Kodaikanal to Munnar Trek - A Bittersweet Escapade

12/08/2009 12:54:00 PM




Introduction:


Sounds very much like a office document or an school essay isn't it? but If i start it with poetry (ofcourse inspired), I am sure I'd not be able to wrap the two days expedition up in one post. So I am gonna narrate the whole experience, but would try to remain to the point and as specific as I can possibly be.


So since this passage is headlined as "Introduction", lets go to the beginning, at the time of the birth of this thought, and then  introducing the two places in  focus here. I was in a trip to Pondicherry, rather a drive from Chennai to Pondicherry via ECR (East Coast Road)  with Anindita and Imran. The trip was close to successful ( based on the overall fun quotient), and thinking to replicate the fun, Imran suggested to have a trip to kerala soon. The indicatives were Vellarimala-Vavulmalai trek, and  "Kodai to Munnar Escapade road trek", The latter been done by CTC as a 3 days trek. coming back to bangalore, we started a mail-thread, with the idea of doing a kodai-munnar trek, sometime in the end of November (2009) and pulling friends in.  the list in the "cc" went huge in a short span of time, and well of course, the thread still isnt' mute. ( Thanks to our typical characteristic of talking too much - bother not the medium used.) This was the thread from which I pulled out the Bandajje Thread, and we did trek Bandajje falls on Oct 31st-Nov1st, so I guess this one is like, some 2 months old right now with 500+ mails in it. Good record for the second "self planned" trek, I must say.


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So I'm gonna give you all the names very shortly, of who all came and disappeared from the thread while we were still in planning stage. By the names 'emselves, these two places attract many people, including those looking for a relaxing vacations/honeymoon and now trekking as well. Kodaikanal is a famous "crowded" hill station in tamilnadu, Dindigul District, on Tamilnadu-Kerala border, in Palani hills at height of about 2133 mt above sea level and approx 1 lac of population. Where as Munnar, another beautiful tourist spot, located in Idduki district of Kerala. from Kodaikanal (here after referred as Kodai) to Munnar, There are many reserve forests like Indira Gandhi Wildlife SanctuaryPalani hills reserve forests and Allinagaram reserve forest etc. That means while providing ample trekking/hiking and wildlife witnessing opportunities, getting in is bound to permissions from Tamilnadu, and Kerala Forest Departments. Out of Multiple treks options, in this close to 100 KM stretch one is very famous "Escapade Road"  (Trek Route:
Kodai-Berijam (23 Km) - Konalar (5 Km) - Sebastian Odei (3 Km) - Marion Shola (2Km) - Kathirikkai Odei(1 Km) - Kambippalam (3 Km) - Pulavachiar (5 Km) - Vandaravu (10 Km) - Top Station (10 Km) trek, which supposedly is an old british era road, turned in to trekker's paradise, afters its closure for vehicle moments, and development of Greens around, and this is what we plan to trek.

A: Preparation & Permission

The first thing to look at was the trekwiki page, and as Imran suggested, I spoke to 'Kodai Mani' the Ultra modern guide from kodai, who organized the trek for CTC (Chennai Trekking Club) before. The quotations were shocking enough, specially when we are used to pay some fair amount to Guides here in karnataka. I decided to check with another person called Murugun, again taking the number from trekwiki page, who otherwise a busy guy, assured me from the first call itself, that, he's gonna get everything ready including the permission from DFO Kodai, DFO Munnar, and I should be at ease.







Outta habit, I went through the blogs and other pages available on internet to understand the geography of the place, and for the first time, I find it pretty confusing. the blog specially weren't to the point, and were more about how much fun the writer had rather than how did he/she got things organized at the first place. most of the blogs were from the people from same CTC' trip.  the route was confusing as well. specially after speaking to Kodai-Mani, and Murugan, who were talking about Kavungi-Kovillur and Mannavanur respectively, I was kind of lost, as I dint' really find any of these places nearby Escapade road. pretty late that I realize that there aint anyone who has taken the escapade road except the one group of 3-4 people who did it some 3-4 years back and who's write-up excerpts are on trekwiki page.

