Tag Archives: Western Ghats

Natural wonders of South India – My favourites

India has intrigued the world with its history, geography and culture- each individually dating back to several ages ago. I have been no different from the rest of the world. The LostLander has begun to embrace her landings after getting lost at random places in her incredible country. The more she is exploring her country, the more she has been discovering about its descendance and getting mind blown with new discoveries each time. Author Sanjeev Sanyal writes, “The history of India’s physical geography is older than that of its civilization or even that of the human race. The subcontinent has been a distinct geological entity for millions of years. Therefore, to understand India, we must go back to the very beginning.”

The fact that it is called as a subcontinent is associated to a larger theory of it being separated out of a supercontinent called ‘Rodinia’ and drifting apart from Africa, Antarctica and then Madagascar before it struck with the Asian continent. No, I’m not time traveling that far for now! It was just to put an exclamation to how amazing this country’s geography has evolved to be and what the natural bounty as we called it, has to offer in this beautiful country to an explorer… To take my article forward and with no biases, I divide the geography of this subcontinent into North and the South, just by drawing an imaginary line passing through its center, Seoni in Madhya Pradesh. Here is a humble attempt to take my readers through some of the beautiful destinations I have been to enjoy the natural marvels of Southern India. They are in random order and listed as and when I recollected them. For more details, you need to read my individual posts on them just by clinking on their respective tags!

1. Kurusudai islands: Nestled off the coast of Rameswaram in the Gulf of Mannar, it is the only place in the world where the oldest and the last surviving living fossil is found in the world.

2. The table tops of Maharashtra: Be it the beautifully painted pink valleys of the Khas plateau, valleys of Matheran, Mahabaleshwar or any place thought of for a scenic drive for the Mumbaikars- have all formed out of large volcanic eruptions as the subcontinent merged with Asia. Not just that, these geographical features were strategically used by Shivaji to stop the invasion by the Mughals and hence called the Deccan traps.

3. Limestone caves of Andhra Pradesh:(Click to read article) Belum caves, a part of a larger cave complex in the Erramalai region is the largest and longest cave system that is open to public. Similarly, the Borra caves is the deepest in the country. The speleothem formations are worth a visit which have formed due to continuous flowing of water over a thousand years, easily dating back to the Archaean age.

4. Gandikota: People call it as the ‘Grand Canyon of India. It is a beautiful gorge formed by the Pennar river as it squeezes from between the rock formation that has played witness to several kingdoms in history.

5. Eastern Ghats: Although I use a very generic term that specifies an entire region, they are older and mineral rich than their popular counterparts on the western side. All, again a resultant of several tectonic activities in the event of formation of the Indian mass.

6. Dhanushkodi: This abandoned town has more than just history of a cyclone. The revered ‘RamaSethu’ or the Adam’s bridge was formerly considered to be the largest Tombolo in the world and is believed to have formed due to the drifting of India and the Lankan land masses several thousand years ago..

Well… If all these have been the outcomes of several tectonic activities of the earth over a million years, there are yet several other amazing things that nature has to offer in the Southern peninsula.

7. Have you been to Wayanad in Northern Kerala? There is a heart shaped lake after a good climb up in the western Ghats. It’s the nature’s way of telling ‘I Love You’!

8. Heard of the Barren island? It is the only active volcano in India, with the most recent eruption being in 2017. The sea area around it is considered to be one of the best dive sites in the world!

9. And then there is Baratang islands– It is the only mud volcano in India, situated in the Andaman group of islands.

10. Have you seen the Purple hills? Where do you think the Nilgiri hills in the western Ghats derive their name from? They’re so called because these green verdant hills are painted blue/purple (Neela in Hindi) by the Neelakurinji flowers, something that blooms only once in twelve years. The latest mass-blossoming being in 2018.

11. Cruised through the canals of Kuttanad? Mostly popular among the honeymooners and families alike for its backwaters and houseboats, what many don’t know about this region is that it is the only region in the world where paddy farming is done below sea level.

