“ Its easier to go down a hill than up,
but the view is from the top “
….. Arnold Bennet
Vagmon hills and meadows beckons – nature’s laptop where love blends with fresh air. You will there soon for a life time experience …
Where to start !
60K race starts from closer to a large parking lot very near to Orchidarium. Don’t be disappointed on having to run through the road, as that’s only for a few hundred meters.
Soon you will hit the trails as you enter KLDB, a government run hi-tech dairy farm. A stretch of 2Kms here, is the longest elevation-free part of the course. You will start running through the charming tea estates, Penhurst being the first. Runners will then cross the Bonami town before entering the tea plantation again, this time its MMJ & Aban tea plantations. You will hit the first aid station at 7.5Kms near a temple at Uppukulam. Past this point, you will run by a beautiful lake on one side and a small estate employees quarters on the other. Hopefully, the kids will wake up early to cheer you along with chirping birds.
A few ups and down through the estate and then pass a small gate to enter the forest area. You will run past a small check dam and climb a hilly meadow before running down towards a ridge with breathtaking views of a 800m deep valley. This place is the only paragliding range in Kerala, but unfortunately its known suicide point for obvious reason as the name suggests. Every runner must exercise caution and should keep away from edges and also avoid taking adventurous selfies and videos.
You will breeze through meadows for a while before passing through some concrete pathways and many ups and down on these grassy hills. At 12.5Kms from start is the second aid station, but also where you will enter KLDB’s restricted grazing land, opened exclusively for trail lovers. Tall overgrown grasses will be cut for you to carve out a beautiful track once again through the meadows. The destination now is Thangal Para, a big rock which also happens to be a place of religious significance. Unless you are in the lead pack, you will see runners going up this big rock from at least a KM away. A gradual climb of 150m will take you to the highest point on the rock, where you will take a U-turn and start retracing your steps back to the aid station at KLDB gate.
On the way back, there are these tall grass again. The high yielding cows and bulls of KLDB normally graces these meadows, but it is you today for a change. Some more ascents and descents and you’re soon back from where you started the race having completed this 22Km loop. All is good now, because what you have in front of you is a long downhill through a pine forest. I wish it snowed here and the steep descent would have definitely been popular in winter, but alas! Enjoy the view while it last. At 24-ish KM, we have our first rest area, which is also a shop that an old lady, whom we call Ammachi, runs. She also graciously fuels our recce runs and we are certain that you could brace yourself for some hot savouries, but make sure you reach here before
10:30AM 11:00AM as the race timers are very strict and won’t let you proceed even if late by a minute. But, don’t burn out your quads on the Pine Valley downhill as there are more such to come.
You will now hit the Tarmac for 1500m or so, as we take you to our new found trail. You will run past the beautiful palozhukumpara (milk-like) waterfalls, before starting to climb the “Allu Paara”. Until the next aid station, you will climb 310m and also descend the same altitude. The top of Allu Paara is highest point on the course and you will find nothing but the meadows, cows and some rocky patches for company. Enjoy the views, take some snaps and get ready to assault the descend. As you “find” your way to the base of the hill, you could see the famous Idukki dam catchment at a distance, on a clear day. Had it not been for the elephants, our destination for a 100 miler on this course would have been the water catchment area that you can see far away.
After reaching the aid station at the bottom of the hill, you will now run through the stream. Yes, through the stream!. This part of the course is not open during monsoon as the flow is quite heavy during that time of the year. After about a 1000m, you will reach the bottom of the cloud kissing Mountains and then is a short steep hike to the Heavenly Valley resort, where we have a timing station. The next 7Km stretch is mostly through the rugged jeep roads, which also means that you would see more homo sapiens than you would have seen until now. Most of the inhabitants here are farmers and this place have nice cardamon gardens. Cardamon is the known to attract pests and many farmers will be widely using pesticides which can be toxic on direct contact. As an advisory, you shouldn’t be drinking water from any of the streams as they would look fresh, but may be contaminated. Couple of switch backs, up & down and you hit the next aid station, this time a little closer than normal near a Church.
You are now going downhill and running towards “Arappu Kaadu”. Arappu literally means Abhorence, but here it is a short of “Arakkuka” which means “cut down”. This place, which now has acres of beautiful tea plants was even more beautiful a couple of decades ago, when it was a thick forest. Our ancestors in lurch for wood, cut down the whole of it and made it barren before the tea plants came in form of some reprieve and the locals started calling it “Arappu Kaadu”, with “kaadu” meaning forest. Soon after you exit the tea estate gate, you are going to climb up and up and up to reach the next Aid Station cum Rest Area cum Stage Cut-off point at exactly a Full Marathon. Congratulations to all those who reached in time, but if you don’t you will have to come back again next year to see what the Soles at Cochin has cooked & served for the remainder of the course. This Aid station is a bungalow owned by MMJ tea estate and manned by two very strong Soles. Make sure you ask these two Ironnmen for a nice massage, a hot drink, some curd rice and boiled potatoes!
The next 18 Kms will have only two aid stations, excluding the one at the finish. It is almost all flat or downhill for a change.
Start of the finishing line
A Tree Stub is where you will have the next hydration point. The couple who manned it last year from the wee hours of morning till late night is running the 90K this year. From here on, the 90K runners will thud the tarmac, but the 60K runners will take the trail. As you get bored with the sight of neatly pruned tea plants, you run into a swamp and have to bear with slow pace for a KM or so. Again, if you are in the lead pack, you could get away without wetting your socks, but as more runners go past this area, one can be sure to have the shoes polished in slush. Running through this area in the night is very dangerous and hence 90K runners have been excused from this mess on their return.
If you are a first timer here, you will notice that the course run through a lot of hamlets and relatively more populous than any other Ultra in India. This is typical of Kerala, where we have very high density of population. This also means your chances of sighting wildlife is very rare. But, that doesn’t reduce your chances of spotting a snake, which is very common here. The last Aid station is at the Palette People, which was the 80K finish last year. Also known as, Green Meadows, they are one of our race partners who have helped us immensely in exploring the trails and have hosted us on numerous occasions in the last 3 years. They are also our base station every year from where we spread around in teams marking the course and arranging the logistics, 4 or 5 days before the race day.
The downhill that started at the Green Meadows gate continues until the end of the valley, but we are very sorry that the last 3Kms to the finish will have a total elevation gain of 160m. We are sure that as you finish at the St. Thomas LP School at Pullikanam, the pain that you have endured for last several hours will fade away into good memories that will last for ever. Remember Life is short but Trails are shorter! Make sure you get your precious medal, have some good meals and chat around with friends and fellow runners or newly found friends.
Please don’t forget to tell the race organizers at the finish all the bad & good things. This feedback mechanism is a must to ensure that we are able to organize a runner oriented race, year after year.
“ Life has all sorts of hills and valleys,
and sometimes you don’t end up doing
what you had your heart set out on,
but sometimes that’s even better! “
Lets meet at the Hill top.