Vagamon : A Family Adventure Off Road Trip
We have all seen pictures of off-road vehicles going in slush and mud, and getting all dirty. But, what exactly is off-roading? Basically, off-roading is driving your vehicle on unsurfaced roads or tracks made of sand, mud, gravel, snow, rock or any other natural terrain.
The Starting Point - Trishanku Haven
The trip was organized by AT Carmodz, owned by my friend, Abraham Tharakan. AT Carmodz has their service centre near Kochuveli, Trivandrum. They are mainly into car restorations and 4X4 customisations. I would certainly vouch for Tharakan as he is the go to person for any of your vehicle requirements irrespective of the brand. He has a seasoned 4X4 group of riders called AT Rovers.
AT Carmodz chose Vagamon, Kerala, as our off roading destination. What made this trip extra special was that it was a family trip, along with a set of seasoned off-roaders. When I asked my wife about going on such a trip, the only apprehension she had was whether it would be child-friendly. Tharakan told me that he was bringing his 3 year old. And that put her mind at rest.
The Starting Point - Trishanku Haven
The trip was scheduled for a weekend and as the date approached, we were really excited. AT Carmodz had organized the trip from Trivandrum, but we decided to join the group enroute as we were coming from Ernakulam. We planned to meet the rest of the group at Trishanku Haven, Kuttikkanam (near Thekkady) where the team had arranged breakfast. Our ride till Kuttikkanam was pretty much uneventful with my little boy, Zavi sleeping through the ride. We reached the resort a little before 9 am. The only person we knew of the group was Tharakan and after some initial introductions, we proceeded to the dining area. Our group had 6 families, 4 kids and a handful of bachelors, all of us quite crazy about vehicles and off-road adventures.
The kids bonded instantly and started playing around in the dining area while the adults proceeded for a decent breakfast buffet. After breakfast, the kids wanted to go to the small play area at the resort, but since we were already delayed, we quickly ushered in the kids to the parking lot without spending too much time at the play area. And from there we started the first leg of our journey to Vagamon Heights, which was just about an hour away. Zavi was fully awake by now and was in awe of the view, that included mountains, tea plantations and clouds floating around. It was a totally new experience for Zavi and he relished it.
As we entered the premises of Vagamon Heights, I realized that we were almost on off-roading tracks. Normal cars are directed towards the parking lot and from there guests should take the resort vehicles to reach the rooms. Since we were on off-road vehicles, our group proceeded in our own vehicles. Our first stop was along a bridge and the view was breathtakingly beautiful. The place was so close to nature that even the air smelled different. We slowly made our way to the main reception area. I shifted to 4 wheel drive in the last stretch of our drive.
We walked into the reception area and were greeted by some hot and Sweet Kanthari (a variant of chilly) juice. The drink was refreshing and the climate was pleasant. Kids started playing around, while the ladies huddled around and we proceeded with the check-in.
We were allotted rooms and were instructed by our leader, Tharakan, to assemble back soon after freshening up. We took a short ride to the rooms and found them to be picture perfect cottages. We shared the cottage with another couple, Prem and Archana. The cottage had a pretty big living space and two cozy bedrooms each bath attached. There was a rope ladder to climb to the second floor, which was a semi open terrace. After taking a couple of clicks, we settled into our rooms and in an hour's time, we were all back at our meeting point. We decided to have lunch and then go for our first ride. Lunch was a sumptuous 'Nadan' (ethnic) non vegetarian meals, complete with Payasam (a dessert).
A Rough Ride
Tharakan then decided the order in which we would go. The experienced guys would lead, and being a first time rider, I would go last but before Tharakan's Gypsy. I was also given a walkie talkie to communicate with other members. The first track we took was a steep climb to a hilltop. My friends guided me as to how to effectively use the 4 wheel drive options. Most of the time, it remained in 4L. Slowly and steadily, we made our climb. We got down at the top for fresh air and also clicked some pictures. As time was running out, we proceeded to our next track.
