Verdant Munnar - Angels in Disguise

Verdant Munnar - Angels in Disguise
Neelakurinji-covered Kallipara.

By Rajee Rajan

EVER since my trip to Wagamon along with the KSRTC Budget Tourism Cell, Neyyattinkara, I had been longing for the next.  It was a very comfortable and wonderful trip with a lot of enjoyment.  

The previous one to ‘Munroe Thuruthu’ and ‘Sambranikodi’ also was packed with lots of excitement.  It was then the BTC announced the trip to Munnar to view the Neelakurinji-covered Kallipara hilltop.  

Munnar, with its misty hills and lush green landscapes, was my ever favourite destination. Moreover, I had nostalgic memories of Munnar as I had spent my childhood there.  It was a one-day trip and on a working day too. But, waiting for another 12 years to see this beauty seemed too long.  The excitement of seeing the Neelakurinji-clad mountains overruled my office responsibility and I decided to book for the trip without delay before the seats were full. 

Though it was a one-day trip, the journey was to commence at 8 pm the previous day.  At 7.45 pm, we reached Neyyattinkara bus stand which was the starting point. The superfast KSRTC bus RPK-229 was standing there with its head high to receive us.  Mr. Renjith, the main coordinator of BTC trips, had reached there in advance and guided us to our seats.  The three-seater was quite comfortable and as I snuggled between my husband and my daughter who was in the window seat, I aimed to get a good night's sleep after a tiresome day at the office.  Soon our co-passengers of different ages started pouring in.  While the older ones settled in their seats, the little ones with cheers and squeaks moved around in excitement.

Before the commencement of the journey, the members of KSRTC loaded speakers and mike for the entertainment ahead. As the journey started, I spent some time in prayers and my mind was relaxed.  At the next stop at Vedivachan Kovil, a bearded man entered and talked quite loudly and I thought that he was a bit weird.  Later he introduced himself as Shaji, who was the station master of KSRTC Neyyattinkara depot. A few more from the KSRTC family including Mr. Gopan joined us.  On the way, there were a few more stops before it reached Trivandrum where to my great surprise two of my colleagues Bajema and Aiswarya also boarded along with their children.

The soothing hum of the engine was accompanied by the gentle swaying of the bus, lulling me into a sense of calm.  The bus was dimly lit, and most of the passengers were settling in for the night’s journey. I found comfort in the rhythmic motion and the warmth of my family on both sides.  Occasionally, I’d steal a glance out of the window, the city lights were fading and a few spots of distant streetlights were dimming.  

The night sky was a canvas adorned with countless stars.  After a few hours, the bus halted near a tea shop where some went for tea, including my husband.  While waiting there, I got acquainted with a few co-passengers and after a few minutes, we were all talking and sharing jokes and felt as if I was meeting old friends after a long time.

The next lap of the journey was calm and I slept peacefully till we reached the resort at 4 am where arrangements for fresh up and resting were made in advance.  As we exited the comfort of the bus, it was quite cold and the mild breeze blowing brought with it the fragrance of some unknown wildflower.  The rooms on the ground floor were allotted for gents and the women were given a few common rooms on the first floor.  The rooms were cozy and the toilets neat. While we were resting in that room, all were sharing their experience and travel stories of other BTC trips and I felt as if I was on a college tour which brought back nostalgic memories.

As the first light of daybreak painted the horizon with soft hues of pink and gold, we ventured out into the crisp morning air.  The world around was still, with only the gentle rustling of leaves and chirping of the birds breaking the silence. Soon everyone boarded and the bus navigated through the several curves ahead, every view from the window resembled paintings on canvas. 

We reached Munnar bus stand where the drivers from Kothamangalam depot took over the reins of our bus.  Luxury accommodations well arranged in buses parked in the bus stand were quite interesting.   It resembled the AC compartments in train and the rates were also surprisingly cheap and I decided to stay there the next time I visit Munnar.  The view around the bus stand was beautiful and the hot strong tea we bought from a vendor, whose tea shop was only a cycle, brought warmth to body and mind.  After tea, I went exploring the premises of the bus stand and came across a beautiful stream behind it.     

Soon we all boarded the bus and everyone was excited to see the beauty around.  Renjith, our coordinator, served as a guide and kept on explaining the picturesque views passing by. The mike was passed on for self-introduction and singing. The road wound its way through lush tea plantations and dense forests.  Towering eucalyptus trees framed the narrow road.  Our next stop was the Lockhart Tea Park which had breathtaking views. Everyone became professional photographers then and was seen posing in and around the tea garden.  The panoramic views of the surrounding hills and valleys are indeed an ideal spot for nature enthusiasts and photographers. 

Before getting back on the bus, some of the passengers started dancing on the road to the tune of the fast number playing inside the bus.  Soon Renjith, Shaji and many more joined them irrespective of age.  The misty views that followed in the next lap of the travel were breathtaking.  On the way, we also came across remains of landslides.  The view from our next viewpoint near Gap Road cannot be explained in words.  It resembled a valley filled with clouds or an ocean filled with ice cream and the morning sun added beauty to it.  It was indeed a breathtaking sight.

After capturing a few photographs on my mobile and many more in mind, we moved on to our next point which was a very beautiful waterfall.  The milky water was flowing from great height in several layers and continued to flow beneath the road.