12. How about a boat ride in the Mangrove forests of the Bay of Bengal? The Sundarbans and Pichavaram forests are the first and the second largest mangrove marshlands in the world. A world heritage site that they are, an extremely important part of the ecology.

13. What happens when a meteor hits the earth? A massive crater is formed giving form to Lonar lake in Maharashtra. This Geo-heritage monument saline soda lake is the only high velocity impact crater lake on earth.

14. Seen the waterfalls of the Deccan plateau? Be it the Chitrakoot falls in Chhattisgarh, Gokak falls in Karnataka, Athirapally in Kerala or Hogeynakal in Tamil Nadu… They’re all so good they can give a good competition to the Niagara!

15. Heard of the Sentinelese tribesmen in the Andaman sea? They’ve long avoided contact with the outside world and their gene pool is believed to be one of the crucial links to early man and the evolution of mankind on the planet.

What India has to offer is abundant! And these are only a few places that I have been to in the southern India. Do you have any recommendations? Have I missed out on anything? I would LOVE to know… Please drop n your suggestions, recommendations, feedback in the comments section below 😊

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Tracing the abode of celestial congregation- Kollur

While I was flipping through the old photos of my college days, I was taken back in time to this so-called ‘Industrial trip’. This class trip consisted of trekking, pilgrimage, beaching and lastly, not to forget our industrial visit (If time permitted!). Basically, it was less of industries and more of tripping. So here goes the first part of the so called ‘Not-so-Industrial-Trip’.

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Although I had walked for miles to reach places during my school days, this was my first ‘Official’ trek! A trek in the ‘Kodachadri hills’ in Malnad region of the western ghats.. After a real long bus journey, we alighted at the Nittoor forest checkpost late in the evening. We got the permission from the forest officials for the night’s camping ahead at the old forest guesthouse. We parked our bus there and got into the 4WD jeeps that were waiting for us since early evening. There is NO road from Nittor to the guest house, it’s only a muddy pathway. And in monsoon, it makes way for a deep trench kinda massive slush pool. This stretch can be covered by various modes based on each person’s interest. You can walk up or drive or ride.. The more adventurous people choose the latter; cycling comes with the greatest challenge with every inch posing the risk of getting stuck in the slush or having a flat.. We chose the safest- The Jeep ride. But, driving through such terrain calls for great skill of steering control, lest have at least 7-8 people thrown off-road. That said, it was a crazy drive up the hill until we reached the guesthouse in the darkness of 10~11.00.p.m.

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We could barely stand because of the strong winds, so one can imagine our next task of pitching tents.. We called off the idea of camping under the moonlight as we struggled to hold the tents firmly in our hands due to the wind. That’s when we had to camp indoors 😛 We had only a roof above us and no mats or sleeping bags.. So that’s why we pitched the tents inside the guesthouse hall for the rest of the night.

We woke up early next morning and started our trek up the Kodachadri hill.. Our trek consisted two target activities- one was to reach the Stone mantap for sunrise and the second was to take a shower in the Hidlumane waterfall. We did not hire a guide as the organisers claimed their familiarity with the route. The sight all the way till the mantap was beautiful and the sunrise and the Arabian Sea at the distant horizon just added up to the sight! The climb was great with an eyeful of the valley that was in all bloom with colourful flowers of the wild. After, a brief walk further up, we reached the Mantapa. This place is claimed to be the spot where Shankaracharya is said to have spent few days at. After spending some time in the plains and the peak of the hill, we got set for the decent.

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The Kodachadri hills- Overlooking the Arabian sea

