Edmund Hillary, the conqueror of Mount Everest, once said, “It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.” And while climbing to a mountain top, you will realize that his words of wisdom can’t be more inch-perfect. When you reach the summit, the world around you won’t take notice of you but you can see everything in its entirety. This journey is a trek up the hills; a climb through the paths thickly covered in foliage as mankind has not set foot on the region for the past eight years.
The region is marked by silent forests, steep slopes, tall grasses and wild plants. Stones will go down the slope with each step and a thick mist will hang in the air as cascading waters strike the well-formed rocks. These beautiful sights will make the trek of close to six km riveting and once you reach the top, the view is simply surreal.
Thenpara, which the English adoringly called ‘Honey Rock’, stands tall in the mountain ranges of the Western Ghats. The trekking path, which was closed for the past eight years, was recently opened to trekkers and the climbers have welcomed the move with glee. Earlier only a select few got the exclusive opportunity to trek up the hills. Why not embark on a journey through the heart of Thenpara in Kerala’s Kozhikode district.
Climb to the top
Usually, most of the backpackers visiting Thusharagiri return after enjoying the beauty of the first waterfall. Some may proceed to the second falls and those trekking towards the third waterfall would return dead tired. But this trip is not centred on waterfalls.
It is always better to start trekking from Thusharagiri early in the morning. After walking for a while after crossing the gateway to Thusharagiri, one can find the first waterfall. The famous ‘Thanni Muthassi maram’ (the grand old Bedda Nut tree) could be found after passing the first cascade. The ‘muthassi’ tree is an indicator that you are now entering the dense forest.
You can feel the magic of wilderness after trekking a few meters into the verdant jungle. As one ascends, one could hear the sounds of the Indian giant squirrel. It is believed that this breed of squirrel, also known as the Malabar giant squirrel, is the guardian of the forest. When there is a human presence in the forest, the Indian giant squirrel will make a peculiar sound to alert other animals in the jungle.
The pool of ‘110’
After walking for close to 1.5km, which takes nearly 45 minutes, you will reach a place called ‘Nootipathu’ (110) where there is a natural pool. By the time you reach there, the chances of blood-thirsty leeches clinging on to your legs are pretty high. ‘110’ is the region where the controversial grabbing of 110 acres of forest cover was carried out in Jeerakappara. The encroachers started to cultivate coffee and tea on the grabbed land and later the court had to intervene to throw out the encroachers. The state forest department removed all the encroachers by the year 2000 and the complete area again became verdant forest in the past 22 years.
The wild elephants come to ‘110’ to drink water from the pond and have food as the region is replete with bamboos and ‘eetta’ (a kind of bamboo). You can also find mangosteens and guavas in the vicinity. While returning, make sure that you pass this area before 5.30pm otherwise elephants might block your way and you will have to wait till morning to continue your trek down.
While climbing through this area you will have to walk through layers of grassland and later it will be just forest and you. There will be no pathways and you will find huge rock formations dotting various parts of the forest. Trees are so tall and big that you get a feeling that they are touching the skies. The trek through the dense jungle after passing the valley of Jeerakappara is quite arduous. After moving forward by holding on to tree stumps and creepers for around 2.5km, you will be able to hear the gurgling sound of a waterfall and ultimately you will reach the middle of a mammoth rock.
The rocks literally stand tall on both sides with crystal clear water flowing in the middle. At first sight, the whole setting looks like a boat and aptly it is called ‘Thoni kayam’ (a deep pond shaped like a boat). The tribal people have created a check dam of sorts with wood pieces across the water body to catch fish. A fish known as ‘kallelmutti’ is a favourite of the people residing in the forest.
Off to Thenpara
You will have to continue trekking through the forest and the climb will become more strenuous in every 100m. The walk will be through rolling stones with the chirping of birds for company. ‘Manthi’ or black monkey will produce a shrieking sound that could shake the dense woodland. The trees will get smaller in terms of height as you go up the hills. After hiking for close to 5km, you will find a huge rock that leads to the top where the forest cover ends. And this is Thenpara or ‘Honey Rock’. You could see patches of yellow grass on the rock. The statutory warning from the forest department is not to climb the rock in haste as an abyss is waiting for you on the other side of the rock.
It is believed that tribal youths used to enter the forest to collect honey and pitch a tent on this rock. The rock might have got its name after the tribals had sat on it to squeeze the honey out of layers of honeycomb collected from the forest.
Thenpara is situated 2,897ft above sea level and is the highest region under the state forest department in Kozhikode district. The district’s highest point, Vellarimala, doesn’t come under the purview of the forest department.
The majestic Western Ghats surround Thenpara and one could see the Chembra peak in the distance. On the other side, there is Kalladi, which is near Meppadi in the Wayanad district. If your eyesight is sharp, you can also see the Thamarassery ghat road in the mountain ranges. When there was unauthorized trekking earlier, people used to spend the evening atop Thenpara.
Avinjithodu and snakes of all hues
The trek down is equally challenging as each step should be taken with the utmost care by latching on to rock formations and vines. One has to be careful while descending as the way down can be a bit slippery. If you are lucky you will be able to chance upon the resplendent green vine snake. After trekking down for a while, you can soak in the beauty of the Avinjithodu waterfall, which cascades from a two-layer rock formation. The forest is home to 64 unique species of butterflies. Plan the descend in such a way that you reach ‘110’ before dusk as after night falls elephants would roam in the area.
One thing is for sure; the taxing trek to Thenpara is not apt for ‘seasonal tourists’. But if you can trek 12km, which can be covered in around 10 hours, you can get an experience of your lifetime.
It may be noted that trekking to Thenpara was stopped eight years ago due to the presence of Maoists in the region. In the past eight years, only forest department officials could visit the area as stringent curbs were put in place to prevent anyone from entering the forests. Now travellers who have registered their names beforehand can trek to Thenpara. A five-member team is allowed to enter the forests and the fee per group is Rs 2,355. Only three people can be added to the five-member team and each additional person has to pay Rs 365. Bookings can be done through www.thusharagiriecotourism.com or by calling 8547602818.