Love with Vellagavi

So, What is a Trek?.

Is it meant, just reaching the peak with sweating heads and  shaking legs ?

Or it meant, just enjoying the sounds of nature and following the trial path?

No, it is more than that.

A trek includes going through the history of the place you are going to visit,  observing the birds around you,  analyzing how the  man had changed the nature in those hills according to his convenience,  socializing the people who are ready to welcome you in tribal villages and hamlets, respecting their culture in order not to hurt their sentiments, finding reasons behind their actions, finding their ways to integrate with mainstream population without degrading their own culture , finally reaching the peak without polluting it with  “City made” rubbish thoughts and plastics trash.

Recently, I had a great chance to practice the above ritual along with “saints of the Chennai Trekkers Club (CTC) “, lead by the great Emperors ( A lead trek organizing team inside CTC) to Kodaikkanal.

So, according to the rituals of Trek, let’s start with small intro about Kodai:

Kodaikanal, is a city in the hills of the Dindigul district of Tamil Nadu,India.The earliest reference is in Sangam Literature. Early settlers were “Palaiyar tribes/Paliyan.” They are historically,  hunters and gatherers.  But, now due to encroachments and false promises by government officials, they are dispersed all over Madurai and Dindigul district with few hamlets alone in Vellagavi near lower hills of Kodai.

During the 1840’s when the British were ruling India, some American missionaries were on the way to propagate Christianity and education in the District of Dindigul. Due to heavy summer and subsequent tropical diseases like malaria, the missionaries suffered a lot. So, they discovered Kodai in 1845 and established hill resorts.

Later,the officers of India Civil Service under British rule developed artificial lake and later Bryant’s park by an officer of Madurai, H.D.Bryant.

Since they used to go to these resorts in Summer (which is called “Kodai”) in Tamil, local people started  calling this event as “Kodaiyil Kaanal” i.e.. a place to visit in summer. Thus, it got its name “Kodaikanal”. It is a secular place where hinduism,christianity thrives.

 

Now, let us dive into my trekking experience with CTC,

We started from Koyambed(Chennai) on friday night (12/2/2016). It was CTC’s 8th birthday  ,so it was a special trek for special people who “gave back to CTC” one way or the other. I am blessed to share a seat with them.

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We started from Chennai picking up around 20 guys for the trek and some were ready with their backpacks from Dindigul. All were energetic, enthusiastic, selfless citizens who were ready to share their memories, knowledge and food/water with everyone in the trekking team. It was a mixed group from Gowtham ( A third year college student) to a veteran trekker Saravanan Sir( whose is aged but energetic) thus adding variety to the trek.

Then we reached Periyakulam and had breakfast on next day morning, there joined Pandithar anna, who was going to be a part of our trek and leading us towards the peak , arranging everything for us. After getting clearance from forest officials, we reached the lower camp . From there we tied up some common luggage’s like Tarpaulin, cooking items like chicken,rice (Briyani on the way)  etc… over the mule. Then we started to warm up in the man made path toward the trial.

Initially it was hard, the path was sloppy and elevated leaving no room for the plain surface to take care of legs for beginners like me. At one point I thought of scolding myself for registering. Later , due to the tips by Arun (who said, “if you can’t walk for long distance, if you need more rest then catch the front end and walk with them, so that you will get more rest .If you follow the tail, you wouldn’t have a chance to rest as we are pushing from back for laggards.” ). I followed the same and had a moderate trek to Vannathi Parai falls.

There, we met two interesting people who are the villagers nearby. They shared their food with us, they made lemon juice for us. They were very kind which represented the inherent “hospitality of Tamil Culture”. We enjoyed in the streams and took photos with the villagers and we started to camp site, reaching there at 5pm. By the time, my legs were begging me to lay down.