The decent was towards the waterfall. With the decent, we slipped, jumped down, clung onto wild creepers in the event of finding our way to the waterfall amidst the thicket of the forest. Somewhere, we had already started to realize that we were lost in the forest. The thumb rule of finding the way out of a forest is to follow a flowing water body. The organisers followed the sound of flowing water and we followed them. We stopped by a small cave like structure en route, where someone had installed an idol of Lord Ganesha and offered some flowers. We prayed for our safe exit out of the forest and continued with our pursuit of the waterfall. So we finally reached at the source of the flowing water Sure it was a waterfall.. But ain’t the mighty one we thought of. It was a stream that was directed to a storage tank by the localites and the tank was overflowing forming a waterfall!! Neither the organisers nor the others knew how to react and felt happy that we had found some pure water where we could fill our water bottles and ease ourselves out of the tiring trek that had been so far! And the decent continued along the stream cuz we were sure the tank was there for a purpose and the pipe attached would lead us back to base point. There is a small temple dedicated to Mookambika Devi here, which is believed to be the original temple that is tagged to the legend of Shankaracharya’s installation of the idol. We reached the priest’s house near the temple at the base where we had a simple-tasty breakfast. After packing our stuffs from the camp, it was time to head to our next destination Kollur.

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A view of the Arabian sea from the Kodachadri peak

People who prefer to trek further, can cover the Agnitheertham waterfalls en route to Kollur Mookambika temple. But, having had enough in the quest for a waterfall, we decided to take the bus route. The bumpy drive continued until we reached Kollur, the small temple town known for the Mookambika temple, one of the Shakti peethas. This temple is said to have been developed by the Keladi rulers later in time so that pilgrims don’t have to trek up the overlooking Kodachadri hills to worship the goddess. Another legend has it that Lord Shiva appeared before Sage Kola and agreed to be present there in the form of Linga with his consort Devi. Along with Shiva and Parvathi, all other gods and goddesses are believed to be residing in a non-form in the Linga. Hence, Kollur is referred as ‘an abode of the entire celestial congregation’. We took a little time to offer our prayers and admire this beautiful little temple built in the typical Kerala style of architecture. Post that, we proceeded to the forest guest house where we had booked our stay.

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The forest guesthouse

The guest house is located in a serene location in the middle of the ‘Mookambika wildlife sanctuary’ and on the banks of river Sowparnika. With banks I mean, just a couple of steps lie in between the guesthouse and the river. This river is frequented by spotted deers & leopards to drink water. And we were told that just the previous morning, a tiger was spotted on the same steps that we were standing on at that time! The river flowed gracefully with the crystal clear water and the school of fishes enjoying their swim in between the tree roots that grew beneath. It was a SPECIAL place to go back again indeed! We cherished every moment of our stay there while being in harmony with nature in its purest form.

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The Idol of Mookambika being taken out as a part of the daily ritual

Soon, the dawn broke the next morning awakening us to another day reminding us of our journey to the next destination- Bhadravathi. It was the last day of our tour and that meant we had to do the most important part of this trip Our Industrial visit! That’s another story altogether..

The silent whine of a valley at Khas Pattar

“Thank you very much for online registration to Visit Kas Plateau.” Read the auto-response mail from the Satara divison forest office. Our slot for the much anticipated trip to the South India’s very own valley of flowers was confirmed.

We reached Khas plateau by hiring a cab from Satara town as early as sunrise. One reason was to get good shots of the valley with different hues of sunrise; second was to enjoy the oneness with nature undisturbed by the senseless, rather ruthless people who would pour in later during the day in the name of tourism. Recognised among the world’s 39 natural heritage sites by the UNESCO in 2012, Khas has over 350 flower species including orchids, insectivorous plants and other herbaceous plants. There are plants whose flowers change their sex each year too..!! Atleast 20 species of plants are endemic to the Khas valley alone. Someone rightly called it the “Nature’s very own laboratory”. Since Khas is a part of the Koyna Sanctuary, the place is often frequented by animals like the barking deers, bears etc. in search of water. It is nature’s treasure in every sense.

Life is not a bed of roses, but at Khas- it is a bed of balsams.. Oops.. Bad one, I know..!! But that’s what came into my mind when I was finally there..!! The complete valley looked as if painted in pink with an endless stretch of balsam flowers, dotted here and there with small ponds like a bindi on a beautiful lass’s forehead that would complete her looks. These ponds dual as watering holes to the wild animals that visit here occasionally. A narrow stream flows silently on the other side over black basalt rocks until it plummets down into the Khas lake. Beauty of the Western ghats is beyond expression when one stands here at the edge of the Sahyadri ranges overlooking the Sajjangad fort and the Kanher dam.

