Tag Archives: Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary

Treasure trove of wildlife- Valparai

It has been over a year and a half and this one was pending until now.. All thanks to our organiser cum photographer cum driver cum guide cum caretaker cum etc. etc.. there was a delay in sharing the dropbox link to the photos and finally I decided to make do with whatever I had with myself.

Five of us started from Bangalore on friday night.. We, on the rear seat of the car dozed away to glory.. When we opened our eyes to the misty morning dawn, we were greeted by tree-lined roads, beautiful countryside with emerald fields of paddy, whispering palms and coconut plantations in the backdrop of the towering Western Ghats. We had reached Pollachi in Tamil Nadu.

We were nearing Valparai, a lesser known hill station in the Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary(earlier known as Anaamalai Wildlife Sanctuary). Kollywood stars and burned out urbanites frequent this place to de-stress themselves and savour a slice of nature as it is not yet on the radar of mass tourism. If you amble past mud walled, thatched roof dwellings, granaries of farmers and tea estates fringed plateau, don’t be surprised when you hear someone screaming ‘start camera’, ‘action’. This is a hot spot for movie makers with over 1500 movies and commercials having been shot here.. And we too got lucky when we happened to visit the sets and share our homestay with the crew of the movie- ‘Madras cafe’ 🙂

The drive ascended along the winding road by the backwaters of the Aliyar irrigation dam. About 32 hairpin curves lead to Valparai, with every bend offering surprises galore. This being a protected wildlife reserve, we had our list of top 5 wildlife sightings to be done before we leave.

View of the Aliyar backwaters

Further up 4 kms from Aliyar park, near the forest checkpost, we reached the monkey falls, named aptly due to the many troublesome monkeys here, one which even entered our car and happily carried away the fruits from the rear seat 😉 Our drive continued.. Just as we approached the 9th curve, we were greeted by this gentleman who was calmly grazing on the edge of the steep rocks. We scored off the 1st member on our top 5 list- ‘The Nilgiri Tahr’. This is also called the Loam’s view point.

Nilgiri Tahr – Photo credits: Samson Joseph

Further through, we stopped at Carver Marsh view point adjoining the Kavarkal estate. On a clear day, one can see the Sholayar reservoir(2nd deepest dam in Asia) from here. We then cruised past the Tiger valley from where we caught a good view of the upper Aliyar reservoir.

Carver Marsh view point

We covered Congreve falls(located in the Nadumalai estate), Vinayagar temple(Jayashree estate) & Birla falls along the way up. We got good view of the Manopally forest & the grass hills of the sanctuary. However, we missed out on the visit to the ox-bow lakes situated in the protected areas without being able to get permission from forest authorities due to insufficient guidance. We visited the Balaji temple and the nearby Iraichalparai falls along way.

At the entrance to Sholayar / Kallyar estates

Being the breeding season for most animals, We happened to be there at the right time. The time to score off no.2 – Groups of the endangered ‘Lion tailed Macaque’ 🙂

Lion Tailed Macaque- Valparai

Even before we realised, we had reached the hill top 🙂 We stopped by and trekked through the tea estates to reach the ‘Seen god shrine’ at the Nallamudi Pooncholai view point. An old man, who claims to have seen god, blessed us with some prayers and turned out to be an encyclopedia of knowledge about the local culture and history. He explained to us about the various tribal settlements in these hills.. pointing out at colonies, he would tell- Kadars, Muthuvars and Malai Malasars. They are estimated to have 190 households in 8 settlements in the sanctuary. While we walked towards our car, the women picking tea shoots warned us not proceed.. We sighted a herd of 8-9 elephants at a distance, thus scoring off no.3 on the list 🙂

We then drove to ChinnarKallar for the hanging bridge trek.. Inspite of driving all the way, we refrained from shelling out 250Rs per head just for the entry which sounded to us more like a bribe at the forest checkpost. This place receives the 2nd highest rainfall in India. We reversed our car and then.. no.4: The giant flying squirrel(a young one and wasn’t flying though) crossed our road.. We were excited..!! After covering places in the Tamilnadu part of the sanctuary, we headed towards the Kerala border.. We saw a calm stretch of the Koolangal river and decided to spend some time there.. We could not compel ourselves from not taking a sip of the crystal clear waters.. And right there.. we saw this little creature on no.5: ‘The common map butterfly’

