Conquering the Everest of the South

Published: 31st July 2014 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 30th July 2014 11:57 PM   |  A+A-

Towering over Munnar like a brooding colossus, the 8,841ft Aneimudi is reputed to be the highest peak in India south of the Himalayas, with the Dodabetta peak in Ooty coming a close second.

Records indicate that in the 1940s Aneimudi had attracted several British mountaineers—some of them of Everest fame—who tested their skills on its sheer rock-faces. The mist-cloaked peak with its perpetual aura of mystery still draws the adventurous, spawning many a yarn.

Noticing what appeared to be a bear lumbering ahead of him in the dense mist, a jittery climber once raised an alarm—only to discover it was a corpulent companion clambering up a steep incline on all fours. Another climber tripped and plummeted downwards, all but impaling one of the fleshier parts of his anatomy on his guide’s staff. And washing his face in a stream a novice was appalled to see the reflection of an elephant close behind. It turned out to be one of the many jumbo-shaped boulders studding the valley.

In fact climbers follow a well-worn elephant path snaking through waist-high grass and encounters with wild elephants are fairly common. Though the jumbos don’t exactly step aside to let climbers pass, they’ve never been known to “discourage” an expedition to the peak either!

My first ascent of Aneimudi in 1967 was eerily memorable. Halfway up we were enveloped in a dense bank of mist that reduced visibility to nil and left us groping and stranded in the swirling whiteness. The final assault on the peak really tests one’s endurance for the terrain is dauntingly steep, rugged and treacherous.

Despite fog and clouds playing spoilsport, the unbelievably spectacular view from the summit handsomely rewards one for all the pains taken to get there. On a clear day one can see the sea off Cochin as well as the Anamallais, Nilgiris and Palni mountain ranges in Tamil Nadu besides all the adjacent planting districts. Munnar is just a cluster of matchbox-sized buildings in the hazy distance. It’s indeed a bird’s-eye view of a truly vast panorama, tempting one to wax poetic and exclaim, “I’m the monarch of all I survey!”

During the Raj, Munnar’s British planters celebrated V-Day at the conclusion of World War-II by lighting a massive bonfire atop Aneimudi—a triumphal beacon that could be seen from all the neighbouring planting districts who also had similar bonfires on prominent peaks to mark the occasion. In 1978, Aneimudi was again lit up by a bonfire to signal the centenary of tea planting in Munnar.

Despite the occasional misadventure, over the years Aneimudi has irresistibly lured many to its craggy crest, justifying the saying “Mountains are meant to be climbed”. Some hardy climbers have even camped overnight on it, braving wild animals and freezing winds, and returned with scary tales of close encounters with just about everything except the “yeti”!

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