A hike in the wild at Parambikulam
Andy was visiting Chennai and informed that he would be in Chennai over a weekend and asked if some trekking is possible. So I considered the options and decided that we go for a trek in Parambikulam. This is a Tiger reserve on the Tamil Nadu Kerala border and approachable from Tamil Nadu. A well maintained and preserved place with lots to see. I checked with the Parambikulam website and found that the forest department organizes treks / trips in Parambikulam based on what people want.
I called up the Parambikulam information centre and checked with them what options they have for trekking. To my surprise, they have quite a few packages ideal to go as a family or for the hard trekkers who would not mind the surrounding and can survive in any place. There was one such package which really intrigued me. That was the Cochin Tramway trail trek.
There had been a tramway in the olden days (in the 1930s) used for transporting teak wood from this place. This place had a natural growth of teak wood, all of which has been cut off now. But has a planted teak wood now. Though the tram lines does not exist now, the trail remains and it a good 25km trek. This trail is not a difficult one. It is a plain walk in uneven surface. It does not involve any steep climbing. So even people without any trekking experience can walk though (but one still need to have good stamina to walk).
The package was for 5 people and would cost Rs.6000 which would include guide charges, food and accommodation. Now do not be cheap minded and think of 5 star or 3 star accommodations, you silly. This is a multi-star accommodation. You just will have to look up and you will see numerous stars (disclaimer: only on cloudless nights).
Apart from me and Andy, I floated this idea in office to a few people and a couple young enthusiasts grabbed up the opportunity immediately. So Andy, Malay, Jeetesh, Shibaji and me were the team. Senthil initially planned to join, but had to drop out (He missed it!). We booked the tickets for Friday night, so we can reach there on Saturday morning and start the trek. We had planned to hire a taxi from Coimbatore and drive up to Parambikulam. Since this is the time of year when there will be huge number pilgrims to Sabarimalai, we were unable to get taxis booked till the last minute. Finally stuck a fair deal with a travel company through a known contact in Coimbatore and finalized the taxi just 10 minutes before leaving for the railway station.
We started from office on Friday evening and reached the railway station a good 40 minutes ahead. The train was scheduled to depart to Coimbatore at 9:00pm and it started from the station right on time. It was scheduled to reach Coimbatore at 4:50am the next morning which would give us enough time to keep Andy’s luggage in the hotel he had booked for Sunday night’s stay and then proceed to Parambikulam. The train reached there 10 minutes ahead of schedule and the taxi driver arrived at the station exactly at 5:00am on Saturday morning as promised. Now I was getting a bit paranoid since everything was going on time.
The distance between Coimbatore to Parambikulam was about 76km. We kept Andy’s luggage at the hotel and started by around 5:30am. We reached Pollachi around 6:00am and had our breakfast. We resumed the journey from Pollachi around 6:45 and reached the Tamil Nadu check post of Top Slip by around 7:30. Soon after we entered the ghat roads we found that the climate is getting a lot cooler. After driving up for a few minutes we were literally into the clouds. The altitude would have been only just over 1500 ft, but due to the rainy season, the clouds had already engulfed us and there are no words to explain the beauty of this place! Certain things can only be enjoyed and not be explained. The windshield of the car was covered with mist. For sometime we could not say if it was the precipitation from the clouds of it was drizzling. Actually there were both.
The forest officer there informed us that we can go only till the Parambikulam Information Centre and after that we will be taken in the forest departments van to venture into the place. They had two vans one with 13 seat capacity and the other with 22 seat capacity. So he said we will have to wait till the seats get filled. I informed him that we have come for the trek and that the information centre people informed me that they will take us from the information centre. But the officer informed that irrespective of what it is, we need to wait for the seat to get filled. Now I knew why things were happing on time! Other option is to pay for all the 13 seats or 22 seats and proceed.
Since I did not want to leave anything to uncertainties I thought checking with another group of 12 people who were also going to Parambikulam for a Safari, if they are fine to join us so we can pay the money for the remaining seats. They were a bit hesitant for a moment, but finally agreed to join. We paid the entrance fee here and we were informed that we can pay for the van in the information centre itself. Finally we started from the place a little later than 9:00am. Once we reached the information centre the people there told us that the van the officer was mentioning was only for the safari and for the tramway trek, we can use our own vehicle till the starting point of the trek. Whew!, a great relief from confusing procedures.