The Mickey mouse flower
The Mickey mouse flower

It is a pitiful plight of the place when several plants are smashed under the reckless visitors who pour in there in thousands during the peak months of blossom. A well laid asphalt road cuts right through this protected land until the Khas lake. No entry tolls, no parking fees, no written commitments to gain entry- but just a nominal registration fee of 10Rs. per head is all it takes to get to this colourful patch of nature. It is just a place to hangout for the majority without actually knowing the ecological importance of the place. NO… It doesn’t have any restaurants, playgrounds, toy-trains for you to lunch over with your family and kids. And definitely, NOT a photo studio for you have NO rights to sleep over the flower bed to get those sexy hot babe-kinda photoshoots done. Be educated before heading there that this place is ONLY for the people who respect nature’s gifts. Infact, none-of us even have the rights to walk through the laid walkpaths for there is always a possibility that one can step on an endangered plant and therefore kill it. So think about visiting there ONLY if you’re genuinely into research or in quest of knowledge- NOT for anything else.

Cynotis tuberosa
Cynotis tuberosa

Be reminded, the acknowledgement mail from the forest dept. also read the following:

Please note that, Kas a plateau of flowers is a divine gift. Please observe carefully, enjoy the beauty of these tiny tots and convey others also but not to hurt.”

 Here’s a request to the authorities: Taking a cue from a protected island called ‘Kurusudai’ in Tamil Nadu, It is really the need of the hour to treat Khas at such level. My suggestions are:

  1. Do-NOT make the valley accessible to public and make the entry STRICTLY based on requirement from education/research institutions.
  2. Please increase the entry fees. A HEFTY fee (possibly in thousands) will make it possible to filter out only genuinely interested people visiting there for whom money does not matter against knowledge.

My visit to the Panchgani tableland also reflected a similar letdown. The vegetation at the tableland is very fragile & similar to that of the Khas. However, onslaught of exploitative tourism has left it in a state of pity. If the flow of tourists continues the same way at Khas, it won’t take more than just two years to lose this treasure and lose it FOREVER.

Mission accomplished.. Kumara Parvatha..!!

This trek was planned to celebrate the 1st anniversary of Sam’s farewell trek.. on the same day, exactly a year ago.. Let me get you going directly from where it is actually supposed to start.

We reached Kukke Sri kshetra and checked into the lodge(a meagre 100Rs. Per day) run by the temple trust, freshened up and feasted on some sumptuous Mangalorean food for breakfast. Without wasting much time, we put our trekking foot forward. We started the much hyped- one of the toughest treks in South India.. to the Kumara parvatha peak in the Pushpagiri wildlife zone.

The original plan was to start from the base by 7.00.a.m and camp at Bhatru mane. Leave Batru mane by 3.00.a.m the next morning and reach the peak to witness the sunrise what is supposedly one of the best.

As per plan, we entered the trekking trail.. It starts of with thick forest around and steep climbs uphill.. NO water sources anywhere and a possibility of an occasional encounter with elephants. We took frequent stops to hydrate ouselves.. We stopped over at Bhima’s rock and had some fruits that we had carried. This stretch of 6km oozes the fluid out of you..

 A view from Bhima's rock
A view from Bhima’s rock

Once you cover this 6kms, you get a good view of the Kukke town.. We saw the grasslands after walking 1km from there.. It was well past noon and the sun shined at his hottest.. We were running out of water already.. We started to wonder where was Bhatru mane.. We were literally pulling ourselves or rather- Pushing ourselves to the extreme to walk further to scale the small distance from there which seemed never ending.. Finally… we were overjoyed at the first glimpse of Bhatru mane…

The first glance of Bhatru mane
The first glance of Bhatru mane

We ran down to his nestle amid a small piece of green land.. I find NO words to express the joy of finding water.. That too clear and cold water from the stream that ran through his farm.. We had a simple, yet a tasty lunch served by Bhatru and rested under the shades of the arecanut trees..

We made a small change in the plan and decided to continue the trek until dark fearing the pace at which we were doing it.. We halted at a view point few metres further for some photographs before reaching the forest checkpost where we had to register our names.. We then continued..

