Pakshipathalam, Thirunelli Pakshipathalam Trek, Kurchi, Karnataka 571250, India
Trek to to the caves that are home to birds and reptiles, where saints meditated years ago.
Location of Pakshipathalam
More about Pakshipathalam
Pakshipathalam, a natural rock cave deep inside the forest in Wayanad district of Kerala State in Southern India lies at a height of 1,740 meters in the Brahmagiri hill ranges. The trekking trail to here is famous for it richness of bird-life and it takes you through moist deciduous forests, rolling hillocks, open grasslands, slippery trails, and narrow rocky caves.
The meaning behind the name
Pakshipathalam - The name of the place in Malayalam translates to ‘abode of birds’. Staying true to the name, the natural caves are home to several species of birds, reptiles, and bats. The cave is also known by the name ‘Munikal Caves’ (Holy persons cave) due to the belief that it was used by Rishis (Hindu saints) for meditation in ancient times.
Plants and animals in the area
Some of the plants and animals live in the areas surrounding the caves and trails include rare species of herbs and orchids, wild animals like elephants, leopards, civet, jungle cats, bisons, tigers, and birds such as cuckoos, owls, peacocks, woodpeckers, jungle-fowls and many more. Some of the most poisonous snakes like the King Cobra also inhibit the area. King’s that are captured in the nearby human settlements are released in here.
The journey to Pakshipathalam
In order to undertake the trek, you will need permission from the District Forest Office of North Wayanad which is one kilometre away from the famous Thirunelly Temple. There are buses available from Mananthavady to Thirunelli temple, so reaching here even using public transportation is not a problem. You can start the trek from the Karnataka side too, from the Irpu falls.
The total length of the trek is 16 km (to and fro), constantly switching across the borders between Karnataka and Kerala. It is not a steep trek, rather a gradual one making it much more easier to complete. It is highly recommended that you start the trek early in the morning around 7 AM so that there will be ample time to cover the entire trail in day light. There will be a mandatory guide coming along with you, make sure that you follow all the instructions given by the guide.
The long hiking trail
The important points on the trail are the starting point (forest office) followed by a watch tower that is 3km away, and then the Kerala - Karnataka border 2km away, followed by a huge rock called Garudapara 2km away, and last the Pakshipathalam half a kilometer away.
Unlike many other trekking trails, the initial part of the track here will make you panting and sweating due to the incline. The trail is bordered by tall grasses that are hard to part way through. It is advisable to cover adequately in order to prevent cuts from the grass. The grass changes colours depending on the season - from dark green to yellowish red, enchanting you throughout the trek at any time. The sounds of thousands of insects in the otherwise calm and silent hillside is an experience to have.
The watch tower with an amazing view
Two kilometres into the trek and you will encounter the tall watch tower which was constructed in 1995 on a hill called Karimala (translation: black hill). You can climb on it and enjoy an amazing panoramic view of the nearby forests and grasslands. The tower is ideal to watch birds and wild animals, a binocular if you can bring one might help you watching animals going around in their natural habitat.
Criss crossing state borders and rocky hills
The trail then extends into a plain plateau that stretches to rocky hills and patches of stunted tropical montane forest on all sides, in complete opposite to many other mountain peaks which end by cascading to deep valleys. In the distance is the Brahmagiri Peak accessed through a different trekking trail which runs away from the Pakshipathalam trail after merging for a while from the starting point. At this part of the trail, you will be moving from one hillside to the next, most likely crossing the Kerala - Karnataka border. Even though there are no border posts, you can clearly see two distinct lines in the grass running parallel to each other demarcating the state borders, and possibly also to prevent wildfire from spreading.
Garudapara- the huge rock and the story behind it
The next point is the huge rock in the edge of a hill, called as Garudapara. The rock is 30 meters high offering panoramic views. Climbing up to the top is adventurous but exhausting due to the scorching sun.
There is an interesting legend about Garudapara. Garuda, the king of birds as per Hindu and Buddhist mythology, rested on this rock after the long flight during which he accidentally dropped Amrit (the nectar of life). The Amrit fell in the stream nearby Thirunelly Temple thus creating the Papanasini (a stream which washes sins away). The huge rock stands as if it guards the path to Pakshipathalam, where the subjects of Garuda resides.
The descend to Pakshipathalam and exploring it
Descending amidst huge rocks and boulders through a path nearby Garudapara, you will reach Pakshipathalam. The boulders lay above one another as if someone has collected and placed them randomly on top of each other. Passing through numerous narrow cracks, jumping from one rock to another, you will reach deep down below where it is pitch dark. Most of these dark spots scattered around are a haven for birds and reptiles. Don’t be disappointed by the lack of them as they would have vacated the place for the day searching for food in the morning.
While there are many birds here, the encounter with bats might strike you the most. They take shelter from the light in the damp, dark ceilings of the rock caves that are in Pakshipathalam. The caves that are formed naturally by large rocks that repeatedly piled on top of each other over the years are so tightly packed that they leave no space for sunlight to enter.
The passages inside the caves are narrow and difficult to navigate. After a certain point, you might not be able to go further on account of the lack of light and the slippery rocks. For visitors with claustrophobia, the experience in the caves might end up terrifying.
After the trek to Pakshipathalam, you will have to return on the same trail to reach Thirunelly. As wild animals roam around the place at night, you are not allowed to camp in the area and it is much better to be back before the sun goes down.
Getting to Pakshipathalam by public tranportation
Pakshipathalam is about 7 km away from Thirunelly and can be reached only by trekking. The trekking trail starts from the District Forest Office, a kilometre away from Thirunelly Temple which can be accessed by buses from Mananthavady, 32 km away. Kalpetta, the district capital is 55 km away and the nearest railway station, at Kozhikode is 120 km away. There are buses from Kozhikode to Mananthavady.
Bus timings to Thirunelly from Mananthavady bus stand: 5.50am, 7am, 8.15am, 8.40am, 8.55am, 9.15am, 10am, 11am, 12.10pm, 1pm, 2pm, 2.45pm, 3.35pm, 4.10pm, 5pm, 5.45pm, 6.30pm, 8.30pm
To Mananthavady from Thirunelly: 7am, 7.40am, 8am, 8.40am, 9am, 9.30am, 9.45am, 10.25am, 10.35am, 11.20am, 11.40am, 1.10pm, 1.45pm, 2.45pm, 3.45pm, 5.10pm, 5.45pm, 6.30pm