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Anyways, I spoke to Murugan telling him, how determind we were to follow "only" the escapade route, and he came back with the permission problem. it was just a week before the trip. yea.. real mess, you bet we were in (n Now I go in present tense).... not being very sure, about the reason of why the permission can't be availed, I call up DFO Kodai, on Monday morning, The 23rd of Nov. who' tells me, that the letter should be obtained from PCCF office, Chennai. I call up PCCF Chennai office, and after talking to T.Sekar, CCF, I decide to fax a letter to PCCF, with the trek details, and Mr Sekar assures me, that, though late, we should be able to get the letter by Wednesday. (2 days time frame). Imran being local, gets on the job, and so does karthik from Bangalore (PCCF office speaks tamil). But when thursday arrives, all we get to know is our letter is been rejected by higher officials and the not so precise reason given is that the permission is only available for School Kids and College Students. ( Yes! Believe it. )

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Our tickets are booked and Friday is we are supposed to leave, and we don't have the permission and the guide. (I ditched murugan right after the call on sunday). out of luck, I try to call the third number in the trekwiki page, and from him I get the number of another local called  Raja. Raja, informs me, that due to heavy rains, The road is been blocked for quite a few days, and hence no permission. he suggest the alternative route to go to Village poondi/pundi, via Bus or some transport and start the trek from there. which we had thought of as our back-up plan anyways. we cancel the idea of going to DFO Kodai on Saturday morning and taking any permission and decide, we'd take the connected trail from the village to the escapade wherever it meets, and reach top station half way through the escapade rode.

So Now our schedule looks something like this.

Reach Kodai by Morning 9 AM Saturday, Freshen up.
Take a vehicle to Poondi (36-40KM) (3 hours) Lunch at  Poondi.
Start the trek from the Poondi, till dark, mostly reaching a tribal village called Nattampatti or escapde road- Vandaravu forest quarters and Halt for night. ( Night trek??)
Sunday - Vandaravu to Top Station in 3-4 hours
TopStation to Munnar by Bus ( another 35 KM),
Lunch and sightseeing at Munnar, and Bus to Bangalore at 4, and 5 PM (since we haven't got all booking in one KSRTC bus)
Back in bangalore, Monday Morning. ->> Easy Office.

B: Reaching Kodaikanal.

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Though we gotta a miss, one of the best attraction of escapade road, Berijam lake, the plan still doesn't look bad, folks are happy that the plan isn't cancelled, Friday arrives and we look ahead for another set of good adventure coming weekend. we meet around 8:30/8:45 PM at Shanti Nagar Bus Stand and We includes Sathya, Vaidehi, Vani, Abhilasha, Saritha, Sushmita, Nandita, Benjamin,Joydeep, karthik, pavan, and Me. While weekday adventure of getting trekking permission was on, Peevee and Naresh dropped out, and Cuba aka Ravi, Joined in. and so we 've turned 13. (Someone said its a unlucky number, hmm..letsee i say!)

Bus starts late, good that it does so, cause, 'The Sisters' (Nandita-Sushmita) are not quite on time. besides we sharing 400 mails (or is that the reason?) they go to some other bus station in bangalore, and are now diverted here. Having Kartik around, one doesn't need no instrument for entertainment. Cuba turns first in the witch-hunt list, and he's executed sophistically.

in close to 12 hours of journey to Kodaikanal, we stop twice, once in the night, to some place in tamilnadu, and then at a restaurant on the way 2 hours ahead of Dindigul Stop around 7 AM for breakfast. ride inside Dindigul which is spread over 6000 sq km of land, is a delight. the ghat section starts and you could enjoy the view of small hillocks, numerous falls, dam, reservoirs and lakes, for 2 hours, which flies of in a blink of an eye, and you reach kodaikanal, and thats pretty much a perfect start of the day.


C: Valley of Gold, & Ride to The fairy-tale villages.

I am walking rounds and rounds around the mini-bus fuming and irritated, at Kodaikanal bus stand near BSNL office, whats' been going on in here I wonder.