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The camp site was a pleasant plain, with cliffs and edges for taking best photos. The trees around the place were cut down for terraced farming. This may lead to soil erosion in future. Tribes and encroachers in Kodai started to live a settled life there. They left their hunting and gathering activities and practicing agriculture. Forest officials were planting Eucalyptus which is a non-native species of India. Since, eucalyptus are best in providing timber in short time, Kodai has lost its diversity because of this mono-culture of eucalyptus. This added by agriculture , aggravated the rate of soil erosion in the hills. As, eucalyptus are water intensive, they might be the reason for “Water Scarcity” in the commercial tourism site of “Kodai”.

Lets  back to the memories,

Then we established tents, cooking spots. Here I need to mention the love of CTC on nature. Many of the beginners there started to make fire in the cooking stones near a giant tree where the settings for cooking were already established by previous trekkers. Then came Masu, the lead of the trek from CTC. He saw the burnt barks of the giant tree due to the burning charcoals . He asked us to relocate the cooking spot somewhere else in order not to disturb the living history(the giant tree) . This one event showed the love of CTC over nature ,  a trek we enjoyed “without disturbing the nature.”

Then we began starting to peel  the onions and other vegetables to make our own “Kodai Briyani” along with Chicken Gravy. Some were collecting the fuel woods, some were washing the vessels and others were bringing water, banana leaves for the dinner. Thus it was a “Social cooking”. No one was lazy ,no one was expecting the commands to do a work. The spirit of trek lives there.

This shared work disproved the slogan “Too many cooks spoiled the food”. Actually the total number of cooks were 20 :P. But the food was awesome, we had great dinner and started to drift off, expecting the great greenish trek the next day morning.

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The night was too cold, but we managed due to better preparedness. The next day morning, Pandithar anna gave us a shock.

When we were sleeping, he sighted two wild Indian Gaur near our camp site. Since ,the place was calm and as we didn’t disturb their grazing site previously it went without fearing us in that chilling nite.

We started to getting ready for “sunrise” near the cliff. We had some awesome photos with “Sooriya Namaskar ”. Later we had some moderate breakfast to start journey towards Vellagavi , a beautiful hamlet showing remnants of great Indian culture.

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The trek towards Vellagavi was awesome, we heard the sounds of woodpecker (Bul Bul) , sighted some birds like Velvet-fronted nuthatch, Pied bush chat . The trial includes beautiful stream with man made arrangements of leaves in a way to drink it without disturbing the sanctity of the stream. We paid our thirst with sweet and cold stream water.

At this time, I had a thought about the term , “Modern”. What is modernism?.

These hilly tribal people who has a progressive thought of giving clean water for the lower riparian people and  made arrangements in such a way not to pollute the stream. But we, the so called “modern” people, fighting for water, polluting it without double thinking that someone like us, some creatures of nature going to drink the water after us. I felt like, these tribes are modern in thoughts but we are modern in just “dress and food”.

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But the entire Vellagavi , was a sweet shock to me. There I saw a cultural revolution.

While entering the village, Pandithar anna said , “here in this village ,we respect the mother earth in the name of  Vana Dhevadhai(Forest God), so we wont wear slippers which is considered as disrespectful for the nature. ”. But he asked us not to remove our shoes/slippers as we were not the part of that culture. But we are CTC, we respect other’s culture and faiths which is fundamental to our constitution and also for humanity.

We removed our shoes and slippers ( the scientific reason behind this may be, we the humans might become carriers of seeds of exotic varieties which might harm the biodiversity of the village) and  walked towards the home of Pandithar anna.

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There we saw, beautifully built houses with bricks and cement. Paints over the houses were distinct resembling the greenery of the Vellagavi hills. People were looking at us casually without any unfamiliar look (I think people like us are regular to them).  Every house has “thinnai”, a bench like cemented and pillared front of the house where the passerby takes rest. This is our culture, we respect the guests like god.

There I saw a small post office and saving bank resembling the post office of “Swadesh movie”. The cemented village roads were crisscrossed in grid pattern with each house facing the other exactly in opposite direction like a planned settlement of our ancient “Harappans”.The  sewage system was  open but clean. There I sighted no plastics clogging the sewage system. A government sponsored house building activity under “National Solar Mission” was going on. A school with two classrooms near the “core of the village” (ironically the core was near the periphery) near the temple.  Further, the water pipeline was passing through each and every house, saving the precious time of the  home makers of that village. Some houses had second floor with wooden staircase inside the home.