This time Tharakan went first, followed by us. Enroute, Tharakan stopped his vehicle ahead of a slushy region that we have to cross and asked me to follow him. I was worried about the depth and my mind was filled with uncertainty, not about the vehicle, but about how I could drive across. Tharakan mentioned that consistency was the key; a slow and steady pace would help us cross the slush. Tharakan jumped back in and cruised off, all the while making it look very easy. I jumped in, the 4L was engaged and I slowly accelerated to drive across the slush. I made it and I was smiling ear to ear as I stepped out and waved at the next guys to cross the slush.
We continued our ride through the jungle (almost a jungle sans any wild animals). Suddenly Tharakan stopped and asked us to come out and take a look. I was shocked to see a very rugged terrain. I started doubting whether I would be able to complete this stretch without causing any damage to my ISUZU Dmax Vcross. The stretch was covered with loose rock, roots, was wet and slippery too. I was also worried if this terrain would be too much for the family, especially kids. We checked if the women and kids wanted to step down while we crossed this obstacle terrain, but they were game for it.
So up went Tharakan, with his family along the rugged road. Later, Tharakan came down and warned us as his wife hit her head hard against the window. I was a little worried about Laya and Zavi. Unaware of this commotion, Zavi was fast asleep in his seat buckled up. As I prepared to climb this stretch, I got a lot of support from the team. One of the members, Jithin, hopped on the front seat to guide us. So here I was going to give my first try.
I had to give consistent power, so I hit the pedal and lunged forward. But I couldn't maintain the momentum and my wheels started losing grip. My truck slowly slipped down the hill as the strategy didn't work out. I felt a little dejected, but the team encouraged me to take reverse and attempt again. Meanwhile, the rest of the team was busy putting stones on the path so that my wheels could get a better grip. So once again, I tried.
This time, we planned to drive through the roots on one side and some rocks on the other side. As I slowly moved forward, the team was applauding me and with the front left tyre on the roots and the right tyre aligned right on to the biggest rock, I started off. With their support, I gave the right amount of gas to push us through. Yes, this time I was determined to make it and so did I. Finally, we climbed the stretch with a huge round of applause from the other members.
As the rest of the vehicles completed this stretch, we made our way back to the dining hall to have our tea. We were served hot tea and coffee along with banana fritters and onion pakodas, while the kids gorged on French fries. As the mist started to descent, we decided to go on one last trip for the evening, while the ladies and kids decided to stay back and relax.
A Ride Into The Woods
On this trip, I didn't take my ISUZU as Tharakan had already warned me that the path was treacherous. My truck, with its huge overhangs, would be an obstruction to go around tough & uneven terrains. Overhang is the length of the vehicle that extends beyond the wheelbase, both at the front and rear, and are normally referred to as front overhang and rear overhang. Practicality, style, and performance are affected by the size and weight of overhangs. While off-roading, vehicles with smaller overhangs are preferred, like Suzuki Gypsy, Mahindra Thar, Force Gurkha, ISUZU MUX, Toyota Fortuner, etc. Smaller overhangs help to climb and maneuver better in rough, uneven terrain.
We started off in Tharakan's Gypsy and finally stopped near a steep drop into the woods. The sun was slowly setting and it was beginning to get dark. But we decided to go forward and our friend Sunoj lead the way in his white Mahindra Thar. He went down the hill, while some of us walked along. Those who stood outside would usually guide the driver to maneuver and climb the terrain. The area was a less explored one and the forestation was thick .As we drove deeper, it was getting tougher and tougher. The terrain was slushy, slippery, with lots of bushes and on top of that there were a lot of thirsty leeches too.
We walked a little ahead and charted out a route over rocks that would provide enough grip and also with enough momentum to cross this hurdle. Meanwhile, I hopped into our mate Sunoj's vehicle. This was another unique experience where we just made our way right through the woods. We took a less-trodden path that was fully covered with trees and plants. The drive was extremely challenging, but exhilarating at the same time. We had to drive back and forth multiple times to get the right grip and momentum to push the vehicle to the next level. It was quite dark and even with the high beam, we were not able to clearly see the obstacles and the terrain ahead. Sanoj finally switched ON his LED grid and we moved forward and drove straight into a slush.