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We stopped again at yet another view point.. The climb further was interesting with good views of the valley around.. The sun was coming down and so we decided to pitch our tent near the stream that ran by..

The sunset from our tent
The sunset from our tent

I don’t remember which sane person in the group chose the place.. I agree that we got a place which became every other trekker’s envy.. The place was top rated spot for sunset viewing.. But we girls who stayed inside the tent know what we went through that night.. The tent was pitched on a slope on the edge of a rocky cliff which seemed like the place where the earth ended.. It was soon dark and we ate the little food that we had carried and hit the bed(Read hit the rocks).. The boys comforted themselves inside their sleeping bags and threw the poor girls inside the tent.. The entire night (Wait… Half of the night) went by while we would all slide down inside the tent with our bags.. again push back everything and move up.. Slide down.. Slide up.. Phew..!! And a while into midnight.. The intensity of the wind also increased.. The cover of the tent started to fly.. we were hoping for it to be 3.00.a.m soon so that we all could start our ascend.. But another surprise was awaiting us.. Madhu heard the cracking sound of the tent support and scared all the inmates to vacate the tent. We carried our luggage and jumped out one by one.. The last girl just came out and the tent crashed down to a flat.. The guys woke up and one of them attempted to slowly remove one of the pegs.. And then… The tent flew.. away from our reach.. off the cliff.. down the valley.. Everyone woke up and sat wondering why this had to happen.. We all sat up and the wind blew ruthlessly.. It was still dark at 4.00.a.m. and with the winds, it seemed impossible to ascend.. We stayed back till sunrise..:( (One of the main agendas not being met) Arun, dared to go down the cliff, have a thrilling feat with adventure and managed to bring back the tent that had settled on a boulder in the middle of a water body down below in the valley.. We were all celebrating his safe return than getting excited on finding the tent.. around 7.00.a.m, we started our ascend..

It was a smooth climb for most of the part.. We stopped by for a spectacular view- The post sunrise period.

Post sunrise
Post sunrise

We continued our walk.. The beautiful view of the ranges continued to enchant us all the way up..it was around 11.00.a.m; before we realised, we had conquered our destination- Kumara Parvatha..!!

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But, we decided to continue our journey.. We climbed down the steep rock and waded through super cool thick jungles.. And then, we had to climb up a steep rock with bare hands and legs which reminded me of our ancestors- monkeys.!! A small walk further took us to the actual end of the earth. We had conquered the Pushpagiri hill too..

Shiva temple atop Pushpagiri hill
Shiva temple atop Pushpagiri hill

Thanking the diety with a small bow in the temple on the peak, we set our return journey.. The climb down the rock was a rather tricky one with Bhu ending it with a torn trousers on his butt 😉 The climb down further was no easy task. We stopped by so many times to aid the numerous cramps the fellow trekkers were going through.. It was 4.00.p.m by the time we reached Bhatru mane.. We realised we had covered only half the distance and had very less time left with sunlight.. We had a quick lunch and grabbed some rest in fast forward mode and started by 5.00.p.m..

We knew we had very less time in hand and a LONG way to go..  And one of the toughest stretch ahead to do after the sun is down.. We walked as fast as we could.. We walked and walked… Our legs had given up already.. I was preparing my mind to stay back in the forest and make a feast of myself to some wild animal at night.. But Arun motivated me to walk.. Walk.. Walk…I ran down the slope at times.. My knees seemed like they would part away from my thighs.. We walked… We saw the sun coming down.. We walked as fast as we could.. Cuz we had to make the most of the sunlight.. We saw him go down the horizon.. We paced up.. Suddenly we all halted.. Pin drop silence.. We realised that some wild animal(mostly elephant) was somewhere around.. It took us few minutes to feel the sound move away from us.. Then, we again continued to walk fast.. We saw the bright day fade into darkness and every shade in this process. The toughest & the last stretch was almost coming to an end.. We reached the KP gate… And the last ray of light too waned into darkness..

