THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The trek to Agasthyarkoodam, one of the great trekking destinations in South India, has become a nightmare for the participants owing to the dilapidated condition of the base camp where they have to spend one night. Apart from hanging a warning board at the most vulnerable portion of the old concrete building at Athirumala, the Forest Department, which organises the annual trekking programme, is turning a blind eye to the safety of the trekkers.
This year, the 45-day trek, which began on February 19, is attended by around 100 trekkers a day. Several persons climb the hills as a pilgrimage to offer worship at the statue of sage Agasthya situated at the highest point of the 1,890-m Agasthyarkoodam peak. The Department’s callous attitude has drawn criticism from the trekkers and pilgrims. ‘’The building is under the risk of a collapse anytime. The trekkers have no other option in the thick forests but to stay at the old building,’’ says Anil, an avid trekker who has climbed the peak six times. ‘’In case of an emergency, the trekkers would have to be carried up to Bonacaud, the nearest motorable place, around 18 km away,’’ he adds.
‘’It is highly condemnable that the trekkers have to pass through such an ordeal,’’ says Sudheer V S, a wildlife photographer and a regular trekker to Agasthyarkoodam. ‘’The building is becoming increasingly dangerous to stay year after year. It is sad that the Forest Department has no concern for the lives of hundreds of innocent people,’’ he says.
Besides a large hall where around 150 pilgrims would be present at night, including the ascending and descending groups, the wireless station of the Forest Department is also situated in the old building.
The canteen run by the tribal men to offer food to the trekkers is functioning in a makeshift thatched structure near the concrete building. The pilgrims have only good words on the canteen and toilet facilities in the nearby new building.
Principal Chief Conservator of Forests V Gopinathan says the Department has plans to repair the old building. ‘’As it is a remote location, we cannot build a new structure. But the Department will undertake repair works,’’ he says.
The base camp building was said to have been built by an Englishman named Allen Brown to house the first observatory in this part of the country. From the base camp, the trekkers have to climb another six kilometres to reach the highest point.