The Common map butterfly

We registered at the border checkpost and prepared to enter the Kerala land.. Thick rainforests on both sides accompanied us all the way till our destination.. We happened to drive through what I think is one of the dangerous roads I have driven through.. With the Sholaiyar backwaters on one side and a valley on the other side, only one vehicle can pass at a time.. Beautiful views for most of the stretch kept us in an awe.. Tunnels have been bored through the mountains to supply water to Parambikulam reserve from the Nirar dam.. We reached Athirapally reserve just after sunset… Got a quick glance of the beautiful waters cascading down to join the Chalakudy river.. It was soon dark and we checked into Maria cottage who made us feel at home and served some sumptuous Mallu food 🙂

Athirapally waterfalls

Next morning, we walked passed the palm plantations to reach the Chalakudy river to freshen up.. This place is frequented by elephants at all times, but we did not care. We enjoyed the clear but violent waters there.. We had a good filling Kerala breakfast and checked out. We went back to the falls.. We walked down to the base of the waterfalls and spent good time there.. We then continued our drive. A quick stop at the Vazachal falls (it is more like water flowing down a steep rock than a waterfall) and we decided to say good bye to Kerala..

The original plan was to drive through Ooty-Bandipur-Mysore-Bangalore. But, since we were behind schedule and could not reach Bandipur before the gates closed, we decided to drive back through Pollachi.. So, we did the curvy stretch of road again.. WOW..!! We further drove through Udumalpet which happens to be one of the windiest places in Southern India.. Thousands of wind mills dot the stretch on either sides which is a sight to behold.. It was dark in no time and we had to zip ASAP to reach for work the next morning..

Thus ended the 50 hours drive! – Covering 1000 kms across 3 states

Up, close and personal with wildlife at Bannerghatta

I believe that we develop interests based on the environment and the social circles that we are exposed to. Born in a small hill-dwelling community whose lineage takes pride in hunting games, it once got me to think where my interests towards nature and wildlife conservation came from. Although I couldn’t join too many dots, one significant period was my high-school days where I would have long conversations with a friend, about animals’ health, their behavior, their habitat etc. Her father worked in the Karnataka forest department. I thus chanced upon once, to stay for a couple of days along with her, in the official quarters located inside the Bannerghatta Biological park.

A stay dating back to June 2007: Five friends and I embarked on this memorable trip (yeah, I can call it life changing too.. It probably changed my perspective about zoo keeping and keeping animals in captivity).

Day 1:
After bracing through long traffic jams and burping on our pre-booked lunch at the Jungle resorts within the park, it was Safari time for us. Even though I’ve been to Bannerghatta innumerous number of times in the past, this was a nice experience. On my previous visits as a normal visitor in the zoo, I would have to buy separate passes for each section. But this time, I was exploring the place with special privileges. The herbivores safari, tiger safari, lion safari, bear safari all done by sunset time and we unwound at the quarters.. You have 6 chatter-box girls in one house and what do you expect? A lot of gossip 😛 The evening thus passed by. The cook served our dinner and post that, we all geared up for one of the most memorable nights of our lives.

Deep inside the jungle

We were all set for “The Night Safari”. The forest guards would go on their regular night beats in the forest and this time, we would accompany them. Apart from being the first experience for all of us out at night in deep jungle, what was more exciting was that we were going in an open pick-up vehicle. As the eeriness of the deep dark wild started to excite us more and more, we got a better understanding of such places at night. While we were being attentive and soaking in all the sensuousness of mother nature, we spotted some wild animal that crossed our path.. and then came back and stood infront of our vehicle. I thought it was some sort of a wild cat and my jaws dropped in awe. I shouted in excitement, “Cat, Cat!”. Then noticing the weird glances I received and the silence of others, I realized I had to shut up. A friend was quick to realise what it was. She shouted “Leopard, Leopard!”. Imagine a LEOPARD, totally untamed and WILD.. right infront of us…!!! The driver halted the vehicle. Another friend yelled out, “Don’t stop, don’t stop.. Move move..”. But the driver took the jeep in reverse and closer to the cat. The leopard had now walked past our jeep and come to the rear side. At a distance of less than 10meters or so.. Instead of pouncing on us and grabbing one of us, strangely the leopard ran away within a few seconds. PHEWWW… still feels like I just woke up from a dream..!!