Breakfast arranged at Swagath Restaurant at Santhanpara was simple but delicious. Santhanpara is a simple village nestled in the Western Ghats of Kerala.  Leaving Santhanpara, the road began to wind its way through lush green tea gardens where the carpet of tea leaves stretched as far as the eye could see and the bus offered panoramic views through the window. 

By the time we reached Chathuranga Para, everyone on the bus was enjoying the trip as if they were all part of one family.  As we got off the bus, we all scattered around to capture the beauty surrounding it.  From Chathuranga Para you can often catch glimpses of neighbouring hills and mountains.  These peaks rise majestically, creating a dramatic backdrop to the landscape.  

In the valleys below we could see Cumbum, Theni and Thevaram villages in Tamil Nadu. When the mist faded, we could also see the Vaigai Dam on one side and the windmill farm on the other side.

Renjith informed us that Kallipara where the Neelakurinji had bloomed around five acres of hilltop this season was a few kilometres away.  We could either reach there on foot or by jeep for Rs.1000. Though trekking was not in my mind when I planned the trip, we opted for it so that we could explore more of the nature around us.   

The muddy road which was wet with the previous day’s rain had deep tyre marks of the jeeps and puddle.  I was a bit worried about my worn-out chappal on that slippery road which made walking difficult.  The cool gentle breeze and murmuring of the trees that swayed with it eased away all my tension.  Different kinds of wildflowers with the colours of the rainbow adorned the hedges and shrubs on both sides.  We washed our feet in the clear water in the pool nearby and moved on to the narrow way off-road.  As we paved the way through the grass which had grown more than five feet high, I felt as if we were walking in a dream.

The next lap was through a forest area where there was hardly any place the sunlight could penetrate due to the thick canopy.  The trekking was quite difficult but the vines which were hanging from the trees and the shrubs around were a support for the walk.  After half an hour's walk, we were back on the road again where the jeep ride ended.  

From there we could view the Kallipara Hill and it looked as if covered by a purple blanket.  There was no specific way to climb up to the top so everyone picked their own routes.  The hilltop was quite crowded despite that day being a working day.

Excited people were moving around from one spot to another like butterflies flying from one bunch of flowers to the other.  They were posing for photos sitting, standing and even lying down to capture the best in their cameras.  

We too joined them in the venture as we moved to the hilltop slowly.  The muddy hill was damp with puddles and slippery and to make things worse one strap of my chappal broke.  But, with each slow step we took, we felt closer to the sky.  The last one-third portion of the hill was steeper but the views got better and better.  Our co-passengers just like family members on tour were helping each other to take photos.

Renjith and Shaji were seen helping the weaker ones to get to the top.
The view from the hilltop was breathtaking and the vast landscape reminded us of our place in the grand tapestry of nature.  Verdant valleys stretched out before us on the other side of the hill like the deep blue sea and the mild scent of wildflowers filled the air.  After spending some time up there we decided to descend. The climate had changed by then and was drizzling which made the descent very difficult.  

Fear gripped me at the thought of falling down the hill, so I walked behind my husband slowly and carefully holding onto his shoulder tightly. My worn-out chappal slipped several times but managed to climb down the one-third portion which was steeper and was much relieved and walked freely when we reached an even place with mild slopes.  But when I avoided a puddle and stepped on a bunch of grass it was a wrong step. I slipped and fell, resulting in a sprain. The pain was so excruciating that I knew something was seriously wrong. 

I tried to put my foot back in position with the little first aid I learnt in my school days and Shaji came running to my aid and helped bandage it with his towel. I soon took a painkiller and sat there in the puddle.  Due to the pain, I felt dizzy and on realizing it Shaji took off his shirt, spread it on the puddle and asked me to lie down.  By this time Renjith and most of the KSRTC family gathered around me.

As I lay there with closed eyes, I could hear the worried voices of my husband and daughter and the discussion of how to take me down the hill where an ambulance could reach.  Again, I heard the consoling words of Shaji to my husband, “Don’t worry Sir I will carry ‘chechi’ on my back and carry her down the hill”.  With my body weight around 85 kg, I knew it was not possible, but the words were consolation. 

Soon 108 was dialled and an ambulance was beckoned and they said it would arrive near the quarry where work was in progress.  The route towards the quarry was very steep but the shortest and they said only two were in the ambulance so would need additional help to carry me down.  Renjith and my husband went all the way down and requested those working in the quarry for help as they would be more familiar with climbing the hill with weight.

After lying for some time, I felt slightly better and opened my eyes to see the dark clouds accumulating overhead ready to pour in any moment.  When the ambulance arrived, a stretcher was brought up and I was strapped onto it. They carried me down the hill with great difficulty due to my weight and the slippery slopes.

 At times, I felt the stretcher tilting and wondered whether I would ever reach the base. They all worked in unity as a team down the hill and safely shifted me to the ambulance. The rain which I thought would pour while up the hill, waited till we entered the ambulance. 

My husband and daughter were by my side in the ambulance and the whole family of KSRTC all ready to help were around.  As I bid a heartfelt goodbye to the courageous individuals who had supported me during the challenging descent from Kallipara, I felt a profound sense of gratitude and admiration.  

When the ambulance speeded with the sirens on towards the Life Care Hospital at Rajakad, my mind was filled with the breathtaking beauty of the Neelakurinji-filled Kallipara Hill and the faces of God-send angels in disguise.