Months later I was greeted with a message in my inbox. And to my surprise it was an invitation from Saravan, to join their trek team to Mudaliyar Oothu. And he even allowed me to add two or three from my side. Could easily hook Shanty and Sinesh and by 1.30 AM on 12th Feb 2011, I was driving towards Madathara, with Sinesh by my side. Picked Shanty, entered Tamil Nadu through the Aaryankavu pass, went past Rajapalayam and reached Srivilliputhur by 7 in the morning. Six member team, lead by Saravan, joined us by 7.30 and drove to the Forest office, to pick Mr. Doraiswami, Mr. KaniRaj and Mr. Vijayakumar - Forest staff and our guides for the trek. The 12 member team reached a mango grove at the foothills, by around 9.30, where we had to leave our vehicles, and commence the trek.
Within this short while, we could have glimpses of the protected species - The Grizzled Giant squirrel.
The initial part of the trek was through the electric fenced mango grove and within a quarter hour we entered the protected area. Wild fouls and langurs greeted us, as we trekked by the side of a narrow water fall, to our left.
A little up the falls, we had to cross the flow and hence, this trek is impossible while it rains. The straight track without crossing, lead to a temple within the woods, by name 'Azhagar Coil'.
The climb gradually steepened and soon we had to halt for rest. We were then atop a deep plunge of the flow, but with less water, as rains had forgotten this place, for the past three months. Doraiswami revealed the name of the place as 'Kida Viluntha Keni' meaning 'Ravine where dear often fall to death'.
Quenched thirst, filled bottles and went on hiking.
The trek went harder as we progressed and the only relief was the frequent announcements from KaniRaj, that its just another ten minutes to the top. Doraiswamy, in his sixties, found the hike harder than me, and thus I wasn't the last man, as it happens always. A little deviation from our regular path, took us to a small hill top, from where we could have a birds view of the 'Azhagar Coil' beneath.
Spent some time there to regain the rhythm of heart. KaniRaj reminded us of the need to be more quicker, as the lunch is to be prepared after reaching Mudaliar Oothu. Hesitantly we got to our feet.
The next part was through burnt grass lands and dust added to our woes of steep climb. I felt my calf muscles weakening, finding it hard to carry me and my belongings. Looking behind, I happily realized that not only Doraiswamy but there were many others trailing. But Sinesh, Kaniraj and Vijayakumar, up far ahead, wasn't a soothing sight.
It was at this juncture of hardship, a mantis came to our help. It wasn't any thing that exciting, but still our photographers were all around it, clicking and clicking.
From the strange expression Kaniraj wore, I could feel his surprise, for people lying around a poor insect, as if this is the only living being, of its kind, left out in the whole world. Luckily he wasn't aware of the instinct behind the photo session - just another way out, to sooth the aching legs.
While the 'wild life photographers' went behind a wooly worm, myself and Shanty slowly went on with the hike.
As there were none to follow or lead,we had a leisurely climb along thick green glade and could reach atop the first hill, in another 20 minutes. Had to wait another 20 minutes for the 'enthus' to catch up and the trail picked up, along the other side of the hill.
The vegetation then had a change over, indicating a climatic variation, with the greenery much more thickening.
We could then spot the villages of Watrap and Puduppatti deep in the valley and in fact, we were walking along a century old bridle path, connecting Watrap and Muthaliyaar Uthu.
The hike thereafter wasn’t that steep, as earlier, but still we were in the hangover, until a heavily fruited berry was sighted. People raided over it, leaving the poor thing bald in seconds.
Another break declared, to have the berries and should agree that it took away the heat. It was ten past one then, and the thought of cooking and preparations that lie ahead, for the lunch, made walk brisker. In another half an hour, had the glimpse of the lonely building, to relief.
The team got split, some to fetch water, some to fetch fire wood, some others to prepare masalas and I opted ‘supervision’ – folks, I loved it !!!
The Supervisor did a great job and the meal was ready by 5 PM. By that time the mighty trekkers were just healthy enough to crawl up to their plates, but proved their worth, once at it.
And my dear, what’s this Muthaliyar Ooth, after all – you may doubt. The author himself spotted it while 'Supervising' the fetch water folk. Its a natural mountain spring close to the building earlier mentioned - better call it seep. The forest dept. had built a tiny check dam around it, to form a pool, facilitating the wild life.
It was surprising to find it active even in the peak of summer. Ooth in Tamil means seep and the prefix 'Muthaliyar' - I assume - would be the one, to notice it first.
Though bellies hung heavy, the idea of hiking the mount, close to our dwelling, had a warm welcome. Equipped with torches and sickles, cleared way to the top, to have the finest moments of the trek.
The rocky terrain fell astonishingly steep, with the deep valley, painted in wide canvas.
Kaniraj, familiar with the terrain, pointed the position in the valley, where we would have possibly started the trek, sending sound sighs around, realizing the amount of hike put in.
Cameras went on restless until light faded.
I didn't indulge much in that act, as I knew from experience, that cameras would miserably fail, in reproducing the depth and the feel, instead opted to scan the scenery, inch by inch, noting the positions of water holes, townships of Rajapalayam and Srivilliputhur, hillocks facing ours and so on. This helped me a lot, during the descent the next morning, to locate the mountain top, we were at, the previous dusk and a bit in marking the geographic position in Wikimapia - of course I had noted the lat - longitude position, while at the place.
Stumbled down to the camp shed and soon a camp fire was set up. Some had the five'o clock meal already burnt and they went along with the left over, while I opted two biscuits for the dinner.
Team mates were extremely drained after the full day exercise, and the dusty, rough cemented floor, least bothered us.
Woke up early morning and paid a lonely visit to the spring, about 200 m from the camp shed, expecting early visitors of the sort of leopards and even tigers - forgot to mention - this sanctuary share borders with Periyar Tiger Reserve of Kerala. As you may expect, found nothing. Stood there watching around, in loneliness, and I had a strange feeling of being watched. Cleared the place soon and joined the team mates who were out on a walk in the opposite direction.
|Morning rays lighting up hillocks|
If it was a berry tree, the previous day, it was a mango tree's fate today.
Had bird sightings and Shanty could manage a Sambur and a small herd of Gaurs.
Back at the shelter, Saravan, acting the cook, tried Upma, for the first time in his life, and to our luck, succeeded in the attempt. I'm not going to meet Saravan, in very near future, and hence I dare.
Started the descent by around nine and reached the base by one. Even managed a dip in the falls close to the base, in this time frame. It was time to part with the Tamil friends. Had been together just two days; the isolation in the mountain, perhaps, had webbed the bond. Invitation to our land wasn't a formal act; but sincere.
Driving back to the world of worries, I had the towering mountain to my right, where I spent the last evening, thinking of nothing, doing nothing. And friends I'll soon be back, as I love to think nothing and do nothing