Boating on the hilltop
A boat journey through the vastness of Periyar in deep forest.
The heights of Idukki came in to my memories when my mind yearned to hear the rhythm of the heavy south west monsoon . A journey to the country of 40th number rain just four days before the start of the monsoon. This year the monsoon was not that wild. My hope to hear the rhythm of monsoon as a lullaby was not fulfilled. But the solace you get from the wilderness of the gorges cannot be substituted with anything. A blessing for those who want to escape from the rush of the life.
You will have to seek for some peaceful places without the rush of the vehicles and the crowd. That is why I took one of the paths which most of the people would avoid. A boat journey through the reservoir of Idukki.
Idukki is the largest arch dam in Asia. There are two more dams in Idukki hydro eletric power generation project â€“ Cheruthoni and Kulamavu. At first we reach Kulamavu in the journey from Thodupuzha, a town in the valley. If you are interested, on the way you can visit Malankara reservoir and the entrance to the Moolamattam power house.
There is a pavilion built on the hill top of Nadukani by K.S.E.B to view the scenery of the valley. You can see the water which is dumped from Molamattam power house after the power generation, in Malankara dam. This will remind you of the view of river Ganga parting to tributaries, when you look down during the journey to the Manasadevi temple on the hill top of Haridwar.
It will be better if you plan to start your boat journey through Idukki reservoir from Nellikkapara in Kulamavu. You won't be getting any food after you pass Kulamavu. You will have to buy and keep the food for the journey ahead. If you are going to Nellikkapara, you will have to turn right before you reach Kulamavu dam. But if you travel 100 meters through Pulliyanmala road, there is country hotel owned by Reji. In the morning you willget boiled dry tapioca and 'kallappam'. If you are a non vegetarian, you can taste delicious fish or country beef curry. Fish caught from the dam has freshness and different taste. You can also see the magic of making a double omlet with a single egg. Egg with two yolks are used for this. The fish pickle and other country dishes show the expertise of cooking of Reji's wife.
After buying the food we headed to Nellikkapara via Kulamavu city. Idukki is like that. If there are four shops and two roads, it is a city.
Opposite to Kulamavu temple there is a mud road through which only one vehicle can go. This is the place where driver Sunny has told us to wait for him. He was there with a plastic bottle of petrol in one hand and a kerosene jar in the other. Those are fuels for the boat.
The vehicle will not go further beyond 700 meters on this mud road. We have to walk down through the forest to go down to the area of the reservoir. We can restrict our walk to 500 meters, when the water level is high. Since there was no rain, this time the water is low. To reach the boat yard we had to walk one and a half kilometers more. Calling Nellikkapara a boat yard is an unpardonable mistake.
Sunny became talkative on the way. Local history and live stories inherited from the generations before of the people who lived here. Sunny belongs to the tribe who lives in the forest border village called Chikkimali-Mullakkanam. Most of his talk was regarding the poverty and ailment in his village. He has no business intensions like professional guides. He tells us the things he heard and experienced in local slang.
Sunny's boat is the only one which is allowed to sail in Idukki lake on regular days.
This is under the control of Ckikkimali-Mullakkanam forest conservative committee. The genuin aim of this boat journey is not to take the tourists. The main use of this boat is to connect undeveloped village of Ckikkimali-Mullakkanam to the outer world. Two days in week â€“ Wednesday and Saturday- the boat travels for this purpose.
On other days he takes the tourists to the lake. The journey is for three hours. He does not go to all the places in this 60 Sq.kilometer lake. Starting from Kulamavu the boat goes through Idukki dam for sight seeing and the journey ends at Cheruthoni dam.
You may not be getting a boat in Nellikkapara if you are an unexpected visitor. Sometimes there will be wild elephants to receive you. If you are planning to visit there you will have to book the boat in advance. You will have to follow the safety precautions to travel in the deep reservoir in the preserved forest. You will have to wear life jackets. The boat is available only between 6 A.M and 5 P.M. There will be no boat journey during bad weather. Swinging on the waves and moving ahead with happiness and a kind of pleasant fear is a rare experience. The views you get while you walk to the boat in the shallow water will fill your mind.
The sun brightened up when the motorized boat started moving ahead in the lake. The drizzling which followed had golden beauty. Soft breeze accompanied.
The lake with shallow water was like small streams in the gorges. When you move ahead you can see vast water surface on all sides. The mountains move away to show you the hidden sceneries. Occasionally you can see creepy water ways like hands of an octopus moving in different directions.
On the surface of the waves you can see water birds catching fish and seals under the water. Bisons lifting their faces on the lake shore. Herds of elephants and running deers. Mountains clad in different colours beyond the green mountains. Over head you can see the sky in white and blue and sometimes in black.
You will reach Vairamani after one hour journey. There you can see the remaining of an old building. The rule is that the boat shouldn't be stopped any where in between. But we heard a thunder as a warning when we tried to stop the boat near a baldy hill in the shallow water. Sunny told us that this is unusual in the monsoon. We spent a little while in the forest near the banks of the lake.
Again we started our journey. The shore and the forest created amazing images in the lake. The inscriptions written on the slope of the hills by the ups and downs of the water surface over the time. Some of them reminded of the pyramids. The beautiful pictures on the rocks drawn by the mud while flowing from top.
You can see Idukki arch dam after passing through the various views which are unexplainable. We saw the Kuravan Kurathi mountains and the Vyshali cave on the Kuravan mountain. Some of the scenes in the movie Vysali was shot in this cave. On the other side you can see the Cheruthoni dam. This is the widest part of the lake. A rare view of the merging of the picturesque rain clouds on the sky, the deep greenary of the rain forests and the darkness of the lake.
There is a narrow step way descending to the lake near Cherthoni dam This is the Vellapara boat yard. This is where the journey ends.
We got down from the boat. Sunny returned with his boat after saying goodbye. Only after the boat had gone long way from the shore that we phoned up sunny to tell about our trip to Chakkimali. On the other end we heard the Malayalam song 'Pranayame njan karayunpol'. He may not have heard the ring due to the wind which was lifting the waves. He didn't take the phone.
Text: S D Sateeshan Nair
Photos: P P Ratheesh