Sirumalai Trek and a delicious Jackfruit

Sirumalai Trek and a delicious Jackfruit

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A small trekking trip which I made about 2 years ago. I forgot most of that. But there was one delicious jackfruit I purchased during this trip, which was the best I have ever eaten.

April 29th, summer of 2018.

I was in the fourth year of my Ph.D. My Ph.D was half done and the path to completion was very clear. Hence I could afford to go out for a trek with two friends (not that it would have stopped me otherwise too). Being someone who is quite unsocial, it was one of the few times when I had friends with whom I felt close and wonderful (had friends other times too, but this was the best periods). One friend in this trek was a junior of mine, by one year, though he was of my age. Another friend of mine in this trek had almost completed her Ph.D and was staring at the next inevitable stage that awaited all women in India – marriage. She wanted to do whatever fun that was possible until then. We played tennis, badminton and trekked whenever possible.

Sirumalai is a dense forest region in the Dindugal district of Tamil Nadu in India. There was a temple (don't remember the details) in one of the hills there and to reach there, we had to trek up the hill. It had the potential for a small trek and hence we decided to trek there. I brought my trekking bag – a 60 liter Quechua backpack. It was oversized for this occation, but neverthless more comfortable to use than a normal bag. I also wore a pair of Quecha trekking boots. I brought some snacks and about 2 liters of water.

We travelled from Trichy to Dindugal district via bus. From there, we took another bus to Sirumalai. In this trip, the bus had to travel up an elevation and navigate many hairpin bends. This bus dropped us off in a small village in Sirumalai. We had some snacks and we talked with the few people there. One shopkeeper was from Tirunelveli and had come here about 10 years ago to set up a shop. One of my friends remarked that you can find people from Tirunelveli almost anywhere doing business. We saw portraits of former prime minsters – Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi hanging in one of the shops. I found it quite strange. It was like this place was from the past and hadn't kept up with the present. Or perhaps the person there was an ardent admirer of both these Congress prime ministers. There was a shop full of jackfruits and I noted that they were quite big. I decided to come back and have a closer look after trekking.

We began our trek close at midday around 12 pm. It was a 1.5 km trip up a hill to reach a temple on top of the hill. The path was paved in the form of a long continuous flight of stairs. We climbed slowly. There wasn't a lot of green cover in this route – mostly shrubs and some trees along the way, none of which offered any cover from the hot summer sun.

Trekking route to a temple in Sirumalai. It has a fairly good paved path making it easy to climb.

Figure 1: Trekking route to temple

A fern leaf on a rock with an unfocussed background of a tree.

Figure 2: Flora along the way - a fern leaf

We reached a temple on the top of the hill about early afternoon at 2 pm. We had to remove our footwear outside the temple. I went in, but wasn't interested in attending the temple proceedings. Both my friends went in and I waited. There was a sizeable amount of people there. After my friends were done, we climbed down to the village. Overall the trek was easy for me and my friends. It had probably been about 1.5 km of climbing. It was a nice experience doing this trek.

I went to the shop selling jackfruits, which I had noticed earlier. One of my friends had recommended that I buy jackfruit if I ever go to Sirumalai. I went over to this shop. The jackfruits were extremely big. According to the shopkeeper, it was from the forest in the mountains. I loved jackfruits and it is one of the fruits that I look forward to eating every summer (along with mangoes and watermelons). Getting a good jackfruit is a gamble. Only 1 in 5 jackfruits I buy turn out to be excellent. Another 2 in 5 turn out to be good while the remaining 2 in 5 turn out to be mediocre or appalling. I looked at the jackfruits in the shop. They were the biggest I had ever seen in my life. But most were greenish and raw in color. Two were greenish brown, which indicated it may be ripe. But then again, I've been disappointed by color too in the past. Of the two, one was extremely brownish (the one slightly left of center in the below picture) and I decided against buying it as it might be too ripe. The other was the right shade of grayish brown. Another sign that I look for in a jackfruit is to see whether its spiny projections were crowded or not. Crowded indicates that it is probably unripe. This jackfruit had somewhat crowded spines, but then so did the rest of the jackfruits. I decided to gamble on this one and bought it. It weighted a massive 15 kg – most jackfruits I have bought barely reach half that weight. It cost Rs. 200, though very cheap per kilogram. It was one big 15 kg gamble.

Several large jackfruits that I saw in a shop. They are quite big.

Figure 3: Jackfruits for sale

I asked my friends to buy one jackfruit too (was kidding). They declined and had no intention of carrying something that weighed 15 kg. One of them had earlier boasted that he could carry 70 kg of grass on his head in his village during his childhood. I poked fun at him for refusing to carry a 15 kg jackfruit now. We visited other shops too. One of friends inquired about a bottle of honey, which according to the shopkeeper was "natural" and not purified and was from these very hills. She bought it. Also some bannanas grown in Sirumalai.

We started our journey back. I carried the massive jackfruit in my shoulders, afraid to spoil my trekking bag. However, after a while, it was too tiresome and I put it inside my bag with some difficulty (it was quite big for the bag). We took a bus from Sirumalai to Dindugal. In Dindugal, we had a big meal. We hadn't eaten our lunch as we had decided against eating in Sirumali because the hotels there didn't seem good. After that, we travelled back to Trichy.

The next day, I decided to eat the jackfruit. I cut it open with a knife. It looked deliciously ripe yellow. I tasted it. It was heavens! It had an extremely sweet honey like taste. I have never eaten a delicious jackfruit like that before. In fact it was the best fruit that I've ever eaten until this point. (Imam Pasand mango approaches its quality though). The fruit was quite unusual too – its individual fruits were smaller than other jacfruits' and its seeds were more elongated than other jackfruits that I've seen. Looking up on the internet, it looks like these jackfruits from Sirumalai are quite popular. I shared this jackfruit with my friend who had recommended me to buy it in the first place. Also with my other friends in hostel and my college laboratory. They liked it.

Jackfruit cut open. Shows small but delicious and yellow colored individual fruits.

Figure 4: Look at that delicious jackfruit!

Writing this post made me emotional for quite a few reasons. One of the reasons was that I was looking back at the times there wasn't a coronavirus pandemic and I was free to travel anywhere. Also that was a time – a short period of about an year during which I had friends who made me feel wonderful. Also that fact that I am no longer friends with this person after her marriage. Also I was listening to a very good pan flute music by Leo Rojas when writing this post.

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