Hiking in the Palani Hills through the Ages

Hiking in the Palani Hills through the Ages
Evan Thomas

Over the years, KIS has taken advantage of its unique location at 7000 feet in the Palani Hills, providing students an unparalleled experience of the environment and extraordinary adventures with nature. As a part of #LetsCelebrateKodai, we interviewed three seasoned hikers and Tahr Pin winners over the years: Barbara Block (BB), Kevin Jayaprakash (KJ) and Sakthiuma Thandauthapani (ST).

Barbara attended KIS from 1967 to 68 (Grade 2 and half of Grade 3), and 69 to 71 (Grade 5 to 7). At that time, the hiking program was only for HS students (9-12). She currently has 25 Tahr Pins, which is every year she was not on sabbatical.

Kevin attended KIS from PreSchool to Grade 12 and graduated in 2002.  He started Hiking in Grade 6 and currently has 10 Tahr Pins.

Sakthi started hiking since joining KIS in Grade 8 and has got 4 Tahr Pins so far, this year marks her winning the Gold Pin.

1. Who/What influenced you to take up hiking?

BB: My parents hiked and my childhood memories include hikes in the Rocky Mountains, and climbing ancient Forts in Telangana). John Wiebe, my Grade 6 teacher, was an avid hiker and camper. He arranged class activities for us, and many of these were hiking or even an overnight class sleep-overs (on the verandah of an old building).

ST: I wanted adventure. When I was in Grade 8, the daily school routine was monotonous; we woke up in the morning, got ready for school, caught a bus to go to a different campus and came back to dorm. I wanted to try something new, so I tried hiking which was very adventurous. I chose hiking for getting the thrill out of it.  

2. What motivates you most about getting into the Palani Hills?

BB: When I came to teach at Kodai in January of 1988, joining the hiking program the next fall, was a given. I crave being outdoors, and love looking at the ever changing scenery that hikes provide me.  Even after many times, the same route has new discoveries and treasures to enjoy.

KJ: The Palani Hills has a wide variety of flora and fauna that you are not exposed to staying in the town.  In addition, the varied landscapes and the extent to which you are able to understand the diversity of the region that you are in and how it changes and the impacts continues to take you out into the hills.  Also the peaceful surroundings just gives you that sense of relief after a long week.

ST: The beautiful scenery and the amazing flowers protected by the trees and the animals present there.

3. How have the routes/environment/scenery changed over the years? If at all.

BB: Almost all hikes started by walking out the school gate, it was rare to drive to the start of a hike. Now, to avoid traffic, and sometimes to access further away hikes (Kukkal to plains, Moolayar to Rattail), we often drive the first hour. With challenges to hiking on Forest reserve land (which now is ALL forest, not just Berijam reserve), more of our hikes now go through village and plantation land, following the roads/trails used to move food and produce, only touching on the forest land at times.

KJ: Over the years, certain areas have a more restricted level of movement. One of the biggest changes would be the increase of more well-defined roads in areas that once used to be just animal trails. There is also more agricultural activity that has altered the landscape. However, overall I would say that forest areas continue to be protected, so changes in these have been very minimal. Lack of forest movement in many areas has also now caused paths to be overgrown and covered by fallen trees, making it difficult to maneuver.

4. Your favourite hike/route?

BB: My favorite hikes (there is never only one) tend to include water crossings and splash opportunities as well as prehistoric Dolmen monuments. A long time favorite, which still remains top of my list, is Kukkal to Kudriyar Dam. Steep descents, on ancient stone staircases, past terraced fields, alongside waterfalls in plantation zones, and then long walk through untouched forest, with multiple stream crossings enroute, and a beautiful deep pool with a waterfall, near the end of the hike. Rare sightings of elephants, boa constrictors, signs of deer, wild boar, and often, Malabar giant squirrels, also make this hike memorable.

KJ: My favorite used to be the Berijam Ridge Hike which is no longer done. And the Kukkal to Kuduraiaar Dam.

5. Your most memorable hiking experience?

BB: High water crossings are definitely the most memorable! Definitely the one I call the ‘Wet one’. The planned hike to the Addikum Dolmens would have been wet and slippery on the rocks, so we made the call to do the Vilpatti to Palani route instead, which was more road/dirt trail. We arrived at a crossing to find water waist high, rushing over a partly broken weir, which we crossed by forming a chain.

KJ: Memorable Hiking experiences include, exploring the hills around Manjampatti during Tahr Camp in search of wildlife and climbing to the top of the big fire tower on the TN-Kerala Border (Day 2 of 80-Mile) and the view of the vast expanse of forest and mountain ranges that you got from there.

ST: My favourite hiking experience which was Palar Waterfalls D Hike. It is no more a hiking route due to safety reasons, but the one time I went, it was very adventurous. The slopes were steep and as it was raining, very slippery as well. We had lots of fun.