I covered a total of 48 km by foot in two days under challenging terrains and weather conditions. It was a personal record, and by the end of the trek, my legs had become jellylike. The struggle was real, but it was completely worth it because the experience I had in those two days was adventurous, to say the least.
The Agasthyakoodam trek is arguably one of the most challenging treks to undertake in Kerala. Standing at the height of 1,868 metres, the Agasthyakoodam peak (or the Agasthyarkoodam peak) is one of the highest peaks in Kerala. Moreover, unlike other treks in the Western Ghats, the Agasthyakoodam trek is open for registration only for two months every year, making it all the more exclusive.
I went on a solo trek to Agasthyarkoodam. In this guide, I will walk you through the Agasthyakoodam trekking itinerary that I followed to give you a complete idea about the hike. But before that, let’s dive into some interesting facts and history about this trek which makes it different to other treks.
- Where is Agasthyakoodam?
- History of Agasthyakoodam
- How to get your Agasthyakoodam trekking pass?
- Agasthyakoodam Route
- Agasthyakoodam Trekking Itinerary (2 days/1 night)
- Essential things to carry for the Agasthyakoodam trek
- How to reach Trivandrum?
- How to reach Bonacaud?
- Where to stay in Bonacaud?
- Best time to visit Agasthyarkoodam
- Tips for the Agasthyakoodam trek
- Frequently Asked Questions
Where is Agasthyakoodam?
First of all, it is essential to distinguish between Agasthyamalai and Agasthyakoodam because many people tend to use these terms interchangeably.
Agasthyamalai (or the Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve) is a protected forest area in the Western Ghats between Kerala and Tamil Nadu. It comprises three wildlife sanctuaries – Shendurney, Peppara and Neyyar.
Recognised by UNESCO, the Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve is a biological hotspot. It is home to many rare and diverse flora and fauna, including more than 2,000 species of medicinal plants.
The Kani tribe (or Kanikkaran) are one of the oldest surviving tribes in the world that live in the Agasthyamalai hills indigenously. They depend on the forests here for their livelihood and are found both in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Some of the tribals have recently been working closely with the Kerala Forest Development Corporation (KFDC), including trek guides to benefit the trekkers.
Agasthyakoodam is one of the many mountains located within the Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuary (one of the wildlife sanctuaries in the Agasthyamalai hills) in Trivandrum, Kerala. It is the most well-known mountain as it has the highest peak in this region.
Apart from the pure water and air present here, the forests around this peak have medicinal plants and herbs. The Agasthyarkoodam trek is one of the most diverse treks in the Western Ghats as it takes you through lush green forests, open grasslands and rocky terrains.
History of Agasthyakoodam
Agasthyakoodam derives its name from a famous Hindu sage called Agasthya, mentioned in Ramayana and Mahabharata and found in ancient scriptures in the Hindu temples of South Asia. Agasthya was said to have meditated in Agasthyakoodam, making this mountain an important pilgrimage destination for Hindu devotees.
The Kani tribe are ancient worshippers of Agasthya. Additionally, every year, thousands of Hindu devotees trek to the top of this mountain to offer prayers to Agasthya, who has a small shrine at the peak.
Until recently, females were strictly not allowed to trek to Agasthyarkoodam as Agasthya was considered celibate. However, in a significant judgement in 2019, the Kerala High Court ruled trekkers cannot be discriminated against based on gender, and hence, the first woman successfully trekked the mountain in 2019.
How to get your Agasthyakoodam trekking pass?
Due to its ecological and religious importance, the Agasthyakoodam trek is open every year from the second week of January till March for close to 45 days. However, only 100 passes are issued by KFDC every day during this season.
The link for booking the ticket during this season is made available on the Kerala Forest Department portal. In addition, a week before the trekking season begins, all the details about the trek are published in major newspapers across Kerala.
Note: You have the option of doing the trek during the rest of the year along with a trekking guide, but the rates are significantly higher.
Cost of Agasthyakoodam trekking pass
As of 2019, the cost per head in a trekking pass was INR 1,000, and you can book up to 10 people in one pass. This cost involves the forest permit and accommodation. Meals are exclusive of the price, and you need to buy them separately.
