Saturday, 26 May 2012

Top slip – a rendezvous with wildlife

 “The shade of each leaf,
The moisture on each grain of sand;
Every little hill fold that you see;
Gives to the river that flows to the landmasses;
Gives life to all our lands”
Conserve Nature

A touching phrase found on the roadside wall at Parambikulam reserved forest.

This trip to Top slip, Pollachi was utterly different from serious treks we do since it was formulated to implant the seeds of “conservation” in the minds of participating nature loving souls. This trip gave us few insights about animal behaviour, trekker’s conduct in wild life sensitive areas, inspiring true stories from a wildlife conservationist, observing the beautiful peacock’s dance, watching the spotted deer’s graze, understanding the pug marks of wild animals. It had so many varieties and different flavours that a nature enthusiast would have sought for.

Watching the deer’s graze on a peaceful morning:

A peaceful morning with the mountain birds breaking the silence in the air, the chill breeze kissing the early raisers, trees dancing to the tunes of the wind, the Anamalai peaks covered with thick fog and the sky becoming chilli reddish. We saw that spectacular herd of spotted deer’s along with their kith and kin grazing the grasses. A very rare sight for a city dweller like me, I enjoyed clicking pictures and watching them graze for almost 30 minutes before some noise came inside the bushes, which chased the deer’s into the woods.

The protector of deer’s:

This black little ancestor of human beings is considered as the protector of deer’s from predators. Nilgiri langur sitting on the top of trees alerts deer’s that unmindfully stands below grazing, unaware of the predators. It emits a unique sound and alerts the deer’s about the presence of strangers and predators in the vicinity. See the below photo carefully and check how the Nilgri Langur alerted the Sambar deer. 

The Great Kannimara Teak:

The great Kannimara teak tree honoured by the central government with ‘Mahavrisksha Ouraskar” award and around 450 years old stands tall in the Parambikulam wildlife sanctuary. Certainly the largest, tallest and most revered teak tree I have seen or heard so far. Hugging its trunk I realised how insignificant is mankind in front of nature, quite a unique feeling.

I had goose bumps watching the Peacocks dance:

It was 2nd day early morning we entered the Parambikulam reserved forest in the forest department’s vehicle. We were the early ones into the forest welcomed by herds and herds of deer’s on both the side of the road. Unable to believe my eyes and digest the happiness what I saw was absolute exquisiteness. Yes, I saw with my jaw opened the beautiful national bird opening its wings and dancing. It was a glee watching them dance to the tunes of nature. Wish I had all the time in this world to watch this magnificence unfolding before me.

Jumbo quenching its thirst:

Unable to come out of the beautiful sight of the peacock’s dancing we proceeded ahead just to watch a lonely elephant entering into the water, quenching its thirst and disappearing into the woods. With the bamboo trees at the background, huge mass of water body in the front, the jumbo seen drinking water was elegance personified.

Wild boars – the cleaner of forest:

Wild boars seen in great numbers act as a cleaner of the forest. I remember one incident that Mr. Anand recollected from his experience about how 10 wild boars cleaned the remains of a dead elephant within a week. Indeed, the forest and the other wild life should be indebted to wild boars for their assistance in keeping the forest clean.

Mr. Parambikulam of the wildlife Sanctuary:

The Indian Gaur or popularly called as Indian Bison seems to be one the most regular member of the Sanctuary gymnasium. With muscles projecting from every possible part of its body Mr. Bison is a pure vegetarian.

Since it is the human being who wants to venture inside wildlife territory and wish to watch them and take pictures. Whomsoever it may be, keep in mind we are basically trespassing into their territory and it is our duty to follow certain basic Do’s and Don’ts.

Do’s and Don’ts when you venture inside a wildlife territory:
  1. Wear only green or brown coloured dress and avoid wearing any flashy colours. Elephants are colour blind and they may approach towards white colours.
  2. Wear full-length dry-fit trousers and t-shirts as the same could minimise the effect of insect and reptiles.
  3. Avoid using perfume or body or pain killer sprays since, they spread fast in the air and reaches the wildlife before you can spot them.
  4. When you are in a wild life territories never leave the group and venture alone. Always obey the instructions of the guide.
  5. Avoid shouting or screaming if you spot an animal and you can take as many photos one wants maintaining silence.
  6. It is advisable to keep your eyes and ears alert and look out for animal movements while you venture inside animal territory.
  7. Don’t litter or throw plastic anywhere, it may have serious consequence on the life of wildlife eating plastics.

For the love of Nature,

Durai Murugan 

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

A wanderlust trek to Top Station and how we encountered the Kolukkumalai trail

A trek to ‘Top Station’ has always been on my to-do list and it took a lot of planning for us to complete it successfully. A well-laid Ghat trail from Kurangani  to Top Station was quite apparent on google maps indicating that the help of GPS would be very minimal since, there would be a clear trail unless we choose to take a different trail and make an attempt to explore the virgin peaks and grasslands.

