Though many journeys had been undertaken earlier across the Thamarassery mountain pass on KSRTC buses and on bikes, a wish had remained unfulfilled-to cross the 15 km stretch by foot. Many laughed and ridiculed at this bizarre desire. Unperturbed, people with similarly bizarre desires were sought. Two joined in – Radhu from Thiruvananthapuram and Seban from Kozhikode.
The journey began on an early Sunday morning at Kozhikode from where Radhu alias Radhika joined in. A KSRTC bus was taken to reach the Adivaram, the base station. The city had already come awake. There was no sign of chill. The conductor of the bus informed that from Adivaram onwards, the temperature will start dipping. The KSRTC bus covered good distance through the practically deserted roads. An occasional KSRTC bus and a long-haul truck hurried past boastfully now that they had successfully negotiated the mountain pass. It was well past 5 am by the time the bus reached Adivaram passing Koduvally, Thamarassery and Engapuzha. After a while, Seban, too, joined in. The dream journey was about to begin.
Making a three-member gang, the journey on foot was started in a single file under the low lights from the mobile phones. The vehicles brushed past us even in that early hour of the day. Probably because of the exertion from walking, chill was not yet felt. Loaded trucks coming downhill left the stench of burning tyres. The first sight at the daybreak was astounding. On a tree, there were many beehives! Most of those who travelled by vehicles might have missed this sight. Mist hung over the hills afar.
The birds had stirred by the time the first hairpin bend was reached. Along with the birds, the mountain squirrel and other fauna were making noise now. Despite being so close and so slow, no mountain squirrel could be sighted. The view point at the second hairpin bend was assailed lapping up the views of the excellent road, the distant hills veiled under mist and the forest now donned in early rays of the sun.
Far above, vehicles moving over the treacherous road looked like tiny specks. Experienced drivers easily negotiated the sharp bend which was paved with interlocking tiles. It was quite obvious that the KSRTC drivers negotiated the bend more deftly than others. On the third hairpin bend, we had a 'Thamarassery ghat' special breakfast of quail eggs and black tea. It was exciting to see those sights around at the easy pace of a walk as opposed to seeing them on photos taken while speeding past in an automobile. The trekking continued. It was about 6 am by then. Those who passed by in vehicles looked curiously. They are not that crazy to trek all the way up.
The Wayanad ghat (Thamarassery mountain pass) has 19 bends big and small. This mountain pass should be covered on foot at least once. The beauty of the nature can be experienced only then. The forest thickened beyond the view point. There was less noise up there. Except for the sound from the vehicles passing by, the forest largely remained quiet.
Plenty of monkeys could be encountered on the way. The road, part of which had been destroyed during the floods, had been more or less restored. The trio had much to talk about the journeys each had undertaken solo. It was a new experience to gang up to undertake a different kind of journey. Frolicsome monkeys ran about without a care on the well-marked interstate highway 212 connecting Kozhikode and Mysore. Sunrays had invaded the valleys far down. But the thick canopy of forest uphill still remained impenetrable and it remained relatively cooler. The small breaks were made more enjoyable, thanks to the oranges from Radhu's stock.
Further up, a vendor selling ice-sticks was encountered. It was time to go back to the schooldays.
Considering the distance to cover, the temptation to sit under the shaded trees was subdued. Karinthandan, the tribal chief of the folklores is said to have walked these 15km every day, grazing his goats. The unwritten law of the forest to leave only the footprints behind as one passes through it was rudely broken by people dumping plastic garbage there. It was a disturbing sight. The mountain squirrel and other animals making shrill noise around there were facing a severe existential threat.
On a few sharp bends, the hillsides had been razed to widen the road. That surely hurt the beauty of nature. Although the sunrays had drenched the valleys far below, it was still very comfortable up there even in that summer. An occasional breeze made the climate all the more endearing. The sights around were ravishing.
Finally by 9:30 the view point at Lakkidi was reached after four hours of trekking across the Thamarassery mountain pass, lapping up the sights on the way in the company of monkeys and the chirping of birds.
A hoard of monkeys guard the view point at Lakkidi. A low-flying hawk seemed to be a welcoming sign. It was a good time to take a few snaps leaning over the protection fencing. It was another dream come true to see the legendary 'Chain Tree' where the folklores said the soul of the tribal chief Karinthandan of the 1700-1750 period was resting.
The next lap of the journey was towards Kuruva Island. This part of the journey was by bus. The first major stop is at Panamaram and then Kuruva was reached from there via Pulppally. It was informed that Kuruva is being shut down permanently for visitors. Kuruva has a rich and sensitive ecosystem. This might be the only place free from plastic garbage. As last of the travellers allowed inside, the caressing river Kabini was crossed on a bamboo raft to reach Kuruva.
The east-flowing river Kabini enriches the Kuruva's tenuous life-forms. There are two vast ponds too there. The bamboos that once marked Kuruva's identity have all disappeared. The forest department has imposed prohibition on walking by the riverside. The riverside could be teeming with crocodiles. The flora is rich here.
There is an area where swimming is allowed. Radhu chased the tadpoles typical of Kuruva. The water was really cold, having flowed past the rocks upstream. Time flew by easily there. On the way back some crocodiles were sighted making merry in the river. It was a saddening to think that Kuruva can never be visited again.
It is one thing to dream. It is another matter to realize them.