Friday, 27 April 2012

Honey falls (Thenaruvi) – the delight of Courtallam

Many elders of southern Tamil Nadu will have pleasing memories enjoying the ‘Saral malai’ (drizzles) of south western monsoon at Courtallam and the bathe in those innumerable waterfalls. The seasonal rainfall starting from June to September every year attracts people from various parts of south India to take bath in the heeling waters and the best time to visit this place is when the monsoon sets in southern Kerala.

The chill breeze, the pleasant weather, the gentle drizzles, the aroma in the wet soil, the melody of the chipping birds, the delicious fruits, the delightful views of the mountains all these conspire me to visit this ‘magic place on Western Ghats’ called Kutralam again and again. I have been continuously visiting the “Courtallam seasons” regularly for the past 7 years and I should confess am absolutely delighted and rejuvenated during my past visits to this rare hot spot of south Tamil Nadu.

The heavenly Shenbagadevi falls

Unlike recent restrictions two years back Shenbagadevi falls was open to all the people who visit Courtallam and most people trek along with family and friends to this beautiful falls and offer their prayers at Shenbagadevi temple. The trek along the main stream, the steps carved on rocks and the striking Kutralam valley are still fresh in my mind and magnetise me to this place again and again.

My memories with Shenbagadevi waterfalls cannot be forgotten that easily for its pure and heavenly water, its refreshing breeze, its stunning beauty and its deep pool. I remember during my previous visits diving inside the pool and standing beneath the ice-cold waterfalls, all these memories will stay deep-rooted in my heart for years and years to come. I can very well understand that these are special memories not unique to me alone and common to everyone who has visited this beauty on earth. I love sitting on the edge of that rock bordered pool and watch the water hitting the rock and the thundering sound it emanates. Indeed, that is my style of enjoying the mode and rhythm of a waterfall.

A hike to Honey falls (Then aruvi):

From the Shenbagadevi waterfalls an one hour continuous hike along the ghat trail along the stream and bouldering one can witness ‘Honey falls’ it derives its name because of the honey hives which can be found plenty on this waterfalls. Absolutely, there is nothing wrong in calling it as ‘honey’ even the water tastes sweet and even better than the honey.

The forceful water drops from a height of 170+ feets at Hoeny falls. During monsoon its impossible to get near this falls but during summer one has to negotiate powerful water currents to hit the base and bath in this mind blowing waterfall. The climb towards this waterfall provides spectacular views of the courtallam valley below, goes without saying that one need to face the huge boulders and steep climb to witness this beauty unfolding. 

Watching ‘Honey falls’ during monsoon is an enchantment – the thundering sound it produces, the splashing waters, the mind-blowing view and the satisfaction of adrenaline rush are nature’s gift to an adventure loving soul.

Watching the clouds changing its patterns, shapes, colours and sizes while we are still on the land is an out of the world experience which can be enjoyed only at Courtallam and during its season. The therapeutic waters and the revitalizing breeze all warrant to correctly term this heaven on earth as “Spa of South India”.

Happy Travelling,

Durai Murugan

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

‘Marathon in mountains’ – Sunny, Waterless, Fainting, Lonely and what not Marathon!!!

‘Marathon in mountains’ considered being one of the deadliest of treks in CTC yet again reiterated its position firmly. My first marathon was deadly but this marathon gave me an altogether different experience. Most of the participants were new faces to me and the highlighting aspect was two participants were aged 40 + years, one 50 years and one +2 student. All determined to complete this ‘mind over body game’ after being experienced from previous difficult treks.

Early morning ascend to reach the 880 mts southern peak:

The trek started at 3.30 a.m negotiating the bushes to figure out the trail leading to the 550 mts water point in the Nagala souther valley. After successfully spinning and twisting inside the bushes we reached the water point at 4.45 a.m.

One of the best challenges on this Marathon was designed by the pioners to summit the 880 mts southern peak that will test the endurance, physical and mental toughness of the participants. The early morning climb to reach the peak was very enjoyable and none had the courage to predict about the hot weather that could us challenge us.

The trek along the ridges towards the peak surrounded by clouds with chilling breeze rubbing through us was the best delight and great booster to continue the trek.

Sensing the killing Sun:

While descending the peak itself we started realising the hot Sun, which was waiting to dry and kill us with its seasonal heat. Most of us decided to drench their clothes, towels and whatever possible with water. While we took the ridge above the Nagala western stream within 10 minutes time my towel and t-shirt dried up cautioning that you guys are going to have toughest of all times.

The Sun never stopped us; the climbs never stalled us; the sharp stones never denied our march, for the strong will we carried to reach our target. It was marathon - marathon and nothing else that ran through our minds. Steps were taken towards keeping in mind only the target and not the pain that we underwent.