We still had time for a quick bath at the same lodge and a quick visit to the Kukke temple….

Thus comes to an end- a mission….. accomplished..!!

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..

We started from Bangalore on friday night.. We, on the rear seat 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 ‘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 from 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

Tracking the Endangered – Tiger Census 2013

Tiger Census is a week long quadrennial event conducted all over India at the same time. A total of 5,00,000 sq.kms area – 17 states- 40,000 forest beats to be covered with 2000 personnel pulled in to count an estimated 1700 tigers nationwide. The event was scheduled from 16-Dec-13 to 23-Dec-13. With 2 days of training, the census will be done in 2 parts. The 1st 3days will mainly concentrate on tracking the carnivore population(including tigers, leopards etc) through critical carnivore trails and the next 3 days will be through specified transact lines identified to count the herbivores and evaluate the healthiness of the carnivore habitat.

Participation is voluntary wherein, 1 volunteer will be accompanied by 2 forest guards and allocated a specific beat inorder to spot the mighty one with the stripes..!! The forest department would provide bare minimum logistics (read it food), however, beddings need to be carried by the volunteer themselves 🙂 So all said and done, I was shortlisted as a volunteer for Kallahalla Wildlife Range in the Nagarhole Tiger Reserve. Last minute preparations, arguments with folks for permission, hunt for a notary for getting the indemnity bond attested.. All done..!! And all set for the LONG weekend 🙂

Day 1: After the enrollment formalities were done, there was a small briefing for the volunteers before we were all directed to the camp to grab some rest before the hectic week ahead 🙂 The camp itself was in the middle of the national forest. The shelter we had to look upto during our next few days was an old abandoned 3 BHK house which once served as a forest staff quarters. Now, there laid only the walls and a thatched roof with no doors, no electricity and no phone connectivity. We would have the privilege of being greeted by wild animals at door step every morning and reptiles creeping in to the living room every now and then. We did not have to be surprised even if one fine morning, the tiger himself waved a ‘Hai’ at us while sitting in the porch.. The only things that we had with us to protect ourselves were our sleeping bags, camouflage clothing, trekking shoes, torches and some insect repellents. We opted to sit in the open under the clear starry sky until the biting cold of the night froze us and it was just a day past full moon 🙂

Day 2: We all assembled by 6.00.a.m in front of our camp where I was introduced to Mr.Swamy & Chikkanna who would accompany me through the due days to come. Mr.Swamy saved the camp as the reference in his GPS and we marched towards our beat. We stopped by now and then to make a note of the different animal scats that we found. Also, the forest grass cover, vegetation, commercial trees, medicinal plants, herbs, shrubs every thing was noted with their local and scientific nomenclature. Scat samples collected included those of wild cat, barking deer, rabbits, sambars, spotted deers, bear etc. with that of the tiger as well..Further ahead, few kms into the thicket, we reached a small bit of moist land. We spotted aleast a dozen of jungle fowls around there. We walked around the place and noted fresh pug marks of a mother & a cub who had just dropped by to quench their thirst. We proceeded further and the sight I encountered next needs a special mention. Atleast 50 parakeets emerged out of a small bush when I walked by. Truly Awesome 🙂 I cursed myself several times for not being able to identify the innumerable bird species I came across all the way. We saw a tree-full of langurs, Malabar giant squirrels, sambars. We encountered a pack of wild dogs who surely were upto a well laid strategy. However, the day soon ended without any major direct sighting.

