April 27: Forest Inspection Bungalow, Kumily, Idukki District.
The meeting convened by District Forest Officer discusses about the various measures to be taken for the pilgrimage, the following day. M. Babu, Range Officer, Kumily, addresses the gathering.
“So all of you know how important tomorrow’s duty is, don’t you? This is the only day in a year that we let public go into that spot in Periyar reserve forest. As you all know, the temple is claimed by both Tamil Nadu and Kerala and hence a sensitive place. As forest guards we have only one enemy—plastic waste. See to it that nobody brings plastic into the forest.”
April 28, Morning: Kumily Town
5:30am. Thousands of pilgrims have already lined up in long queues waiting for jeeps to arrive. Only four-wheel jeeps are permitted into the forest. The mist hasn’t lifted. As my vehicle begins its arduous journey through the dense forest, I haven’t got an idea, what is in store for me. “Every year on the Chithrapowrnami day on the month of April, they let this path open for pilgrims,” says Avarachan, my driver.
As the jeep passes big boulders come off and fall into the deep gorges on my left. It is a long path through the forest, and my vehicle is led by two police jeeps. I turn back to see many more jeeps carrying pilgrims following us. The crickets chirp louder and louder, and I have to strain a bit to hear Avarachan. “In old days, we used to spot elephants and tigers on the way, but now they stay away from the path throughout the day.” I strain my eyes peering through the thick foliage.
Soon we reach an expanse of green land, high up on the mountain. The vehicle is climbing up. If someone tells me what I see on my left is heaven, I could hardly find any reasons to doubt. I see blue mountains floating on a white sea of mist. The nip in the air adds to the mood.
The most beautiful spots in the world are nature’s best-kept secrets. The Mangaladevi temple in Idukki district is one. No wonder they let the path open only once in a year. The sights will hardly leave you for many years.
“Kannaki is the presiding deity here,” says the driver. “When the whole city of Mathura was gutted down by the people who avenged her for the injustice meted out to her by the king, she left her mortal self from this mountain,” he adds. I can see the whole of Theni and Kambam from the temple premises. From the top, you can’t help imagining the sight of the town of Madurai in flames far down blazing throughout the night–a sight which quenched the ire of Kannaki eons back.