It was the end of the week. I was yearning to take a break from the hectic life at work. No sooner had the thought struck me, than I decided to plan a trip to my favourite escape. The choices for escapade were the Marthanada Chitharaal (Jain temple) and Ponmudi. Although I have travelled to these places before, I was tempted to do so again.
I had finally made-up my mind and decided to ride down to Ponmudi, a magnificent hill station along the Western Ghats.
The alarm rang at 4.00 am. At around 5.00 am, I was all set for a rather exciting yet wonderful ride.
Interestingly, Ponmudi is about 60 kilometres from Thiruvananthapuram. It is amazing to note that one of Kerala’s most popular beaches (Kovalam) and hill stations (Ponmudi) are located within a radius of 60 kilometres. The climate in this part of the state is rather pleasant throughout the year.
The route to Ponmudi was as follows:
Peroorkada – Nedumangad- Chullimanoor – Vithura – Ponmudi.
There weren’t many vehicles on the road. While the route was not as bad as I had imagined, there were certain sections that were not paved well. It was rather dust as well. A few hours after I had begun the ride to Ponmudi, I decided to halt en route at a tea-stall to treat myself to a cup of hot tea. Feeling rejuvenated, I knew it was time to ‘hit-the-road’again!
At Chullimanoor, the road splits into two separate paths. I had to take the road ahead for the other route led to Thenkasi via Thenmala – Palaruvi – Kuttaalam.
It was time for another tea-break at a tea-stall situated in Tholikkadu junction. As I waited for my tea to be served, I noticed that the beverage was being made from the purest variety of cow’s milk. This was indeed a joyous moment. I slurped my cup of tea, bid adieu to the owner of the tea-stall and continued to ride along the curved pathways.
The clock had not stuck 6.00 am yet when I had crossed Vithura junction. Soon after, the roads began to appear quite dismal. There were many houses constructed along the path. I also spotted a bike or two whose owners were not seen within its vicinity. The sun rays had pierced through the branches of the trees en route, as if an invisible force were flashing a torch from skies. I also noticed a few people who were busy tapping rubber at the estates situated close by. They were wearing helmets with torches attached to it so as to be able to see better in the dark.
The ride led me to Kallar, a place situated near Ponmudi. The view at this spot in indeed one of a kind. With large rocks constituting a major portion of the landscape, one could the location was named in a most apt manner (kallu means ‘rock’ in Malayalam). There are two major spot of interest located here – the Golden Valley and the Meenmutty waterfalls. Kallar is also a popular destination for bird watchers. A dip in the cool yet pure water that flows through this area is truly worth the effort. One could also avail the facilities provided by the District Tourism Promotion Council at Kallar, including: rest rooms, the dining hall and bathrooms.
Finally, I had reached my destination after riding through the thick forests. Ponmudi is the ultimate destination for all those who wish to experience nature at its best. Situated 1100 metres above sea level, you are bound to enjoy a fascinating view of the water body surrounding the hill. There are 22 hairpin bends en route the hill station. The authorities of the forest department had placed a board welcoming tourists to the hill station. They had also issued special instructions in the interest of those who love the forests as well and requested the visitors to be responsible.
The clock had struck 6.00 am as I began riding along with the first hairpin bend. It was soothing to listen to the birds’ chirp. But I doubt if they fancied the noise that my bike and I, the cyberbully, had created in their habitat. Their chirps sounded like a call of anger or revenge against the enemy!
The roads were damp, probably due the rainfall that occurred the previous day. I could sense the tiny drops of water on my hands that had fallen off the leaves of the trees. It was not long before I began to savour the cool breeze and fascinating weather. The surroundings became brighter upon completing the tenth hairpin bend. I had entered a rather unique zone, with a hill covered with thick vegetation on one side and a large ditch on the other.
I had parked my bike on the sides of the road to enjoy the view. As I sat down on a concrete slab that I had found within my vicinity, I noticed the various colour patterns formed on the hills. As the sun’s rays touched the hill top, the whole area looked mesmerising. “Who is he and how did he wake up so early,” said a few people travelling by a state-transport bus (or so I felt!).
A while later, I decided to continue riding my bike. While I did see a few stalls on my way, none of them were open yet. I also noticed a few idols constructed below the branches of a tree, which I assumed to be the deities of the local residents. Legend has it that Ponmudi had named so by the Gods as it safeguarded the gold of the land.
A few stop ahead, I noticed an old waiting-shed and road beside it. There was a sign board too and it read – Ponmudi Tea Factory Office. This path was not known to many travelers. The road led to an old building, which resembled a factory. There were tea gardens on either sides of the way. Indeed, it was an old factory. It seemed closed but I could hear a few mild sounds. The factory seemed to have become a hub for political meetings with a few old flag masts in and around the area. As I entered the building, I noticed the year 1892 engraved on the right-hand side of the door. The door led to a huge hall.
The hall was filled with the aroma of tea leaves. Soon, a person had approached me regarding and began telling me more about the building, its history and the ancient machinery that was found to be untouched. The person was named Shaji and he owned the factory. After a brief introduction, he had escorted me to the top floor of the factory.
The tea factory was established by a British man in the year 1892, post which, a number of other people were given the ownership of the factory. Today, Shaji, a Malayali from Kerala’s Idukki district is in-charge of the establishment.
The top floor of the building consists of logs of various colours and sizes which are used make a device that utilizes wind or air to generate power. The leaves that are plucked of the plants in the tea garden are brought to this space. Special methods are you used to dry the leaves and extract the water present in them. The dried leaves are then crushed and processed to form tea powder. There were a few more pieces of machinery stored at the floor below. Shaji had narrated the tales associated with the equipment, which were existent since the British Era.
The processes followed in making tea are the same as those followed in the yesteryears. It is for this reason that there is a large demand for the tea grown in Ponmudi. The tea is auctioned at Kochi and is, later on, exported to many foreign countries. Visitors can pay a nominal sum of money and explore the factory as well.
It was not long before I headed for the upper station of the Ponmudi. Visitors are permitted to enter this area between 8.30 am and 5.30 pm. The clock hadn’t struck half-past yet. Further ahead, I noticed a board which said – “Government Guest House.” Upon entering the gates of the guest house, I noticed the large area (which also consists of parking lot) and many building built adjacent to each other. One could avail other facilities as well – including the restaurant and guest rooms. The guest rooms, however, have to be booked via authorities at the secretariat situated in Thiruvananthapuram.
One might have to avail their meals, especially breakfast from other sources. Tourists even have the option of staying at the KTDC motel situated nearby. The rates over here, however, are higher than those at the guest house.
Soon, my journey led to another check post. The authorities had only begun distributing tickets to the area beyond the check post. Fortunately, it was not very crowded. I had to pay a sum of Rs. 20 to enter the premises, Rs. 10 to park my motorbike and Rs. 25 to be permitted to carry my camera into the restricted area. As I began walking ahead, I had crossed an area called “Varayad Mount.” One can even spot the Spice Board Research Campus on the right-hand side of “Varayad Mount”. On the left, there is a food stall managed by the Kudumbasree. This establishment looked clean and must have been set up in the recent past.
After parking my bike, I chose to enjoy the view and greenery in the surrounding area. We were denied access to the top floor of the watch tower due to security reasons. It was an amazing sight – with hills (that reminded me of a bald head) on one side and green meadows on the other. The climate was pleasant and was delightful. There are a few spots in the vicinity where you could consider sitting down to catch your breath and savour the true flavours of nature.
Not too far from the hustling and bustling of the city; this place ought to be included in the must-see list of any travel bug.
(The author works at the Technopark in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India)
(Translated by Gitanjali Diwakar)