Getting lost in the wild:

While I was heading the team on the ridges and the other seasoned marathoners sweeping and motivating the team we crossed the 25th kilometre and it was time to locate the next water point. The GPS which I had did not had water points marked therefore, I decided to slip inside the valley to look for the stream we were supposed to hit and requested the team to wait on the ridge. When I returned back to the ridge no one was there on the place where I last saw them and I had no clue which way they left and therefore, decided to stay there for some more time wait for them to find my whereabouts. Unfortunately, even after 30 mins no one turned to the same place therefore, I decided to continue the trek all alone.

Lonely marathon on the ridges of Nagalapuram and Tada:

It was 1.00 p.m when I got secluded from the team and with the hope to find the group I started to trek with high speed but I was not able to find their whereabouts. Since I have taken this trail two times I was quite familiar with the trek route and with the help of GPS I was quite confident to reach the destination.

The silent Nagala valley, the sun exposed ridges, the aftermath of forest fire all drained my energy making me feel exhausted completely and after entering the Tada range I almost fainted mainly due to dehydration if not for that one orange, the little water and timely rest I had I would have fainted on the hills itself. Never experienced such kind of giddiness before. After seeing the Tada valley from a distance I started gaining confidence since I knew that I could find some waster in that stream.

My knee got heavily stressed because of carrying my body and hiking for almost 13 hours and it started paining with each step. But I was confident to reach the destination with all these difficulties in place, but one thing which was bothering me was the whereabouts of the team since it been almost 6 hours since I saw or heard anything from them.

After refreshing and refilling from the Tada waters I slipped through the thorny bushes and the dry streams and reached the Tada main stream and tried calling others with the intermittent signal in my mobile but none of their mobiles where reachable therefore understood that the team is still deep inside the woods. Went near the temple pool and snapped for almost one hour still after that there was no news from the team and my hunger went beyond limits since I did not have lunch and had very little break fast. Therefore, decided to reach Vardapalayam to have some food to regain my sense. At 10.00 p.m I received a good news via sms that the team has reached Tada top successfully.

After that I was given to understand that few injuries denied the team to proceed faster and the team reached the destination at 1.45 a.m to earn the well deserved sleep at the Tada base.

Overall a very BIG THUMS UP for the entire team for having successfully completing the fourth successful edition of ‘Marathon in Mountains’ keeping the standards of trekking very high and for completing this ‘mind over body game’

Happy trekking,

Durai Murugan

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Incredible Nagalapuram

Ever since the 15th century when the name “Nagalapura” was given by the legendary King Krishna Deva Raya in memory of his mother “Nagamamba” to a suburb constructed by him near the Vijayanagar Empire this place is being revered as “Nagalapuram”. Historians and geologists from then refer the mountains surrounding the ancient suburb of Vijayayanagar town i.e. Nagalapuram as ‘Nagalapuram hills’.

Nagalapuram during the past few years has become a favorite trek destination for trekking enthusiasts because of its proximity, clean water pools and friendly environment. An attempt is made in this post to highlight the popular trails, pools, waterfalls, gorges, weather, wildlife and flora of Nagalapuram with my personal experiences.
Well-known trekking trails of Nagalapuram hills:

Nagalapuram hills are spread across 10,163 hectares (101.63 sq. kms) of land. Out of the six well known trails most of the trekkers use the popular Nagala western and eastern entries while few dare to take other trails to venture into this beautiful mountain.

Most of the trails run parallel to streams and at times walking on the stream boulders itself make a trail. Due to hot and sunny weather trails are normally not chosen along the ridges like in the Western Ghats. Only the deadly trek “marathon in mountains” connecting Nagalapuram and Tada is trekked along the ridges.
Famous treks at Nagalapuram:

On a weekly basis regular treks are organised to the western and eastern entries for one day or sometimes two days for beginners and moderate trekkers. The most interesting treks are (a) Nagada / Tadagala mission and (b) Marathon in mountains treks, Nagada / Tadagala are words coined to reflect Nagalapuram and Tada. Trekkers enter through one side of the range and exit through the other side of the range after trekking for three difficult days. Marathon in mountains is a non-stop high speed trek covering 46+ kms in less than 24 hours. Still, Nagala exploratory trek where we discovered the ‘Infinite pools’ trail is still fresh in my mind.

Peaks at Nagalapuram:

The highest point in the Nagalapuram hills is the Southern peak, which is 880 mts. (approx.). The western peak, which is 800 mts+, also never fails attracting trekkers and offers mind-boggling views. The peaks are basically huge rocks pilled upon each other and except for few shrubs and grasses nothing grows there. One needs to climb through big boulders and negotiate bushes to reach these peaks. Apart from these two popular peaks Nagala has the central peak, which is 800+mts and other smaller peaks between the heights ranging from 700 mts to 800 mts.

Nagalapuram and its waterfalls:

Nagalapuram is a home for many beautiful and crystal clear waterfalls. The best part is being availability of water throughout the year in almost all the waterfalls in the main streams.