Tips to get your Agasthyakoodam trekking pass
It is usual for Agasthyakoodam trekking passes to get sold out within minutes of the online portal going live. Hence, make sure you do the following to increase your chances of a successful booking:
- Get ready with the following details before booking your pass: Name, age, contact number, type of ID proof, ID proof number and address.
- Be ready with your debit/credit card details if you are booking with your card.
- Fix a date that you would like to do the trek. Have a couple of backup dates as well, just in case.
- Try to book from different devices at the same time.
- Due to the heavy traffic, the website may get stuck sometimes. In such a case, refresh the website and proceed.
These tips will not guarantee a trekking pass but will increase your chances of getting one. I was lucky enough to get the trekking pass on my first attempt itself. Unfortunately, many people wait for 2-3 years to gain access to the ticket.
However, if you get the trekking pass, take its printout along with the affidavit you receive with it.
Note: There is an option to book the ticket offline from PTP Nagar Forest Office, Trivandrum, but the process is tiring and cumbersome as people stand in the queue even before the booking begins. Hence, I recommend you do it in the comfort of your home.
The Old Tea Factory in Bonacaud is your landmark. It is an abandoned tea factory that also goes by the name of Bonaccord Estate. Once you reach Bonacaud, you can ask anyone about this place.
If you are coming by bus, you will be dropped at Bonacaud Post Office which is close to the Old Tea Factory.
From the Old Tea Factory, you have to walk 2 km further to the Forest Checkpost in Bonacaud. Also, know as Bonacaud Picket Station, this is the starting point of the trek where you complete your trek registration. If you are coming by your own vehicle, you can park your vehicle at the entrance here.
On Day 1, you have to trek to the Athirumala Base Camp. From the Forest Checkpost, the Athirumala Base Camp is about 16 km.
On Day 2, you ascend to the Agasthyakoodam peak, a further 6 km from the Athirumala Base Camp.
Agasthyakoodam Trekking Itinerary (2 days/1 night)
You can complete the Agasthyakoodam trek in 2 days/1 night as per your wish. But, if you can, try to do it in 3 days/2 nights to have a more relaxing experience. I completed the trek on a weekend as I didn’t want to take any extra leave from work. In any case, the itinerary given below remains the same:
You have to report to the Forest Checkpost in Bonacaud (Bonacaud Picket Station) by 7 am on the trek day. The Forest Checkpost is 2 km from the abandoned Bonacaud Tea Estate, which is your landmark.
You have to present your trekking pass, an affidavit and the original photo ID used while booking the trekking pass at the reception. Then, the forest officers will verify the same. This process takes close to an hour or so because there will be other trekkers along with you.
In the meantime, you can buy some snacks and have a vegetarian South Indian breakfast from the small shop present there. Also, don’t forget to collect your packed lunch from here because you will be reaching Athirumala base camp by late afternoon/evening only.
You can purchase bamboo sticks that will be useful while trekking if you don’t have a trekking pole. They are available at a nominal cost.
Once the formalities are completed, a forest officer will arrange all the trekkers present together. Then, he will give you a briefing about Agasthyarkoodam and the dos and don’ts during the trek.
After this, your bags will be checked thoroughly for plastic as Agasthyarkoodam is a plastic-free zone. Even packets of biscuits/chips are considered plastic. So if you plan to carry them, you will have to pay INR 100 for each plastic item, which will be refundable upon their return after the trek.
Hereafter, you will start the trek along with other trekkers in a group of 20. The first batch usually begins at 9 am. Then, your trek officially begins, and your final stop for the day is the Athirumala Base Camp. It is 16km from the starting point and takes 6-7 hours, depending upon your speed.
Every group of 20 trekkers is assigned a trekking guide. The trek guide is a tribal from the Kani community, so you may want to ask him questions about his life to understanding how this community thrives in the jungle. I was able to get a lot of insights about their lives and their economy by talking to one such guide.
The best thing about the trek is that you can do it at your own pace. Of course, there will be trekking guides at every stage of the hike. But there is no compulsion to maintain your speed with your group or the trekking guide. This is ideal as you get to take in the beautiful sceneries you encounter on the trek.
