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Saturday 2 April 2016

Vavul Mala Trek || Vellarimala Trek

Write-up : Anish

Yet another trek to the Vellarimala hills and to scale the highest peak in the range Vavul mala is indeed a tiring challenge because this being the third attempt for me when my first climb in October last year was in the middle of heavy rains when we almost reached the peak but returned back due to the harshness of rains and mist not allowing us to have any views more than 10 meters. Link to : Vellarimala Trek The second attempt last month was a disaster when we were almost half way up when  a meter long honey beehive was already disturbed and flying around, as the group approached near the hive thinking that It won’t harm us, it went viral biting all of us more than 20 times each. It was one of a kind survival experience when we had to return back doing whatever we could to just survive that night staying inside the forest. This time to add to the list there was a presence of a tiger around the place and the weather on that particular week showed cloudy with showers. All in all a challenge was in before me. 
From the beginning i thought an 8 member team would be the best. Prudhvi, Abishek, Ritwick and Madhu from keystone foundation, Kotagitri joined as soon I conveyed the plans. Einsteen from ooty and Rakesh from Cochin too joined. Two last day drop outs made it a seven member team. The Nilgiri team started a day before on apr 1st eve reaching Muthappanpuzha by 10pm. I had arranged a homestay there and everyone settled in for the night to wake up at 4am and be there at Anakampoyil the base village for trek at 5.30 am. Usual stuff as I was working complete night shifts past 1 week I couldn’t sleep that night too. As planned we reached Anakampoyil early morning where Rakesh was waiting. Guides came in and without wasting much time we parked the cars on the way up in a house. Waited for some more time until the guides came with the food stuffs and off we started with the jeep rides for the next 3km through the plantation roads. It was a different route this time and we were dropped off a km before the final electric fence just before the forest.
By 7am we started walking the remaining 1km through the palm trees crossing a river reaching the last shed. Two villagers warned us about the Tiger roars which they heard yesterday early morning. So now it’s confirmed that the big cat is roaming around nearby and I couldn’t wait to spot some indirect sightings on the way up. Into the forest, crossing the fence through the dried rocky stream, the first stretch upto the olichuchattam falls was quite fast. Nobody waited for any photography session. All of us just cruised into the first stretch. Ritwick myself and Madhu was already resting nearby the falls until the rest arrived.
Those who were new to Vellarimala started to get a feel of what could be next and realized that this will be a challenging trek. By 7.45 had breakfast with Parotta and green peas with bananas. After some photography left the place to reach onto the top of the falls. This stretch gradually became tougher. It introduced rock boulders to climb through and one foot slippery ways with huge steps. Just an example for what was yet to come. We three again climbed as fast as we can and were resting for the others to reach on top of the falls. After a short break washed my face watching the last views down because after this we hardly get to see any other views under the thick canopy until we reach the top. By 9am refueled with some chocolates and moved ahead from the flat rocks into the forest.
 My target to the camping ground was 4pm and I knew we were way ahead of time. As we climbed there were now two groups, Rakesh, Abishek and prudhvi tagged behind till we reached the next stream. I was feeling the heat by then and decided to slow down a bit from here. Most of us initially planned to avoid carrying any tent or unwanted stuffs this time but eventually all of us ended up carrying some extras like food stuffs, camera equips tripods and 1 tent for rains. Crossed the second stream again settling in for a small break till everyone joined. It was 9.30 am after a very short break our group started heading towards the third stream. Again leading the way with my guide the morning lights piercing through the thick green leaves was a beautiful sight to walk into. 
That’s when I spotted our first Tiger scratch mark. Stopped for some photographs and carried on with Ritwick and Einsteen. All of us were passing through deep woods hardly seeing anything outside the canopy.  This stretch was a long one with the steepness gradually inclining. As I know the terrain well I let one by one to overtake me to catch up with the last person. I was the sweeper now joining with rakesh who was trailing behind. We slowed down a bit when the guides asked us to push ourselves to the speeds at which we were covering till now. But I personally thought we were much ahead and it’s ok to slow down a bit. First time alarm/signal sounds started to echo from the other groups and it indicated their location way ahead. Prudhvi, madhu , ritwick and einsteen were all pumped and charged up. In a way I am too relaxed that I have a cheerful group. Before reaching the stream which is also called “ the Banana para ” rechristened by none other than myself, we had to jump around hundreds of rounded rocks, wondered how did we just do it all the same in heavy rains the first time I came here. After crossing the third stream I needed a break as sleepless nights and long drives as usual is making my body crave for a short nap but decided to continue till the next stream. Within the next 40 minutes we were nearing the fourth stream. Some of them left their bags there and were climbing through the rocks to check out what was on top. After their little adventures everyone came back to the stream munched in some snacks.  Filled up the water bottles as our next water stop was Damodaran Kolli which is at least 1 more hour. By 11am we started diverting left from the stream to enter into the steep zones. From here till damodaran kolli 90% of the trial is above 30 degree steepness and after that the trial is much steeper till the Vellarimala top. Rakesh and I stayed behind from the rest. As we gained altitude we were discussing and comparing the exact locations of how it appeared in the monsoons vs summer. Whenever we took a break I was so sleep driven but one thought made my organs shiver and woke my brains up. It was the Beehives.
