Monday, June 8, 2009

Valpara - Muthuvankudi




9-4-2009


                           Stretch of four consecutive holidays ahead, and as usual, we started our planning much earlier. This time we opted for Valparai via Athirappilli. Set out by around 3 PM on 9th of April and we were to reach Athirappilli Motel Aram, run by KTDC, where we had arranged our stay for the first day. Route was Trivandrum – Ernakulam – Chalakkudi – Athirappilli. Our vehicle , Alto, was under immense strain, as we had to reach Athirappilli before getting too late. Apart from a little wander in search of Dosa, on which Renchi was much insistent, our journey till Chalakkudi was some what smooth. 

           We were at Chalakkudi by around 9.30 PM and had a hard time in locating the deviation to Athirappilli. Hit Motel Aram by 10.30, tired and empty bellied. Sunil had booked the entire hotel for us – (It has only two rooms ha ha...). Food was good but night wasn’t smooth, as the fan in the room was not a match for the April’s temper.


10 – 4 – 2009


               Had break fast from Motel and drove to Athirappilli, before the crowd hit the place.          Climbed down to the base of the falls to spent a while enjoying the roar of nature.             The return climb was challenging to me, as I had to carry my little one on shoulder, and it was equally hard for Sreedevi as she had to carry her self. Renchi, who starves for a cause, could easily negotiate the slope, to our envy. Drove down to a ‘Kadavu’, close to the Motel, were we had the entire Chalakkudi River for ourselves.          Spent more than an hour, feeling the flow, and were back at Motel for a tasty lunch. Left Athirappilli by 2 PM and headed for our dream destination, Valpara ; Athirappilli was just a stop over. Spent a while at Vazhachal falls on the way and entered the forest path to Valpara, via Poringal kuthu, Sholayar, Malakkappara. Our Alto was the only vehicle to cross the Forest Check post at Vazhachal at that hour, and we could read from the face of fellow visitors to Vazhachal – “Where are these people upto?” We had to have many stops, on our 5 hour journey to Valpara, as we were following the enchanting Chalakkudi River upstream, mesmerized by the beauty of the evergreen forest and its beautiful inhabitants. Poringal kuthu power house is on the way and the penstock pipes to the power house cross the forest path.
          The view of lower Sholayar reservoir near Malakkappara steals another slot of time and finally we were at the Malakkappara forest check post at 6.15 PM, leaving Kerala, entering Tamil Nadu.                 Had tea from a wayside shop and were at Hotel Green Hill, Valpara by 7.30 PM, where we had prior booking for the next two nights’ stay. Mr. Shaji, who managed the hotel, had already been a friend, owing to the number of phone calls I had with him in one week. In fact I was very much eager to visit the grasshills near Akkamalai, for which permission is hard to obtain. All these days I had rang up Shaji in that context. And now I was informed that wild life census is going on and we won’t be able to make it to the grasslands, the next day. Any how it was soothing to hear that we may get a chance, the day after tomorrow. 

       Despite being a holiday, due to Easter, Shaji opened his restaurant for us and we could spare another wander for food. The long drive had drained us and the sound sleep that is to follow would definitely recharge us.


11-4-09


                On my request Shaji had arranged a guide for us, and Damodarji was at our door steps by 8 am. He is actually a taxi driver at Valpara, ad his contacts in and around Valpara, came as a boon to us for hours to come. We made our intentions clear; that we were not for crowded places. And it was Damodarji’s suggestion that we could explore the possibilities of visiting a tribal colony within the woods – “Muthuvankudi”. We were thrilled but soon let down to know that it’s hard to get permitted. The ASI of the local police station was a close friend of Damodarji and with his blessings, we started our journey.

          Damodarji, the commander, evacuated me from the driver’s seat, and took over the cruise control. We had to travel about 20 km down along Valpara – Pollachi route, to have a right turn. It was a drizzling, misty, chilly morning. On the Pollachi route we could spot a lion tailed macaque in close quarters.                    After taking right turn from the main route, we travelled alongside the Aaliyar River, past Upper Aaliyar Dam soon to reach a locked gate manned – or is it womanned – by an old lady, who hastily turned down our request to permit us in. Damodarji rang up the ASI and he talked to her, and after a hassle of ten minutes the old lady conceded. On our onward journey we met a friend of Damodarji, who sells dam fish and we bought fish from him, for our much expected lunch.               On our way to Muthuvankudi, we were to pass through a TNEB colony where a small hotel is run by a lady, to cater to TNEB staff.                           We handed over the fish to her and went on with our mission. Damodarji was a man of enthusiasm and he stopped the vehicle every then and there, to point to honey hives hanging from a big rock or a strip of shola forest in the midst of distant grasslands.
'Para then' (Means Rock Honey) - Honey hives on steep rocks

                   
Mayil Chola - Woods that resemble a peacock ( Mayil means peacock)
                     Thus we updated our knowledge on Mayil Chola, a patch of forest resembling a peacock, Valiyaanamala and Cheriyaanamala – two rocks resembling a big and a small elephant on the backdrop of Kadampara dam.
                