"Around 9:30 AM we reached kodaikanal bus station; kartik went out finding a reasonable lodge ( INR 500, 2 rooms 1/2 hours) for freshening-up, while I called up Raja, to get a vehicle and the guide for journey ahead.  Locals informed, the road to poondi goes up to kavungi, so we should rather go to kavungi and start our trek from there. later Raja confirmed the same, he arranged for a TT (INR 1700) and also a guide, (200 per head for entire trek) but I decided to find a guide from the village, and settled just over the vehicle. Saturday being the Bakrid, most of the market was closed, so we quickly finished our task in hand, and came to the vehicle, only to find Saritha was already on a sightseeing tour taking along Vaidehi.

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Saritha arrives and we start our journey to village kavungi. kavungi is last village on that road stretch around 40KM from kodaikanal and it takes around 3 hours to reach there. road crosses through, kodaikanal lake view point, a church 136 years old, and a stream/tiny fall in surrounded with Tall Pine trees. Stream though not very attractive to us 'the trekkers', had quite a number of tourist at that hour. specially the view up on of  tree leaves, the tall red-brown trunks of the trees lead you to, mostly green all year round, shining radiant white, with the strong sun light is spectacular. we stop there for a while, spotting all genres from honeymoon couples, kids and retired.


In an hour and half, we reach a scenic village, called kumbur, in upper palani hills. light green step fileds, miniature red roof houses, and hillocks at the distance, the village is surep picture perfect .Another half hours drive and we reach Mannavanur, another very beautiful village with a lake in the center of green mounded grassland valley. I heard there is sheep research center and some Tamilnadu club as well, which provided staying and trekking facility to the visitors. Many of the south indian movies are also said to be shot at the this place.  our lunch is set at the bird-eye-view hotel/restaurant in mannavanur which we had ordered when we were in kodaikanal only. (INR 50 per meal) and its sure is the one of the yammiest. the cook also arranged for a guide whom we pick up a little ahead, from Mannavanur only. and well rest does make history, Watch out how.

After much negotiation we settle on this guide named Adaimalai on 2000 bucks, like some 150 per head which is okay as per the standards there, but Since I wanted to make sure, that he is gonna take us through the escapade road only to top station and no other forest route, we convey it to him clearly by showing the map, red lines and telling the same in all possible languages we could, finally when we think that he has understood. and the info, that Mr. Adaimalai is a retired forest fire watcher, takes our tension away from permission front on entering escapade too, we happily take him along.

We cross another village Poondi and get down at Nattampatti village, some 5 Kms before Kavungi. we take the left trail which goes through pine forest and meet escapade after some 8 KM trekking though Nilgiri forests. This area is home to wide variety of flora and fauna typical of  south western ghats,  which is profoundly called southern himalaya, and surely have got some natural vegetation some of which I spotted in my trek to Roopkund, Garhwal this year. overall the trek is easy walk in the midst of natural habitations, falls, and streams around, till we reach the haunted house.

D: The Haunted Night.

The place we choose to halt at night is some 3 hours trek from Vandaravu forest quarters, and is another set of demolished houses (~10 KM trek total) , quite like the old english ones in the forest. the stream is a bit down and far, and the area is prone to wild animals, such as mammals, tigers, elephants and leopards. we clean one of the two rooms for the night, and prepare campfires, have our cup noodles dinner and tea, and after enough scaring the wild by our laughters and making sure no animal can dare to get inside the the room, we close the night with everyone in certain finger crossed position only to stay that way through out the night, till early morning when temperature drops to less than 10 degrees and the sleeping bags fell short on saving us from stuttering cold.

E: The Series of Shortcuts


Morning we start a bit late, thinking Top station is just 10-15 KM  away and we can trek till there in maximum 3 hours time. the guide suggests us some shortcuts and we follow him. crossing couple of hills, I realize, if we somehow have been diverted from the escapade road and so I share my doubt with kartik and decide to talk to the guide and asking him to get back to the escapade road and not take any more shortcuts, but he goes on, on and on to find the road, until our GPS locates us in region some where close to Kovillur. Till we realize that he is meddling us around in the forest and escapade is too far back on the same trail we took to reach this point, its almost 12 in the afternoon. finally we see a trail to Kovillur and decide to go there rather, and dropping the plan to Top Station which is still around 10Kms away and uphill, we trek on to the known trail, and soon see the village Kilavarai on our right, with the trail to Kovillur going to the left, and getting narrow and narrow every further step.