 It was some 500 meters up there and even though the bees have left the place the surroundings are definitely giving me shrills. After some 30 minutes we reached the place where we were haunted by the killer giant bees last month. Took some photographs with a boiling stomach and left the place. Now that I have crossed one barrier, Vavul mala felt like a possible target this time if the elephants and tigers did mind their own business along with the weather. After crossing the remaining beehives which was placed for display on the way up to scare the hell out of trekkers I was now on an adrenaline rush to reach Damodaran Kolli.  After sometime there was some relaxation from the rocky terrain to a moderate climb for ten minutes before the giant steep steps began. That is when Abhishek cramped his thigh muscles. Ankle flips and cramps must be the last thing to happen to any trekker as it increases and worsens the pain while moving. With pain sprays I think he was relieved and kept moving. By 11.40 all of us reached Damodaran Kolli and halted for a long break.
Water flow was at its lowest here. It took a while to fill up all our water bottles by Madhu because our next water source was after 3hrs in Rec para. Before leaving the place at 12pm I actually couldn’t believe that we are here so early. At this speed I told the guide that we will surely be on top of Vellarimala by 1.30. He replied that if we could reach there by that time we should try Vavul mala the same day. I thought it would be a real feat in one day but weather was an issue because we could see the mist flowing in from either direction covering all the valleys. Hoping for the best we started moving, the real crazy climb starts from here. Most of the steps was 2 to 3 foot in height and required a hand, roots or branches to pull yourself up to the next step only to continue the same exercise again and again till you reach the peak.  With a 40 degree incline with slippery muddy terrain and thousands of dried sticks and branches positioned to poke right into your limbs, negotiating and finding a way through this without losing your balance was a tough affair. You can see the endless mountain slopes way ahead and not even an indication of a flat surface anywhere above. But after 100 minutes of climbing with fewer breaks we have abruptly reached the top of Vellarimala. This last curve is so peculiar that all of a sudden you will never realize that you are on top of the Vellarimala at 1.30pm.
 Everyone crashed on to the flat grasslands and I was super convinced with the team for making it in just 6 hours.  Abishek’s pain hasn’t decreased and he is still on pain sprays at every intervals. I even planned to get down with the guide to checkout Mastakapara as we had enough time in hand but since it has been ages that somebody has gone there and the way was blocked with bushes we dropped the idea and decided to move onto our next point Ketan para. It was a 20 minute walk from there. When we reached there the place was partly cloudy and since it was moving along it got cleared up every now and then changing its size and shapes allowing us to see what was behind it. Last time when I was here it was completely covered up with mist. We sat there on the edge of the rocks enjoying the cool air and staring silently into the opposite mountains and Mastakapara. Dried up waterfall shades could also be seen.  
Our next final stop for the day was Recpara. It was almost of the same elevation and a 20 minutes’ walk from here. Upon reaching there I thought we will decide whether to scale Vaavulmala today or tomorrow. On the way towards the second opening to the round grassland our guide again spotted a Tiger Pug mark. Further on the way elephant dungs which were more than a month old scattered here and there. 
Finally after some more time we reached Recpara at 2.40pm. Done for the day the view of Vavul mala was just stunning and crazy. The guides wanted to do it today itself but we suggested if there isn’t any view today then you will have to come again with us tomorrow morning. I think he must have started thinking silently that these bunches of nuts won’t leave me without getting some clear views from Vavul mala. Yes in a way that was true. Finally decided to do it tomorrow morning.  All of us had some snacks and chapattis and moved on to the shades for a short nap till 4pm I felt like I’ve regained all my energy back.  Prudhvi took his camera and tripod to the adjacent hill for some Time lapse photography experiments while we four decided to roam around the hills. We could see a cave under one rock just above and decided to reach there. While reaching there I was a bit skeptical about any wild animals occupying the place but it was actually a nice looking cave both in terms of rain protection and light. 
Further Ritwick and I decided to go on top of the rocky caves making ways. It was cool to capture some straight views of recpara and we came back to the cave to find out the other two guys have already ran off from the cave. Back to the camp we were engaged in finding dry woods for the night campfire. By 6pm the one tent which was bought in as a rain rescuer was pitched.  It was misty and we were chatting around the fireplace on the nearby hill where the guides were cooking till 7.30 pm. Back to recpara without making the campfire we had our dinner steamy rice porridge and veg curry. It was simple and stomach full. The sky was full of stars and instead of making a campfire even by then all of us started exploring the stars, we had an astronomer in hand Abishek. He showed us constellations, Milky way arms and cleared up lots of doubts which einsteen’s brain had. Prudhvi, Rakesh and mee too tried our hands at shooting the stars until we heard some sounds from the bushes it was already 9pm and pitch dark we decided to pack off our cameras and start the camp fire. By 10.30 one by one zipped into the sleeping bags to close our eyes before millions of stars. 
All of a sudden around 2pm i woke up to a noise, it was pitch dark and the fire had gone down. Suddenly felt some heavy movements nearby the tent and it was moving. I really thought it was some elephant. My sleeping bag zippers got stuck and I can’t remove it to jump out and alert everybody and run from the scene. With a pounding heart I somehow removed the zippers and grabbed my torch to finally hear einsteen speaking to Prudhvi. They were actually picking up the dry woods nearby to fire it up again. I thought this was much worse than a nightmare and laidback peacefully.   At 4am I again woke up feeling cold to pick up some woods to keep the fire running and stared at the stars till 5.30 am. Took my camera to walk through the surrounding for some early morning photography. 