We were then told that the leopard had littered cubs somewhere in the vicinity and hence, ran away. The forest guards know their forests and its inhabitants. The leopard was frightened about a threat to its babies and hence ran away to protect them. They are usually in defensive mode during these time unless attacking is an absolute necessary. The Safari continued.. We spotted bisons, antelopes, spotted deers, neelghais, wild cat, black bucks, mongoose, rabbits, so on and so forth… The nigh safari was indeed an experience in itself!

Day 2:
Next morning we all woke up before sunrise and again, headed towards the jungle. This time, it was a morning ride with a hope of spotting a few wild elephants. As we travelled deep, deeper and deepest into the forest, the terrain got more bumpier and rocky. The painful ride however, did not yield any good sightings apart from fresh elephant dung everywhere. But, some wonders of the jungles that we had missed in the darkness of the previous night, made up for the disappointment of our morning ride. Picture these little scenes: hundreds of butterflies flying out of a bush, all at once; the glittering clear waters of the lakes lost in the deep jungle; many more.

After reaching back to the quarters, we immediately headed to a pond located behind the quarters. It was bathing time for the pachyderms at the zoo… Two majestic sweethearts walked past us, with a calf: Vanaraja, Darshan & Baby Nisarga (Those are the names of the elephants at Bannerghatta). We too stretched ourselves to give them a scrub and in the process, got all wet with the ever playfull little Nisarga.

It was our zoo time post breakfast. In a separate area, an elephant calf named Geetha was in deep slumber. The calf who was barely as old as a month-and-a-half was guarded by her mother. We accompanied the mahout to feed them and spent. During this, the little one woke up and we got lucky to spend some time playing around with her. She would nod her head and playfully chase us. We would run around the tree until both of us got tired, and then start the cycle again. While at this, the vetinerary doctors of the zoo welcomed us to the backyard of the Vet-hospital. Under their supervision, we got an opportunity to touch, carry and care for wounded or sick animals that were being treated there. Among them were an alligator, civet cat, guinea pigs, rabbits etc.

Later in the afternoon, we visted the SOS centre. I didn’t even know such a place existed within the premises despite coming to the zoo several times in the past Special privileges! This is a rehabilitation center for wounded lions, tigers, bears etc. These animals are mostly rescued from circuses, bear charmers etc. treated here before letting them into the actual zoo area. This is a public prohibited zone. The handsome Siberian tigers were my favourite.

At the SOS centre

Next was the drive uphill- to Udige bande. We got a nice view of the ‘Bannerghatta National Park’ from here. You can find innumerous dolmens here, believed to be the place where the local tribes once laid their dead ancestors to sleep. There is also another large rock, called as the Barber’s stone which is believed to have been featured in Dr.Rajkumar’s ‘Gandhada Gudi’ movie.

From Top left: 1.The view from Udige Bande, 2. The Barber’s stone, 3.The Dolmens atop Udige Bande, 4.View of a small check dam constructed by the forest department as a watering hole for the wild animals.

Day 3:
We were taken to the tiger and lion conservation area. The pictures taken here are something that I would be flaunting for the rest of my life. Not all get a chance to touch and play around with tiger cubs 😉 The big cats that are ready for their breeding / mating are brought here. After the cubs are born, the parents and the cubs are nurtured here until the cubs are of a suitable age to go back to the wild. Here, there is no wild as such. They are let in the safari area to mingle with the other cats in a controlled space, which is also another form of captivity.