People were watching serials like Mahabharatha in Vijay TV( An epic of north ,reached the remote corner of south thus showing integrity of our nation ) , sports like WWF (I didn’t expected this) etc…. The village was completely electrified. They have tele-connectivity, I don’t know whether they started using smart phones, but I am sure the next generation will revolutionize the village.

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In the homes , I could see the pics hanging on the walls. In no pic, the man was sitting and the women was  standing. I no pic, the men was alone. In every pic, there was equal space for women. This shows their gender equality. In cities, most of the pics men will be sitting or men will be represented in solo pics with women just sharing space (patriarchal). Thus there was equality. Surely, we have something to learn from them.

We spoke with the villagers, they were down to earth . They fed us with idlies coupled with  kara chutney . They said about their way of life, “how they transformed from hunters to agriculturalists.” Since, that was Sunday(holiday for schools)  , beautifully dressed child’s were smiling at us and looking us, as surprise guest. We had fun with them, finally thanked them for their hospitality.

This village had broken my myth about hilly people. This villages is fully self-sufficient. Till then I thought these people need connectivity with mainstream population to become modern.

But, I was shocked to hear that, these people petitioned against the government for any road laying activities which would in long term pollute their environment. They decided to walk through hilly terrain rather than getting polluted with so-called modernism. They took the best out of modernism and neglected the westernization.   This made me to think, whether we are connecting the tribal hamlets to enrich them or to exploit them for raw materials ?. Are we thinking money and materials are the only source of wealth? . These people were happy without much of those material wealth. I think , we dont need to pollute them with stressful materialistic city life. Let them live their life of happiness with nature.

 

They are still  preserving their culture at the same time started to integrate with mainstream by educating themselves. But I couldn’t find any health care facilities, hope it will reach them soon.

 

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Then we started towards Kodaikanal peak in sandy terrain. I could find  the path  full of Lantena Camera (An exotic species brought by British to these hills for beautifying their garden). But later these species without any native predators encroached the whole hills. This is toxic, thus no way supporting the cattle’s and herbivorous of the area. This may be the reason for decline in elephant population in the kodai hills. Further, they reduce the productivity of the farm land thus affecting the livelihood of the villagers. These exotic species left the medicinal plants of kodai  without any access to water and mineral resources  . As a result, the people who once were  excelled in indigenous medicinal treatments now depend on allopathy for survival ,thus making them to walk several kilometers to access health care.This ghost species must be weeded out to save our Bio-diversity hotspot of western Ghats (the Kodai).

 

Lantana_camara

Lantana Camera

 

I could see ,the villagers coming down the valley from kodai after purchasing the food items up the hill. They were using mules to carry the load. After a short trying trial we reached the peak. We had photos in Dolphin nose and eco point.

After having some tea and snacks we were purchasing fresh carrots along the path. We were too tired. There comes the falls, just before the parking we found a falls, had a spine chilling bath and boarded the van with beautiful memories carried along with us.

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Thanks “Kodai,Vellagavi”,  for enriching our knowledge and inspiring our thoughts with your modernism and greeneries. We will give back to you by purchasing organic foods from you .Please accept this as a token of love from us. We reached Chennai the next day morning with memories and few new friends.

 

                      “Yes, on the valentine’s day (Feb 14), we fell in love with Vellagavi.

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Note: Thanks to CTC,my fellow trekkers ,Vellagavi, Kodai and Pandithar anna for transforming my bookish knowledge into practical one.

Thanks to organizers Masu,Arun, Karthikeyan Vee (Mr.Push) and Praveen for background works.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments
6 Responses to “Love with Vellagavi”
  1. Karthikeyan Vee says:

    Good write-ups !!

  2. thamarai says:

    opens ups into the world view of of tribes and nature 🙂

  3. i am in love this article ..n vellagavi too:)

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