As soon as we reached Ashokan Kavala and took a left, the incline had begun - gentle at first and then slowly getting steep enough for us to break into sweat. By half past six, it was light, and we were on the lookout for short-cuts. The first one up helped us by-pass the first of the 12 hairpins up the Idukki Ghats.
Soon we were at Guruthikulam, where we had breakfast at a tea shack. Tea was served in double size glass tumblers. Anoop was indulging in his spider-with-web-photography fetish by this time. He introduced us to subtly different species of spiders. It was evident that we had a wannabe entomologist in our midst.
At about the 9th hairpin, we took a slight detour, up a hill called "Thumbichi Mala" - a catholic hill shrine. The view from out on top here was spectacular.
Later, we got up to "Naadukaani", a KSEB platform further uphill, where the view was from an even higher point.
Soon, we reached Kulamavu, a tiny place at a fork of the road. The left branch led to a colony at the banks of sub-reservoirs formed by feeder dams to the Idukki main reservior. The other one led up to Painavu, the administrative capital of the district. We had lunch at Kulamavu, and proceeded to begin our journey through about 22km of forest before Painavu.
The fringes of the Idukki reservoir gleamed light blue in the afternoon sun, as the road curved into the outskirts of the Idukki forest. The temperature dipped considerably as we gained altitude, and the green intensified into a vine covered mayhem of wild. The last vestiges of civilization tried to assert their grip on the landscape in vain - here a lonely bus stop, there an iron gate covered in undergrowth and foliage, the odd basket weaver displaying her wares at the road side. Soon we were in the thick of it. The rhythmic screech of cicadas rose to a crescendo, only to be broken intermittently by the approach of the odd lonely vehicle plying down our road.
Somewhere into mid-afternoon, we decided it was time for a photo session. Anoop spotted a clearing by the side of the road. Soon he was a Steve Irving or an Austin Stevens on animal planet. "This is ideal terrain for snake", he declared, cautiously stepping into the clearing covered in dead leaves. The foliage was a bit thinner here, and there was no undergrowth or vine. The forest floor was damp, and just by the clearing at the side of the road lay a rotting log. The rest of us followed gingerly, cautious, yet excited at the proposition of a photo session in the forest. "For example right here, this piece of rotting log is good terrain for a snake to take a nap in the afternoon....", he continued, trailing off as he peered closer into the hollow. "Is that a snake, Cherry ?". Two bright eyes stared right back out from a black head the size of a big human fist. We fled!
As the afternoon progressed, we kept a sharp eye out. Being a little under the top of the food chain is not exactly like watching Animal Planet or Discovery Channel from the comfort of one's sitting room couch. The most dangerous Animals here are wild Elephants. One doesn't want to wander into the path of a roaming tusker, neither a herd with young. But for all our caution, all we could spot was the odd crab lurking in among the wet rock face at the side of the road. Anoop seemed to know all about the forest. He would identify the elephant paths and lead us cautiously on. Fortunately, the most we saw on a rock by the side of the road, was elephant dung in concentrations high enough to suspect that we had discovered an elephant toilet.
In a while, a passing vehicle stopped, and out popped Mr. P. T. Thomas, former MLA of the area in Idukki. We spoke of our mission, and took photographs and carried on. A couple of trekkers on their way back from the forest stopped by and had a chat.
As the day grew late, and dusk began to approach, we were struggling to put the forest behind us. None of us fancied wandering about in forest after dusk. However, it had been a long day, and we tired considerably, as we inched towards a mileage of 40km at Painavu, the administrative capital of Idukki district. Soon Sooraj began to speak in tongues - English, apparently. Cherry grew quiet. Anoop trundled on on weary legs. We made slow progress in torchlight and the headlights of passing vehicles. At long last, we crawled out of the forest area with relief into Painavu town, the civil station board lending us hope of rest after an arduous trek. This was however to elude us for a bit more, as at dinner at the local restaurant, we bumped into two members of faculty from the Idukki Engg. college, and one from the Vishwa Jyothi College of Engineering, at Vazhakkulam. Thankfully, Sreejith (Anoop's Friend) had arranged accommodation at the PWD rest house at Painavu, via a friend, Anil. Another 2km walk seemed like ages, as we stumbled into bed and lost consciousness......
Places passed through:
- Poothedam (Naadukaani)