- Saptadeepa Bandopadhyay
The Kerala less traveled - Vagamon
Updated: Jul 13, 2020
Kerala, the southern most state of India is glorious in the tourism industry. The coastal stretch across the Arabian Sea, the beautiful backwaters along many of these coastal towns to the cooling misty hill towns, tea estates, dense green forestation and the rich heritage and culture has attracted many tourists from around the world.
However, apart from the major tourist destinations, there still remains a lot of enchanting beauty which is hidden from the major crowd flocking here. One such place is Vagamon in the Idukki district of Kerala!
I stumbled upon this place over a blog on the website of Zostel, a chain of backpackers hostel. The more I read and googled about Vagamon, I was mesmerized by the vast variety of attraction this place had to offer. So for a summer escape in 2019 we were on the look out for lesser touristy places and Vagamon had been at the back of my mind ever since I read about it. That's how Vagamon happened to us.
A little about Vagamon -
Vagamon is a hilly plantation town on the border of Kottayam-Idukki districts of Kerala. It was first discovered by the British and identified for tea plantations which later gave rise to many tea estates here. It is also known for it religious harmony in the valley as the three hills around Vagamon are inhibited by Hindus, Muslims and Christians respectively. Hence this place also sees a lot of pilgrims visiting Muruganpara (Known for the Murugan Hindu temple, son of lord Shiva), Thangalpara (a Dargah at the top of a mountain) and Kurisumala (which literally translates to a Cross on the mountain).
However, Vagamon was never identified as a tourist destination and is thus scarcely known to the tourists visiting Kerala.
What can one do in Vagamon -
Adventure seeking souls can enjoy activities like paragliding, trekking, offroading, zip lining.
It is an Offbeat travel destination, promotes eco-tourism especially the forests preserved by the locals.
However it won't disappoint the leisure travelers because its such a laidback sleepy town amidst pine forest, green meadows and ponds, misty atmosphere and chirping birds.
Reaching Vagamon -
We took a flight to Kochi(Cochin) from where we hired a car to drop us to Vagamon. The scenic drive from Kochi to Vagamon are through densely vegetated roads. One can spot pretty colorful homes in between the dense gardens lining these roads. As we approached the hills, the air had become cooler and misty with a little drizzles along the route. The windy narrow roads going uphill through dense forests is an adventure drive transitioning from the cities through villages, followed by forests and tea-plantations.
Note on reaching Vagamon:
By Roads: Vagamon is connect to many towns in Kerala via roads. One can use public buses or hired taxis to reach there. Direct buses to and from Cochin, Trivandrum, Madurai, Kottayam and Munnar are available.
By Air: Kochi is the nearest airport at 100 kms from Vagamon.
By Railways: Kottayam is the nearest railway station.
Vagamon Diaries -
The afternoon we arrived, we were welcomed into the green meadows by the misty winds and the chirping of tiny birds. As it was past the lunch time at our accommodation, we took a tiny road uphill hunting for something to eat. Having soothed our hunger to a bowl of Biryani at the nearest Hotel, we walked back to our stay while soaking into the vibes of the place.
Our hosts at Zostel, gave us a quick overview of all the places we could explore around Vagamon. It was a long list of names marked on a colorful map at the reception. We settled our luggage in the room and were ready for the evening activity that was arranged by Zostel.
Note: Zostel has an activity every day provided the majority of their guests are available for it.
Sunset trek to Moonmala
A short drive of 15-20 minutes in a Jeep and we were at the foot of Moonmala hill. Except for a bunch of 7-8 people led by our volunteer from Zostel there were only a few cows grazing on our way up the mountain. A short trek uphill for 30-45 minutes led us on top of the mountain overlooking the lush green meadows and the long curvy road where our jeep was waiting. The sun was about to set, painting the horizon with patterns of yellow, orange, blue and grey with the added drama by the passing clouds. All of us sat there muted by the whistling breeze. Once the sun melted into the cloudy horizon, we started our descend. It was dark when we reached the jeep and back to Zostel by dusk.
After hanging around the common area in for a few games of Zenga, we had our dinners early and retarded for the day, for next day awaited of countless adventures!
A half day trek to Vagavanam
Much to our disbelief we were up by 6 o'clock and hurriedly dressed up to be on time for the trek. Truth be told, we had little knowledge of what the trek had to offer us!
