Agasthyamalai, Vazhichal, Tamil Nadu 627425
The most difficult trek in Kerala, taking you to the top of Agasthyakoodam through forests and valleys and waterfalls.
Location of Agasthyakoodam
More about Agasthyakoodam
Agasthyakoodam (also known as Agasthyarkoodam, Agastya Mala and Pothigai) is a mountain in the Wester Ghats situating at a height of 1,890 meters above the sea level. It is one of the tallest mountain peak in Kerala. The peak is accessible only through a trek of 56 km (two and fro) which happens for 60 days every year in the months of January to March.
The peak lies in the border of Kerala and Tamil Nadu States in Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuary and is bordered by Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve. The peak belongs to Ashambu Hills in the southern end of the Western Ghat Mountains. There are over 25 peaks in Ashambu Hills and Agasthyakoodam is the tallest among them.
Plant and animal life in Agasthyakoodam area
There are around 43 species of mammals inhabiting the area- including tiger, leopard, sloth bear, elephants, sambar (large deer native to Indian sub continent), barking deer, Nilgiri Langur (a type of Old World monkey) and Nilgiri Tahr (a type of ibex endemic to the region). It is also home to over 230 bird species, 45 species of reptiles and 40 species of fishes.
The forest around Agasthyakoodam is teeming with wildlife, rare medicinal herbs and orchids. The lower levels of the peak is known for its rare herbs and medicinal plants. Around 2,000 medicinal plants used in Ayurvedic treatments are found here. Around the base station, there are also many tea plantations that were set up by British during colonial era.
Legends about Agasthyakoodam
Agasthyakoodam is a pilgrimage centre for devotees of the Hindu sage Agasthya. There is a full figure statue of Agasthya at the top of the peak where pilgrims can make their offerings. It is believed that sage lived in Agasthyakoodam mountain. Agasthya is one of the seven most revered sages in the Vedic texts and epics, and Tamil language is considered to be a boon from Agasthya. He is also considered to be the teacher of Ayurveda system of traditional Indian medicine.
In one of the interesting legends, everyone including the seven great sages went to Himalayas during the wedding of Lord Shiva and Parvathi as they live in the Mount Kailash in Himalayas. This caused the earth to tilt, and Lord Shiva asked Agasthya to go to the south to balance the earth again. Agasthya came to Agasthyakoodam at the end of the Western Ghats in Southern India and stayed there since he liked the place.
Kani tribe- The original inhabitants of the hills
The original inhabitants of the hills are a tribe known as ‘Kanis’. Currently there are about 400 Gani families living around the area. Their settlements are located near the basins of Karamanayar and Neyyar rivers that originates from the Agasthyakoodam area. The settlements are located away from the core area of Agasthyakoodam and some of the people from the settlements work with the eco-development committees of the forest department and also as guides and staffs for the Agasthyakoodam trek.
Hiking up to Agasthyakoodam
The 28 km hiking trail starts from Bonacaud, a base station at the foot Agasthyakoodam. Private vehicles can reach up to Bonacaud and from there, the long trek typically takes two or three days. You will be accompanied by forest guards and will be among a group of 40-50 people to ensure safety as the area is rich in wildlife.
The hike mesmerises the visitors with its rapid changes in landscapes. The trail is through moist deciduous forest, semi evergreen forest, grassland, evergreen forest and at the end- large rock formations. There are streams and waterfalls in between the trail where you can swim and shower. The peak of Agasthyakoodam can be seen multiple times throughout the trek, each time in a different setting.
The camp at Athirumala
The first portion of the trek needs to be started in the morning as the total length of the trail to be covered before nightfall is about 20 km. The trail is through dense forest which has elephants and gaur (Indian Bison) in abundance and it takes you to Athirumala camp at the western valley of the peak offering majestic views of Agasthyakoodam. The camp is protected by trenches around in order to make the camp safe from wild animals.
The hike to the peak
The final 8 km of trek happens on the second day- from Athirumala camp to the top of the peak and return back on the same day to the same camp. Note that even though the distance is shorter, you would have to climb 1,000 meters in this stretch. On the third day the visitors can be back to the base camp. Although it is possible to return to the base camp on the second day itself, it will be too exhausting as about 36 km has to be covered in a single day.
The trail from Athirumala camp to the top is through dense evergreen forest and there are chances of spotting elephants, monkeys and peacocks in the area. There are some large rocks in between from where you can get amazing views of the valleys below and of the peak. The entire Mundanthurai tiger reserve also can be viewed during this stretch.
The final stretch climbing through rocks
During the final climb, the temperature can drop and you will cross thick evergreen forest popularly known as ‘A/C Vanam or Ac forests’ due to the coolness felt in the forest area. The place is treacherous during rains and as you near the peak the climb becomes very difficult with rocks which are nearly vertical. There are metal and ropes available for the final climb, just watch out for strong winds and slipperiness of the rocks.
At the top of Agasthyakoodam
Once at the top, the vastness of the valleys and the surrounding mountains will blow your mind off. A mountain range of 5 peaks known as Ainthuthalai Pothigai will suddenly appear on the view, standing as if they are paying their tributes to Agasthyakoodam. Ferocious winds blows the peak and you need to be very careful not to fall due to its force. The shrine of Sage Agasthya is located in the middle of a small forest in the peak, protected from the winds.
How to reach Agasthyakoodam?
Agasthyarkoodam is located in Thiruvananthapuram District of Kerala State in Southern India. Nearest village is in Bonacaud, 28 km away and from where the trek starts. Bonacaud is accessible through taxis from Vithura town (20km) which lies midway of Thiruvananthapuram- Ponmudi route through which buses ply in both the directions. The nearest major railway station is also at Thiruvananthapuram, connected well with rest of the parts of the country.
During the trekking season from January to March, Kerala State Road Transportation Corporation buses operates special services from Thiruvananthapuram to Bonacaud.