The first few kilometres of the trek is a straightforward walk through a thick forest with many water streams along the way. You can drink water or fill your water bottles from these streams.
After every few kilometres, you will see a campsite. Every campsite has a small house made of bamboo where a Kani trekking guide resides.
Inside the forest, you will come across three rivers – Karamanayar, Vazapaithiyar and Attayar. Vazapaithiyar is a great place to take a bath and refresh if you’re in the mood. A few trekkers break here for the same. Attayar river is where trekkers usually halt to have their packed lunch.
From the Attayar river onwards, the trekking trail becomes narrow, and the climb becomes slightly uphill for the next 4 km. As the forest starts opening up, you will eventually get a first glimpse of the Agasthyarkoodam peak in the backdrop of a few mountains towering from behind.
You will be entering the open grasslands soon. But now, it will be hard to find water sources. However, the landscape of this open scenery offers some great views. Mountain views in no time will surround you.
The last stretch of this trek to the Athirumala base camp is an uphill trek of close to 6 km through an evergreen forest. By the end of it, you reach Athirumala base camp.
You will see 2-3 different dorms covered with aluminium sheets with a cemented floor. Your first job will be to show your trekking pass to the forest officer present at the base camp entrance to collect your sleeping mat. Then, occupy one of the spaces inside these dorms quickly to avoid being inconvenienced later. Keep your bag(s) on top of your sleeping mat to confirm your place.
Note: You have to return the sleeping mat before leaving Athirumala base camp for Bonacaud.
You will get the first real glimpse of the Agasthyarkoodam peak in all its glory in front of the campsite. It is surrounded by other mountains on its flanks and covered with forest in the foreground.
You can have tea/snacks from the canteen, and you need to collect the dinner token now as the forest officials prepare food based on demand.
There are toilets/bathrooms for you to freshen up. However, if you plan to take a bath, I recommend you dip inside a small natural water stream present right behind the campsite. The water is cold, but it will be the most refreshing experience for your body after a tiring day of trekking.
You can explore many different areas around the campsite as it surrounds itself with a thick forest with water streams, huge rocks, and various types of plants and trees.
Once it becomes dark, dinner is served, and during this time, you can collect the token for breakfast the next day. In terms of food, don’t expect anything fancy because the supplies are limited. You will probably get some rice and curry for lunch/dinner.
Retire for the night in your dorm. As it becomes colder, cover yourself with a blanket. Be prepared for an inconveniencing night as there will be many people sharing space with you in your dorm. Keep an alarm for 5-6 am next morning. The climb to the Agasthyarkoodam peak starts early the following day.
Wake up by 5-6 am, freshen up and have black tea from the canteen. Collect your packed breakfast from the canteen and the token for lunch which you will be having after coming back. You can take your own pace but make sure you start trekking by 7-8 am. I’ll tell you why this is important later.
Take a small backpack to carry only the essentials (snacks, water bottles, etc.) you need for the climb. You can leave behind your main bag. Although it is risky, the idea is to make it easier for you to ascend to the Agasthyarkoodam peak.
Note: Don’t leave behind any valuables that you can’t afford to lose.
The distance from the Athirumala base camp to the Agathyakoodam peak is 6 km long. Although it may seem minor, it is one of the most challenging 6 km you will experience because the entire climb is uphill. Therefore, please do not underestimate this hike and take it slowly.
The trail takes you through a dense forest with water streams in between. As you ascend, you will get many mountain and valley views from the gaping holes of the forest, including different perspectives of the Agasthyarkoodam peak. Be sure to keep your camera shutters on.
Note: You can spot elephants and other animals in these regions. Although a trekking guide will always be there throughout the trail, don’t walk alone to ensure your safety.
As you keep progressing, the forest cover ends and you will be hiking on a rocky mountain. Halfway through the trek, you will reach a deserted area with a small pond lying in the middle. This is where you have breakfast.
Continue walking after that and follow the rocky path that takes you through a forest. The temperatures start dropping as you trek uphill.
The final 2kms to the top is one of the most adventurous climbs you will be experiencing in a trek in the Western Ghats.
Although you can ascend with your feet, you have to use the rope kept there to navigate through a narrow path of rocks inside a forest entirely uphill. This is just a trailer of what is to come.