Mini Courtallam

The mini courtallam waterfall lies in the western side of the Nagalapuram hills. After taking the western entry if you cross 3 water pools and follow the stream for 30 minutes and take few climbs you can witness this beauty unfolding from good height. A shower in this waterfall is definitely refreshment to inner soul.

Shiva temple waterfalls:

Another popular waterfall is the Shiva temple waterfall, which lies in the trail that is close to the eastern entry. This easy trail leading to this waterfall is mostly thronged by devotes. If one wants to try his hand in rock climbing he can make an attempt by climbing to the top of this waterfall.

50 mts waterfall deep inside Nagalapuram:

Deep inside the eastern side of the Nagalapuram hills lies this spectacular 50 mts waterfall. It requires good amount of trekking and bouldering to reach to this waterfall. Water drops directly from 50 mts height on the rocks and during the monsoon into the water pool in front of this waterfall. If you want to experience the feeling of wilderness then a trek to this waterfall and a shower in it is a must.

Ubbalamadugu Falls

The Ubbalamadudu or Tada falls is also in the same range of Nagalapuram mountains. This beautiful waterfall drops from 100 mts height and it’s a delight to watch it drop down sitting on top of it. This is the tallest waterfall in this range of mountain and even the neighbouring Nagari range of mountain do not have a waterfall to match its height. This waterfall can be reached by following the popular tourist Tada stream.

Other waterfalls:

There are plenty of small waterfalls along the western and eastern entries and most of the waterfalls normally have a beautiful pool on its base, which attract trekkers to take a dip to refresh them.

 Gorges at Nagalapuram:

Unlike its big brother Venkateswara, Nagala do not have large number of deep gorges, nevertheless, Nagala also hosts few beautiful gorges and the best being the Nagala eastern entry gorge. One needs to swim 50 + mts to cross this deep-water gorge. There is also another gorge in a less known stream which is close to eastern entry of Nagalapuram which has been recently explored. Swimming across the gorge adds adventure and thrill to any trek.

Crystal clear streams and water pools at Nagalapuram:

Since there are no villages or human habitation on top of this Nagala hills the streams are very clean and clear throughout the year. Water is collected from big valleys and they slowly drain through the streams throughout the year.

There are totally 5 perennial streams which are draining from the Nagalapuram range namely, 1. Western stream (Aree village), 1. South East stream (Kailasakona falls) 3. East stream (TP Kotta), 4. North East Stream (Near Varadaiyapalayam) and 5. Tada stream.

Western entry proudly hosts the most number of beautiful and crystal clear pools and there are totally 7 pools along the western entry. The most famous pool in the eastern entry is the “picnic pool” which is 10 kilometres deep inside the eastern side of Nagala. The “dead end pool” which lies in the eastern entry also as a very interesting history behind its name since it was considered as a dead end and trekkers returned after reaching that spot before being discovered that there are more beautiful trekking spots beyond this dead end.

Wildlife at Nagalapuram:

Nagalapuram is a home for many small species and living organisms. It can be easily termed as a territory of garden lizards since it hosts a variety of lizards. Nagala has reptiles such as snakes; it has scorpions, monkeys, rabbits, porcupines, variety of birds, honeybees and many other small creatures. I can remember spotting a very old skull of a deer during Nagada trek although never spotted one in Nagala. However, during my 'Marathon in mountains' during April, 2012 my co-trekkers have spotted herd of deer's and two bears on the valley connecting Nagala and Tada which is considered to be as no-man's area which indicates presence wild life at Nagala. Fishes in the Nagala streams and pools deserve a special mention since they are known for their pedicure magic.

Flora of Nagalapuram:

Nagalapuram hosts a variety of rich flora and predominantly it is a scrub territory, with plenty of thorny bushes and very less grasslands. Red sanders are found abundant in Nagala valley and in the ridges. Red sanders grown at 700 mts altitude gives a distinctive wavy grain margin and hence valued very high in the market. Hence, there are many woodcutters who illegal chop these trees for reasons well known to them.

While we enjoy the beautiful pools, swim across the gorges and take bathe in those lovely waterfalls it is for the common good and to uphold sustainable development that we conserve this pristine beauty called “Nagala” for generations to come.

Everyone who had been into Nagala must have good memories about the bathe in those clean pools. During my recent visit I see a deteriorating quality of Nagala majorly attributed by plastic bottles, worn out shoes / chappals, food packets, mats, alcohol bottles etc. Until we take a conscious decision not to pollute or leave these wastes no one can protect Nagala. While we enjoy the present Nagala, let those good memories traverse to next generations.

Be informed and be responsible about the flora, fauna, rock formations, waterfalls, gorges and impeccable beauty of “Nagala” the heavenly kingdom in the Eastern Ghats. 

For the love of Nagala,

Durai Murugan