Dhanya Sanal, the Defence spokesperson in Thiruvananthapuram, created history recently by being the first woman to scale the Agasthyarkoodam peak. A native of Manjeri, Dhanya says that she loves geography so much that she cannot do without setting out on at least one trek every year. When she learnt that the Kerala High Court had lifted a ban on women trekking to Agasthya hill, Dhanya knew where her next trip would be.
While booking online for the trek, Dhanya had a feeling that several other women would be doing it at the same time and she could enjoy their company during the trip. However, it was only on the day before the journey that Dhanya realized that she was the only woman in a group of 100 who had booked that day.
The trek started at 9.30 am on January 14 from Bonacaud forest check-post in Thiruvananthapuram district. The 100-member team split into several groups for the trek. "The path is tough right from the start. I nibbled on the chocolates as well as ate the oranges and dry fruits that I carried to tackle hunger. Water was collected in bottles from the forest streams," says Dhanya.
By the time the trekkers reached Athirumala, the base camp, it was 3 pm. The source of the Karamana River lies within two km from the starting point. The Attayar River also flows in this area. The trekkers have to negotiate a narrow path through dense forest that holds danger during every step. Each traveler has to move the thick undergrowth aside with a staff to find the way forward.
"As per belief, the 'Mritasanjeevani' plant mentioned in the Ramayana grows somewhere in Agasthyarkoodam. A fellow trekker couldn't prevent himself from explaining the medicinal value of each plant along the way," says Dhanya.
Along the grassland
The following five km was a grassland. "I initially felt that it would be an easy stretch, but just the reverse was true. This was where I was thoroughly exhausted. A blazing Sun over a wide expanse of the grassland is not something that is enjoyable. I have never wished for a shade so much," says Dhanya.
The way to the top passes the grassland to reach Mudichanpara. It is a steep descent forcing one to squat on the ground to proceed.
By nightfall, the trekkers reached the camp. “In the moonlight, I watched the outline of the Agasthyarkoodm peak, waiting for the first woman to conquer it,” says Dhanya.
The camp came alive by 6 am on January 15. Many men took a bath in a clear stream that flowed adjacent to the camp. "I did not attempt a dip as I was carrying a bag that had minimum clothes to make it light," recalls Dhanya. Soon, the lone woman and 99 men drank hot coffee mixed with dried ginger and resumed the journey carrying their breakfast.
By 7.30 am, the travellers arrived at Pongalappara, after covering steep rocks and dense shrubbery. There, they had breakfast. The stately Agasthyarkoodam stood in front of them, but before it three other hills had to be conquered.
"It took four-and-a-half hours to cover six km. By the time we reached the base of the fourth hill, there was excitement all around. Even some fellow travellers who had wished that I would call off the trek midway were supportive," says Dhanya.
By 11.10 am, the first group of 20 members reached the top of the fourth hill. "I can never forget the moment I scaled the rock on top of the tallest hill. For a considerable time, I lay face down on the rock, my lips pressed against it. I also pushed my ears to the rock. Was the peak murmuring some secret to the first woman to have stepped on it?" reveals Dhanya.