 Day 3: A day filled with anxiety began at 6.00.a.m. We were greeted at the entrance of the transact line by some wild hogs. The 2 km stretch of the transact was covered without any sightings apart from elephant dung all the way. Further downhill, we saw fresh tiger scat and I had already started to crib about having missed a glimpse of the man by a few minutes 😦 Peacocks, barking deers peeked into our way at times. We grabbed some wild berries from one of the trees that was tagged edible by the guard. When we continued our walk further, Chikkanna stopped us suddenly and asked us to stay still for a while. He pointed- “Elephant..!!” He concentrated on the sound and again said- “There are 2..!!” Within moments, we heard the thumping sound of the elephants moving towards us.. 100mts.. 50mts.. 10 mts.. SHIT.. We saw them both right there.. RUN… Chikkanna commanded.!! We just ran… and the mother & calf duo followed us… We ran.. they ran.. We ran further. “TREE..” He pointed. And we three climbed the tree and reached the top within seconds.(It is unbeleivable how you end up doing things that you have never done before when it is for life.. I had never climbed a tree before.. atleast not this high..!!) The duo continued towards us. Swamy grabbed a few crackers from his bag and lit them one by one. After bursting 5-6 crackers, the duo decided to leave our way.. Hmm.. and then our walk continued. We passed by something that looked like a tiger’s den with few bones stranded here and there. We reached Kiggere- the tropical moist deciduous part of the forest. It is a grassland where we saw herds of spotted deers grazing all around. We rested there for a while and feasted on the fruits that we had collected on the way. The second leg of the day continued here on towards Kebbekatte. Climbers, creepers, bushes, thorns- we waded them all.. and suddenly pug marks appeared from nowhere. “The tiger has just walked down to the watering hole-200mts down the line(Kebbekatte), we might be lucky”- Chikku said. “Shh..” followed an alarming sound. “It’s a tusker.!! He is close..” We looked around and couldnt find any trees this time. Swamy immmediately lit a couple crackers this time. And, we were all releived for getting lucky for the 2nd time.. We walked towards Kebbekatte- It was an unfortunate day for us as we had just scared the tiger away which was spotted by the other beat who had arrived there before us.

 Day 4: My heart kept thumping a little harder than usual. I felt a bit nervous while I was heading towards the jungle. My fingers were crossed all the way hoping to have no more adventures. I felt it was okay even if I did not spot a tiger, but wanted to reach back alive and kicking. I kept walking blindly behind Chikkanna who leaded the trio. We had to literally find our way out of the bushes which had overgrown all of us, blinding our way further. We could not even see if a tiger sat by snarling at us. I heaved a sigh of releif when I got the 1st glance of the Kiggere grassland. the 1st part was accomplished peacefully..!! Chikkanna moved into the bushes to answer the nature’s call. And so did- Swamy behind another one. I was trying to pacify my thumping heart standing all alone in the meadow. Tigers are mostly spotted in open grasslands I had read. Then, on hearing the trumpet of an elephant, Chikkanna emerged out of the bush. He signaled for Swamy to join us asap. He explained to us that the tusker was calling for a fight and is moving towards Baalekatte(our route further). We walked ahead slowly along the same route. Suddenly, Swamy pointed out to our right and screamed- “Run Run… its a Herd.. Herd..” It took few seconds for Chikkanna & me to believe our eyes. About 10-12 gigantic creatures where marching towards us… barely 20mts from us… We had forgotten to look out in other directions while we were concentrating on the lone tusker. We three started to run… Chikkanna shouted- “The tusker & the herd, both are heading towards Baalekere, let us run towards Doddkere” we three ran.. Tadan…. Another tusker stood right infront of us…. We three were surrounded by these pachyderms from 3 sides.. They ran.. I followed them.. I was caught in between a thick bunch of creepers. “F**K… This is it..!!” I thought. But, I saw god in disguise running towards me with a dagger in his hand and free me out of the tangle. It was Chikkanna. The monsters were close, we continued to run.. I again tripped over a snake that crossed my leg.. I leaped over and continued to run. Meanwhile, Swamy had lit a few crackers and planted them along the way. Out of 6 odd something crackers, only one bursted. The sound was good enough to shoo the tuskers away.. We continued to run and reached the same confines of a tree trunk on the otherside of Kebbekatte lake. After a short while, we met the other beat guys and headed towards Sulekere. This was the last option we had to catch a glimpse of the striped monster. We waited there for a long while hoping for him to come there to drink some water. We saw bisons and other animals walking in there, but hard luck- we could not spot a TIGER 😦

 And thus ended our tryst with the wild.. The pug marks were all accounted which will be matched with the camera images captured by NCTA and a compiled report will be out in a few months’ time 🙂

The Monsoon Night safari at Masinagudi

Too many details to type in about a super awesome weekend.. So let me zip through it ASAP 🙂

We started from Bangalore at 2.a.m. hoping to reach Bandipur by 6.a.m- That’s when the forest checkpost opens and we could spot few animals on the road.. But, due to frequent pit-stops, we made it only by 7.a.m.- Nevertheless, We spotted a good number of elephants, peafowls, fox, deers, sambars, wild boars etc.

