Ponmudi translates to 'golden peak' or a crest of gold. And if the gold here stands for nature's bounty, then this place is truly bathed in gold.
The native inhabitants, the Kani tribals, have their own take on how Ponmudi got its name. They believe the gods safeguarding the mountains hid their gold in the crest of the hills thereby giving it the name pon mudi. However, according to historians, the name could have derived from the names of deities of Buddhists and Jains, who inhabited the place ages ago. Ponmudi lives up to its name.
Where is Ponmudi?
The peak that lies to the northwest of Thiruvananthapuram, nestles cozily in the lap of the Sahya mountain ranges, a part of the Western Ghats.
Ponmudi is a veritable paradise, ideal for a weekend’s rest or for a holiday experience. Ponmudi, perhaps, will be one of the few hill stations in the world, which is mere 60 km away from the sea. The place is cold and covered in mist even during the hottest summer. With its balmy air, pleasant chill, vistas of evergreen forests and the gurgle of the river Kallar flowing close by, Ponmudi offers peace and tranquility. It’s the all-blinding mist-fog that hides the ecologically strategic hill station from wanton exploitation in the name of tourism.
A drive up, maneuvering the 22 hairpin bends, is a trip in itself. The tea plantations, the brooks and the evergreen forests are some of the sights to savor. The route is interspersed with small shelters where one can stretch a leg or take a short break before driving further up.
Taking the hairpins call for concentration and driving skills as the turnings are quite narrow and allow vehicles from either side to just about inch up and down. But it’s an experience to take those bends. With each bend up, there’s a perceptible change in the weather pattern. The chill heightens and the mists thicken.
There are buses which take tourists up. The KSRTC runs its Venad trips regularly from Thiruvananthapuram to Ponmudi.
Where to stay
The first summer abodes or dwellings in the place were built by the royal family of Travancore. Old-timers say there once stood a palatial structure where members of the royal family used to put up after their hunting trips inside the deep forests. There are tell-tale traces of the 'palace' around the hills. It’s said that only the royals and their chosen guests were allowed to stay in the regal abode.
Today, Ponmudi is a strategic base for the Indian Armed Forces. This is precisely why private hotels and resorts are not permitted to set up shop here. The only place open to tourists is the KTDC-run Golden Peak hill resort.
Laurie Baker heritage
The Golden Peak is a set of specially built structures, designed and executed by the very special Laurie Baker who combined the call of weather with Vaasthu to build his signature style structures. Built between 1977 and 1979 under the supervision of the then PWD chief engineer K. C. Alexander, these forest homes were built on an unbelievably simple budget of Rs 6 lakhs. The resorts, inaugurated by C. H. Muhammed Koya, who was the chief minister then, are unique in every way.
Once the 22 hairpin turns are crossed, it’s a halt at a checkpost from where passes are issued for tourists to move on. A narrow road by the side of the checkpost takes you up to Golden Peak. A wide spread of nature’s beauty opens up as you drive up. There’s another small tarred road to the left which leads to the Ponmudi police station and Orchid, the sole restaurant here. Quite soon, the quaintly-built resorts come into view.
What strikes the eye is a huge tree by the side of the reception. Its myriad roots are a sight to behold.
Golden Peak comprises 14 cottages in three categories, Deluxe, Premium and Suite. An evening check-in is the best option which offers a view of the scenic beauty around. There are facilities aplenty to rest, jog and enjoy the view around. These cottages have facilities to house more than one family at a time.
Permission to go up Ponmudi’s top station is granted only by 8.30am, a 2 km distance from the checkpost. There are trekkers who brave the thick fog to leg it up to the crest. Grasslands, shola forests and green mountain slopes spread out from the peak. A deserted checkpost is the point from where further entry is blocked for vehicles. The place is dotted by newly-built huts, the only source of shelter when the skies open up. The walk up will take tourists closer to the peak. From this point on, it’s a climb down. It’s a hands-on experience for trekkers who take the steep slope down. But once the fog rolls out, trekking becomes difficult and dangerous too.
Varayattumotta, another peak along the Western Ghats is quite visible from Ponmudi when the skies clear up. On pleasant days, trekkers take the slope from Ponmudi to go up the beautiful mountain ridge, home to the famous Nilgiri Thar. It’s a three-hour trek for seasoned walkers. The trekking season begins from November and goes up to May. The pristine Kallar and the magnificent Meenmutty waterfalls are on the way to Ponmudi. It takes a four-hour trek from the hill station to Meenmutty. The Kallar, with its crystal clear waters gurgles over pebbles, white sands and stones and meanders through evergreen forests. A dip in its cool, clear waters is a luxury.
The Agasthyaarkoodam peak, the 2000 ft high bio reserve, is the closest attraction to Ponmudi. Other places of interest are Brymore, Bonacaud, Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary and Koikkal Palace in Nedumangad.
For bookings in Golden Peak: +91 944000 08640; +91 472 2890225, 2890186