Kilavarai is another tribal village on the border of Kerala-Tamilnadu, and as per my readings, previously, the CTC trip has taken this route, and not the escapade one while trekking kodai-munnar. So I figure the guide never knew the escapade route and hence came all the way back to the village. we see some villagers too, walking uphill to kovillur, soon disappearing in the forest reins, that making me feel the village is close by only. but to our surprize, we keep walking and walking straight n up and the village never shows up.

F: Kovillur


Around 5 pm, after almost 8 hours (25 KM of going round n round) of continuos trekking, we reach Kovillur, and village cum town in Kerala, the most beautiful of all and a treat to the eyes. the way to here has been gorgeous, but we had been running all the way, we have missed both our buses, the 4 PM and the 5 PM ones. and there is no direct bus to Bangalore from Munnar. According to Benzamin, we are officially screwed up. so what is that we are supposed to do now? Enjoy the mess created by our guide. who's still with us and is our responsibility to trek him safely to Munnar. :)


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We enjoy few cups of tea, and the attention of the village people and specially the kids, who are ready to pose seeing the camera around. I must say I totally enjoy the opportunity to interact and shoot with 'em and  so do they. an hour of break, we take two jeeps to Munnar, which is 43 KM from here, but takes only 1 and half hours to reach, thanks to good road condition in Kerala. Its get darker as we reach Munnar, but whatever we could see, e.g. the long and wide spread TATA tea estates around kovilur-top station-munnar road, the bisons of Chinar wildlife santuary, (which is only wildlife we have seen till now), and the mattupetti dam 14 KM from Munnar, we love it ALL.

G: Munnar-to-Bangalore

Munnar to Bangalore would'nt have been this eventful if we would have been on time, and could catch our buses, but we haven't and so we all set to yet another adventure in the night of 30th Nov, 2009, to be remembered for long.

we arrive at munnar bus station at 7:30 PM and go directly to Saravana Bhavan which is walkable from there, and first feed our belly to the full with another yummy south indian meal. with no direct bus going to bangalore, we board a 9:30 PM bus to Theni, 3-n-half hours from Munnar,  hoping to get one from there. 1 PM and we board another bus to Dindigul, which I must have rated the best out of all, with heavy bass and catchy music and being so alive in the mid-night to early morning hours, but then they played this sad movie and I get thoroughly disappointed. :(

The life on the road passing through Kerala, tamilnadu several times is buzzing. there are muliple factories on the way and people are sure up and going at the wee hours of the night. we shouldnt have realized it that much till we reached Dindigal, where the Bus station was as crowded and moving as it could be at 2 PM in the afternoon. Tea was readily available and lot of us were sure happy. but we had to wait, and wait and wait.

The buses to Salem another 4 hours away from here, were mostly coming from Madurai and were jam packed. we waited till 3:30 and finally realizing we'd never get a place, we caught this one bus looking like a monument inside out, with the space enough only to stand. few of girls got the space in the front, few sat on the sleeping bags in the mid way,  few stood all four hours and tolerated the horrible music the driver kept playing, happily. Till we reached Salem it was around 7:30 in the morning. Another Sarvana Bhavan meal, this time no better, we board a "highway rider" to Bangalore at 9:30 AM and finally arrive in Bangalore at 2 PM on monday sleepy, dirty and exhausted.

H: The route, the itinerary, the summary, contact numbers, etc

Ok so if incase you find the story/essay to be too long, and exhaustive ;) you might want to go through the little what i write here. we planned to the escapade route, ( violet color line in the picture below) and we ended up doing what you see as the dotted line. thanks to our forest ranger guide adaimalai. huh! but we are glad that we touch escapade and we plan to do it again sometime.. yup.. not touching it in the middle but from start till the end.