A view of the valley from one of the hairpin bends of Ooty
A view of the valley from one of the hairpin bends of Ooty

First in the visit list was the Avalanche – A steep & breathtaking climb of 35 hairpin bends with deep valley covered by thick white snowy clouds on one side led us to the Queen of hills- Udagamandalam a.k.a. Ootacamund a.k.a. Ooty. Without wasting much time amidst the maddening crowd of tourists there, we drove down another set of 34 hairpin curves- 25 kms further from Ooty to reach the forest checkpost of Avalanche.. Thick rainforests on either sides, bumpy waterlogged pot-holes, scenic view of backwaters of the Emerald dam at every turn accompanied us all the way till the start point of the eco-tour.. Once there, we hired the forest jeep for a 24 kms drive through the Shola forests- It was indeed a BEAUTIFUL place 🙂

One of the many waterfalls tucked away in the Avalanche forest
One of the many waterfalls tucked away in the Avalanche forest

On a clear day, one can see the dam from this place.. A century old Bhavani temple, innumerous waterfalls along the way finally ended at Lakdi spot. This is a BEAUTIFUL place and a must visit for the backpacker.. Thick fog makes the visibility poor which adds onto the adventure of the jeep ride. If one is lucky, he could spot a leopard or an elephant on the way..

Enroute to Lakdi spot @ Avalanche
Enroute to the Bhavani temple @ Avalanche

After a short break at Ooty- the last place to fill fuel, draw cash from the ATM, buy the essentials- we headed towards THE DESTINATION- “Masinagudi”- a part of the Mudumalai forest range. We had booked our stay at the Whistling woods estate which is adjacent or rather located within the reserve forest itself..

Our cars were parked at the Singara checkpost, beyond which only jeeps/SUVs can be used to reach the cottages. This 3 km ride was a GRAND welcome in itself: Our road was blocked by herds of elephants, bisons and deers. These encounters took our excitement to a soaring high..!!

After a quick round of dinner, we all got ready for the highlight of the trip- The night safari: at 00.00 hrs in the night, who can believe if we say we drove in an open jeep into the heart of the national park in search of a tiger that was feasting on its latest kill..?? And once there, the screeching monster engines haulted, lights were switched off- Not even the moon; only the open sky with the twinkling stars guided us through. The only 2 sounds we could hear: The chirping of the crickets & the pounding of our anxious hearts.. What we all discovered right there, in the middle of nowhere was “ETERNAL BLISS”. Even after a thorough search through the remotest corners of the grassland, we could not find the tiger until 2.00.a.m. We were definitely sad about the fact, but the bumpy ride in itself was worth it all…….!!! We did spot a few other animals though..!!

Next morning, we were greeted by the excellent view of the Blue mountains through the window glasses.. We all jumped up for the guided walk along the stream lining the boundary of the reserve area.. We captured some rare fauna line the Nilgiri langurs, Malabar grey hornbill, Malabar giant squirrel, pea-fowl etc. in our machine-gun-sized cameras.. The climb to the tree top house is also worth a mention that gave us a good view of the forest around.. It was afternoon already by then and we had to pack up for the return journey… 😥

Unlike what happens usually on a return journey, all the 9 of us were jumping off our seats every 100 yards until we crossed Bandipur: We encountered atleast 24 elephants including a herd with a new born, atleast 20 peacocks all set to open up their feathers as it had started to drizzle, sounder of wild boars etc. Truly awesome 🙂

At Bandipur National forest
At Bandipur National forest

This is ONE trip I would love to do all over again and that time, it would be for a longer stay here… in the cradle of mother nature.. Just one FANTASTIC trip 🙂