A Trip to the Abode of Sage Agastya
A brief description about the place.
Agasthyarkoodam Peak is located about 70 kms from Thiruvananthapuram. The capital city of Kerala a small state in India. This magnificent peak in the Western Ghats is at an altitude of 1890m above sea level. The peak is in the form of a sharp cone and is considered a heaven of rare herbs and medicinal plants, its slopes are a breathtaking sight when they transform into colourful glades of the 'Neelakurinji', a flower which blooms only once in twelve years.a valuable and rare herb by name arogyapacha (plant or eternal health) is also attracting the attention of modern reasearchers to this hill.
Agasthya forest is believed to have been the abode of sage Agasthya, a character from mythology. As the diety Agasthya The great hermit was supposed to be an ardent brahmachari(bachelor) and so Women are not allowed up to the peak.
Apart from me the following were the members comprising our team.
Sujanapal – Research Fellow at Kerala Forest Research Institutue
Suresh – Research Fellow at Tropical Botanical Garden and Research Institute
Sibin – Junior Research Fellow – TBGRI
Appi – Guide
Narayanan – Cook
Johny – Helper
4th March 2006
We Started off from TBGRI ( palode ) by around 7.00am in a Jeep which the the KFRI authorities kindly provided to drop us at the Bonacaud check post. We had our breakfast from a hotel in Vithura ( the last town enroute ) and reached Bonacaud by around 8.00am. After clearance we unloaded our belongings and send the vehicle back. And started our long long journey on foot.
As per plan we were headed towards Athirumala Rest House where we’ll spend our night before beginning the steepclimb to Agastyamala the next day.
Athirumala Rest House
This was my first visit to Agastyaarkoodam and frankly my heart skipped a beat when I first heard from others that even Athirumala guest house is a good 15 – 20 km from Bonacaud. The assending terrain along with lack of proper roads made the journey even difficult. Not to mention the weight of the luggage. But surprisingly after a few minutes of walk when we had left the borders and entered the pristine forests the scenery started to unfold in all its glory and all worries were soon forgotten.
A view of the mountains
Different species of butterflies were spotted in different spots. Actually a large congregation of butterflies near their respective host / nector plants.
A Tamil Yeoman butterfly
I soon realized that Agastyarkoodam being called as a bio diversity hotspot is no exaggeration at all.
A cauliflorus tree
After about 9 hours of rigorous trekking we reached the Athirumala rest house by around 5.00pm, took bath in a near by stream had dinner and was fast asleep. We were too tired for anything else.
5th March 2006
The day two of our tour was our trip to meet the sage Agastya . A journey of about 15 – 20 kms of which almost 95 percent is steep climb. Including some areas of barren rock which are too steep where we use the help of a rope to climb.
A variety of palm growing at the steep slops
A view of the mountain with barren rock and patches of Reed forests
We gave our offerings to the saint Agastya at Pongala Para, ( a rock ) and proceded to the highest mountain in the area,( Agastyarkoodam is the highest peak in Kerala after Anamudi ) the one believed to have been the abode of sage Agasthya. And finally when we actually got there enduring the steep climb it was a site worth visiting.
we started back from the peak at around 4.00pm after spending more than 2 hours enjoying the scenery from there and reached back at Athirumala rest house by around 6.30pm needless to mention exhausted.
6th March 2006
The third day of our trip was dedicated to a rare orchid ( Paphiopedilum druryi )which was found on one of the mountains in those ranges and which was to be in full bloom at this time of the year. However unlike the journey so far this journey will be through forests which are not inhabited or places where there are not even any paths laid. But in two days we had learned a lot about each other and we had much faith in our knowledgeable guide who knew the forest well. We were about the scale a different mountain.
A view of the mountain
the journey was short compared to the previous days just about 10 – 12 kms, but it was tough navigating through the terrain which had only animal trails. And finally our efforts paid off.
We had planned to spend the night at the top of that mountain and it sure was one of the experiences in my life which I’ll never forget with wind blowing at around 25km or more per hour from every direction and the setting sun casting different shades in the sky it was a most unforgettable experience. We could actually touch the clouds and I wondered even people who call kerala, the gods own country has ever witnessed anything like this.
The night was windy and very cold. We went to sleep by around 9.00pm but was awaken by around 10.00pm by a shower which fortunately for us only lasted for about 10 minutes. But we were all wet having no protection against rain whatsoever. We then set about drying ourselves and our sleeping bags and other belongings by the fire we set. By around 11.00pm we were asleep again.
7th March 2006
The fourth day plan was to reach poomkulam ( literally meaning a pond filled with flowers ). The way winded through the foothills of some of the steep mountains and was a journey of about 15 kms. And we sure did see some flowers.
The journey to poonkulam was relatively easy because we did not have to climb and we were walking through mostly level areas but the animal trails were littered with elephant and bison dung. We were travelling through forests mainly comprising of bamboo and the visibility was only upto 10 – 15 meters and the chances of we running into some herd of elephants or bison was high. To make matters worse the area was heavily infected with leeches. We had actually crossed into tamilnadu ( one of kerala’s neighbouring states ) we also saw a stone in which the boundary is marked. But once we reached there we were happy that we had come this far. The journey was worth the trouble.
we started back from poomkulam by around 3.00 pm and reached a slit in a rock in which we planned to spend our night by around 6.30 pm.
8th March 2006
The fifth day we explored the areas nearby the place we stayed, as we all need some rest and relaxation we decided not to go far but explore the near by places and to get back to athirumala rest house by night fall. Fortunately for us the place was a butterfly hot spot and we happened to see quiet a few of them.
Great Egg Fly
This one seems to have a particular liking for my bag
we reached athirumala rest house by around 6.30pm. forgot to mention that I was the only person in our team who’s not into this academically, so the others were busy catching up with the pending work of cataloging the specimens, pickling some, preserving some, writing field reports etc etc.
9th March 2006
The sixth day we set out to conquer yet another peak and also to find some other species of orchid called the Phaius luridus. Enroute we saw the terrain was much different and the forest seemed to be entirely different from the one’s we’d been trekkin so far.
A view of the forest
It cant get any steeper than this
A kind of beetle I persume (by god this truly is steven spielberg kinda stuff)
we came across some strange creatures which none of us were able to identify. The beetle above is one of them.
A cauliflorus tree
I cant believe my eyes this particular orchid was practically everywhere to be seen.
Dendrobium herbaceum growing on a tree.
After a days exploration and having collected all the information we needed about the plants we got back to athirumala rest house by around 5.30pm. even though its been almost a week since we left our home and we were a bit tired, I believe none of us liked to entertain the thought of our tour coming to an end and that its our final day here in this sacred forests. But it was the truth and that night we spend talking to each other about the various experiences we had during the trip.
10th March 2006
Its time for us to pack our bags and leave, back to civilization. The TBGRI vehicle will be waiting for us at Bonacaud but still it’s a good 25 – 30 kms away from where we are. So we got up early had a quick breakfast and started our journey back home. The journey back was mostly downhill so it was relatively easy and we took our time we set out at a relaxed pace so that we can enjoy the day to the maximum.
The forest canopy
A butterfly that imitates a dead leaf
Dead Tree Trunks
A lizard - chameleon to be precise when i first saw it was bright red in colour but by the time i took the shot, well its anybody's guess now.
A tree in the mist
The breathtaking early morning view of clouds racing past mountain tops.
Some kind of fruit - any body wanna take a bite ?
we reached Bonacaud by evening as fixed the TBGRI vehicle was waiting for us and thus we started our journey back home, taking with us memories to cherish for ever and promising ourselves that we’ll be back here for sure.