Trek and Camp in the Western Ghats of Kerala - Koviloor, Munnar
“Every mountain top is within your reach if you just keep climbing.”
The Western Ghats of Kerala is a series of ravishing green mountain ranges that run parallel to the Indian subcontinent. The altitude goes to its best in a district called ‘Idukki’ in Kerala which wears the pride of having two of the highest peaks in India. This is mostly close to a place called as Munnar which is a tea town in the Western Ghats. The highest peak is ‘Anamudi’ which is at an elevation of 2695 meters and the second highest peak is Meesapulimala which is 2640 meters above sea level. Both of these mountain ranges give you a feeling of being above the clouds in the early morning and evening hours. Aanamudi is no longer available for treks, but there are treks and hikes organised to Meesapullimala which is very much based on the decisions of the forest department. The region of Munnar is mostly known as the ‘Indian Honeymooners Paradise’ because of its rolling grasslands and tea plantations. The mountain ranges are adorned by the green carpet of vast tea plantations which adds on to the beauty and charm of the hills.
It was in the mid of 19th century that the British planters came over to these mountain ranges and started to plant tea. They had invested a lot of money into building infrastructure, bringing labourers from Tamil Nadu and establishing a well-maintained tea plantation all across these mountain ranges. But these mountain ranges are not just about tea plantations. The flora, the fauna, the wild beings, the forest belts all of these are the very soul of the Western Ghats. However, most of them have been replaced by tea plantations. At Green Earth Trails, we organise few treks to some of the most distinct parts of the Western Ghats. One of these treks is the one that we organised to a village called as ‘Koviloor’ which is further to top station and around 50 km away from Munnar town. Koviloor is a Tamil hamlet located in the valley. The road after top station from Munnar was the road to Kodaikanal. This road was essentially built as an escape route during the Second World War. A Japanese invasion of South India was predicted, and an escape route from Kodaikanal to Munnar and Munnar to Cochin was developed for the British planters as well as the British officers to escape the whole of Tamil Nadu and the mountain ranges of Kerala. From there they boarded a ship all the way back to England. This road was known as the escape route, but later on, around 30 yrs back from now the road was closed as this region has immense wildlife. Many cases of accidents hit by animals were reported, and finally, the government of Tamil Nadu decided to close this road which eventually made the road disappear into the forest.
Koviloor is a beautiful Tamil village that does mostly agriculture. You can see mostly cabbage, potato and carrot farms all across these hills. Terrace farming is common here. This area in Munnar has one of the most chilling weather throughout the year. This blog is all about a trek we did with a group of young students who came all the way to Kerala for a trek to these mountain ranges. We chose this particular trek to get a close look into the local life of the villages in Kovilloor and Vatavada.
The plan was: Day 1 - We all boarded a coach from Cochin and travelled all the way to Munnar where we got to visit a museum, Shrishti an NGO and the Munnar market. We settled at a hotel which was close to the town centre. Day 2 and Day 3 were mostly about treks and Day 4 we got back to Cochin.
Day 2, we were all set to trek through the grand and beautiful hills of the Western Ghats. All excited, we got onto the jeeps arranged for us and drove all the way to Koviloor from Munnar. We collected our packed lunches and water bottles and started off our trek through the village roads. We could see people working in the farms and harvesting their crop of the year. Further, we walked through the narrow roads and reached a place to halt. We saw a passion fruit seller on the way with a lot of passion fruit in his store. We got a few for ourselves and got recharged for the trip ahead. It was more of a paved road, and we walked uphill. Later on, we stopped for a lunch break and had our packed sandwiches and fruits and plenty of water. Further, as we moved into the remote villages, we could see people peeping curiously through their windows. As we walked up the mountains, we could see the beautiful valley with white patches of houses here and there. All across through the hill ranges, we could see people doing terrace farming on a very large scale. We could see jeeps carrying a full load of potatoes to the place where they stack all of their harvests. We walked and walked, and we got to experience a combination of a village ambience and the forest ranges of the Western Ghats. That day was an introduction to the remote villages of the Western Ghats. This area had a civilised village culture, and most of them are people who have come all the way from Tamil Nadu and got settled here. In olden days this was part of Tamil Nadu, and as part of an exchange agreement a portion of Kanyakumari was given to Tamil Nadu, and these part of the hill ranges were acquired by Kerala.
