Ever since my first week at college, I have been captivated by the sight of a majestic mountain range, from the top floor of the main building. Most of the time it’s hidden behind a think shroud of mist, but when it’s visible it is an enchanting sight. The clarity of some of the features suggested that it was not far away, geographically. At first I used to think that it must be the Wayanad range, but after some researching, I learned that it was called Vellarimala, south of Wayand and west of the Nilgiris, separated by the Chaliyar valley. I also learned that the approach to Vellarimala is from a tiny village called Muthappanpuzha, about 25 km from my college. By the way, this range contains some of the tallest peaks of the Ghats (Vellarimala-2240m, Vavulmala-2339m).

The trek to the very top is very difficult (not meant for inexperienced trekkers) and takes more than a day, and it is nearly impossible without a guide, from what I’ve read. But there is a waterfall called Olichuchattam about 4-5 km into the trek, which is quite accessible. The thought of trekking to Olichuchattam has been at the back of my mind for some time now. Our second sessional exams ended on Saturday, and we were wondering what to do on Sunday, when I put forward the idea of going to Olichuchattam.

In the end, five of us, AKP(Arunkumar), Ashley, Nineesh, Nipun and I decided to make the short trip. We had planned to start out early, but being a Sunday, we were a bit late, as expected. We boarded a bus to Thiruvambady at 8.30 in the morning. I had thought that there would be local buses from there to Muthappanpuzha, but was surprised to learn that only KSRTC buses from Kozhikode went to Muthappanpuzha(which gives an idea of how remote it is), and we had to wait till the next one arrived. We had to wait for over half an hour. Our high spirits were also dampened by the premature return of AKP, who had received news that his grandfather had been hospitalized.

After what seemed to be an eternity, the bus left Thiruvambady. The ride was pleasant, albeit a slow one, and soon the road began to run by the banks of the Muthappanpuzha river, frothing its waters over the innumerable rocks in its path. I noticed that there were many churches here, which suggested that the people in this area are predominantly Christian unlike the rest of Kozhikode. Perhaps most of them are descendants of the farmers who immigrated from South Kerala half a century ago.

We got off at Aanakkampoyil and took an auto-rickshaw to the starting point of the trek (you have to take a diversion half a km before Muthappanpuzha). On the way, we got the first glimpses of the lofty peaks, and the driver told us that one of them was named Masthakappara, since it looked like an elephant’s head. We asked him for directions to Olichuchattam. A clear (jeep) track runs for most of the way before it enters the forest. He told us that we’d have no trouble with finding the way. But he warned us that it may not be easy finding the track inside the forest, since the season’s not yet started and not many people have been there this year. He told us to keep close to the river which would be on the left side, and we’d be fine.

Our spirits rekindled by the fresh air and the green all around, we started the trek. It was around 10.30 by then. Vellarimala is not a tourist location and only trekkers going to the Vellarimala or Vavulmala peaks come here. We soon crossed a bridge and found the river to our left, but the track led away from it. We kept following the track, which was steadily climbing. It is worth mentioning that the base of Vellarimala, unlike many other mountain peaks of similar altitude, is quite low-lying, with Muthappanpuzha at only around 400m above MSL. So the climb is indeed very rapid.

The track contined to lead away from the river and soon we heard the sound of another river on our right side. Later I learnt that this was Iruvanjippuzha and the one on the left was Thenpara. The track continued to climb and we took short breaks. The sun was also at its hottest and all of us were sweating profusely. We had been assured that drinking water wouldn’t be a problem as there were many streams running across the path. We were delighted by the sight of little huts nestled on the hillside, with huge mountains in the backdrop. A few cows and goats were grazing here and there, as well.

The track again veered towards the river on the left. We soon reached a fenced area on the left side, but there was no sign of the river. By this time, the track was barely visible, and it was clear from the vegetation that not many people had been there lately. Soon we entered the forest. It happened all too fast. Suddenly the green path gave way to think foliage. We were rather surprised, and initially had some difficulty in finding the path. Then we got used to it and forced ourselves forward, pushing away the plants that stood in our way. Again it was clear that not many had been there lately.

