times. I did not think twice, just that I have to go on this trek. Quickly called Afzal, asked him to register. Since it was already past 4pm, I knew I cannot send the advance amount to Jinu to confirm my seat for the trek. Still I scheduled the transaction for next day and sent money for myself and Afzal, and hurriedly filled the BASC registration form. My past experience with BASC was that it is very very difficult to get a seat in such treks with BASC.Well I was very excited when I realized Jinu has called me, he told me that we are going to some different place, which is very difficult. I was like whatever the place, whatever the distance, please, I want to join. But I was let down when Jinu told Afzal would be on the waiting list since he registered a little late. So this was going to be the first time I would trek with a group of complete strangers. Last time at least Afzal was there.

Food

Well those who have trekked with me would know. During every trek I carry enough food to make sure I am not starving at any time during the trek. More than 60-70% of my bag weight has to be food. This time also I had an elaborate plan and shopping over 3 days from different super markets to stock up my food supply. Here is a list of food items I carried.
1. Sprouts (moong, kala chana, soybeans) + dates
2. Peanuts + roasted chana
3. Maiyas kachori, (they were too good.!)
4. croissant cream cake
5. Orange, Apple, Guava, Banana
6. My cook prepared an awesome Raw mango curry, and paratha with curd. That would stay good for at least 3 days.

The Race begins...

The Rush begun on Friday eve. I reached home early from office. Hurriedly packed everything. Ran to bus stop to catch the 8pm direct bus to MCTC. After waiting till 8.10pm , some good fellows sitting at the bus stop told me the bus has left early, Damn, I have to change buses. The next bus came and stopped a bit ahead at the signal, I ran to get on the bus. Got down at Ulsoor police station. Damn I realized the bus stop is at Lido. Again run, I rushed from Ulsoor police station to Lido bus stand when I saw the bus to KR market just starting to leave, I again ran and got on the bus. Again got down at KR Market, all the while noting that its already 9pm. Again ran to cross the road and catch another bus to Satellite bus stand. And finally reached MCTC stand by  9.15pm, just in time to get the bus.

Bangalore to Thamarassery, Kerala

Our bus from Bangalore Satellite bus stand to Calicut was a KSRTC, Kerala State Transport bus. Well if you have traveled in a Karnataka KSRTC bus, then just remember this is not that. We spent the night somehow in the bus. At some time it was pitch dark and our bus driver stopped, saying he might have taken wrong route. Some of us got down, how can I miss this chance to stretch out, after sitting still for so long. The star filled night sky was marvelous, I though we must come to such a place just for star gazing sometime.
After reaching Thamarassery 2 hours late, we missed our bus to Mutthappan Puzha and had to take a Jeep.

Mutthappan Puzha

We started the trek pretty late, from the village of Mutthappan Puzha. In retrospect that was not good, we should always start any trek as early as possible, so that we can spend more time during the trek.
The initial walk is through a small village and slowly we ascend and enter the forest. We reached a small stream and stopped for breakfast. We had just covered a very small distance ascending, but already I was repenting all the extra food items that made my bag heavier. So I made sure I ate as much as possible from the food in my bag and also shared it with others to reduce some weight.
We had a brief intro session and our trek started.
muthappanpuzha trek starts

Hike Begins

As we slowly march into the forest, we realize there is no proper trail. The forest floor was covered with wet leaves and boulders layered with moss, which make walking much difficult. And surely after some time we encounter Western Ghat's most favorite creature Leeches. Not something you would expect in mid May summer. It was nature's own way to resent any foreign entry like ours. Very soon I got stamped by blood sucking leech for intruding in their jungle. Well normally we preach leeches are harmless creatures, you should not bother about them bla bla bla. But whatever I don't like the sight of those slimy crawling things up my body. So I had to constantly check my shoes and pluck out candidate blood suckers.
The forest inflicts its own discipline as our team of 17 trekkers march in a meandering line as the ascend starts to increase gradually.
In most of Western Ghat treks you either walk in grasslands or inside dense forests. Vellarimala Trek was chosen by Jinu, since it is completely forest covered trek, ideal for summer. Soon we realized that it was really a good decision, even though we were trekking throughout the mid day, the complete sky was hidden from us. All you could see was forest cover.