We drove around 15 kms to reach the trekking destination managed by the forest department. After packing some breakfast, we started our trek. Our trek guide, called 'Prince' pampered us with sweet wild guavas plucked from the forest. We hiked through the grasslands, scattered rocks, wild flowers, merrily chirping birds the mountains of Vagavanam. The clouds played hide and seek as we saw a distant view of the Idduki reservoir.
The panoramic view of Vagavanam (literally translates to forest of Vaga trees, known for never shedding its leaves), was . I had never witnessed something so beautiful as though transported to a different world. After distant spotting of few elephants, hidden by the clouds passing through us and admiring the Idduki Wildlife Sanctuary, we descended down.
The descend was equally adventurous as the ascend although of a different kind. Prince sped us through a span of rain forest whose moist soil and tree bases were full of leeches, a horror run for a few minutes. Followed by that were some thorny bushes and rocky terrain until we reached the road.
Our tired hungry souls were fed by a local family with a scrumptious homemade Kerala meal.
Having walked with him for 15 kms, by now we had connected with Prince and his life in the forest. These are the people we must celebrate for dedicating their lives for these forests in spite of the mere wages they receive from the governments. After exchanging our parting gestures, we headed back to Zostel through the windy roads for catching on some rest.
Illikkal Kallu and Marmala Falls -
We lazed in our room for an hour after the exhausting trek but were soon on our toes for the imprompt plans of exploring some more attractions. Another 25 kms ride on the zigzag state highway led to the mountain named Illikkal Kallu which is 6000 feet above sea-level and falls in the Kottayam district. This place sees local tourists specially for the structure formed by the fallen rock. We parked our vehicles a km away from where we embarked the DTPC (District Tourism Promotion Council) operated Jeep safari to the nearest point of the peak. A short but steep trek uphill from here gave a spectacular view of the gigantic broken mountain and the surrounding scenic beauty. I must however confess this was a terrifying trek for me as the steep was high and the raved way is rocky.
From there we drove to Marmala waterfalls where the water descends from the mountain at a height of 60 feet and forms a pool below. We didn't wait there for long as it was getting dark and also the waterfall was thin due to summers. However this is a great tourist attraction when the water has more volume in other seasons.
On the way back we stopped for coffee and refueling the bike but were already late. The last ten kilometers was a scary ride on the curvy roads through pitch darkness.
**Tip - Try to return back to your accommodation before sundown as road are not well lit though the stretch.
As I was already worn out by the adventure packed day, I had a quick dinner and slept deep until late next morning.
Wandering around Vagamon -
Next day we planned to take it slow. Our tired muscles were not in sync with our enthusiasm anymore. We visited a few touristy spots around Vagamon but avoided the treks at the locations. After visiting the Pine forest valley, we bid farewell to our travel mates and drove around the serenity of the sleepy town of Vagamon.
The free drive through the curvy roads between the green meadows refreshed us. Lazy cattle scattered here and there, as though hanging on the hills were busy grazing. The tea estate workers wearing conical bamboo hats were busy in the tea gardens. Little tea shops, condiments shops, homemade chocolate sellers adorns the Vagamon town.laid back shopkeepers in folded Kerala style lungi (a cloth rapped around the waist and the lower border pulled up to form a knee length skirt like look).
We visited Thangala Para but again avoided the trek to the Dargah on the hill. Instead we explored the surroundings which had a secluded resort where a Christian Bride and Groom were indulging in some scenic photo shoots in their wedding attire. We spotted a flock of beautiful white ducks around a house but my attempts to getting closer to them were spoiled by their loud quacking.
We then drove to Kurishumala, known for the origin of Christianity in Vagamon. Its a calm place and often visited for witnessing a scenic sunrise. It also houses a monastery, dairy farm maintained by the monastery and is known to have uplifted the locals.
Our last halt was to a nearby restaurant for some lunch. We also wandered to a beautiful quiet pond near it to admire the view for some time.
We then headed back to the hostel and lazed around the common area in the top floor. I reflected on the two days we had spent in these valleys as I stared at the panoramic view the room offered.
Vagamon is a place out of ones dream, a fairy tale we fantasized as kids. Such serene romantic towns exist not only in our dreams but here on earth and I am glad its secluded from modernization and so well preserved by the locals. If you ever plan to visit Vagamon, please travel responsibly and respect the beauty of such pretty places. Do look for eco-tourism options rather than crowded touristy spots.
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