Palukachimala - the scenic landscape catches your breath
One of the main attractions of Kottiyoor, known as the 'Varanasi of the South', is the Palukachimala. For pilgrims, this place embodies the power and divinity of Shiva and Parvathi. For nature lovers and trekkers, it is a must-see spot
The three hills bowed before Parvathi and narrowed themselves as just stones so that she could make a fireplace out of it. The tress too emulated the hillocks and offered their branches as firewood. Parvathi filled a utensil with milk and set it over the fireplace to boil.
Beside her sat her husband Lord Shiva. As Shiva let his dreadlock down, the moonlight reflected on the river and stars gazed down. Against the background set by nature, Shiva and Parvathi began their honeymoon. The milk boiled and started spilling over. But, the couple mesmerized by the magnificence of the night had little idea of it.
The spilled milk started flowing down the hillocks. Amidst this, the stones again turned into hills. The hill where the boiled milk spilled and flowed thus got the name Palukachimala, according to the myths.
Those travelling on the Peravoor-Kottiyoor road can see the three hillocks on the north-east side, right after the town of Kelakam. This is Palukachimala, which always fascinated the pilgrims to Kottiyoor.
As far as I can remember, I first heard about Palukachimala during the time of the Kottiyoor temple festival. When I was a student of lower primary class, I remember a decorated lorry being loaded with idols of deities. And I bear in mind hearing someone saying that the lorry was heading towards Palukachi.
The 28-day-long Kottiyoor pilgrimage begins either during the end of May or the beginning of June when the rains are about to begin. Those who have been to Kottiyoor never fail to mention that Palukachi is a sight to behold, one that simply cannot be forgotten. Palukachi lies somewhere in the extension of the hill ranges of Wayanad. Heavy flowing streams of water formed during the peak of the rainy season, after colliding with the rocks and boulders on the hill, are minimized, and flow like spilt milk, slowly and steadily; hence the name of the hill. The streams are also its main attraction. While travelling to Kottiyoor, many often I have been tempted to trek those hills. My desire to climb it, at least once in my life, is many years old now.
A three-km ride from Kelakam on the Thalassery-Kotiyoor road will take you to Chunkakunnu. From there, Kottiyoor is hardly two kilomteres away. Once you crossed the Chunkakunnu church, you will reach the Pottanthodu-Ottaplavu junction. If you take a turn to left, you can reach Palukachi via Ottaplavu. There are two other ways to Palukachi _ via Kottiyoor-Neendunokki and Adakkathodu-Ramachi. But I would suggest you take the Ottaplavu route owing to its natural beauty and serenity, which can be enjoyed while travelling on the route.
From either Kelakam or Chunkakunnu, travelling in a jeep would be advisable, or rather necessary. The nearly 4-km stretch of road from Chunkakunnu until Ottaplavu is narrow but is in a good condition. Ottaplavu is just a small road junction. Palukachi lies straight ahead from this point. The road towards the right leads to Thullanpara. After crossing Ottaplavu, the tarred road turns into a gravelly, stone-filled road. My driver Pushpakumar stopped the jeep saying that a four-wheel drive is a must to proceed further. George and Sijo, two local residents of Palukachi who help tourists with their needs, came to our rescue. Within half an hour, they arranged a jeep including a driver and I resumed my journey.
The jeep, driven by a new driver Biju, slowly trudged up the hill-road. On one side of the road, there are huge boulders and hills. There were many rubber pipes, which carried water, lying on the road. As there are no wells on the mountainside, they use the fresh water from the streams. Our friend Sijo got out of the vehicle and raised the pipes so that the jeep could pass through. It had to be carefully done, as one must not mess with the pipes. Water is really precious here and damaging the pipes is potentially very harmful.
The jeep continued to stagger and wobble its way up the gravelly road. As the journey became really uncomfortable and the vehicle started to dangerously shake, I glanced at the driver. Without even flinching, he seemed concentrated on the road ahead. It even came to a point where we were willing to walk the rest of the journey! Finally, we reached the Ottaplavu top. I disembarked and extended my hands to Biju. I casually asked him how long he had been driving for, and his reply was '12 years'. One definitely needs to be a good, experienced driver to maneuver a vehicle through this terrain.
The trek to Palukachi begins from Ottaplavu top. It starts from the foothills of the first hill. One must cross many private properties during the initial part of the trek. Once a good number of people migrated to this place, today only a single family resides here. Others have abandoned the place and while walking we could spot the abandoned houses and buildings. The threat of wild animals and landslides drove the people downhill and back to the rest of civilization. From here, the journey was through a road, where hoof prints of wild boars and pigs were aloof. Sijo had come prepared for the trek and had brought along walking sticks for all of us. Since the route was covered with leaves it was tough to spot rocks along the track, so the walking stick was very helpful to prevent us from tripping over.
The thrill of our trek crept into us as we walked further in. Vivid images of Palukachi lay before us. The hillock was a truly exhilarating sight, one could see from this distance the forest, boulders, steep slopes and such. Streams are trickling down the steep hills. The trek takes place through the slope of one of the three hills. The absence of grasslands indicated the beginning of the forest. We came across a peculiar smelling tree. Our friend George told us that it is Bhoothiyunarthi, which is a favourite of Ayurvedic practitioners.
