BONACAUD/THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Minor protests by the Kani tribe at the Bonacaud base camp marked the annual Agasthyarkoodam pilgrim-trekking season’s opening day as a woman turned up to scale the state’s second highest peak.
There was added media glare on the season as the High Court had allowed women to trek the mountain for the first time.
ALSO READ | Ayyappa politics is sacrilege
Defence Ministry spokesperson K Dhanya Sanal, the only woman to have reached on Monday, went up the mountain along with the first batch of trekkers headed by a woman beat officer and woman watcher. Four more women are expected to trek on Thursday.
“It was the first time women were allowed to trek and women officers were deployed for their safety,” said Assistant Wildlife Warden C K Sudheer. Thiruvananthapuram Wildlife Warden Y M Shaji Kumar flagged off the season, with the 20-member first batch leaving the Bonacaud Forest Picket Station.
Dhanya is happy. Kani tribe isn’t.
Hundreds of people from different walks of life gathered at the same spot on the very first day of Agasthyarkoodam trekking - a trek to the second highest peak in the state - near Bonacaud Forest Picket Station, the starting point of the trek at 7 am. Defence Ministry spokesperson Dhanya Sanal became the first woman to trek up the hill. Even as the trekkers were seen excited to begin their journey, a group of around 30 Kani tribe members staged a ‘nama japam’ protest at the entrance against the High Court’s verdict letting women climb the hill for the first time in history.
“I am 70 years old. Till now not even a single woman in our community, including me, has ever seen our own god Agastya muni as it is our long followed tradition that females do not visit the shrine. During this season all women from our community pray to god from Athirumala and our men visit the shrine only after abstaining for 41 days following all traditions similar to Sabarimala. We won’t forcefully stop women from trekking but we will conduct the nama japam here as we have full faith in our god,” said Devi, a Kani tribal woman.
Dhanya Sanal, the only woman among the 100-odd trekkers, was excited as from Monday she would be known as the first woman to cover the second highest peak in the state since an unofficial ban on trekking for women was lifted. “It was a complete coincidence I got the tickets for trekking on the first day itself. I had registered online for this summit. More than being the first woman I am excited because I finally got to trek the Agastya peak. I have trekked in various other Western Ghat regions. It was a long wait to cover this region too,” said Dhanya. She said she is not here to hurt anybody’s sentiments.
The Forest Department has arranged a separate rest place for women. Two women officers have been assigned duty at the base camp. “It’s a steep climb and due to the difficult terrain one requires good physical fitness. Though women have covered these areas for research purposes this is the first time a woman is in the trekking group,” said C K Sudheer, Assistant Wildlife Warden.
However, for some men, it was their first experience after several attempts whereas for a few of them this was their fourth visit. “I’m coming here for the fourth time. Each time I come here I feel the beauty of the place is diminishing,” said Satheendar Das who reached here from Kottarakkara. The trekking season will last for 47 days. Over 4,700 people have already registered online, including 100 women.
Nama japa protest opposes trekkers
Kani tribe staged a nama japa protest, expressing their disapproval of women trekkers being allowed to access Agasthyarkoodam.
Agasthyarkoodam Kshethra Kanikkar Trust president Mohan Triveni said: “We don’t have issues if women travel till Athiramala as our tribal women do, but they shouldn’t try to break our belief from time immemorial. We believe the mountain range is the holy abode of our deity Agastya Muni and women are not allowed to enter there. If women try to go to the mountain summit, they’ll be doing it by stamping our deity’s forehead.”
Dhanya said she would like to complete the trek without hurting the tribals’ belief.
“Due to the love and respect I’ve towards nature, this trip is important for me. This is about strength and fitness and not about gender, so I would suggest other women to come forward for such trips if they’re physically fit. Though the forest officers have informed women doing research have already been there at the peak, I’m not sure till which point they’ve climbed. I would like to complete the trek without hurting the tribals’ belief,” said Dhanya.