Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Rangaswamy Peak Trek – Apr 26, 2008

Rangaswamy Peak is at a height of 5855 ft and is visible from the Kodanad View Point in Kothagiri. Legend has it that Lord Rangaswamy who lived in Karamadai, between Mettupalayam and Coimbatore, quarreled with his wife and came to live here alone. It is the most sacred peak in the Nilgiris, sacred to the Irulas, Badugas, and Kurumbas. The devotees come here mainly during the summer months, so if you want to trek alone and avoid intense heat, avoid May.

One has to take the road which goes to Kodanad View Point and take a detour halfway. You can find steps for most of way up to the temple at the top of peak and for a small portion of the trek you have to go through tea estates. It is an ideal place for a 1-day trek from Coimbatore.

There is also a small museum in Kothagiri which is housed in the bungalow of the first collector of Nilgiris, John Sullivan.

Distance: 200 km (to and fro)

Route: Coimbatore=Mettupalayam=Kothagiri=Kodanad View Point Road=Rangaswamy Peak

Expenses: Rs.450/= per head


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Thirumoorthy Hills Trip – Mar 30, 2008

Afraid that I might land up in hell due to my numerous sins, my mom was insistent that we should see Murugan to get salvation. Mom was sure that Chitragupta was working overtime for me. I too thought it’s a good idea to on a trip with my side of the family as only a week before I had gone on a trip with my wife’s side of the family (Eh!!! What all one has to do to balance everything, though as long as it is a trip I don’t mind joining any family).

After visiting the famous abode of Lord Murugan in Palani, as we had packed our lunch too, we thought we would go to Thirumoorthy Hills, which is around 25 km from Palani.

Thirumoorthy Hills form a part of the Anamalai range of the Western Ghats. It consists of 3 places of interest – Thirumoorthy Temple, Panjalinga Falls, and Thirumoorthy Dam.

Legend says that a few thousand years ago, sage Athari Maharishi along with his wife Anushiya Devi lived here. Moved by their prayer, Lord Shiva along with Brahma and Vishnu (3 moorthis or Thirumoorthy) came in disguise to test their devotion. Overwhelmed by their appearance the couple offered them their tribute. The 3 moorthis refused to accept their offerings as such and demanded that Anushiya Devi should make the offering in nudity. She accepted their demand, and with the power of her devotion, she changed the 3 moorthis into babies and fed them. On seeing the devotion of Anushiya Devi, the 3 moorthis blessed the couple and so the place gets its name. There is an old temple here on the foothill.

One has to climb around 2-3 km to reach the Panjalinga Falls, but it’s worth the climb as the water there is fabulous, but only during the winter and rainy months the falls will be in full force.

Thirumoorthy Dam is a nice place for a one-day outing from Coimbatore. It has boating, a nice place to have your lunch (of course, you should pack your lunch as there are no good hotels out there), and the drive there is ultimate. From Coimbatore, you can either go to Udumalpet and go from there or take my favorite, the more interior and scenic route that goes through the villages. The drive is simply great with the whole route surrounded by sunflower gardens, coconut groves, and paddy fields.

Distance: 160 km (to and fro)

Route: Coimbatore = Pollachi = Poolanginar = Thali = Thirumoorthy Hills.

Expenses: Again, depends on the size and appetite of the family you take :-)


Friday, December 26, 2008

Vellore Trip - Mar 23, 2008

Temples of Tamil Nadu have never ceased to impress me and so does the Jalakandeshwarar Temple in Vellore. Situated inside the Vellore Fort, this is one of the finest pieces of Dravidian architecture in this temple of Shiva. Words fail when I try to bring out the beauty of this temple, hence I am putting up pictures.


Vellore Trip - Mar 23, 2008

Monday, December 08, 2008

Count Your Animals Before They Catch You - Wildlife Census - Mar 1-2, 2008

The Tamil Nadu Forest Department came out with an advertisement calling for volunteers for the Wildlife Census 2008. Naturally, we grabbed it and sent our name and finally we were told that the census would happen on Mar 1 and 2. We were told to attend an orientation session in the Forest College campus on Feb 28 afternoon. The orientation contained of a series of slides on how to count (block, direct sight, pug mark, etc.), safety measures, etc. We were told that there will be tigers, elephants, wild gaur, etc., in the areas we will be going and we have to run away at the first sense of danger, but with none of us planning to take bath in the 2days we will be in the forests, we were thinking who will be a danger to whom, but all that later on.

The whole group of volunteers was divided into small groups and was given respective blocks to cover to. We were lucky in that we were all put in the same group. We were given the blocks Odanthurai 7 and 8. I should say we were quite lucky in that Odanthurai 7 and 8 are in plains and very fertile. The adjacent block Odanthurai 6 is bone dry and we heard later on that the group which went there refused to move on unless they were given water, which had run out in the first few hours of the census. Coming back, each group was assigned a forest guard and our guard turned out to be Mr. Pandi. At first Mr. Pandi seemed a tough guy and strict and he would influence our group in a negative way, but it turned out Mr. Pandi was already under the influence of a much more interesting stuff - alcohol. Anyway, Mr. Pandi turned out to be a very jolly person indeed.

Odanthurai is around 50 km from Coimbatore and we left on our own vehicles. We spent the night in the Forest Department campus in Mettupalayam and the next morning we left to Odanthurai. We parked our vehicles in a farm house at the edge of the forest and began our census from there.

We were greeted with some glorious landscapes and lush green farms at the start of the walk and soon it turned to joy when we found a small stream (we were supposed to have lunch near the stream and also our night stay was adjacent to the stream). There, we had to break our vow to not take bath for 2 days; what a refreshing bath we had. After a nice bath and a lunch of chicken meals, we started with our census. It's unbelievable that there are such dense, virgin forests just 50 km from Coimbatore. Also we had a chance to view a live "machan," so often described in Kenneth Anderson's and Jim Corbett's novels. Unlike in the novels, here, in Odanthurai, machans are used for purely sighting elephants which might venture into the farmlands.

Accompanied by a tribal and our guard, we ventured deep into the jungle. On the way we spotted some monkeys and deer. Mr. Pandi told there is a salt lick and by luck we might see some animals there, and so we progressed there, but unfortunately we couldn't see any animals there and we had to lick our wounds near the salt lick. The tribal suggested we should take a detour and see, and voila, we spotted the footprint of a wild gaur. We were all excited when the tribal told that there might be one nearby and to move fast. We were walking in an Indian file with the tribal in front and our guard in the back and stop, right in front of us was a wild gaur. Our tribal gave a shriek and both us and wild gaur disintegrated. Our whole group, which till now was somehow intact solely due to the promise of the 2 bottles later in the night, vanished in nanoseconds. But because no one knew the route back to our base and the 2 bottles waiting for us, we had to reluctantly regroup.

After that, we started our way back to our base and the tribal suggested we sit vigil near the stream as animals will come during evening to have their drink. With the company of mosquitoes and the thought of the 2 bottles lingering on our minds, we sat vigil there silently. Oh yes!!!, after about 15 mins a deer and her fawn came to drink. And that was not the end of it, after that came a wild gaur and after that a herd of elephants.

Our night stay was in a small house near the stream. About 40 acres of the forest land have been cleared for banana plantation. We stayed in the house of a tribal farmer. The next morning was fairly nondescript except for the refreshing bath again. We started around early afternoon and reached Mettupalayam by around 2 p.m. After submitting our census report to the forest office and filling out some forms, we started our way back to Coimbatore with fond memories and waiting for the next census.

Count Your Animals Before They Catch You - Wildlife Census - Mar 1-2, 2008