Thursday, May 30, 2013

Vattathotti – Palliyanpaara : The Border Line – 2

          If the previous chapter was on the expedition to Venniar, a border section of Periyar Tiger Reserve, through the Tamil Nadu Hills of Meghamala, here I would present a report on the day, in and around Venniar, after a cold night’s stay at the Forest station of Venniar.

        The day started with a delicious dish of Tapioca, topped with a lavish pour of lemoned black tea, at the mercy of Karikalan, a forest watcher and the delegation set out for the exploration, heavily armed against leeches – and not tigers.

               Though the morning was misty and cloudy, nothing hindered us, if not for the intermittent light drizzle. The woods in the morning light and mist, was all the more charming and the shutter bugs enjoyed the opportunity to the best.

       We were heading west, towards Vattathotti – a ridge overlooking the Mullaperiyar reservoir – and in just about 200 metres, had an exciting stop at the fresh footprints of the big cat.

        The grass sprouts stamped to mud were just springing up, signing how unfortunate we were in missing the sighting of the most elusive creature, in its natural habitat. Decided against following the pug marks and continued in our direction.

       In another ten minutes, defense call of an elephant, from the thicket close to our track, stopped us for another while, until the subsequent calls ensured its recede. Thereafter the walk went slower, not that we were scared, but as the gradient went steeper. In half an hour, assumed the heights of grass hillocks, but mist was so thick, restricting the view beneath.

         Waited there in good hope and luck was on our part. A mighty wind slid off the mist veil and we had the majestic view of the big blue pool amidst thick green canopy.

        Opportunities are short lived and so was the view. Moved to the eastern side of the ridge, where visibility was comparatively better and the view was worth the walk.


          We had folds of grass mounts beneath, bordered by tea plantations of Eravankalar, to our west and the distant vilages of Chinnamannur, to the north. Interestingly, a tusker – should be the one who scared us earlier - was found roaming in the grass hillock, just beneath us.

        As the photographers clicked to their content, the delegation went ahead with the trek to Palliyanpara, to the south of Vattathotti.

          Descended a bit, wading the thick undergrowth, went around a large pool, evidently the water source for the inhabitants around - including our big cat friend - crossed our earlier track, as our predecessor did and headed south beneath thick canopy, which spared us from the drizzle.

         It was slight down hill all the way and in half an hour we could find the canopy opening to grass lands, at the far end. Karkalan was leading the trail and as he was about to clear the cover, he fell to the floor, signaling us to follow suite. On crawling to him, we could find a large herd of Gaur, leisurely grazing in the meadow beneath us, totally unaware of the show watchers.

       Watched the show for a long while, and the perfection instincts forced us to crawl closer. Being in an open ground, they could sense us pretty quick, an alarm went around, and we witnessed the elder ones circling around the calves, and galloping into the nearest cover. Deviated from the track and went a bit more down to the ridge of Palliyanpara, from where a part of the reservoir was very clearly visible. It was surprising to learn that Mullakkudi region of PTR is just 6 km down hill, where I had been once, through the jungle track of PTR.   

       The support of the light break fast had left us long back and we were running on reserves. The thought of the hike that remains, flared the fire inside, and the return climb was bit brisk, despite the steep terrain. Reached back Venniar by half past three, and had to spent a while, to unload leeches who had joined us from all along the track, before reaching up to the lunch plates.


             Spent the evening at Eravankalar, birding around and drove back to the forest station by dusk. The last night at Venniar was colder, due to the downpour and it dawned to the return voyage from Kerala to Kerala, through Tamilnadu.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Meghamala – Venniar : The Border Line

   Venniar aka Eravangalar is one of the remote sections of East Division of Periyar Tiger Reserve of Kerala, which was recently declared as the best managed protected area in India, by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Though Venniar is about 15 km, aerially, to the east of Thekkadi ( head quarters of the East Division), access to the region is only through Chinnamannur of Tamilnadu - if not for the jungle track - and its about 100 kms from Thekkadi. The track to Venniar passes through the picturesque tea plantations of Meghamalai of Tamilnadu and thus decided to set apart three days, for this venture from Kerala to Kerala, through Tamilnadu.

        Reached Kumili by night, so as to start the onward journey, early morning, next day. Boarded the vehicle, of course equipped with four wheel drive, by around 7 in the morning. Went past the vineyards of Cumbum and of course had a short stop, to have a bite of some farm fresh grapes, well soaked in pesticides – I preferred to peel it before gulping.

           Stopped at Uthamapalayam for breakfast and to store provisions to keep us alive, the three days ahead. The track there after went through paddy fields, along the outskirts of Chinnamannur town, with towering hillocks surrounding, and occasionally with a borderline of Coconut plantations.

                Penetrating flocks of goat, that frequented the track, reached the first forest check post, on the line, at Thenpalani. No hassles and drove further up to small temple, where we had a short birding stop.

               Madhu, our chauffeur  dismantled the roof and side covers of the vehicle, and we got geared for the climb. The jeep went negotiating the hairpin curves slowly and the travelers were all busy with their cameras, copying the beauty of the entire valley.

         The jungle around, was dry and thorny initially, which gradually gained greenery, as we climbed. A watch tower about 100m from the track, about midway, offered a magnificent view of the tiny villages, scattered in the valley, further to the east. Few curves ahead, we were under thick foliage and the canopy underwent dramatic change.

     Signs of habitation appeared and soon we were driving along the winding road, cutting across a tea plantation. Stopped the vehicle near the sign board, which read ‘Megamalai’ and people scattered.

             Some went behind a laughing thrush and I opted to roam around and explore Megamalai. Megamalai is the hill top which got transformed to 'Highwavy' Tea Estate and I walked down to the Colony where the workers of the estate dwell.

                 About 30 households, a lower primary school, a tiny post office, a creche  a church, a temple and a bus shelter, make up Megamalai. But the greenery around, the chill in the air and the cloud of mist, will never let you forget the place.

             Further ahead the track went into thick woods, for about 4 km, with occasional patches of tea, and then opened to Manalar tea estate, surrounding Manalar reservoir.

          Thereafter the drive was along a scenic patch with the magical blend of greenery and bluish storage of tiny reservoirs, which resembled big ponds.

         A long bridge took us to the west bank side of Manalar and in another hour’s drive, along a similar stretch, got to Maharaja Medu.

            Maharaja Medu is another small colony of workers of Eravankalar Estate, located at the extreme end of the storage of Eravankalar Dam.

         Crossed the Dam structure and tea plantation gave way, to thick woods of Periyar Tiger Reserve! Here Madhu had to shift to 4WD, as it was a steep climb along a slippery track.

           The climb, tearing the mist veil, ended at the doorsteps of Venniar Forest Station.

      It was 6 in the evening. About eleven hours of journey from a Kerala to a different Kerala, and folks, it was a day indeed. And that cold night at Venniar Forest Station dawned to another remarkable day, on which, I will get back to you soon.    

Pappilai Amman - The Deity Distinct

         Raj Vridhachalam, the man behind many of my trails, was the one to brief me on Pappilai Amman, the deity of a jungle shrine, deep i...