I first came to hear about Varayadu Motta while on a trek, with my two teen-aged sons, from Braemore estate to Ponmudi in December 2016. There is a bridle path leading from this old tea estate at Braemore to Ponmudi through the jungle, which is in a reasonably good condition. It is a good walk with a moderate climb all the way and you can reach Ponmudi in under two hours at a leisurely pace. So, while doing this walk, we saw this mountain in the distance, which immediately appealed to be a mountain worth climbing. The forest guide who was taking us to Ponmudi told us that treks are organized by the forest department to that place also
1. Varayadu Motta ridge view from Ponmudi
After coming back, we started getting together a team of colleagues and friends who would be interested to join us in this venture. A couple of excellent blogs on this trek further whetted our appetite to do this
From the blogs, it was understood that it was a reasonably difficulty climb for casual climbers and that exhaustion caused by the exertion of the climb, dehydration and heat of the sun would be our main deterrents. Based on this, we started preparing for the trip in such a way as to effectively tackle these three factors. We thought we could counter the exertion by preparing ourselves physically by going for 5 to 6 KM walks in the days leading to the trip, counter thirst by carrying lots of water and counter the heat of the sun, by starting early and thus beating the mid day heat.
We, a group of 13, with the youngest member at 13 and the oldest at 50, started off in three cars from Trivandrum. The initial grouping was at Peroorkada and by 5:32 am we were off, just 2 minutes later than our planned set off time. The route was from Peroorkada to Neduamangad, then on the Ponmudi route upto Chuullimannor, and from there, turn left to Nandiyode. Our first stop was at Nandiyode, where we reached by about 6:15, for breakfast. There was one hotel at the junction which was open at that time and we had a good breakfast of Appam, Kadala curry, tomato curry and multiple cups of hot chaaya…..
2. The group in a seflie after breakfast!
From there, it was about a 15 minutes drive to the Forest check point at Indinghaar, where we were supposed to pay the necessary entry fees at the forest office and also meet our guide for the day. We reached Idinghaar before 7 am, and the morning was refreshingly cool as it was the first Saturday of February and winter chill was still in the air. Our guide, Shibu, who was supposed to meet us there at 7:00, had some other unavoidable engagement and he had delegated another guide to meet us at Idinghaar. Because of the last minute arrangement, there was a slight delay and the guide was with us by 7:20.
3. The forest check post at Idinghaar. This is where we register
After completing the payment formalities (We have to pay Rs 2,000 for a group of 10 people), the guide told us that there are two routes to the top. One starting right at the point we had assembled and the other one from Braemore estate, which was about another 5 km down the road. Since we did not have all the inputs for an informed decision, we decided to follow the guide’s suggestion to take the first route. After distributing the load of water, eatables and other knick knacks amongst the group, as per the individual team member’s carrying capacity, we set off by 7:40, at least 25 minutes off from our planned time of 7:15.
Within about 200 m from the office, the trail became very steep and because of the loose gravel, it was also slippery. This in one way, proved to be good, as four of our team quickly understood, after a couple of falls and bouts of breathlessness that their current state of physical fitness was not good enough to do the climb and decided to turn back. Looking back, it was the best thing to do, because further ahead, the climb became even more steep and the terrain became such that a false step can lead to a fatal fall of 500 feet or more.
4. The initial climb.
After the initial climb of about 20 minutes we got into thicker forest and it was a steady climb all the way. The trail started becoming a bit wilder with elephant droppings and we also passed a couple of water holes, apparently frequented by wild buffaloes and other animals
5. Watering hole used by wild animals
We had our first stop after about an hour of climbing, to drink some water and have a banana each, mainly to lighten the load. Our second stop was at about 9:30, at a clearing sufficiently high enough for a beautiful view of the valley below.
6. The scenic view from the intermediate stop
Again, after a short refreshment break, we plodded on. Trekking with friends, is always a joy, as we had, even in the midst of our breathlessness, many things to talk and laugh about, which took our minds away from the tedium of the trekking. In between, at one point, we could see the summit of the mountain looming high over us and we were not sure whether we would be able to climb that.
7. We can see the imposing peak through the trees. Will we be able to climb this?
By 10, we reached a ridge, whose highest point is Varayadu Motta.
8. We are approaching the ridge. Varayadu Motta is the highest point of this ridge
This is the ridge that we saw in the distance, on our trek to Ponmudi. My understanding is that, the second route that the guide talked about, approaches this ridge from the other side and then proceeds to the summit along the ridge. The ridge was totally bereft of trees and from this point onwards, we were directly under the hot sun. From the ridge, Ponmudi was clearly visible at the distance
9. From the ridge, we can see Ponmudi
From then we were walking along the ridge which was reasonably wide and comfortable to walk along.
10 Stopping for a breather and looking at Ponmudi. Our destination can be seen on the top right hand corner
En route there was a big rock with a low tree and there we stopped for the final round of refreshment. We left most of our load there, except for a couple of bottles of water and our walking sticks.
11. The only shade on the Ridge. A rocky cluster with a tree
Maybe it was the excitement of the final climb and also the fact that except for the final steep stretch, the slope was comparatively milder and cool breeze blowing on our faces, made the walk on this stretch seem less stressful than the ones till then.