Playing with a tiger cub at Bannerghatta lion and tiger conservation area

We took a walk around the museum and got a few insights into preservation and conservation of our natural heritage. We then headed to the last part of our long weekend. The butterfly park was newly set back then and it was a good crowd puller among the public.

To my experiences of going on wildlife safaris and what I had watched on discovery & Nat-geo, I guess this trip gave me a new insight into wildlife conservation. Until now I had only been hearing and watching it. This trip gave me an opportunity to EXPERIENCE it. You cannot connect with nature unless, you get up, close and personal with wildlife.

Studying ‘Bachelor of Cycle-logy’ at IIT-Madras

This trip to Chennai is going to be a memorable one. Because, this was my first solo business trip. Apart from traveling alone in a land that spoke a language I barely understood, I managed to pretty decently pull-off the audit at a vendor company, all by myself. Some small little personal milestones! So, here’s a peek into my first solo business day, without business :p

I landed at the Meenambakkam international airport at around 8.00.a.m. and hired a taxi to the vendor’s place. This is when my tryst with Tamil started. The driver did not know my language and I did not know his. But, one thing I learnt quite fast was, being a Kodava really helps while roaming around in South India. I could mix up bits of Malayalam and a little more of Kodava thakk and make it sound pretty much like Tamil. The driver managed to understand the basic instructions. And the rest, sign language it was. But yeah, it was a lucky start for a solo stint.

But imagine finishing work ahead of schedule and having a late night flight to return! Especially when you don’t have a backup plan in hand and do not know the local language. Even if I googled for some place to hang around, I was not able to communicate it to my driver.. The sign language wouldn’t be of much help if I had to spend a longer unplanned day. Hell! I felt stranded in my own country.

That’s when a friend studying at IIT-Madras came to my rescue. I rang him up and he guided the driver in Tamil to reach his campus. The plan was that he would show me around the campus and then drop me back to the airport. Fair! So that’s what I did..

What if I did not crash the GATE (The toughest entrance exam in India) ?? That did not stop me from learning at the prestigious IIT-M..!! Thanks to my friend pursuing research at IIT-M, this was where I completed my “Bachelor of Cycle-logy” which I had left unfinished way back in primary school. He suggested that cycling around the vast campus was the easiest way of getting around and I agreed to his suggestion. He got his bicycle out and borrowed one for me from one of his classmates. Then, we had gotten pedalling on the roads of the vast 600+ acres of lush greenery on the campus of IIT-Madras.

Top: Gajanan circle at IIT-M premises; Below: Bonn avenue at IIT-M

IIT-Madras is located adjacent to Guindy national park(the 8th smallest in India)- the last bit of the tropical dry evergreen forest in India. There is so much greenery in the entire canyons, that our cycling stint was indeed refreshing. This allowed me to witness the harmonious co-existence of man and the wild, in an urban setting. While the Black bucks, spotted deers etc. walked around fearlessly on the campus, the humans went about their businesses without coming on the ways of these wild animals.

Wild animals walking around freely inside the IIT-Madras campus

After we had pedalled around almost all corners of the campus, we checked in to the ‘cafe coffee day’ on their campus. Since restaurants are heavily subsidized in such institutions, this was the “Cheapest” CCD I had been till date. It was 5.00.p.m. something and we still had so much time left. So, we decided to hit the “Elliot Beach” in Besant nagar about 6.kms from IIT-M.

We had some corn, I bought a Rajnikanth mask, flew a kite etc. on the sea shore. We did all that which helped us to kill time. The beach was a wee bit dirtier than the ones I had seen all my life (in Mangalore and Kerala). Meanwhile, I waited patiently to see the sunset. I waited and waited… and it was dark already. Only then did I realize that the sun only rises in the East coast 😛

Top:The Karl Schmidt memorial; Below: A corn vendor at Elliot’s/ Besantnagar beach

It was going to be 6.30.p.m and we thought it would be wiser to leave, because we had to brave through the Chennai traffic so that we made it on time to the airport.

All in all, a day well spent. Looking forward for many more business trips 😛