The team at information centre then starting preparing for the trek. There was quite a delay and by the time we started it was well past 10. We had to drive another 20km approximately to reach the starting point of this tram way. We were joined by the forest guards from the information centre. The road from here was quite narrow, but was well laid except for the occasional potholes and breaks in the road in very few places. The guards showed us the Thoonakadavu dam and the Parambikulam dam through which the river flows to form the Aliyar falls. We were also informed that our trek path will be along this river.
There was again a stop in the Parambikulam village to buy rice and vegetable for our lunch and dinner. Finally when we started from here after getting everything it was around noon. When we reached the starting point of the trek it was already 12:15pm. The guards suggested that we have breakfast and then start the trek as it was already late. Did we have any other option? No we didn’t, except that we will have to trek starving, which not a great idea.
So we waited AGAIN in the small bird information centre setup in remembrance of Dr. Salim Ali – the father of ornithology in India, while the lunch was getting prepared. There were a few people living in that calm and cut-off area who had earlier worked in the tramway (yes back in the 1930s, they just settled here). One of these people – an old man of about 70 – was preparing the lunch for us. It was really a fabulous lunch. It was a very simple one – rice with Sambar and Rasam and Papad and vegetables for side dish – but excellent one. Every one of us enjoyed it and we were ready for the trek.
FINALLY, we started trekking around 2:30pm and had walk in a good pace to reach the destination before it gets dark. We were lead by the guards and a local tribal accompanied us. We started trekking along the river as mentioned before and the guards were showing us the pug marks of deer, leopards, bison and tigers along the way. We did spot a few Sambar deers and spotted deers on the way, not to mention about being bitten by leeches. We spotted a huge crocodile in the river lazily sleeping on a work in the river. We also saw and heard numerous birds chirping all along the way. The guards were well informed about some of the trees, birds, animals, butterflies and there behavior. They did give us some good information about the birds there.
At one point one of the guards informed us that he is able to smell elephants and we waited to there to see if we can catch a glimpse of the elephants. We did spot the huge one in some distance behind the cover of huge trees. Of course they too had sensed us and did not explore out. I don’t know why these big ones are afraid of me. I am just a friend of them. Finally we reached our destination, a small place with 3 small concrete cottages which is used by the forest officer and his guards who are in charge of the place.
The cottages had two rooms with few cots and nothing else, not even electricity. We dumped our bags there and had a good lengthy chat with the forest officer. He was a very friendly person and was very happy to converse with us. He does not get to talk much to people. Even the occasional trekkers confine to themselves. So the officer was really happy that we came out to have a chat with him.
Dinner was prepared there by the tribal who accompanied us. Again very simple chappathi and vegetables, but just excellent and really tasty! We chatted for sometime after dinner along with the forest officer and hit the bed. The plan was to start at 6:00am in the morning after having tea. Andy was the first one to get up and gave a loud waking up shout which woke all of us. We climbed down to the river, which was just outside the compound to brush and wash our face. We did see some fresh pug marks there indicating that some deers and leopards have been there either early in the morning or in the night. We also saw the mark of an elephant, but the forest officer informed us that it was from the previous day.
We started our trek back to the Dr. Salim Ali bird information centre by around 7:00am. Again the guards did a good job of showing us lots of birds. I felt very bad that we did not have enough time to sit and observe the birds and take some photographs. Since it was thick jungle spotting the birds itself was quite difficult so photographing those while trekking was just out of the question as we had to reach back on time. We reached there at around 10:30am. The rain which had stopped till then had resumed again. Briefly there was good downpour, but got reduced to a drizzle soon. Malay and Shibaji got the river and had a very good refreshing bath there. Me and Andy joined them some time later to just wash our faces and by that time the lunch was ready. The old man had already prepared a good lunch for us once again. We had lunch at about noon and proceed to visit the Thoonakadavu dam and the Kannimara Team. These places were simply beautiful and once again I have to mention that one has to see these places to enjoy and cannot be explained.
We started back to Coimbatore around 3:00pm and reached Coimbatore by 6:00pm itself. We dropped off Andy at the hotel and went on to check if our return tickets are confirmed. Since the train tickets were not confirmed, we got a bus and headed back to Chennai. It was really wonderful to spend 2 days in the forest without mobiles, laptops, facebook or twitter or even electricity. We were literally in the medival period for 2 wonderful days!
So overall a thoroughly enjoyable experience and another addition to the never decreasing “TO BE VISITED AGAIN” list of mine.