12-13th January 2008

The first trek of YHAI Bangalore this year was to Vellarimala peak in Kerala. Fifteen of us (Akshata, Anoop, Aparna, Aravind, Chandru, Kantha, Kavya, Krishna, Kushal, Mokshi, Nikitha, Sakeeb, Shashikant, Shradha and Shruthi) started from Bangalore on Friday night. The group had an equal mix of students and working people.

Vellarimala is the highest hill range standing at a height of 2240mtrs above sea level in Calicut district. Approach to this peak is from a village at Chooramala in Wayanad. Chooramala is near Soochipara falls which is a famous tourist spot. Compared to Chembra peak in Wayanad, very few people trek to Vellarimala.
The trek:
We reached Kalpetta at 5 in the morning. Our DTPC approved guide Rafeeq arrived at six and we set out for Karapuzha lakeshore resort 20 kms from Kalpetta. After breakfast and packing our lunch, we traveled to the base point of the trek, a tribal village near Chooramala. The rule here is that people trekking to Vellarimala has to take a guide from these tribals. This may be to create some earnings for the tribal people. We were assigned two tribals to guide us to the peak.

There are many routes to climb the peak and the most interesting one is the trail along a stream and we took that route for the climb. It was about 11AM when we started the trek. Walking along the stream was fun as we had to jump and cross huge boulders. We had carried rope as precaution for climbing some of the rocks but did not use it during the trek. People who were proficient in trekking helped newbies to climb up some huge rocks.
There was not much water in the stream as villagers had used pipelines to fetch water from the base of the stream. We crossed a couple of dry waterfalls on the route.
After about two hours of trekking, we deviated from the stream to enter the forest. Elephant territory begins from here. Elephant dung was everywhere and what concerned us was that they were the fresh ones. Elephants are generally regarded as gentlemanly in their behavior but at the same time their actions cannot be predicted if we encounter them in surprise. Our tribal guide was very cautious and was always on lookout for any sounds in the forest.

We had our lunch break at 2PM near a stream. We had to hurry up as we had no plans to camp on the top and had to return back before getting dark. The next one hour of climb to the peak was continuously upwards. It was 3:30PM when we came out of forest cover to an open area and in another few minutes we were on top of Vellarimala.

I was a bit disappointed when I saw few peaks higher than the one that I was standing. I think that Vellarimala is not a single peak but range of hills. I asked the guide but he could not confirm anything. Later, from other sources, I found that the highest peak is called Vavul Mala (but I am not very sure)

From Vellarimala top, one can see the never ending range of Western Ghats. The other side of Vellarimala is very steep with more than 3000ft direct fall. Tippu drop would look diminutive in front of this.
We spent about thirty minutes taking photographs and started our journey back at 4:15PM. We moved down quite fast in order to avoid trekking in the night and that too in the Elephant zone. This time we took the forest route as negotiating the boulders in the stream would be tough while getting down. It did become dark but still managed to reach the village at 7:30PM. Another one hour on Tempo Traveler and we were back at resort.

The next day started with a visit to nearby lake during early (??) hours of the day. It was very misty and we could not see the lake in full. But the area around the resort and lake was a paradise for birds. I could recognize and photograph Scarlet Minivet, Common Kingfisher and red whiskered bulbul but there were plenty of other small birds. The zoom of my camera was insufficient to take bird photos and had to resort to cropping the images.
After breakfast, we set out for Meenmutty waterfalls, 20 kms from Meppadi. This was my second visit to this falls. We trekked for 4 kms with last one km being almost a vertical descent. I was surprised to see the falls in full even during this time. Few of us got down into the water.
We had lunch on our way back at Hotel Kalpaka at Sulthan Bathery, a decent vegetarian hotel. We then went to Bandipur for a Safari. But Bandipur was flooded with tourists and all safari slots of the day were already sold out. Disappointed, we then went to Gopala Swamy Betta, the highest hill in Bandipur range. This area is famous for elephant sighting. We were not disappointed. We could trace some elephants roaming on a nearby hill. Again, the zoom of the camera was not enough to get a decent snap of those jumbos.
After elephants, we switched our attention towards sunset. Sunset on the hills is always an amazing experience and Gopala Swamy Betta was no exception.

It was then an uneventful journey to Bangalore.

Guide is a must at Vellarimala. One has to take a DTPC approved guide and a local guide. There is a camping spot just before the Vellarimala top where water is also available. The tribal guides would also be able to take to the highest hill if interested.

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