After crossing the open grass fields and entering into the forests, a sudden chill descended upon us. The noise made by the grasshoppers could be profoundly heard. Making merry as we walked, we continued our so far pleasant trek. The beauty and the greenness of the forest were truly astounding. After an hour and a half, we made our way onto the top of the second hill. From here, the route split into two. One road went inside the creepers and an idol stood ahead. Its head was missing, but the 'gadha' in the hands of the idol led us to believe it was Lord Hanuman. Idols kept popping up along the way as we moved on. Idols of Shiva, Parvathi, Nandikeshwara, Ayyappa and Ganapathi made out of rock were seen installed at many places. It must have taken a lot of effort to bring these idols upon this hill. Lacking maintenance, many of them are damaged.
We crossed the forest and landed into the open grasslands. 'Thodali', a type of thorn, sprung up in our path, but no damage was done as Sijo had a scythe in hand. Palukachi is a unique example of biodiversity. There were many types of plants, blooming flowers of blue, yellow and red hues. Where the grasslands ended, we saw giant boulders from where we could get the best view of Palukachi and its natural beauty.
There were hillocks seen everywhere, in the south, eastern and western directions, hillocks belonging to the Wayanad range. In western direction, the hills extend via Aralam wildlife sanctuary to enter Coorg. From here, we could see the Ikkare Kottiyoor temple and its premises and a clear view of the whole town as well. We could see the peak of Brahmagiri mountain ranges on to our east. The sight of the Bavali flowing under us from the southern direction was one of the most fabulous sights we had encountered so far on our trek. One can catch the best sights of the Bavali river during the months of November-December.
So far we had climbed up the hill and the descent began from this point, which leads to the third hill. From afar, it looked impossible to go ahead, but George inspired us enough to continue. The route was not pleasant at all, it was filled with thorns and dried leaves, constantly poking at us. It only took us half an hour to reach the mountain. The view down south resembled the infamous 'Suicide Point' in Kodaikanal. The mountain with its lush forests and greenery didn't look like it was visited much. One could spot abandoned black rock sculptures, lying there forgottenâ€¦
Visitors can find the cross of St Thomas on this hill. It is another major attraction for pilgrims. On Good Friday, hordes of devotees gather at this spot. Those intending to stay at Palukachi for the night can set camps here after availing permission. You can either reach Kottiyoor via Neendunokki if you follow the road, which goes straight from here, or take the Shanthigiri road to reach Adakkathod.
Under the moonlit skies, Palukachi is simply irresistibly beautiful. From the top, we can gaze at the lights shine brightly in the inhabited areas on the foothills of the blue without realizing that time is passing by. The towns of Kelakam, Kolakkad and Kottiyoor can be distantly seen. While looking at the Bavali river flowing under the moonlight, one feels as though he/she is looking at earth from the sky. It is no wonder that according to the myth, Parvathi forgot about the boiling milk.
Kottiyoor pilgrimage tourism
For Kottiyoor pilgrimage tourism purposes, the government has officially prepared a blueprint comprising the Palukachimala. They are expanding the tourism circuit will be expanding by linking the history of the Kottiyoor temple. Manathana, Chanapara, Kanichaar, Chunkakunnu, Palukachimala, and Muthireri in Wayanad are few of the places they have added. A bathing ghat in the Bavali river and the path for the trek up Palukachimala will be also be made. Palukachimala will be one of the main tourist attractions in the circuit.
Pakshipathalam is located in the north-eastern area of the mountain ranges which contains Palukachi. Through the forests of Kottiyoor-Ambalapara Road, this place can be accessed. The adventure-loving trekkers can truly enjoy this route. The permission from the Forest Department and company of experienced watchers are must in case you want to go on this trek.
The Kottiyoor Temple, known as the 'Kashi of the South', is located on the foothill of Palukachi. From Kottiyoor, a day's journey though the reserve forests can take you to Ambalapara and further to Tirunelli. For birdwatchers, the Kottiyoor reserve is a paradise. All species of birds in the Western Ghats can be spotted here. From Kottiyoor, you can reach Mananthavadi through the Boys Town Road enjoying the nature.
If you visit these regions during the months of November and December, you can catch many waterfalls. The Valapattanam River originates along this route. The Aralam wildlife reserve is an extension of the Kottiyoor forests. You can reach Aralam either through the Chunkakunnu-Kelakam-Kanichar-Valayanchal route or the Kelakam-Adakkathod-Valayanchal route.
Location: Kannur district
Distance chart: Kannur 74kms, Thalassery 61 kms, Mananthavadi 27 kms
How to Reach
By Road: Palukachi, near Kottiyoor, is 74 kms from Kannur town. KSRTC and private buses to Kottiyoor are available from Kannur and Thalassery. From Mananthavadi, KSRTC Buses to Kannur via Boy's Town and Kottiyoor stop at Chunkakunnu. Hire a 4-wheel drive jeep from there to Palukachi. Trekking path starts from Ottaplavu.
By Air: Karippur (Kozhikode): 172 kms
By Rail: Thalassery. 61 kms
Best Season: November- May.
Railway Station: Kannur 0497 2705555, Thalassery 0490 2344131
Tourist information: DTPC 0497 2706336, 2702466
KSRTC Kannur: 0497 2707777
Police station: Kelakam: 0490 2412043
Local assistance: 9846845285, 9526633660
(Translated by Arjun Subhash)