After that, you walk through a small patch of forest before the forest opens up to a rocky mountain. Again, you have to climb a rocky cliff, but this time, your body tilts to 90 degrees approximately from the rocky surface beneath you. This climb is neither for the faint-hearted nor for people with a fear of heights.
Once you cross this, you have reached the top finally!
After a climb of almost 2-3 hours, you have reached the best part of the trek. If you had started your trek early by 7-8 am, you would be getting to the peak by 10 am. The weather is ideal at this time, and you have enough buffer to trek back slowly. This is why it is crucial to start from Athirumala base camp by 7-8 am.
The views from the top are unbeatable. You get a bird’s eye of different mountains and valleys with the clouds floating in the middle. Additionally, you will also experience solid and cold winds at the top, due to which it becomes difficult to stay at the top for a long time.
Enjoy this moment. After all the effort you took to reach here, you deserve it. So spend some time soaking in the atmosphere, take some photos and relax. There is no cover/shade here, but you won’t have to worry due to the cold winds.
Fun fact: You can see the Athirumala base camp from the top. Once you spot it, you will appreciate how much distance you covered to reach here.
There is a shrine at the top that belongs to Agasthya Muni. Pilgrims do this trek to offer their prayers to the Agasthya Muni statue present here.
Note: If you plan to trek back to Bonacaud the next day, you can take some more time at the top. In any case, don’t make it late beyond 12-1 pm as the forest becomes dark soon and there are wild animals there. Once you are back at the Athirumala campsite, have your lunch, relax and repeat the same routine you had the previous day before leaving for Bonacaud at least by 7-8 am the following day.
However, if you plan to go back to Bonacaud the same day, the following advice is for you:
- Spend 1-1.5 hours at the top before heading back. Try to leave by 11 pm so that you reach Athirumala campsite by 1 pm.
- While hiking back, descent slowly because the descent is riskier than the ascent.
- If you had planned to take a bath, you might have to reach the Athirumala campsite much before 1 pm so take that into account.
- After coming back to the campsite, have your lunch and get ready within an hour. Try to leave by 2 pm. Don’t forget to return your sleeping mat to the forest officials before leaving.
- It is possible to reach the starting point in Bonacaud within 4-5 hours. However, you have to walk fast.
- Do take water/snack breaks in between but don’t waste too much time.
- Once you reach the Forest Checkpost in Bonacaud, you must mark your attendance with the forest officer. This is mandatory as it ensures that no one is left behind. Also, get a refund for the plastics that you carried, if you had any.
- There will be other trekkers who will trek back with the aim of finishing the trek in two days. If you don’t have a vehicle, you can ask one of these people for a lift. That is what I did. Public transport may be hard to find by the time you come back.
Essential things to carry for the Agasthyakoodam trek
The following are the things that you need to carry to enjoy the trek:
- Two pairs of quick-dry tees
- One or two pairs of trekking pants/quick dry pants
- Two pairs of socks
- Breathable briefs/underwears
- A waterproof jacket just in case it rains.
- A lightweight jacket, to be worn at night. A windproof/waterproof jacket will also be fine.
- A lightweight hat for sun protection
- Sunglass (optional)
- Lightweight and quick-dry bathing towel
- Trekking shoes, preferably with ankle support. You can use a sports shoe as well but ensure it has a good grip on rough terrains.
- Flip flops/sandals that you can use at the campsite.
- A lightweight blanket to cover yourself while sleeping at night. The forest officials provide a mattress only.
- A hiking backpack/rucksack to be used for the trek
- A small foldable, collapsible bag that you can use for the hike to the Agasthyakoodam peak.
- 2 bottles of water
- Headlamp (optional)
- Powerbank (useful especially if you plan for a 3-day trek)
- Snacks – peanuts, dry fruits, energy bars, fruits, etc. Remove all the plastic, put them in a container, or cover them with paper as plastic is strictly banned.
- Entry pass, affidavit and photo id
- Spare cash to pay for your meals on the trek
- Camera with spare batteries (in case you have one)
- Salt (for leeches)
- Trekking pole or bamboo stick from the Bonacaud Forest Checkpost
How to reach Trivandrum?