With the help of a few other members, we winched the car to a nearby tree and pulled up the vehicle from the slush. Sanoj’s Mahindra Thar was anchored and ready to help in case support was needed. Now it was Uday’s turn, his Mahindra Thar couldn't climb through the slush in one go. While Uday’s Mahindra Thar was winched up the hill, Sajo decided to jump in too and ended up in the same situation. By this time, we started getting calls from our families asking whether we are coming back for dinner or not. We told them “Of course! We are done and are on our way back.” But that was far from reality. While winching Sajo’s Suzuki Gypsy, Sanojs’ Winch rope broke. We thought we might have to leave Sajo’s vehicle behind. But somehow we managed to tie back the winch rope and connected it to Sajo’s Gypsy, and then slowly and steadily pulled it up. This was the toughest off-road trail that I had encountered so far. Maybe, next time I would drive my Isuzu Dmax Vcross on such a trail.
It was almost past 10pm when we got back. My boy had had his dinner and was waiting for me to get back. We had a quick and tasty dinner, complete with tandoori food and then proceeded to the campfire. As most of us were tired, and Zavi started getting cranky, we went back to our cozy cottage and settled in for a night to be spent in what felt like the middle of a jungle.
Day 2 - More Fun & Adventure
As usual, Zavi was up and running early in the morning while Laya and I tried hard to sleep in. But Eventually, Zavi succeeded in pulling us out of the bed. After freshening up, we decided to do a round of photoshoot. The morning was serene and we explored a bit, before moving to the dining hall. Our group members gathered, while the kids went about playing. Finally, we were ready to go. The first destination of the day was some kind of an adventure zone. The ride towards the adventure zone was amazing. We slowly and steadily climbed a hill and relaxed for some time over there. The view was breathtakingly beautiful. The lush green mountains were laced with clouds and the breeze felt heavenly. We slowly proceeded to the adventure zone, where we enjoyed a variety of activities, including boating, bungee jumping, paintball, zip line, trampolines for kids, ATV etc.
There was a spot for four wheelers to go in and out of water too, and this was exhilarating even to watch. Zavi and his friends were having a time of the lives on the trampoline. In the meantime, some of the members went on the zip line, some went boating and the rest tried their hands on the ATV bike. After a while, Laya too wanted to try the ATV. As she started riding, I was a little worried if she would be able to complete it. The path was kind of tricky with twists and turns and slopes, but Laya proved me wrong and successfully completed the ride.
After finishing the activities, we went back for lunch. After taking it easy for sometime, the group planned to go on a last ride. But we decided not to and started our trip back home, with loads of wonderful memories and looking forward to the next trip organised by AT Carmodz.
How to reach Vagamon:
By Road: Erattupetta is the nearest town, and from there it would be around 25 Kms to reach Vagamon. If you are coming from South Kerala then follow this route via Pathanamthitta, From Trivandrum -> Venjaramoodu -> Adoor -> Pathanamthitta -> Ranni -> Kanjirapally -> Vagamon. And if from North then via Cochin ( Vytilla ) -> Thripunitura -> Puthencurz -> Muvattupuzha -> Vagamon. Even though there are KSRTC buses we would recommend going with your own vehicle. The road is steep and scenic, do keep an eye on oncoming traffic.
By Train: The nearest train station would be at Kottayam. And from there you could rent a car or use the public transport to reach Vagamon.
By Air: Cochin International Airport is the nearest airport, and from there you could rent a car or use public transport towards Vagamon.
Few thoughts and travel tips:
- If you are going for trekking or off-road do consider taking salt, lighter and odomos to get rid of leaches.
- Keep yourself hydrated. Usually the climate is cool as the temperature stays between 10 to 23 degree Celsius during a summer midday.
- Near-by attractions,
- Pine forest
- Vagamon Falls
- Stay safe and Enjoy your stay at Vagmon. You can get a lot of budget stays as well as premium resorts. We do recommend Vagamon Heights. You can get the tariff details from here. They do provide adventurous jeep rides, boating, trekking, fishing, cycling & barbecue with bonfire.
We have also documented a bachelor's trip at Vagamon Heights, "Celebrating Life : Our Team Outing At Vagamon Heights", do visit and enjoy.
*All the pictures were taken using Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 24-105 f4 lens.
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