Within sometime everyone was up and ready for the Vavul mala climb. Exactly by 7am left our backpacks there, some of us carried a day bag with water and followed our guides to the peak. Unlike yesterday the higher altitude vegetation has changed replacing much of the longer and broader trees into small ones and bushes and shrubs becoming thicker. There wasn’t a definite trial to follow so all of us were within a circle without breaking up. Reached the first flat rocks where the campsite was visible. After a patch of confusing zig zag trials again the second slope rocks appeared.
Our campsite appeared smaller now. Most of the surrounding unnamed hills to the right like Muyalumpara was visible. By this time I was sure all the barriers including the bad weather was broken because as we were climbing high the views were actually long and blue. Couldn’t wait anymore to be on top. The last stretch was through the thickest of bushes I packed my camera inside to protect it from scratches. The tough climb became flat and we could feel that we were nearing the top. I was excited because I could never explain how much effort I have been putting into this Vellarimala/ Vavul mala trek each time when I start off from Chennai or to arrange a team to join the party to scale the highest peak north of Nilgiris. 
Walking further some open rocks led us to the edge of the peak it took us only 50 minutes to reach here and there it was, the grand view! Starting from the nearby Mastakapara ( Mastakam - Elephants Head) which really looked like one to me. The Wayanadan mala which is the highest hill in the picture, the chembra which is to the extreme right with a sloppy descend and many more hills. The view to the left facing Aanakampoyil village was long and beautiful. Took some photos quickly and posed for a timer groupie and after some 15 minutes we returned back with a heart full of happiness. I could feel the same with all the members especially Rakesh and Prudhvi.

