Officially recognised as the highest peak in India, south of the Himalayas, the 2,695-metre Anaimudi towers over Munnar like a brooding colossus, its summit invariably cloaked in mist. Altitude-wise, Ooty’s Dodabetta peak has been certified to be the next highest mountain in South India.
Anaimudi’s mystique arises from its isolation and virtual inaccessibility besides its almost perpetual halo of mist. Having climbed the peak twice in my youth, in 1997, I seized the opportunity to fly over it in a helicopter reconnoitring the area. As we approached Anaimudi, true to its reputation, we suddenly found ourselves enveloped in a mammoth bank of dense mist that wiped out visibility for several anxious moments before it was blown away by gusty winds.
Mountains, they say, are meant to be climbed. Over the years Anaimudi has been an irresistible magnet for adventurers, young and old alike, who have laboriously clambered up its treacherous slopes, braving wild animals and icy winds. It’s on record that even a few noted British mountaineers of Everest fame climbed the peak in the 1940s. However, the first European to do so was General Douglas Hamilton of the Madras Army, a trail-blazer, who ascended the peak on 4th May 1862 and left a detailed account of his arduous climb.
En route to Anaimudi, misadventures are galore. Crawling up a steep incline, a member of our group lost his balance and slid down at breakneck speed, all but impaling himself on the business end of a companion’s crude but upright ‘spear’!
On our second visit, a climber thought he saw a bear lumbering ahead of him in the swirling mist and raised, or rather ‘foghorned’, a stentorian alarm. It turned out to be just a portly colleague inching up a precipitous slope on all fours!
The view from the summit is truly awesome. One gets a bird’s-eye view of mist-capped, undulating mountain ranges on all sides, their slopes carpeted with lush tea fields, with matchbox-sized vehicles weaving through serpentine strips of road deep down below. On a clear day, the Kochi port can be seen in the hazy distance. Indeed, it’s said that in the early days, Anaimudi served as a landmark for ships approaching Cochin.
Interestingly, to signal the end of the Second World War in 1945, Munnar’s British diaspora had a huge bonfire lit atop Anaimudi and in 1978, to mark the centenary of tea planting in Munnar, another bonfire on the peak honoured the memory of the town’s unsung pioneer planters.