The hike to Top Station is a moderate 4 hour-long one. It starts at an altitude of 400 mts and reaches an altitude of 1950 mts traversing beautiful waterfalls, middle station, a nice, calm and serene village in the Kurangani hills, majestic shola forests, sky-piercing peaks, colourful birds and one can also have the rare delight of a rendez-vous  with few locals who regularly use this trail.

The agenda for this two days' trek was not concrete since we planned only for a stay in Top Station, somewhere near the tea estate and in the morning after visiting few places, a hike back to Kurangani.  But the entire agenda under went a sea change when we saw a ‘zig-zag trail’ that lead to kolukkumalai.

Early morning visit to Kurangini village:

On reaching the Kurangani village at around 5.30 a.m, we were welcomed by the chill breeze that rushed through our nostrils and engulfed by misty clouds. Kurangani is a very serene and peaceful hamlet concealed by mountains, beautiful trees and river waters filled with the harmony of signing birds.

Our trek started along the Ghat trail leading to Top Station. As we started hiking along the trail we had a glimpse of the beautiful peaks that were intruding into the sky while the misty clouds rubbed the peaks gently. The friction between the white clouds and the brown peaks made us feel that we were on a foreign land that barely had  any throughfare for men. It was a mind-boggling view for city dwellers like me and was a brilliant start.

A dip in the ice-cold waterfalls:

The trail leading to Top Station hosts a beautiful waterfall, which brings in chill waters from the valley above. The waters were freezing cold and the dip in the pool in front of the waterfall is nothing but a ‘scintillating experience’. If you follow the stream to the top of this waterfall, there rests another beautiful waterfall that drops from a greater height, with much more beauty. Kurangani waterfall is a rejuvenating dose for any trekker who takes this trail to reach Top Station.

How we encountered the Kolukkumalai trail:

After dipping in the pool we started our hike on the Ghat trail and to our surprise we witnessed a beautiful ‘zig-zag’ trail to the opposite side of the mountain. The trail, covered with the misty clouds and green grasslands was appealing and my heart just could not stop from falling in love with it, which was one of the most beautiful trail I had ever seen. We enquired with the locals and found that the trail led to Kolukkumalai another gorgeous place. It was then that we decided to take that ‘zig-zag’ trail to reach Kurangani village again.

Middle station a beautiful hamlet on the Kurangani hills

On the trail leading to Top Station there lies a very silent hamlet called ‘middle station’ at 1, 300 mts altitude over looking the beautiful valley and just below few magical peaks. Standing on the cliff of middle station one can witness the brilliant panoramic views of the valley, Kurangani village below and Top Station above us.

Hiking the neighbouring peak:

Our adrenaline rush never stopped with walking along the trail and we wanted to climb some peaks to quench it. It was decided that we would climb the tallest peak, which we would spot. We started our climb on a trailless path to reach the top of the peak. It was an adventurous trek along the misty clouds and grasslands. It took us a solid 2 hours of non-stop climb to reach the peak. The peak was a completely wind blown area with the clouds rubbing our skin and making us feel the freezing chillness. Nevertheless, it was a pleasure to be on top of a nameless peak completely surrounded by misty clouds.

Reaching Top Station to appease our hunger:

We reached Top Station which is considered as a historic transhipment location for tea , delivered here from Munnar and Madupatty by rail and from here it was taken down by ropeway to Kottagudi. Top station is also very popular for the rare Neelakurinji flowers, which blooms once in 12 years. At present Top station hosts tourists who throng this hill lock for the panoramic views of the valley below and to enjoy the misty weather. Top station is also the exit or entry point for the famous ‘escape road’ trek.

Camping near the Tata tea estate bungalow, Munnar:

With the plan of trekking down to Kurangani firming up we decided to camp near the Tata tea estate bungalow. The night temperature dipped as low as 4 degrees making us feel the pain of cold throughout the night and the need for warmth of heat to complete this endless night. On top of the severe chillness what was more adventurous was the visit of the Indian Gaur’s in herds near our campsite. We could easily spot around 20+ Gaurs very close to our campsite and we very lucky not to be bothered by them at any point of time. Indeed, one the most adventurous nights of my trekking life.

Early Morning trek along the dam and finding a transport to reach Kolukkumalai:

I woke up at around 5.30 a.m with my fingers, arms and legs almost numb because of the severe cold and with the laziness that lingers around every morning, we somehow managed to start our trek at 6.30 a.m along a beautiful dam which was emitting out white magical mist. It was a lifetime delight to watch that spectacular early morning scene and I should confess that I was  simply blessed to witness its unfolds. My love for nature keeps growing and my admiration goes beyond my level of thinking solely because of my encounters with wonders like this.

After finding a jeep, which promised us to leave at Munnar, we had shivering moments sitting on the open jeep that had no seats. From Munnar we took a jeep to reach Kolukkumalai tea estate. The ghat road leading from Suryanalli to Kolukkumalai is certainly one of those most difficult and bumpy roads I have ever travelled.