You have to reach Trivandrum first before making way for Agasthyarkoodam.
You can get inter-state buses from Chennai, Bangalore and other parts of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Within Kerala, it is easy to get buses to Trivandrum from almost any location.
The train is the most economical and convenient option if you are coming from a nearby state. You will find plenty of trains from Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai and Bangalore to Trivandrum.
If you have less time or are flying from a faraway state, a flight to Trivandrum is your best bet. Trivandrum is well-connected to all the major cities of India via direct/indirect flights.
How to reach Bonacaud?
Bonacaud is 50 km from Trivandrum, and it takes close to 2 hours to reach there. There are three ways you can get to Bonacaud:
- Hire a cab/auto a day in advance. This is the most convenient option, but it is also the most expensive one.
- A KSRTC bus starts at 5 am from the KSRTC bus stand (Thampanoor) in Trivandrum and departs for Bonacaud (drops you at Bonacaud Post Office). You can enquire about the bus at the bus stand counter. It is the most economical option of the lot.
- If you have a car, you can drive to the Forest Checkpost in Bonacaud and park your vehicle there. The road trip is pretty scenic, and this also solves your problem of going back home once your trek is over.
Where to stay in Bonacaud?
Unfortunately, being a tiny village, Bonacaud doesn’t have an option for staying.
You may choose to stay at Vithura or Nedumangad, which are two nearby localities. However, don’t expect much in terms of the quality of accommodation.
It is preferable to stay at Trivandrum as you have more options for food, accommodation, and public transport. You can leave early to Bonacaud on the day of your trek.
Best time to visit Agasthyarkoodam
It is preferable to book your trek during January or February as the weather is ideal for trekking. The summer season begins from March onwards (and lasts till May). Having said that, summers aren’t very harsh in Kerala.
Tips for the Agasthyakoodam trek
- Your stamina is vital for this trek. Indulge in some physical activity daily for a month or two to train your body.
- Do not throw any waste/garbage during the trek. As mentioned previously, this is a well-preserved region of the Western Ghats so ensure it remains the same.
- If you don’t have your vehicle, you can request fellow trekkers (with cars) to drop you back after the trek.
- Carry fruits and healthy snacks. They will come in handy during the trek. Don’t rely on the canteens.
- It is advisable to be in a group to ensure you don’t lose your way or encounter animals during the trek, especially on Day 2.
- Follow strict timings to ensure that your overall trekking experience goes smoothly. One slight delay can cause a chain of delays, thereby hampering your trek.
- On the day of your climb to the peak, don’t leave behind any valuables that you can’t afford to lose.
- Purchase your meal coupons in advance from the canteen instead of waiting till the last moment. For example, ask for the dinner coupon when you have lunch, breakfast coupon when you’re having dinner and so on.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where is Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve located?
Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve is located along the borders of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. It is spread across the districts of Trivandrum and Kollam in Kerala and Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu.
How to book the Agasthyakoodam trek?
The booking for the Agasthyakoodam trek starts from the second week of January every year. The link for the online booking becomes available then on the Kerala Forest Department website. All the details regarding the booking details are also published in major newspapers across Kerala a few days before the booking begins.
How to visit Agasthyakoodam?
After booking your trek online, you have to report to Bonacaud which is 50 km away from Trivandrum. There is a government bus that starts from Trivandrum for Bonacaud at 5 am daily. At Bonacaud, you have to report to the Bonacaud Picket Station (Forest Checkpost). From here, you start your trek in a group along with a guide to the Agashyakoodam peak. The entire trek is 48 km long and can be completed in 2 or 3 days at your convenience.
This trek was one of the most physically and mentally challenging treks I ever did in the Western Ghats. When things got more demanding, I had to push myself to take the next step. You will probably face such moments during the trek.
But it is all worth it in the end. You will learn a lot about yourself in this process. Additionally, the views that you get from the Agasthyarkoodam peak and the sights you see during the trek itself will linger with you for a long time. So if you are an avid trekker or want to experience the Western Ghats in all its glory, this trek should be on your wishlist.
Have you done this mighty trek in Kerala? If not, do you plan to do it someday but still have some queries? Let me know in the comments, and I will be happy to help.