Facts Files :
  1. from berizam to top station is around 40KM and is doable in 2 days weekend timeframe. if you get the permission, the route is as i stated in the Introduction, and CAN be done with out guide too. but have the letter ready with you. first is the permission. No need to go to Chennai office, I think DFO Kodai and Munnar is capable enough providing the permission for escapade. get in touch with some locals. who can provide the status of the route.
  2. if incase the route is not open and you still want to do kodai to munnar, follow the below itinerary
  3. start from Bangalore/chennai on friday. 
  4. Reach kodai Saturday morning. 
  5. Kodai to Kavungi via bus/mini-bus
  6. kavungi to kilavarai trekking in the later afternoon
  7. halt at kilavarai in the night. 
  8. kilavarai to kovillur on sunday, you should be able to do it in 5-6 hours. 
  9. kovillur to Munnar by Jeep 
  10. catch the last bus to bangalore from munnar at 5 PM
  11.  Start from Bangalore/chennai on friday
  12. Reach kodai Saturday morning.
  13. Kodai to Nattampatti village via bus/mini-bus
  14. Trekking Nattampatti to Escapade road junction 
  15. Halt at our haunted house for night.
  16. Trek from the house to Top Station, Munnar on Sunday (5 hours my estimation)
  17. Top station to Munnar by bus (34 KM)
  18. Munnar to Bangalore by Bus.

Contact Numbers.

  1. Mani- 98940 48493
  2. Murugan - 9842316973
  3. Charles: 9884642211
  4. Raja : 9842188893
  5. Driver Raj : 9942472553


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19 comments

  1. Offf! I wasn't that tired after trekking for 8 long hours than I am after reading this long essay!!

    Btw, All info well narrated.

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  2. thank you! hence forth i increase the column size..;-)) hope its remains readable.

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  3. hey, can you pls let me know if the trek was along forests, or was it mostly through villages?

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  4. Hey Prashanth, The trek route we took, just started from a village and ended on another. entire route was along the jungle and 60% of 30/35KM route, we had trail to follow.

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  5. hey....great detailing....urging any trek lover to follow the path....even though i'm a native of munnar based out of delhi now, never heard abt the trek route with so minute detailing....so informative ur blog is..thanks

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  6. Hi Poonam, thanks for the reply! can you also let me know what did the per-head cost come to? I am planning to do this trek during christmas weekend.

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  7. You're welcome Prashant. the per-head cost was around INR 16/1700. all the best for your trek. do let me know your experiences!!

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  8. Butterfly,
    I appreciated all the route detail in your blog. Most blogs covering this road don't even know where they are or get the names of places right.
    You probably saw my article:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kodaikanal_-_Munnar_Road
    which was meant to help out people trekking the route.
    However, good info and maps can help only so much without good planning and obedient guide. Let your experience be a lesson for others.
    I will link your story and Flickr pics into the article.
    Regards,
    Marcus

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  9. Hey Marcus, Thank you very much for appreciating. yes I read the page 4 times, before figuring out main and backup route. I generally like to know where I am, where I should be, and what I am doing etc, and love to interact with guides and local people. But yes, not knowing the local language was big disappointment.

    either way, we had great time, and I must say no matter what trekking route you take in that area, its going to be fun!

    thank you for the maps, and thanks for linking my post and pictures. hope you enjoyed reading!!
    keep visiting.

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  12. Hi poonam , Can i have the exact route map which you cover as i am planing to trek the same escape route ,, can i hav your details for further guidance ,kindly reply

    deepakbiswal1@gmail.com

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  13. hi , I liked your interest or obsession to go through the so explained 'escapade route'. May be the guide dint get to know either your language of the route which you were telling him or may be he dint like to take you through that route which he might have found too long to trek along with you. Well this is something new for me to be more curious to do but for the second time.

    cheers
    chaya naidu

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  14. @Chaya Hey Chaya, first of all sorry for a late reply.. I have been long hibernating... it is true that guide dint know my language, but we had a trekker who knew malayalam so communication wasnt so much of problem.. the issue was he dint know the entire stretch of escapade since this was the alternate route which many people had been taking during the trek..and perhaps te only one he heard of. I remember how adamant and sure he was about where he was going.. but anyways.. it was because we were lost, we could see a lot more than what we planned to..

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  15. @Deepakbiswal1 - Hi Deepak.. I m sure you must have done this trek by now, if not.. Please the bottom pic is the GPS trek route.. I m sure I'd still be having the file somewhere in my archives.. send me a mail and I'll the send the file to you... HTH

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  16. Good write up... all details covered haan!!..:)..nice..

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