Agasthyakoodam - 5 Things to Know Before Visiting
2-5 Day Treks
Things to know
The most difficult trek in Kerala, taking you to the top of Agasthyakoodam through forests and valleys and waterfalls.
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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.
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Location of Agasthyakoodam
What Visitors Say About Agasthyakoodam
The toughest trek yet. Agasthyakoodam trek is probably the most difficult one in kerala. About 40 kilometers in the span of two to three days out of which 7 kilometers are steep slopes with 70 degree sides. The trek starts from Bonacaud forest office and stretches till Athirumalai camp 12 kilometers away. This part will be covered on the first day and then the next day morning you can start the journey to the peak that lies 6.5 kilometers from the camp. Note that you have to head out in the morning, after 11 am no one would be allowed to trek to the top. After reaching the top if you reach back to Athirumalai camp before 1.30, you can head back to the Bonacaud forest office the same day or else stay at Athirumalai for the day and start the journey back the next day. We did the former and to be frank, it was extremely difficult, 25 kilometers in one day with many steep slopes was too much. At the start of the hike all your belongings will be checked and plastic items will not be allowed to carry inside the forest. You can unpack the snacks from plstic wraps and use paper or tins to carry them and that is fine. It is recommended to take warm jackets and pants, hiking shoes, a blanket, a lot of snacks, water bottle when you hike. Plastic items like water bottle, toothbrush etc will be allowed to carry inside but you will have to pay a small deposit which you will get refunded once you produce them on the way back. There are streams every kilometer or so untill the base of agasthyakoodam so do not worry about water untill you reach the bottom of the peak. Once there, make sure to have about two litres of water per person because the climb will be very hard and there won't be any streams. Food will be packed and provided at the camps but you will have to pay about 100 rupees per meal. Now coming to the good part, the scenery thoughout is so mesmerizing and beautiful. This hike is one of the few that allows visitors to reach to the core of forest and that makes all the difference. There are no cell connection, which means no disturbance from the outside world, the sound of the forest comes pure and raw and you feel so connected to the nature. There are about five or six waterfall where you can take refreshing dips as well. We bathed at a stream near to the Athirumalai camp and the water was so cold and refreshing, the tiredness if the trek was immediately wiped off. I highly recommend everyone who visit to do that. In some parts of the forest it gets so dark by afternoon as sunlight is blocked by the trees. It's an equally amazing and terrifyimg experience to look through the dark forest and realising that it is only 2pm! The forest is supposed to be filled with wild animals like elephant, bear, deer, and many tiger but we fortunately or unfortunately did not see any. But we saw so much of bear and elephant droppings. The only animals we saw was on the way back- two deers of an endangered species where standing on the road shoulder. This forest also holds a large variety of plants, some of them were covering the mountain tops with it's beautifully coloured flowers. While we were three kilometers away from the peak, the place started to get covered in mist and visibility was very low. The last stretch was the most difficult, with steep climbs helped by ropes on the sides and a lot of climbing through slippery slopes. The patches of shola forest was the only area were one is protected to an extend from the sun. We reached the top by 9.30 am and the later it gets, the harder is the sunlight. Once at the top, the view for us was a valley filled with clouds through which mountains peaks cuts through. It was an incredible sight with the wind slowly moving the clouds but the tall mountains blocking it from spilling over to the other side. There is a small temples for the sage Agasthya at the top. We spend around an hour there, looking at the incredible view all around, had our packed breakfast and then off again. We reached back at Bonacaud forest office by 5.15 pm and treked for 25 kilometers that day.