To the delight of hundreds of adventure enthusiasts, the Agasthyarkoodam seasonal trek has officially begun. The Agasthyarkoodam mountain range situated at the southernmost end of the mighty Western Ghats is the third highest peak in Kerala. Interestingly, the Agasthyamala Biosphere incorporates the Neyyar and Peppara Wild Life Sanctuaries and the Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu.
This pristine forest area is home to unique varieties of medicinal herbs and spectacular indigenous flora like the arogyapacha (miracle plant), paphiopedilum druryi, chenkurinji (gluta travancoria) and kodappana (hill areca nut). Besides, the region boasts varied terrains including the evergreen forest, deciduous forests, verdant meadows, ochlandra travancoria or reeds, shola or tropical montane forests and hilltops. Moreover, the Agasthyarkoodam forest area is where you can spot wild animals like tigers, elephants, wild bison, bears, deer, various kinds of monkeys and rare bird species like the Great Indian Hornbill and Ceylon Frogmouth. The rich biosphere is also the natural habitat of reptiles like the king cobra, Indian rock python and viper.
The Agasthyarkoodam Peak which is part of the Agasthyamala Biosphere has been added to UNESCO’s list of ‘World Network of Biosphere Reserves’. It must be noted that the Kanikkar tribal community is the original inhabitants of this region. As per popular belief, sage Agasthya, the revered practitioner of traditional ayurveda, had meditated at the summit of this mountain range. Interestingly, Allan Broun, a British astronomer, had established an observatory here in 1855 to record meteorological observations.
The trekking to the Agasthyarkoodam peak which is situated 1868 metre above the sea level lasts for three days. The hiking path which is twenty kilometres long to one side, is one of the longest in South India. The check-in begins at the Bonacaud picketing station from 7 am onwards. Meanwhile, the trekking starts at 9 am. The participants produce the printed copy of the ticket, the ID that was uploaded during the registration and the medical fitness certificate. The accommodation for the night is at the Athirumala base camp. The trekking on the second day begins early morning from here. The participants enter the Agasthyarkoodam summit after a six-kilometre-long hike, before trekking down to spend the night at the Athirumala base camp. The return trek to Bonacaud is on the third day of the trekking trip.
Participants have no permission to carry plastic, drugs, puja materials and other items that are harmful to the environment. As the forest is a natural habitat for many wild animals, the participants are instructed to strictly follow the guidelines of the guides and the forest officials. Guides are posted at the camps at every two kilometres to support the participants. The trekkers refrain from wearing clothes or fragrances that attract wild animals. Those who take medicines are supposed to take them along and carry essentials like trekking shoes, raincoats, torches, bedsheets/sleeping bags. Drinking water is stored in steel bottles as plastic bottles aren’t allowed.
Besides the regular seasonal trekking, the forest department organises special trekking packages too. Canteens would be arranged by the eco-development committees to provide hot and clean food for the visitors. Special trekking packages aren’t open during the regular season and would be allowed only if the weather is good. Up to seventy participants, comprising 5/10 groups, take part in the special trekking package. These package trips are allowed only on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Each group will be guided by specially trained guides and professionals. A stipulated fee, including food charges, would be charged. Tickets could be booked directly at the office of the Thiruvananthapuram Wild Life Warden.