Panchalimedu: Beyond a pit-stop


It was a pit-stop on the way to our weekend getaway destination Kuttikkanam, but the green meadows laced with still greener waves of soft rolling hills left us enchanted so much that now whenever we refer to the trip, we call it the visit to Panchalimedu. My colleague Amin, who had suggested we take a trip to Panchalimedu, had warned us against taking umbrellas though it was a monsoon season — 'Even though it will be of not much use to you, better take raincoats rather than umbrellas. Take umbrella only if you are trying to pull off a Mary Poppins.' After reaching atop Panchalimedu, I realised that he was not exaggerating, not one bit. Almost 2,500ft above sea level, I felt like I am standing at a beach, counting the waves — the undulation of hills and valleys seemed never-ending, like green waves crafted by the constant torrents of wind. Panchalimedu has a maze of small hills and I am not sure if each of it has a different name. The one on the western side has some small temples - the main one is dedicated to goddess Bhuvaneshwari - and the eastern one, which is the steeper one, bears a 'way of the cross'. There is an unpaved road, created by constant abuse of four-wheel drives, separating these two hills. March ahead and it will take you to a man-built well and tank. The sky was heavy with ashen clouds and it looked like the heaven's gates could open at any moment. We even heard the grey head of a family, who were on their hurried descent, telling a whining kid in the group to better rush to the comfort of their car parked below than getting soaked on a hill in between nowhere - that last bit of information was intriguing, yet beguiling, for all four of us. It had drizzled when we were at the foothill. Now, standing at the western side of the hills beyond the temples, I could see the clouds on their sprint to the east - just like gardeners rushing to water their plants before the sunset. The sun rays spilled on the valley whenever any lazy cloud broke the marching formation- sometimes on the valleys, sometimes on the hills. The wet, cold and slippery grass grumbled about the sluggish glimpses of sunlight that trickled off the horizon. We ran down the south side slope till the remains of a knee-high of stone wall that once marked the boundary. Beyond here tread cautiously as the rocks, that overlook the valley, ends as it begins - giving way to a free fall. On our way back, we decided not to scale the eastern portion of the hill as it looked a bit daunting for the kids. We walked towards the ponds at the northern plateau on the hill. After passing a worn-out pump-house, we reached the well where a big rusty pipe streams down the water to some location in the valley, all of which looked as though it were enjoying a retirement (there was no one to confirm this, though). Travellers could use this as a warning sign: venture out in groups as the place is isolated. We wandered around there till we spotted red patches of sky beyond the cover of rain clouds - it was well past 5pm. Slowly it dawned on us that lost in the beauty of Panchalimedu, we missed our lunch, but no one (including the kids) was in a mood to complain, account it to the tea and snacks we had from one teashop at the foothill of Panchalimedu. Note: If you are planing to visit this place during the second week of January 14 or 15 (to be precise on the Makar Sankranti), forget all that we spoke about isolation or hinted about peace and calm, the place will be buzzing with Ayyappa devotees, who flock the hills to get a glimpse of Makara Vilakku, the sacred flame that is lit thrice in the Ponnambalamedu hill near Sabarimala. Legend: The Pandavas, along with their wife Panchali, stayed in these hills and the caves nearby during their time of exile. And after they left, the local people noticed footsteps, deeply impressed on the rock. The story spread that these footprints were those of the mighty Bheema, the strongest of the Pandavas. There is also a pond, in which Panchali is supposed to have had a bath. They built a temple to commemorate this belief. There is a small cave too here.

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