12. The walk along the ridge
Even though the summit seemed near, it was still a long way off, in the picture below, see the people in the background!
13. But quite a long walk. The author trying to put things in perspective!
Compared to other similar climbs that I had done earlier, this by far was the most dangerous one. At some places it was quite steep, a false step and a fall could mean certain death, as it was almost a vertical fall just a few feet from the place where we were standing. The fact that both my sons, aged 19 and 13 were also there, further increased my anxiety.
The highest point of the ridge, lies just beyond what we see when we are climbing up. The final ascent is up a bare rock face, which was reasonably steep. We left our walking sticks for the final scramble and we did that it on all fours, almost.
14. The final Rock face. On either side, it is a vertical fall
Finally we were there, at 11 am. It took us almost 3 and a half hours of almost continuous climbing from the forest office to the top. I think the best time a non professional climbing group can manage will be about 3 hours, not much less than that.
15. At the top
The top, spacious enough for the group to sit down and enjoy the exhilaration of completing a tough climb, provided a breathtaking view of the verdant hills of Kerala.
16. A breathtaking view, as expected
Though I did not realize it at that moment, from the photographs, I later understood that it was a sheer drop on all sides of the summit.We spent about 10 minutes at the top. From there we could see other similar summits further on, but the guide told us that the one that we are on was the highest one.
17. Further summits on the same ridge.
Now if we look at the picture taken from Ponmudi, we get a better understanding of the layout of the peak
18. The layout of the climb, seen in profile.
We started climbing down at 11:10, and while climbing down the final summit, we found that it was safer to slide down at some places instead of trying to walk down, but the descent did not seem as dangerous as I thought it would be.
As we climbed down, we got down from the highest point of the ridge, then up again onto the summit which seems to the top point when we climbed up
19. This is the first peak seen from the top of the summit.
And then down again.
20. Coming down from the summit.
We also did our best to keep our eyes away from the sheer drop which was about 20 feet away from the place where we were. My friend was giving the details of his recent visit to Chicago and it helped me to keep my mind away from the ever present danger.
As all hikers know, the descent presented a different set of challenges. On the ascent it was the exertion and the breathlessness accompanying that. The descent is hard on the leg muscles and on our toes…while descending the toe nails will be pushed against the front of your shoe and after some time, the toes starts hurting badly. Keeping your toe nails properly trimmed and tying your shoe laces tightly should, to some extent, counter this. Along with this, except for the ridge, most of the trail was gravelly and loose, which means that you can slip and fall. I fell at least 4 times and so did most of the others.
21 And down
The descent was mostly in silence, as we were dead tired but happy at the same time, that we were able to climb that massive mountain. The sun was out in all its strength and it was quite warm
22 And further down
On the last stretch, one of our team had the initial onset of acute dehydration and possibly the onset of sunstroke. Fortunately we had enough water with us to hydrate him and also to cool him down by dousing him with water a couple of times. All of us were down at the forest office by 2 PM. So the descent took 3 hours. It can be done in 2 hours, I think, by a reasonably fit person.
A quick dip in the Mankayyam water fall, which was nearby, was refreshing and rejuvenating. This was followed by a sumptuous and tasty meal at a small hotel near the forest office. There was a final stop on the way back to Trivandrum, at a way side ‘’Chaaya kada” for tea and Parippu vada and after that we went our separate ways, with promises that we should try this again. Certainly this will be something that will stay with us for the rest of our lives…..
In case you are interested to do a similar trek, we recommend the following
- The Varayadu Motta trek, I would classify as a medium to difficult trek, as far as short treks in Kerala are concerned. Slightly more challenging than the Agasthyakoodam trek, as some of the sections are definitely more dangerous. If this is the first trek that you are planning to do, then it is best that you do a trek from Braemore to Ponmudi before venturing on this. It will be 10 to 14 KM, up and down, depending on how far you want to walk on after reaching Ponmudi. The Varayadu Motta trek, I would estimate to be 8 to 10 KM up and down, along the forest office path.
- Once you decide for this, start preparing for this, at least 3 weeks in advance, walking 4 to 5 KM daily. Otherwise, it is highly unlikely, especially if you are not a very active person, that you will finish the climb
- Keep yourselves well hydrated. From about a week in advance, drink at least 8 glasses of water daily. While on the trek, carry at least 2 litres of liquid per person. Keep some extra water in the car or in the forest office for you to drink after completing the climb
- Carry Aerated drinks like Coke, Sprite etc, as this would help you to overcome exhaustion because of their high sugar content
- Wear loose trousers, T shirts, Cap (to ward off the sun), Shoes, cotton socks, back pack to carry your things
- Carry peanut candy, glucose, chocolate bars, Bananas, peanuts, Glucose tablets
- A stout stick, preferably as long as you are, or slightly longer will be of great help when you are climbing up and coming down. Please don’t under estimate its usefulness.
- Additional precautions like a small coil of light and strong rope, a nail cutter, crepe bandage might come in useful
- Start as early as you can, if possible start by 7. Call up the forest office in advance and make arrangements for this.
- Look up hotels on the way and make arrangements for your Bfast and lunch.
- Don’t forget to give a generous tip to the forest guides who facilitates this potentially once in a life time experience.