Valiyaanamala & Cherianamala at the backdrop - View from Kadampara dam
                        
               The famous 501 power project is just beneath this dam, and water is carried to the power house through under ground tunnel. At another stop he got out from the vehicle to collect a type of secretion from an odd looking tree, naming it ‘Vengaipal’ , which claims to have medicinal values.              Now he points to a peak ahead, and at its foot, is our dream destination ‘MuthuvanKudi’.                         And after a travel of about three and a half hours from Valapara, we were at Muthuvankudi – a place you will never wish to leave. Muthuvans - about fifteen families – have built these houses or shelters themselves, using mud and bamboo and tin sheet roofing.                       In a sense, they are self sufficient folk, that they grow everything they need in their premises, including lemon grass which is a cash crop. Chandran, an inhabitant, had just finished building his dwelling and was now busy with a cow shed. Ladies in the settlement were so shy that they went into darkness of their kitchens, but were kind enough to prepare black tea for us. The neatness, we find in these small huts, is really worth a mention. Damodarji was very familiar with these people, that he called each one by name and exchanged a word or two. Damodarji introduced us to Arjunan, the ‘Vaidyan’ (Doctor) of the settlement, and he warmly invited us to his dwelling, where we were served with honey from their attic and raggi porridge.                Arjunan is famous for his diabetes antidote, it seems, and he had offered to prepare it for us on our next visit.                Lots of honey went in and I felt dizzy and we went for a dip in Muthuvankudi’s own water source – Idliyaar. Even at the peak of summer Idliyaar was blushing, and its water was cold enough to send a wave through.           Reluctantly bid bye to these people and started our return journey by around 2.30 PM.                My wife even managed to get along a bottle of honey. Had a tasty lunch from the hotel in TNEB colony, with our fried fish. On our way back we stopped at the entrance to the underground power station - 501 - but we were denied permission for entry.                           Damodarji promised us that he would obtain necessary permission on our next visit. On entering the main road, we went further down along the Pollachi stretch upto Attakkatti , where there is a guest house and a bunglow run by TNEB. The care taker of the Guest house, Mr. Bhadran,was Damodarji’s close friend and he took us to the first floor of the building to have a spectacular view of Lower Aaliyaar dam beneath. During one of my earlier visits to Valpara, I had admired the view of Aaliyar dam, from a view point by the side of the high range road to Valpara. Now I could see that view point, much beneath where I stand now, with ant sized travelers enjoying the dam view, as I did earlier.                      The bunglow was on the other side of the road and it faces the Upper Aaliyar dam, in the midst of woods. Spent a while enjoying the view from the back yard of the bunglow.                          Damodarji offered us a booking on any of these two buildings on our next visit, if informed earlier. It was dusk by then and we returned to our hotel at Valpara. Had sighting of red mangoose on the way and it was interesting to listen to Damodarji, who identifies animals on the taste of their meat. Discussed with Damodarji , the possibilities of grasshill visit, and we heard with pleasure, that permission is not a concern as the forester in charge of the grasslands was a close friend of Damodarji. But we were turned down to hear that the trip would consume a good seven hours or so and we didn’t have that quantum of time to spare, on the day to come. Sadly, we decided to keep aside that dream for a future visit. Our hotel – Green Hill – runs the loan bar of the place, and we treated Damodarji with few gulps of brandy. He left by around 8 PM, assuring a return early morning the next day.
12 – 4 – 09

                     Vacated the hotel by around 7.30 AM. The first visit was to Nallamudi Poonchola view point, which is well within a private tea estate. Damodarji was there at the hotel in time and we drove towards the view point, through the picturesque tea plantations. All along the drive, we were given detailed explanations on the tea estates through which we were passing, about the owners of the estates, their visits to estates and so on.
                Damodarji is a living encyclopedia on Valpara and surroundings. A small deviation from the tarred road and after five minutes drive the vehicle was stopped in the midst of tea plantations and Damodarji lead the walk towards the view point.                 At a point he asked us to wait and went ahead alone, to return within minutes. Later he explained that this was a place frequented by elephants and in evidence, he pointed to a tree, in a turning, with mud marks upto 3 metres. Soon we found ourselves atop a rock cliff with endless woods beneath.
                         Damodarji points to a river that flows through the woods

                           The mountains on the other side falls within Idukki district of Kerala. We could spot tribal hamlets, within the woods, which were a test to our eyes. Spent a while over there, enjoying the morning breeze and returned to Valpara. On the way we could spot a couple of red mongoose and a single ‘Kalayadu’ – a type of small wild goat which resembles a deer calf. Damodarji says that ‘Kalayadu’ is not that good and, to our surprise, the reason was that its meat tastes odd. Had breakfast from Valpara and headed to Manompoli Forest track, dreaming to have more wild life sightings. Unfortunately Damodarji’s contacts didn’t work here, as the family of a TN minister was within this restricted region. Damodarji’s friends at the forest check post asked us to wait for a while, for those people to return. It was already 11 in the morning and we didn’t have much time to spare over there. Sadly we left the place, and Damodarji drove the vehicle upto Sholayar dam (Tamil Nadu). He got down there to catch a bus to Valpara, as we were to travel along the same direction, back to our place. Waved off this great man of Valpara, assuring a revisit, soon after the rains. He promised us that he would be with us, on our next visit, to fulfill our dreams on the grass hills. Slowly drove along the Malakkappara – PoringalKuthu – Vazhachal – Athirappilli forest path spotting Sambars, black macaques and giant squirrels all along.                                 Had lunch from a hotel near Athirappilli, took a left turn before reaching Chalakkudi, through a new bridge and a smooth road, amidst the Plantation Corporation of Kerala, to join NH47 at Karukutti – A board near the bridge says that 15 kms can be saved on taking this route, without touching Chalakkudi. There wasn’t much traffic on the road and were safely home by around 9.30 PM. 

                    Today, about two months after the trip, while working on this post, my phone rang and it was Damodarji from Valpara. He says that its raining now at Valpara and that monsoon in Valpara is equally beautiful. It’s an invitation, I’m longing; still not now Damodarji, but sooooooooon…………. 

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