While climbing down some of us drifted from the guides but was pulled back. After crossing the second flat rocks Abhishek spotted some tiger scats. By 9.15 we were back at the camp. We had breakfast with whatever was left like rice, bread, cheese and some chocolates. Cleaned up the place, packed up all the waste and exactly by 10am just before starting our return journey heard a barking deer call from the direction which we climbed down from Vavul mala. Guides told that they have never heard a barking deer in these ranges before. Yesterday I thought why the tiger is roaming in an area where there is hardly any prey. With plentiful of Jungle hens and an occasional deer now I could figure out he could hang on for a while. 
Skipped ketanpara as it was misty and very quickly we reached the top of Vellarimala. I thought someone would want to stop for a break there but nobody cared and kept walking down. I usually like to descend fast, if possible run down. Since the group had no major problems I slightly increased the speed overtaking all others to try jogging down and wait for others to catch up. Prudhvi was following me most of the way down. All of us started receiving several flips and falls, crashing on to the rocks, scratches and swellings. It was all part of the game.
Descending is always painful than climbing because of the pounding you receive in the knee joints. By 11.30 am we reached Damodaran kolli and had a break. I could sense that everybody carried some sought of pain in their lower body. It was misty and the chilled water from the stream felt so special there. To the next stops the team carried out the same individual speeds. No one forced and no one slowed down completely, on the whole we were superfast. By 12.20 we reached the 1st stream.  

Between this time we spotted two more tiger scratch marks and a fresh pug mark which didn’t exist yesterday because it was muddy. It was probably the right leg and pointed to the slopes means it was climbing up. Further down crossing the rest of the streams most of them had just one question, how many more km?  Two more rivers crossed in the next 1 hour and we were on top of the olichuchatom falls. Stopped one final time to stretch our legs watching the village down under and started our final leg from 1.30 to cruise down to the electric fencing lines near the plantations by 2.30. Cannot just believe that the climb down from Rec para to here with most of us having minor injuries in knees, cramps, joints and three of them who were total newbie’s to trekking world made it in 4.30 hours.  Through the plantation roads we had one more km but some wanted to cool down their heads in the river and by 3pm we were driven back to the place where our cars was parked. I don’t know if at all I will ever do this trek again because Vellarimala is the only trekking place which I have tried it thrice and succeeded finally. The interesting thing for me was each time if offered a different nail biting experience and I just want to cherish these memories of what I gained here for the coming years. After bidding goodbyes to the guides I looked through the huge trees to the Vellarimala ranges and peaks just before driving off.  Reached adivaram and all of us had a feast of whatever was available in the hotel. After lunch it was time to disperse for now hoping to meet again at some other base village under some crazy mountains. Some with a hug and some with a handshake all of us just disappeared into different directions…           

  Author    : Anish vk
Clicked by : Anish
   Team: Anish, Rakesh, Prudhvi, Einsteen, Madhu, Abhishek, Ritwick
Place  :  Vellarimala, Wayanad
Km Covered      : 2 days || 25Kms



  1. Vellarimala and second highest peak Vavul mountain peak trekking experience is enjoyable. The readers also feel a Tiger listening us from the dark jungles.Without any severe problems everyone able to climb up and climb down.Also the starry night seen was great.

    1. Thanks would be a very small word for always being with me and supporting in whatever i do..

  2. Thanks for taking me in bro :)
    We did it. Now sitting within four walls and thinking, how did i even do it. Wow. it was indeed great and adventurous. Every adventurer and nature lover should have a climb of vellarimala once in their life time. btw, good writeup. keep it going :)

    1. U r welcome dude..actually u did it pretty much with ease for a first timer. Cheers!

  3. Awesome accounts of the adventurous 9..should be the title for this..:D

  4. Anish enjoyed the adventure with you. Nice clicks and good narration. From next time onwards will it be possible for you to post the link on my FB time line?

    1. Thank you Chitra ji. It is always a pleasure to read a reply from someone who is a writer i like, that is the only reason why i specifically send the link personally...from next time i will try to post a link in the timeline aswell :)

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Beautiful read.

  7. Nice travellogue anish :)
    We are planning a trekk to vavul mala, we are from chennai,
    Guide is needed or can we do it by our own. If so can u share any guide's number please :)