 

Olichuhattam

Olichuchattam view
olichuchattam waterfalls
Olichuchattam View Point
Near Aanathetti Stream After a few hours of walking inside forest finally we could see some sky. We reached the huge water falls of Olichuhattam. If you google vellarimala the images that come up, are actually of this falls, a huge rock and a small stream of water dripping down. It is very tempting to climb the rock. And without wasting any time, I started climbing it. The thrill of climbing a rock parallel to a water fall is awesome. Well before I could continue my adventures further, Jinu spotted me and I was called down.
This was the first time we were out of forest and we got something worth clicking, so everyone with a camera was busy clicking. After some rest we resumed our expedition.
Our next stop was the top of Olichuhattam falls. Interestingly if we have ropes we can manage to rock climb and reach the top, but like normal people we trekked through the forest to reach here. We spent quite some time here, some people had a bath in the water stream, some of us were just content with dipping our legs in the cold water. I did not feel like jumping into the water, well because there was not enough water to jump into, it was max knee deep.During monsoon it must be difficult even to cross this stream. We finished our lunch here. And of course my cook's Raw Mango curry was a sooper hit, which I shared with others.
This was our last major halt. Now we had to hurry to reach the peak before it gets dark.
Muthukumar told that we were at an altitude of about 1000mtrs, and our destination was 2000mtrs. So I thought good we have done almost 50%, but as we later realized the climb had just begun.
On the way we crossed another almost dried stream, named Anathetti. Where an elephant had supposedly slipped, hence the name.
We were now into much denser forest. Slowly distance between first person and the last person increased considerably perhaps about 40-50mins. The climb was much steeper now, and as the pace of our group slowed, Jinu kept screaming, move fast, not to stop, its getting darker, it will start raining etc etc.
For some time I tried to be sweeper, the last guy, but as the ascend increased it was more difficult to go slow. So I started walking faster and reached somewhere in the middle of our group. We were all very tired, halting after almost every 10-20 steps and panting like anything. Everyone had the same question, how much more to go. Meanwhile we kept screaming to know the trail from the guy ahead and communicate the same to the group behind. The group ahead of me was no where to be seen, occasionally I could just hear them scream back. The climb was more than 50-60 degrees by now. I was sweating like hell. Every time I would climb one patch and look up, one more curve would be laughing ahead.
Vellarimala Hike Continues
At last I could feel there is open sky at some distance. I screamed back at others behind me, I think we have reached. And yes I could hear Achintya telling some stories to the others, who were sitting and waiting for us.
Huff, at last reached the peak. Hey wait a minute, this is the peak, but where is the cliff, where is the view. Then we realized this is just the first flat terrain since we started trekking. We halt here, and after everyone reaches here we continue our climb. Well if you think you are sweating badly, very tired, etc etc and you will just lie down and rest here, then forget it. This place was infested with some special kind of flies, which bite. Yes they actually bite. So instead of sitting calmly and resting we have to keep fighting with the flies. Now as everyone started reaching, we were cracking jokes, as the flies got new sweating victims.

Ketan Para

After everyone reached, we left the clearing and entered the forest to reach our camping site. Now we were walking on much flatter terrain. Jinu spotted some elephant dung, which was not fresh. Now we became aware of the presence of wild animals. After a couple of minutes we walked out of forest, and reached Ketan Para, the first place to have some decent view of the Vellarimala Range however covered with mist. After some resting and eating we started to walk towards REC para. Jinu told REC guys had first found that camping spot, thats why the name. Well it was the only place which had a water source nearby.
kethan para view kethan para rest thick forest vellarimala

REC para

Very soon we reached REC para, our camping spot. Drop the bags and rest was the first task.
After getting refreshed at the water source, our cooking session begun. Jinu was the head chef for the night. We were his helpers. Lots of controversial methods had to be adopted while cooking. Floating insects like spiders in our boiling water added that unknown mysterious components to our food which made it yummy!!
Oh and elephant dung worked as purifiers inside our water source.
After a long cooking session and yummy dinner, we were ready for the most awaited event of the day SLEEP.
A camp fire was setup, where we all gathered after dinner. Our guides suspected the presence of Tigers in nearby areas. The fire is supposed to be the only thing that could keep the animals away. Well that was the news that made our dull Night somewhat exciting. We were already aware of wild elephants by their omnipresent Elephant dung , and now Tigers, Cool !
Four of us arranged to sleep under a tarpaulin to save us from the rain. So all of us got inside our sleeping bags, trying to get a good sleep. After some time I became aware of the rain, but where is my tarpaulin cover!! Unfortunately the spot we chose to sleep was a slope, and I was the first person, so all of us had slipped down the slope. And Now I was outside the tarpaulin, on the rocks, under the rain. While other three were safely tugged inside the now spacious tarpaulin cover. Fortunately it was just drizzling, and my sleeping bag was capable enough to save me from getting wet.
After another sleepless night, with a few naps thrown in the entire night, I finally got out of my sleeping bag late morning. We had our breakfast. Jinu prepared the special Vellarimala tea with whatever he could lay his hands on like the leftover puliyogare. We had another round of introductions, then waited for sometime for the drizzling to stop.
For most of us this was one of the best part of the entire trek. We would leave our backpacks here at the camp and we will go to the Vavulmala, the highest peak in the range.
Camp spot REC para