Trekking back from Kolukkumalai estate to reach Kurangani:

Now we all were very excited about trekking on that ‘zig-zag trail’ leading to Kurangani. The entire area was completely covered with mist and the visibility  was very poor. The tea estate workers guided us towards a narrow trail and instructed us to follow it. The trail was completely over grown by dense bushes and grass however, we somehow managed to navigate throw those bushes and reached that dream ‘zig-zag trail’. The joy of reaching that place made us spell bound and I could see only happiness and smiling faces all around the group. After a 2 hour non-stop trek we finally reached Kurangani and soon disappeared to Bodi to catch our bus leaving to Chennai. Overall, a nice two day exploration as our heart went to few less-travelled locations something that is close only to a trekker’s heart.

An amateur poetry before I begin my next trek:

I love walking on that lonely trail but the pleasure on the trailless trail excites me;
I love those gentle drizzles but the joy of walking on a heavy down pour mesmerizes me;
I love standing on the cliff, camping on the banks of a beautiful lake, staring at the beautiful moon;
I love the melody of birds; I love the chill mountain breeze;
These are the pleasures which are close to my heart and very close to my heart…

Happy trekking,

Durai Murugan


Tuesday, 8 May 2012

In search of treasure to the heavenly kingdom i.e. Nagalapuram

CTC’s famous Nagala treasure hunt sporting with 5 competitive teams in search for the clues leading to the treasure hidden deep inside the Nagala Mountains witnessed exhibition of the best navigation skills; stood testimony for team building and the feeling of great comradeship. Clues were read, understood and interpreted as meticulously as possible – topography maps were carefully read to plot the latitude and longitude of the treasure point. Trails were daringly taken along the never travelled paths cutting across ridges, valleys, streams, gorges and peaks. I am delighted to share with you the trail analysing, map reading and team work done by Cavaliers of Nagala a compact six member team.

Interpreting the Initial clue:

Our Initial Clue read “N 13 30 28” E 79 49’ 11 - I am standing 30m tall looking into the gorge search near by my base”. We interpreted the clue to mean a tree or a cliff which is looking into the gorge therefore decided that this clue must be plotted on somewhere on the ridge which is looking into the gorge. We quickly rushed to the co-ordinates but were quite disappointed not to see any tree or cliff that was 30 mts in height. Quickly we slipped inside the gorge and discovered a 30 mts high tree although the clue read near by my base even after thorough search we could not find out evidences for any clue only leading to disappointment.

It was almost 2 hours since we reached the co-ordinates but, disappointment and tiredness were the only things that we witnessed and the team decided to leave the co-ordinates and search in the neighbouring areas for the clue – it was then our lucky boy Alwin jumped out of joy lifting the clue from the trunk of the tree completely covered by leaves.

 On the hunt for the 2nd Clue to that black and dry 20mts waterfall –

 1st Clue which we picked up from the tree trunk read “N 13 30’ 53” E 79 48’ 10 - Hello, I am black and dry, my height is 20m my width is 30m. I shower in monsoon. Climb on top of my HEAD”

The clue was point blank clear that it was a dry 20mts waterfall and the only thing which we had to do is find the co-ordinates and create a quickest and easiest trail from the current location to the 2nd clue. Although we had difference of opinions of the trail that has to be taken finally we arrived at a consensus and decided to take the dry side stream on the eastern side and reach the co-ordinates.

Climbing the narrow honeybees thronged gorge:

If we had to reach the 2nd clue we had to take a tricky, honeybee thronged and a slippery gorge. Brijesh one the senior most and the most adventurous guy in our team took the lead here and successfully navigated the gorge and reached the top of that narrow gorge.

 After the clever climb inside the gorge we trekked through the dry side eastern streams to reached the 2nd clue on top of the dry waterfall which read “N 13 29 12” E 79 47’ 05 - We 3 stand apart, near the empty stream, take me out.”

On the hunt for the 3rd clue:

The third clue again had two possible interpretations firstly, three dry stream junction and secondly, three trees standing apart from the dry stream. After braving few climbs, rock climbing and bushes we reached the 3rd clue co-ordinates at around 7 p.m. We decided to call for the day since two of our team members had bad cramps and were not in a position to further proceed ahead. Fortunately, we camped on an abandoned hut, which had decent basic facility like water point and flat surface for camping.

Enjoying the hot noodles watching the full moon on top of us we slept listening to the music of the Nagala birds at 725 mts altitude. One of the finest and peace filled nights of recent times.

We woke up in the morning and picked up the third clue which was kept on the trunk of a tree near the dry stream which read “N 13 29 25” E 79 47’ 40 - I rise from the ocean. I fall from the sky. I flow in between.”

Heading to the treasure point:

The treasure point was one the easiest guesses of all the clues. Since the clue read with the topography map everybody with unanimity whispered it is a small stream on the base of the central Nagala peak. Relishing the early morning chillness and watching the early morning misty clouds we forgot the treasure hunt to be honest and started cherishing the clouds rubbing our skin. The early morning trek penetrating into the clouds and walking along the ridges reminded me of the monsoon trek I did on the Palani hils. In another 45 mins of trek along the ridges we reached the treasure point with the treasure goodies waiting for us.

Overall, a wonderful 24 hours of search for the treasure covering around 32 kms navigating unknown trails with the help of GPS and topography maps was a brilliant hands-on-exercise for aspiring navigators.

Happy trekking,

Durai Murugan