The Ex-Road Trip

I ushered in the new year in the middle of a jungle, with the sky for a roof, in the good company of a good many creaky trees, lots of undergrowth, two smoldering campfires, and a bunch of slightly-scared-and-totally-exhausted comrades, with no clue how far from civilization we all were.

IMG_5527.jpg The plan was to trek from Kodaikanal (or Berijam, about 25km from Kodaikanal) to Munnar (or Top Station, about 30km from Munnar), a total distance of about 50km, over two days. We were to take the Escape Road, the road that the British built during the Second World War, as a means to get to Calicut and sail away in case the Japanese invaded India from the east (oddly enough, the only place I could find this gem of a tidbit on the net (and more on Kodai) was, of all places, the transcript of a WorldSpace radio programme on Sai Baba). This road is no longer maintained and though overgrown with undergrowth (hee hee), we thought we should be able to follow it coolly. I'd poked around on the net and found one blog that had an excruciatingly detailed appendix describing the route to be followed for this trek.

IMG_5566.jpg Following a road, discontinued or not, should be so easy. After all, we did Sakleshpur like a slightly prolonged stroll (?!!), and that was just a discontinued railway line. How different can a road be? What is so trekkish about following a road anyway? We were even considering doing another trek after we reached Kodai since we thought this might be a tad too easy for us. After all, trekking through a road should be a piece of cake, right?

Wrong. The exact part that we thought would be the easiest part of the trek, was the most trying. Since PJ's visit (the blog we followed) of two years ago, the forest had reclaimed the Escape Road more than we could have imagined. So much so that there was no path, only jungle. The pathway was taken over by undergrowth and the gap offered no resistance to falling trees, so what you got was man-high thorny shrubbery and a crisscrossing maze of trees fallen right across the intended line of travel. And on top of it, you can't take the optimal way around anything because you have to stick to the road (which you ascertain now and then by digging around and looking for gravel), even if the road is asking you to get lost in not very polite terms.

So, obviously, we had grossly underestimated the time needed to get to our destination. Night fell inexorably, and we walked on, hoping to find the watch tower that we were supposed to. Our hope did run out eventually that night, but as it turned out, our luck didn't.

Rajesh had the energy to write a long account of almost everything, so I'll let my post just be a trailer to the whole thing.

Through the trek, we could distinctly see the difference between walking through casuarina and shola, since we start off among the former and end up in the latter. We did see a few places where we saw whole acres of cut-down trees. Apparently, sholas are the native staple flora, and the British experimented with cutting off some of the shola and planting eucalyptus and casuarina in place of that. But that doesn't help the local fauna at all - no food (for the herbivores and therefore for the carnivores) and no foliage to hide. So that means they can't live there, only travel through. So the Forest Dept is trying to undo some of what the British did by replacing some of the British-induced conifers back with shola-class trees. (By the way, the word shola comes from the Tamil solai, so Pambadum Shola, which we walked though afterwards, actually is பாம்பாடும் சோலை. Cool, huh?)

Photos from this trip:


  1. Hi, I read ur article on Kodai to munnar trek...too gud.. Can u give me guide information..his contact number or email ID.. plz mail to me @

  2. Girish, our guide was Mani (+91-9894048493 You can also contact Velayutham (+91-9486729593), whom we contacted first but were then redirected to Mani. Good luck.

    (Man, I didn't know this route was so popular - am being asked for details twice already.)