Vavulmala

The moment we entered the jungle I exclaimed awesome! There was no visible trail from REC para to Vavulmala. We would be following animal trails through bushes to reach the peak. Our trail was strewn with Bison Dung, we were supposedly following bison trails. Jinu mentioned they were better known as Gaur, and not Bison. Well we chose to stick with bison, as it sounded more frightening. Without our heavy backpacks,  inside the dense forest, ducking and going through bushes, the experience was great. Several times we emerged from the forest, and were greeted by awesome mist covered view of nearby ranges. 
Vavulmala Hike Waynad hills
Vavulmala Vieew Point
Solme fun in the peak
Vavulmala Rocky part
Finally after several minutes we reached the peak rock of Vavulmala. The view has to be seen to be believed. Unbelievable beauty, our eyes feasted with the view of the surrounding peaks, had lots of photo sessions .After everyone was satisfied we started returning to our base camp.
Vavulmala Misty
Vellarimala evergreen forest Muyalan Para Vavulmala rest
Vavulmala rock crack Rock crack inspection
Jinu with his kerala friends Vavulmala vegetation Vavulmala forest Vellarimala Group pose I was again as usual the last person marching with the group. I find the idea of being alone in these forests extremely thrilling, but since that would be too much to ask for, I satisfy myself by ensuring there is no one behind me. And I occasionally look back to feel the excitement of undisturbed calmness of this place.
We reached our base camp, and were already late. We packed up hurriedly and started our trek back to civilization.
Vellarimala Elephant Territory

The Return

Contrary to what we expected, our return journey was much more challenging. We had to climb down steep trails, which were full of moss covered boulders and wet leaves. It was all an extremely careful setup to make sure we slipped and fell over several times. And don't forget our dear leech friends, waiting at strategically located points to stick themselves up human bodies.
We were already running short of time, had to hurry down, otherwise we would miss our last bus. But climbing down in these slippery terrain made us slow. At least we were making very few halts. We had our major break only while crossing the stream on top of Olichuhattam. When we reached the stream, the first group was already waiting there for a long time. They became restless and decided to go ahead, while we rest near the stream for some time.
Vellarimala slippery trail
We resumed our descend after some time, the trail was much less steeper from now onward. I was no longer the last person after this point, some others were still at the falls. Jinu asked us to hurry or we would not get time to bath at the base, so I went ahead instead of waiting for others.
If the climb up was about sweating and panting, the down journey was about aching knees and paining leg muscles.
After perhaps almost an hour we met others who had started from olichuhattam before us. There was some commotion, and they asked if Megha was with us. Everyone looked at each other's face, we had seen Megha leave with the Girish and co., after that none of us saw her. Apparently Megha could not keep up with them and was supposed to join us. Jinu was still not here, he was with the last group of guys. It was panic time, Megha was missing. Meanwhile we sent back one of our guides, to inform Jinu and search for her. We tried our cell phones but of course no signal. We were all very tensed, the forest is extremely treacherous, she must have taken some wrong trail. Meanwhile everyone else arrived and we assembled outside the forest, waiting for Jinu. After some time, Jinu and rescue team returned with Megha, amidst lots of cheering and applaud. Apparently they heard here screaming somewhere near the falls.
This was quite an unexpected experience, we should be very careful while in such big groups inside forests. Always keep in sight someone ahead and behind you, we should not break into smaller groups, and stay together. Also whistle helps to communicate your position, as you may not always have the energy to scream.
Well we were already very very late, we had reached the villages of Mutthappan puzha. Some of us wanted to take a dip in the stream (after being in the same dress since Friday night, without any bath), but Jinu came running and asked us to come out, and hurry if we want to catch the last bus. We climbed out of the stream, without being able to touch the water, and started running towards the bus stop.
After some time one of our guides came on bike and informed the bus has already left. Well that's it, at least we can stop running now. It was already very dark, while we were resting at the bus stop, Jeeps were arranged.
We reached Tamaraserry had dinner and got on our Karnataka KSRTC bus. We were all very tired, and the pushback seats at least helped us rest for the night.
And thus our expedition was concluded

