At present, the only meter gauge train operating in Kerala is the Punalur – Shenkotta Passenger train which stretches to a distance of 39 Km. The route is going to be a history soon as railways has decided to convert it to broad gauge. This route was commissioned by the Britishers at the beginning of the 19th century and initially it was from Quilon to Thirunnelveli. Recently the track Quilon to Punlaur has been converted to Broad Gauge by the Indian Railways.
Our decision to explore the route was sudden when we were having a discussion on the meter gauge trains in India. Since we could operate it as a one day programme, the decision was unanimous and all of us stuck with the plan.
We, a group of five ( Nazar, Shahul, Anish ,Tarun and Myself) started from Trivandrum at about 6.30AM in the brand new Chevorlet Beat car owned by Nazar. The Punalur-Shenkottai train departs from Punalur Railway Station at 8.30AM. We could somehow obtain tickets on time, thanks to Tarun for having made up his mind to be in the queue even before we reached there. Tarun came directly to Punalur from Quilon by bus. Being a working day, there was quite rush out there in the railway station and the train was also fully packed with students and office goers. The reason behind that may also be mainly because of the difference in ticket rates between train and bus. The ticket charge upto shenkottai is only Rs10. Bus charge might be three to four times higher. The train runs at a speed of 17KM/per hour and it takes almost two and half hours to reach Shenkottai. It has got 7 halting stations in between Punalur and Shenkottai which are:
Since we had to carry our vehicle with us for proceeding further from Shenkottai, Tarun, Nazar and Anish moved into the train while two of us, Shahul and Myself traveled by car from Punalur.
We also started at the same time when the train left from Punalur Station. The railway track is little away from road upto Thenmala and we could see the slow moving train in between our drive. Punalur is known for the hanging bridge which is a protected archeological monument. In 45mts time we reached Thenmala Railway station. The train takes almost one hour after halting at Edamann and Ottakkal stations before reaching Thenmala.
When the train reached Thenmala, almost 50 % of the passengers were getting down, most of them were office goers and traders. As the Onam vacation started the train was packed with students enjoying the route and having fun. There were also local traders who were moving towards Shengottai. It was the turn of Anish and Nazar to drive the car from Thenmala upto Shengotta and Shahul and I joined Tarun in the train. From Thenmala the rail track and the road (NH 208) moves parallel to each other. The railway track has got more elevation than the road. The train and our vehicle moved almost close to each other upto Aryankavu pass.
The track up to Thenmala from Punalur is through plantation areas. The greenery around with tall mountains covered with fog makes the route a unique one. There are three or four small tunnels too. The track from Thenmala to Shenkotta reveals the architectural marvel of the Britishers in making such a route possible. The 13 Kannara Bridge which is a curved bridge with 13 pillars is a delight to watch from inside the train.
After the breaks at Kathuruty and Edappalayam stations the train reached Aryankavu station. Aryankavu is the Kerala- Tamil Nadu border. From Aryankavu if we travel by road, we have to drive down the hill through the ghat road. The “S” shaped hair pin bend in the ghat road is attractive as well as dangerous. But the train cruises through the Aryankavu pass ie, the long tunnel piercing the hill. This reminds us of the Konkan passage where we could find a lot of such tunnels. Remember, this tunnel was constructed almost hundred years back with hardly any technology that we have now. After the Aryankavu pass there is on more station before reaching senkottai which is Bhagavathipuram. After Aryankavu pass the whole ambience changes and we were amazed to see the sprawling paddy fields and cultivated lands on both sides of the track. The change is landscapes and atmosphere was clearly visible and felt. It looked as if we were watching a gallery of canvas painting.
When we reached Shenkottai at 11AM Nazar and Anish were waiting for us. They reached there half an hour earlier.
Shenkottai is somewhat a moderate city having qualities of a good village too. There is not much attraction around the place except that of Courtalam (Kuttalam) waterfalls, which is a famous one in this part of the world.
As we had the whole day left, we moved on with our plans to mess around Senkottai and adjacent places.
Thenkasi, which is around 6 Km from Shenkottai is known for its amazing landscapes. Being the valley of the Western Ghats the fertile land here facilitates enormous agricultural production. The delightful sight of the true village as we move along the suburbs was a treat for the eyes.
The feel of the warmth of the atmosphere was a great sort of relief and change for all of us. From Thenkasi the main road has got two diversions-one which go towards Thirunnelveli and the other one towards Ambasamudram.
Kashi Vishwanthar Temple is a famous temple situated in Thenkasi. It has got a huge sculptured gopuram or tower which resembles to the one which we find in Madurai temple. The temple is not as big as others that we find in other parts of Tamil Nadu. When we enter the temple through the gopuram the heavy wind blow makes us feel that are pulled in towards the temple and while moving out we are pushed out from the temple. May be the gopuram is constructed in such a way.
Courtallam waterfalls is almost 5Km from Thenkasi enroute Shenkottai. Although the waterfall is a famous one which attracts many local tourists mainly from Tamil Nadu, we didn’t find any peculiarity over there. The reason for that may be because we have got the beauty of Athirappally, Vazhachal, Meenmutty and other terrific waterfalls in Kerala on the back of our mind.
There are three waterfalls in courtallam
Courtallam Main falls
Old falls which is around 7km from main falls
The entrance free for the vehicle is Rs 20, 30 and 20 for main falls, old courtrallam and 5 falls respectively. We went to all three waterfalls and all of them were overcrowded. The thing which attracted us the most was the maintenance of roads which is a rare sight in Kerala.
Thirumalai temple is around 9KM from Shenkottai. It’s a big Murugan temple situated on the top of the hill which attracts a lot of pilgrims. It would have been nice if we reach there by evening as climbing up the hill at that time with sun shining bright was not that easy.
Achankoil the famous Sastha temple 20 KM from Shenkottai. Lot of pilgrims visit the temple during the Sabarimala pilgrimage time. At about 4PM we started our return journey. Enroute to Trivandrum we took a break near Thenmala Dam. While we were looking for a tea shop for having a tea Tarun was seen missing. I suddenly found him waving his hand from inside a KSTRC bus to Kollam. As usual his decision was spontaneous as it is easy to move to Kollam from Thenmala rather than coming to Trivandrum.
After having darshan at Kulathupuzha temple we reached Trivandrum via Madathara, Nedumangad at about 7.30PM.