THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The Agasthyakoodam trekking, perhaps the greenest pilgrimage in South India, began here on Sunday. One hundred persons, who have booked in advance, will be allowed to travel the 27-km trekking path a day, said Forest Department officials.
The 1,890-m Agasthyakoodam peak, named after Sage Agasthya, is a biodiversity hotspot. The peak and its environs are one of the 13 biosphere reserves in the country. On top of the peak is a statue of Sage Agasthya where pilgrims light camphor and conduct poojas. Women are not allowed for the trek.
The Agasthyarkoodam forests are noted for the presence of rare species of flora and fauna. The participants can also spot wild animals and rare orchids on the way.
The pilgrims who embark from Bonacaud, the base camp of the trip, will be led by trained personnel of the Forest Department. The pilgrims are allowed to move in batches of 10 or 20.
The trek will start in the mornings and if the participants walk fast, they could reach the hill top on the same day itself. In such cases, the pilgrims spend the night at Athirumala base camp and return next day morning.
Those who can’t walk fast can rest at the base camp on the first day and climb the hill top on next day morning.
At the Athirumala base camp, the Forest Department provides facilities for the pilgrims to rest in the night. A canteen is also run here to serve hot food to the pilgrims. The usual menu includes ‘kanji’ and ‘payar’ for dinner and ‘dosa’ or ‘idli’ for breakfast.
The participants will not be allowed to carry alcohol or tobacco products. The Forest Department has also directed the trekkers to obey the rules to be maintained in forests.
Every year, the number of applicants for the pilgrimage is witnessing an increase, thanks to the publicity through media and social networking sites. This year, the Forest Department raised the registration fees from Rs 250 to Rs 350. A total of 3,700 passes have been issued.