Agasthyakoodam (Agasthyarkoodam), the second highest point of the Western Ghats is a must visit place for a traveler who seeks adventure, and nature at its most pure form. Once you complete the journey, you will understand that it’s not the mountains that we conquer, it’s our heart and soul. Agasthyakoodam trekking is certainly not the difficult of all, but it gives you the perfect start to go for more. Agasthayakoodam is one of the best trekking places in Kerala and have significant role in the Kerala tourism map.
The warm rays of sun through the cold breeze greeted us as we rode towards the Bonacaud forest office from Vithura. Till Vithura, though there are some risky curves, the road is generally in good condition.
After the Vithura town, the road towards Bonacaud, which is precisely indicated by the Kerala Tourism Department, requires more attention to the drivers.
The roads become steeper, curvy and rough as you move towards the forest office. On the way, there is a check post (which is generally opened during the trekking season) and the Bonacaud Jersey farm.
The tarred road ends at the closed Boanacaud Estate. The KSRTC buses from Thiruvananthapuram or Nedumangad has its last stop in front of the Estate office.
The Main estate building and the other buildings associated with it is in ruins as the estate is closed. Several estate workers and their kids can be seen still living in adjacent houses.
As the estate is closed, they earn their living by going to nearby towns like Vithura or Nedumangad to find work.
From Bonacaud estate, it’s a bumpy 1 Km ride towards the forest office. Vehicles with less ground clearance need to be maneuvered carefully.
The parking space available near the forest office is very limited. We were lucky enough to find one. The admission passes will be checked. Camera and Vehicle passes needs to be taken as well.
A canteen is present which serves breakfast. As we need to cover 16 KM in the first day to reach the Base camp at Athirumala, it’s better to buy lunch from the canteen itself.
There are five camps between the forest office and the base camp at Athirumala. The important ones are Lathimotta (camp 1), Karamanayar(camp 2), Vazapatithiyar (camp 4) and Attayar (camp 5).
These are the best places to get refreshed or take rest during the trek. Most of them has a small stream or a waterfall where you will get the pure and cool water of the hills.
The advantage of this is that, you don’t need to carry more than 1 litre of water with you all the time as it can be easily refilled on the way.
Though there are numerous permissible trekking paths in Kerala, Agasthyakoodam trekking is the longest of all. This is because Agasthyakoodam is the pilgrimage centre for the devotees of the Hindu sage Agastya.
Many people can be seen going barefoot through the most difficult terrains. Once you enter the forest, the smell of agarbathis or camphor indicates you that there is a kaavu nearby.
In temples of Kerala, kaavu means the place for worshipping snakes, commonly called sarpakkavu. Inside the forest, it is not snakes alone, idols of other Hindu gods can also be seen.
The first camp, Lathimotta has a Lord Ganesha idol who is also considered as the god to pray once you start anything new.
The first session of day one generally ends in the Attayar or camp 5. You will love the walk and your legs will also be very happy to reach till Attayar.
It’s better to have the lunch from Attayar, as you will be greeted with the first day’s most difficult path soon. Till Attayar the walk is through the shades of big and wide trees with the sun not able to make us very tired.
After Attayar, a long stretch of grassland invites you which is beautiful to watch but tiring to cross. Because of the less number of trees, the walk is directly below the sun with the occasional cool blow of the wind.
On the way you will be able to see the top of Agasthya mala far away at a great height. After crossing the grasslands, the path again goes upward through the shades of trees till the Athirumala Base camp.
The Athirumala Base camp has a canteen and some temporary huts for the pilgrims and travelers to take rest. An old and dilapidated waiting shed is present where the remaining people will take rest if the huts are full.
Usually the huts will be full with people completing the walk to the top and staying back and with people coming early in the first day. The huts has a bedstead which is more of a raised platform made of bamboo leaves and wood.
Less than a kilometer from the base camp, there is a small stream with icy cold water. It is the best place to refresh yourself after the long and tiring walk. The cool water has the power to heal you from inside and makes you ready for the next big journey, towards the top.
In the lap of Agasthyakoodam
Second day by 7 AM, once the first set sunlight hits the day, we started our journey towards the top. The path from base camp to the top is completely different than the once we covered in the previous day. It is steeper, rougher and slippery in some places.
The path becomes confusing in many places, particularly inside a bamboo forest where it is quite narrow. However, there are arrow marks in rocks which can guide you. The Agasthya hill smiles at you through the clouds often when you reach a clearing till the Pongalappara.
