A Google search will tell you that 'the most haunted place in Kerala' is the Bonacaud Bungalow in Thiruvananthapuram district. You can even see loads of pictures taken by curious visitors but nobody knows if they actually spotted a ghost.
If you are a travel enthusiast, do not let these legends deter you. You will be rewarded with an exciting journey through forest trails and village paths. Take a detour on your return trip and you could go to the Vazhvanthol waterfall. What's more, the trip can be very budget-friendly if you rely on the bus service run by the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation.
First bus to Bonacaud leaves the Thambanoor bus station in Thiruvananthapuram at 5 am. The sights change dramatically as you pass Nedumangad on the route. The contours of Western Ghats emerge in the east. And early morning mist chills the air.
An hour and a half into the journey, the bus reaches Vithura. Proceedes to Bonacaud past the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Thiruvananthapuram (IISER) and the Vithura Jersey cow farm. Make sure that you carry enough refreshments and drinking water. There are no shops at Kanithadam or Bonacaud.
You will have to stop at a forest department check-post at Kanithadam. The road forks to Bonacaud and Vazhvanthol. The road to the left will lead you to the Bonacaud tea estate and the Agasthyarkoodam bioreserve. Towards the right is the Vazhvanthol waterfall. You will have to wait until 9 am for the forest road to waterfall to open.
Any visitor has to seek the forest officials' permission to enter the tea estate in the middle of the forest. The department records the names and addresses of all visitors.
The road to Bonacaud is through Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary. Tall trees and thick canopy block the slanting morning sunlight. A cacophony of birds and crickets dominates the air.
Bonacaud hill borders Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The forest has grown beyond the Peppara reservoir up to the Agasthyarkoodam hill. The other side of the hill is Papanasam, Thenkasi, and Kuttralam in Tamil Nadu.
The trees seem to pierce the sky. Giant creepers are festooned on trees like pythons. These creepers, called 'pullanji,' used to be a vital source of drinking water for tribesmen traversing the forest. They could cut open the fresh creepers and find as much water as they need.
The tea estate here was set up by the British. It later went to Mahaveer Plantations. The tea estate was eventually put under lock and key, depriving hundreds of labourers their livelihood. Many of them eke out a living by rearing cattle.
As you reach the Bonacaud post office near the old building that once housed the tea factory, you will see that the estate staff club has turned into a homoeo dispensary. Several houses and a path that leads up to a school complete the 'Bonacaud City.'
A road that goes around the factory leads up to the Agasthyarkoodam hill, which is open to visitors only during the Makaravilakku and Shivarathri festivals.
Walk up the road to the school then past a church, a temple, and a ration shop to be treated to breathtaking scenery from the valley. Trek a little more than 2 kilometres to reach the highest place at Bonacaud. In front of you will rise the 25GB Bungalow, termed the most haunted place in Kerala.
The bungalow was built for top officers of the estate to stay. The granite building built like an English mansion is crumbling. The bathroom is fitted with bathtubs and the halls have fireplaces. The largest attraction, however, is the view of the reservoir.
Back at the check post, take a trip to the waterfall. The entry fee is Rs 1,000 for a group of 10. You have to avail the package to go to the waterfall.
The Vazhvanthol waterfall is in the valley of Bonacaud. You have to walk for 4 kilometres from the check-point to reach the waterfall. The forests are elephant territory. The waterfall is a bit weak in the summer but it is the only time it becomes accessible. The waterfall will be dangerous during the monsoon months. The rocky road to the waterfall will be slippery and infested with leeches. The waterfall turns out of bounds for visitors during the monsoon months.
You can drive your vehicle for a kilometre after the check post.
The forest trek is easy in the beginning. The paths are flanked by eucalyptus and manjiyam trees on one side and bamboo on the other. The Vazhvanthod stream flows gently beyond the bamboo thicket.
After about 2 kilometres, the path becomes narrower. In fact, there is no defined path at all. You will have to climb over rocks and mud on what seems to be a narrow clearing in the forest.
The best time to visit the Vazhvanthol waterfall is between the monsoons. The waterfall is no less enticing in summer though.
How to reach
The Vazhvanthol waterfall is 52 kilometres from the Thiruvananthapuram city centre. From Vithura, you have to travel 19 kilometres to reach Bonacaud. You will reach the Kanithadam check post after 10 kilometres from Vithura. From there, it is only 6 kilometres to the waterfall. The last 3 kilometres are out of bounds for vehicles. Visitors are allowed inside the forest from 9 am to 2 pm. Even in the peak rainy season, entry is barred.
You can board a KSRTC bus from Thiruvananthapuram to go up to Bonacaud and Vazhvanthol. You will have to obtain permission from the forest department to drive private vehicles inside the forest area.
A bus leaves the Thambanoor bus stand for Bonacaud at 5 am daily. Buses leave from East Fort at 8:30 am, 2:40 pm and 4:10 pm, while return trips from Bonacaud start at 6 am, 7:45 am, 11:30 am and 1:40 pm.