We further walked down; it was ups and downs mostly through paved roads. Finally, we reached the camp by evening. By the time we reached the camp, the tents were all set, primarily alpine tents where two people can be accommodated along with luggage. There were several tents there to occupy all of us. We were welcomed with tea, coffee, hot chocolate and snacks to quench our hunger. The water was available in plenty. The camp was ground, and we had toilets close by which was an extension of the school that functions in the village of Kovilloor. We got freshened up, and then we were engaged in conversations. A bonfire was organised where we could sit around and share our stories and experiences. Later dinner was served, and after dinner, we went back again to the campfire and spent some time there. The day almost came to an end, and the next day morning we had to start on a trek which was on a different route. The night was chilling and the day was warmed up by the rays of Sun.
After Day 2 trekking, we were even more excited about Day 3. We were served breakfast; toast, eggs, bread, butter, marmalade jam, hot chocolate and few pancakes. Day 3 trek was a trek through the terrain where we walked through the tea plantations, villages and the lanes of tea plantation workers. Lanes are basic accommodation facilities arranged for the plantation workers. Day 2 trek was more kind of a walk through the villages but Day 3 was a more intense trek through the tea plantation and evergreen forests. Everybody got into the jeeps and went to a place close to the top station. We started off the trek through the tea plantations. We walked through winding roads here and there and got to see a lot of birds on the route. After a course of time we took a small rest, and we were all informed that we were going to go through a core evergreen forest. Everybody had to be cautious to make sure that leeches don’t get onto our bodies. Leeches are those small blood-sucking creatures which don’t harm you, but they look scary. It is said that leeches suck only bad blood but considering that the leeches can make a bloody situation, people generally are fearful about these small creatures. We were all given small pouches of salt. Leeches don’t survive when salt is applied.
Then we started off the trek through the evergreen forest. It was steep hikes through mountain ranges where you could see a lot of trees around, and the mist makes the visibility very low. The whole area was slowly covered with mist. We somehow got through these mountain ranges. Later we got to see a board called as ‘Cloud Farm’ which was a camping site. Further to the cloud farm, we walked to a mountain range on top, where we stopped for lunch break. The area was wrapped in mist, and we just couldn’t see anything. The whole idea of getting on top of this mountain range was to get a view of the majestic Western Ghats standing in all its glory and vastness, but it was impossible to see because of mist. We settled down there for lunch and spent almost an hour to see if the mist vanished away. But nothing happened, and we had to continue our trek without being able to see that beautiful view of the Western Ghats. We further trekked through forest tracks and finally reached our camp around four in the evening.
It was an eventful day. We missed a beautiful view, but the trek in itself was incredible. It was not the destination but the journey that made the whole experience memorable. Everybody was moving around the camp and tea, coffee and beverages were served by evening. The tents were all ready by the time we reached, and the bonfire was put on by evening. It was time to spend some jolly time around the campfire sharing our experiences and views about the trek. En route to the camp, we got to see pugmarks and animal excretions on the way which gave us an insight on how rich the place is. Some of the trek mates got to see the Nilgiri Marten, an endangered species and the sighting of which is considered to be very rare. The day came to an end, and everybody got settled in their tents. The location of the camp was on top of a sliding mountain, and the sunset made the skies really beautiful.
Next day we all woke up to a stunning sunrise. It was early in the morning, and the sun was just peeping from between the mountains giving a beautiful haze and the golden hour was just on. Everybody took their cameras and took shots of these beautiful mountain ranges. Further, we headed for breakfast and bid farewell to the campsite. We walked all the way to the nearby town where our coach was waiting for us. We boarded the coach and drove our way back to Munnar and from Munnar to Cochin. Altogether it was around 6 hrs of drive from the campsite to Cochin.
That was the end of our four-day trip full of adventure, fun and learning. The Western Ghats of Kerala has lots to offer. It is not just about flora and fauna, it is also about the remote villages, the people, the culture and the tribes that live in these hill ranges. Getting to know the culture and lifestyle that is being practised in a different part of the country or world gives a new perspective of how people live in different geographical and climatic conditions. The magic of the Western Ghats left us in awe, and as we departed, we took back with us more than what we came with.
Hope you guys enjoyed reading the blog. Thank you so much. “The beauty of the world lies in the diversity of its people.”