Travel Tips:

1. Bangalore to Thamarassery
  - All buses to Calicut, Kerala will stop at Thamarassery.
  - Remember to book KSRTC bus tickets at least 2 weeks in advance, otherwise difficult to get a seat.
2. Thamarassery has a bus to Mutthappan Puzha at around 7.30am, so if you reach early then only you can catch the bus, otherwise have to take a Jeep from the bus stand.
3. Trek starts from Mutthappan Puzha,
    - Forest office permission is required, but it is difficult to get.
    - If you have arranged a guide who can arrange permission then good.
    - Anyway you should arrange some locals as your guide, not wise to go in without guides.
4. Last bus from Muthappan Puzha is around 7pm. If you fail to catch the bus, it may be difficult to arrange alternate transport.
5. KSRTC buses to Bangalore are available from Thamarassery town.
    - Remember to have the contact number of bus conductor.
    - You have to reach the particular point where the bus stops, its not the normal bus stand. 

Written By: Prithayan Barua

Original Post: http://prithayan.blogspot.in/2013/05/vellarimala-monsoon-rainforest-wild.html
Links to the pictures at the end of this post.
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Another write up by Swetha,

Trek to vellarimala and vavulmala is an awesome experience. First time in my life i have seen such a thick forest . Trek was planned and organized by jinu very well.
It was a difficult trek for me .I managed this trek with the help of my co-ascenders. Special thanks to Jinu who helped me a lot in finishing this trek. An important point to mention here,
The team whom we had for this trek are very good and very helpful.

Journey :

Started our journey from Bangalore satellite bus stand on Friday night and reached Thamarassery on Saturday early morning where Jinu was waiting for the team. From here, two jeeps
were  arranged to mutthapanpuzha which is the starting point for our trek.  Most of the people are already hungry when we started trekking, finally found a resting place and had some
snacks and filled water bottles and entered the actual forest area (@ around 10: 30 AM).
Next resting point was Olichuhattam waterfalls. Till here, trek was easy and i managed to be along with the leading group. I Remember Jinu keeps taking count at each resting point.
rest at olichuchattam clouds playing around olichuchattam
  After this, trail has become more steeper and it has become difficult to ascend. Most of the group managed to reach peak with great high spirits, But it was a real challenge for me to trek at the high steeps. Jinu had helped me a lot in reaching the camping spot i.e.REC para (I am the last one to reach camping area).
Our camping spot was yet an another interesting place where we can find lot of elephant’s and bison’s foot prints. Next target was to cook food for night. People started collecting water and kitchen was set by Jinu. Menu for the evening was pasta soup :) and puliyogare . It is very delicious . Everyone enjoyed dinner and soon fire camp was set . guides who came along with us found that there could be sign of elephants at night , so without making much noise we all jumped into sleeping bags . Thank you for the people who were awake whole the night lighting up the fire. It was raining little bit .
camp site Next day (Sunday ) morning got up at around 6AM and we are again ready for another peak named Vavulmala. Meanwhile we had a brief overview of all team members . And again there was an wonderful masala tea prepared by Jinu which was tasting bit different but served the purpose.  Except three people (Along with me) everyone climbed to vavulmala and returned back by 12 PM.
Joy of reaching the peak muyalan para view and clouds views from vavulmala
After having quick lunch, we started our descend.
Descend was interesting at the beginning and was little fast. As it rained last night, at high steeps it was slippery and i got slipped many times and had small injuries too. Finally again with the help of many people managed to reach our starting point of trek . One of our team mate got missed in between while we were descending . Jinu and other forest guides managed to find her and get her back to the starting point.
We were late and we missed bus to bus stand. So Jeeps were arranged again and we travelled to bus stand, in between we had awesome dinner. Finally at around 10PM we got our bus and reached Bangalore @6AM on Monday morning.
I could have missed many points here. The whole journey was really very good , and i feel really good about myself that i have completed the trek . It was a great pleasure to meet such a people who are like minded and who has great passion towards trekking.
Awesome Experience and great fun.
Once again thank you so much to Jinu for organizing such a great trek.
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Join Bangalore ASCENDers @ CLICK HERE
Event organized by: Jinu John
Image Galleries: Vinay , Surendranath , Prithayan  , Shreekanth , Jinu

3 comments :

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  2. is it impto have permission from forest department

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