- Benjamin John
Mathikettan Shola National Park Trek
Updated: Sep 30, 2019
The mighty Western Ghats is magnificent with her beauty and might, and conquering her most beautifully is going to the essence of a fun trek in the high ranges of Kerala. Green Earth Trails offers treks through some of the distinct trails and organize camping in some of the stunning locations. This blog is going to be about a recent trek we did at Suryanelli and Shanthampara where we trekked Papathi Shola, the Cardamom hill reserve forests and the second day up the Mathikettan Shola National Park which is a different forest terrain altogether. We camped both the nights around bonfires and made way for rich experiences and beautiful memories for our guests. I was part of the group, and the blog is going to be my experience with the whole program. The program was for a group of energetic young students organized in a way they get to know about different terrains, explaining more about the Western Ghats, local plantations, grasslands and the forest regions of the high ranges in Kerala.
The port of entry was Cochin and we drove all the way to Munnar where we had our first-night stay organized at a resort in the tea plantations. We visited a sumptuous lunch at the Highrange club which was a hundred-year-old club founded by planters to make their weekends more enjoyable and interactive. Check out our interesting blog post about the Tea Plantation History of Munnar. Munnar is mostly a tea county where tea has been the primary cash crop for the past 250 years. The British were attracted to these hills, and former planters tried planting tea, and it was an instant success followed by massive expansion in the forests to plant more tea. The High Range Club stands as a mute witness to the plantation history of Munnar. The photographs and stories connected to them would give an idea as to how the tea story began in Munnar. The Club has a tennis court, and a nine-hole golf course still maintained well within its compound. After the lunch we headed to the Vegetable market, followed by the tea museum which is a miniature tea factory that showcases the old belongings of the Kanan Devan Hill Produce company. KDHP was the only company that existed then, which was then handed over to Finlay and eventually taken over by the Tata Global Beverages, one of the global leaders in the tea business today. They had a small audio-visual show there, and Mr. Mani of the museum explained in detail about the goodness of different tea and their processing. We moved to Shristi, a nonprofit organization founded by KDHP for differently abled students and members of the tea plantation workers community. They make naturally dye linen and make handmade paper which is also made available for visitors to purchase. It was evening, and we headed to the hotel of stay which had a great view from the room, next to the Attukal waterfalls in Munnar, it was the Blanket hotel in Munnar. The short briefing about the coming day treks was held, where trekkers could ask anything and everything about the upcoming program. The day had come to an end, and we were to prepare ourselves for the trek and camping for the next two days.
We drove all the way to Suryanelli from Munnar, the usual roads were undergoing some work, so we had to take a different route which delayed us by an hour. We collected our packed lunch box and water from the starting point and with high spirits, we started climbing up the Papathi Shola a combination of grasslands and eucalyptus trees. The initial stretches were steep, and we were climbing up the mountain for the first two hours until we reached the Papthi Shola were we had planned for a lunch break. It was fun, encountering the unexpected steep ridges and moving up as a group. The rigorous hike was a great welcoming to a view from where we could have a larger view of the mountains and the sprawling Anayerangal dam in the Valley. It was some tomato rice and potato cooked with turmeric and some fruits as dessert. We took an elaborate rest as hiking up the steep hills did deserve some rest.
We continued the trek through patches of forest and took a deviation into the tea plantation and the village road. We saw women plucking tea leaves and some other women returning home after work. We were slowly connecting as to what we saw the previous day at the Tea Museum, what Mr. Mani explained to us. We were observing as to how they were plucking the leaves. After short stops for the whole team to rejoin, we stepped in the cardamom plantation. The CHR (cardamom hill reserves) is a phenomenon where forests were untouched, and cardamom was planted. Shades are essentials for cardamom plants, and that was how the Cardamom reserve hills came into existence. The planters are not allowed to cut any trees at any point of time. As we moved ahead, we started to feel the dense vegetation. The pathways were single walkways; we saw plantation workers, honeycombs, village homes, and a few jeeps when we reached larger paths. It was two and a half hours of walk, and we took short breaks here and there. By that time it was evening, throughout our hike we could see elephant dung and pugmarks, especially during the last leg of the walk. Finally, we reached the camp by five in the evening. We were welcomed with lime juice, and we all deserved a good moment of rest. After an hour, we were shown around the place, the tents, the bathrooms and the rules of the camp. After a while, we had some local snacks, banana fritters, tea & Coffee. Just after the sunset the bonfire was lit, and we all gathered around the fire, sharing stories and experiences, and how worth the day was for us. The temperature dropped to around 15 degrees, and the fire did help us to keep warm. After dinner, we move into the tents for a great sleep.
The next day was a chilling cold morning and to enjoy the weather outside, we got out of the tents the moment we woke up. The temperature was still down, and the sunrise was bringing us rays of warmth. Early birds in search of worms did wake up a few who were still in the tents. The morning coffee struck some exciting conversation about how the day was going to be, and every one was looking forward to a great one. Unlike the previous day, today's trek was climbing up the glass lands of Mathikettan Shola, which is a National Park, and the trek was going to be through core forest path where there is still elephant movement and if lucky enough you could see sightings. After breakfast and some quick warm-up stretches, we got into the Jeep and drove all the way to the starting point. The initial stretches were climbing up rocks like a mountaineer, and we reached the forest range office. Since the trek route is mostly through dense forest tracks, we necessarily report at the forest range office from where around six forest guards would be accompanying us. We had to undergo some documentation and got to see the beautiful view of the mighty Western Ghats and the Anayerangal dam in the Valley. The trek was about to begin, and I did a live session on Facebook as I couldn't resist myself from sharing the beauty around. The trek was on, and we entered into a vast area of grasslands. Since it was again steep steps, short breaks were inevitable, and the sun was shining with his strong rays. Finally, we conquered the mountain and reached up to the evergreen shola forest. It was a sudden change from an open-air trek into the shades of the woods. The shift in terrain was superb, and rest of the trek was going through a dark green ambiance and a lot of dry leaves on the surface. There is so much to see around, the natural cycle was evident where trees naturally fall and become food for the micro beings of the forest, pug marks were visible, and the ambient noise of the insects and crickets were just like it was night. The trek was getting exciting and we were thoroughly enjoying the walk, keeping an open eye, in case if we get to see anything around. We walked up and down and finally stopped for lunch within the forest. The guards ensured that it was safe for a break and we opened our packed lunch boxes. After an hour of rest, we hiked further and finally reached the forest check post, where everybody had a short nap. After an hour of spending time, we hiked up a mountain on top of which was our campsite. On reaching the campground, we were welcomed with some snacks, tea & Coffee, the day's activity is coming to an end as everyone reached the campsite. Just after sunset when the bonfire was lit, it was time for evaluating how enjoyable was the two-day trek and in general was an experience sharing session about what everyone had in mind about India before they arrived here. It was some exciting and meaningful sessions and insights. The dinner was served, and we all got back to the tents, for a sound sleep.
The next day the plan was to walk a few kilometers where the coach would be waiting for the group to transfer back to the port. It was some of the best time we had with the group interacting and explaining about the Western Ghats, the stories, the flora & fauna, the trek, the camp and the food. We hope everyone would have got a chance to
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