Pongalappara is the safe spot for resting before the remaining walk to the top of Agasthyakoodam. There are numerous snowy white patches of water flowing down from the hills around Pongalappara. Some of them combine to form a small stream which serves cool and pure water for drinking.
The path from Pongalappara to the top is the steepest of all. After a comfortable walk through the huge rocks, the path goes steeply into a forest which is said to have many rare medicinal plants.
It is also said that you will not catch fever if you inhale the air inside this area. There are 4 rope assisted climbs before you reach top after the Pongalappara.
It becomes scary if you look back into the valleys far below. The wind is pretty awesome and at the same time makes the climb more risky.
Once reaching the top, sage Agathya welcomes you to this nature’s bliss. The Peppara dam view and the Pandavamaala are few of the views. The experience on top is unique and mind blowing. The base station of Athirumala can be seen as a tiny dot from the top.
The pilgrims can be seen bringing flowers, garland and other things required for performing pooja to the idol of sage Agasthya. Although not very big, the shrine and the small area around it brings in a unique aura to the place.
Some Points to remember during Agasthyakoodam Trek
Agasthyakoodam trekking needs prior permission from the forest department. The season for trekking and pilgrimage in Kerala will start in by January and ends by February end or March. Sivarathri will be the last day of the season. Agasthyakoodam trekking passes can be obtained online via the website of Forest Department of Kerala as well.. The date of issuance online passes will be informed well in advance by the Forest department. Because of the huge rush, the passes will be over very soon and it’s always good to plan more than one dates for the journey.
The minimum duration of Agasthyakoodam trekking is 2 days. It is not allowed to go to Agasthyakoodam top after 12PM every day from the base station. So the first day of trek will get concluded at the Base station.It’s best to start the second day trek as early as possible. Probably by around 7. If you are fast enough, you can come back to the base camp after visiting the top station by noon and finish the trekking on the second day itself. But it is always safe to plan for 3 days so that you will not be in trouble if you had to stay back for the second day as well.
The forest department has a special pass facility during off season as well. This is issued for a group of 5 or 10 persons with the fee as 10000 and 15000 INR respectively. There will be guides accompanying for the complete trek. The canteen facility at the base station of Athirumala will not be present during that time. More information is present in the forest department site http://www.forest.kerala.gov.in. The forest department office for the issuance of passes is in PTP Nagar, Sasthamangalam, Trivandrum.
Always carry enough food with you. Especially during the second day trek, you will feel more tired because of the nature of the trekking path. Some dry fruits, biscuits and glucose will be good to carry. If the group size is more, it is good to carry some extra breakfast as parcel also.
Water will not be a big problem as there are plenty of water sources inside the forest. It is good to carry 1 litre of water per person always. You can refill the bottle on the way. Drink lots of water in intervals, even if you are not feeling very thirsty. This is important to maintain the energy level. Mixing glucose in water and drinking is also a good idea.
The path from Base station to the top can get confusing at different points. Check for signs on top of rocks or on trees which will show you the correct path. If you get confused still, it’s better to wait for someone to come in either direction. It is not safe to go deep into the forest.
As said earlier, pilgrims come barefooted and you will wonder how they make it through this tough terrain without any footwear. It’s best to wear any hiking or trekking shoes with pretty good grip. Sandals with good grip will also be sufficient. The path gets too slippery particularly when you come back. Your legs will not be in the best condition after the steep trek upwards.
Always remember that the forest belongs to all other living beings as much as it belongs to you. Please make sure not to leave any plastic wastes. There has been many instances when the plastic covers (mainly with leftover curry) are thrown on the way. If you see any left behind, take it and put it inside the waste baskets which are kept by the guides.
Mostly, bamboo sticks will be on sale for a cheap rate at the forest office itself. It is good to carry one for the trek particularly for the second day.
It is prohibited to take anything from forest to outside. The forest department can file case against any persons if any violations are found. Smoking and Alcohol consumption is also banned inside the forest.
How to reach Bonacaud
Boanacaud is around 60 KM from Trivandrum. There are buses available from Trivandrum Central Bus stand and Nedumangad Bus stand till Boanacaud estate. If you are planning to go by bus for the trekking, the best way is to catch the Bonacaud estate bus at 5.30AM from Trivandrum bus depot.
Nearest Railway station is Trivandrum Central and the nearest Airport is Trivandrum International Airport.
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