A Defence Ministry spokesperson based in Thiruvananthapuram on Monday became the first woman to start the trek to Agasthyakoodam peak, weeks after the Kerala High Court lifted the restriction on women from undertaking the annual trek.
Dhanya Sanal, a deputy director at the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, was the only woman in the first batch of 100 trekkers who started the 22-km trek to the 1,868-m peak, situated within Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuary in Thiruvananthapuram district, from Bonakkad, the base station, on Monday morning. After camping at Athirumala on route on Monday night, the group is expect to scale the summit on Tuesday.
“The journey is to understand the forest more and share the unique experience with others,” Sanal was quoted saying by PTI.
Thiruvananthapuram’s Wildlife Warden Y M Shaji Kumar said the journey was flagged off at 9.15 am at Bonakkad. A woman forest official is in the government team accompanying the group.
A batch of 100 will be sent out for the trek every day as part of the 47-day event, organised by state Forest Department. According to information, 100 women have registered their names among the 4,700 trekkers.
Sanal, originally from Manjeri in Malappuram district, had registered her name for the Agasthyakoodam trek on January 6. A Nursing graduate, she had joined Indian Information Service in 2012.
As in Sabarimala, where the Supreme Court’s decision allowing entry to women of menstruating age has met with protests, the court decision to let women scale the Agasthyakoodam peak has met resistance from members of the Kani tribe, who live on the foothills and believe the mountain range is the abode of their deity —Agasthya Muni (sage). At Bonakkad Monday, nearly 200 men and women from Kani community protested Sanal’s presence in the first batch of trekkers. They retreated after reciting prayers, and let Sanal move on. Mohanan Triveni, president of Agasthyakoodam Kshetra Kanikkar Trust, said, “We protested against the entry of women by reciting prayers today. We are planning to move an appeal in High Court against the single-bench verdict that allowed women to undertake the trek.”
The Kani tribal leader said even tribal women living in the region have not scaled the peak. “We worship Agasthya Muni, who is believed to reside at the peak. Like Lord Ayyappa of Sabarimala shrine, Agasthya Muni is an eternal celibate, so women were not permitted to the peak to protect the tradition and bedrock of our faith. We believe misfortune will fall on women who get to the peak.”
Wildlife Warden Shaji Kumar said basic facilities have been arranged for trekkers at Bonakkad and Athirumala. He said the department has asked only physically fit people to apply for the arduous trek. The department had earlier stated that no special facilities would be made available for women trekkers.