We could hear the river gushing down the slopes on the left side, but it seemed nearly impossible to find a way to it. By this time, all of us had leeches on our feet. We carried on, pushing our wills that extra bit, but we soon wound up at a dead end, a little rocky clearing with a stream. We sat there wondering what to do next, and helped ourselves to some biscuits in the meantime. It was well past noon, and I was not too eager to stay in the forest in the afternoon. When we had rested for a while, we decided to go back, and look more carefully for any paths to the right that would take us to the river. (We remembered the auto driver’s directions to keep to the river)

We had better luck at the second attempt, and Nineesh found a path a few feet from the dead end. On the way up, it didn’t even occur to us that there had been a path there. It was going in the right direction as the sound of the river became nearer. After a few minutes of struggling through the dense vegetation, we reached the river. Water, at last! It looked like a waterfall, but this did not look like the photos of Olichuchattam I had seen on Sandeep Unnimadhavan’s blog. Besides, we had been only about 20 mins into the forest, and I had read that it took more than that.

We climbed a few more feet to get a better view of the fall. By this time, it was past one and I really felt we should get going. Though I wasn’t sure that this was Olichuchattam, I was not confident about going further into the forest as it was, and we decided to return after spending some time on the rocks by the river. The return journey was uneventful, and our eyes feasted on the beautiful landscape. Once we were out of the forest, we stopped for de-leeching. Actually we had to go about twenty more minutes up the river to get to Olichuchattam.

Soon we hit the jeep track and around 2.30 we reached the road. We missed a turn somewhere and ended up about two bus stops away from Muthappanpuzha which meant that we had to drop the plans of visiting the village and the river bank. We decided to relax and wait at the bus stop for the 3’o clock bus back. We were all pleasantly tired and dozed off as soon as we boarded the bus. I stole a last look in the direction of Muthappanpuzha and told myself that I’d like to be back there sometime. It was slightly disappointing that we didn’t get to Olichuchattam (at that time, we were trying to convince ourselves that that itself was Olichuchattam!!), but it was a fantastic day out and we really enjoyed the trek.

See Photos of the trek.

Software Freedom Day at Kozhikode

Software Freedom Day 2008 was celebrated today at Malabar Christian College, Kozhikode. The event was organized by Swatantra Malayalam Computing, in association with Malabar Christian College. The main attraction was a seminar on Language Computing, led by SMC.

There was also a GNU/Linux install fest and demo in parallel. We installed GNU/Linux on around 6-7 systems, apart from the 5 in the computer lab of Malabar Christian College. There was also an installation demo for hardware technicians. I couldn’t attend the seminar, and I’m looking forward to reading other reports about it.

One of the highlights of the day was the revival of Free Software Users’ Group Calicut, which had been dormant for over two years. Jemshid, of Ascent Engineers, the team from KSEB led by Mohammed Unais, have taken the initiative to kick start the community’s activities.

There were a few representatives from GEC West Hill and AWH Engg. College, and we’ve decided to organize a few workshops, to get some people from those colleges involved in FOSS as well, and try to create a network of college FOSS communities. Shyam put forward the necessity of a common platform for engineering colleges throughout Kerala, based on Free Software. We also have to explore the possibility of encouraging students to take up Free Software development as their projects.

Jemshid and his team had managed to contact the Malabar IT dealers’ association, and their representatives had turned up. They expressed genuine interest in migrating to GNU/Linux for the default installation in new systems they sell. They would thus be able to avoid distributing so called “pirated” software. We have proposed to arrange a basic GNU/Linux workshop for the hardware vendors. This move has the potential to start a revolution. If they can show their customers that they can do almost anything on GNU/Linux that they normally use a computer for, they’ll be encouraged to switch to it. And the customers will have someone to turn to for support.

On the whole, the event was a great success. Tomorrow, we have a small event planned in our campus. More on that later.

See other blogs and photos of the event: