Trip Reports
National Parks > Solo Trek - Valley of Flowers - Uttarakhand
Posted by Ms Pintueli Gajjar on February 17, 2011

Its late in the night as I sit in the comfortable confines of a railway compartment at the old Delhi railway station. Its a new experience traveling alone as I wait for the Mussoorie Express to chug into the inky darkness which I hope will take me to a new dawn in my life. I feel more in control of myself and while trying to absorb the atmosphere, I get an occasional strange glance… a single Indian lady with a backpack! I feel good. The train’s started on the dot at 10:15 pm, and I’m on my way. I quickly settle down for a nap and before I know it, am dreaming of flower-filled valleys and endless meadows with laughing brooks and singing rivers. Only when the train comes to a shuddering halt at Haridwar, I’m jolted back to reality! The train, for reasons beyond my understanding, halts here for 3 hours before taking off for Rhishikesh, I decide to get off here and proceed to Rhishikesh by road.


Its 6.15 as I take an auto rickshaw called ‘Vikram’ from here to Rhishikesh which costs me a mere Rs 15 on a sharing basis. They charge per passenger and can crowd in about 10 passengers at a time. It’s been drizzling for an hour now and I expect more rains as I proceed up. The clouds look ominously dark and are hanging low, a sure sign of showers along the way.


The Ganges in Haridwar is magnificent. Unfortunately, my camera is deep down in the rucksack and I’m already regretting not having removed it earlier. I can see a few sadhus having an early dip in the morning chill. 


The road passes up through dense Chilla forest of bamboo, teak and cherry and, Rhishikesh comes quickly. I head straight for Chotiwala’s across the Ram-jhula. This is a famous tea/lunch stall and is so named, because a Chotiwala sits there, all pink and roly-poly, grinning at all and sundry. He looks weird with his ‘choti’ standing straight up in the air!


I have a quick breakfast and leave my rucksack at Chotiwala’s (he’s trustworthy and moreover having such a distinct hairdo he would be easy to spot anywhere) and join a group of people on a small trek to Neelkantha. The cobbled path is slippery as it’s been raining and I enjoy the way up with a group of college kids from Lucknow.. Somewhere deep from the jungle comes the trumpeting of wild elephants and we all hurry along…the pachyderms here are notorious for attacking and a series of stories start on the way up. It’s interesting to hear some of them while most of them are hearsay. We reach at 1:00 pm. I take a dip in the cool stream flowing by the temple and am feeling refreshed. The clouds are now closing in and a damp atmosphere engulfs us. We hurriedly start the trek down and this time, we are almost running as the clouds threaten to break any moment. I quickly gather my sack from the Chotiwala’s and head back to town. As I check into Hotel Uttaranchal, the heavens let loose…. I’m glad to be in my room. After a hot bath, I catch a few winks.


What a surprise when I wakeup at 5:00 pm... The sun’s shining as though it’s never rained! One of nature’s tricks!! I stroll down to the GMVN Office and meet a really nice gentleman, Mr. Allan Sharma, who not only guides me but also lends me the beautiful map of Uttaranchal that is hanging behind his desk. I feel lucky to have met him. He gives me the details of all the probable places I could have a comfortable and affordable stay while on the move. I profusely thank him and go and sit on the banks of the mighty river.


Watching the river flow, I’m lost in thoughts ~ on the creation of the earth, the bounty of nature and thank God that I’m born in such a traditionally rich, seeped in culture and breathtakingly beautiful country. What freedom! I sit pondering until the twinkling golden and silver lights start sparkling through homes across the expanse, reflecting a million reflections in the rushing waters. I choose this moment to call my daughters and my dad and share these happy moments with them. Reluctantly, I walk back to the hotel. On the way, at the market, there’s this sweetmeat shop, Saket, which has a tiny but clean restaurant at the back and serves excellent cutlets and fantastic coffee. My dinner done, I pick up a few apples and nuts for the journey tomorrow and head back to the hotel and in minutes, I’m back in the land of flowers and mountain fragrances…as I dream on.


Up and away at 2:30 am…to the bus-stand to catch the 3:15 bus for Joshimath. As I settle down, I’m half-sleepy and groggy. As the bus starts, I realize with horror that I’m the only passenger and the driver is driving like crazy….he has a terrible smoker’s cough and is continuously smoking bidis and coughing. At times I feel he might just double up any moment….and his driving is driving me nuts. I have all my fingers and toes crossed and am chanting the gayatri mantra to save my own soul! I decide to close my eyes and try to sleep, but to no avail! On the contrary, I’m holding on to all available support with my extremities …and ability!


The journey is awfully beautiful and somewhere along the way, I have managed to lose the Ganges and have no idea when the Alaknanda has joined me … keeping me company… flowing…clouds hanging really low…the mountains towering above and the yellow-vented bulbuls flying around. I can hear the whistling thrush, the low whistle of a bushchat and chirping of the other birds. We manage to arrive safely at Srinagar and as the bus halts, many Sikh pilgrims, on their way to Hemkund Sahib are now boarding the bus. I’m relieved at the company. As the bus starts once again on its journey, I try to take some pictures of the narrow bridges across the river but find it difficult to hold steady … thanks to our ‘Desi-Grand-Prix-Driver’. In fact, most of the passengers are holding on to the seats, windows, bars, each other, whatever … all for their dear lives! I know it sounds hilarious but it is sheer hell! We finally make it to Rudraprayag at 8:15 am. The driver is having another bidi and I wonder what’s going to happen next… my gayatri mantras begin…Was my dream of a new freedom going to go up in a puff of bidi smoke?


    Alaknanda

                                    

We leave Rudraprayag at 9 am. The journey is slower due to the other traffic on the road – some blessing in disguise. Also, since the bus is now crowded with the pilgrims, the driver has less opportunity of trying out his driving histrionics. I doze off until we reach Chamoli. There’s a landslide up ahead and all traffic has come to a standstill. I get off the bus and stretch my legs. The mountains are beckoning and I can’t wait to get to the valley. Just one more night…I arrive at Joshimath at 5:40 pm and have a splitting headache. I check into the GMVN tourist bungalow, which luckily, is bang on the main road. I put my rucksack into the room and order some food, pop a dispirin and doze off. I am awakened by a cacophony outside the hotel. I freshen up and decide to have a look at the town.


    Landslide at Pipalkoti


Joshimath is a small town, but a prominent one as Gobindghat (the staging point for Hemkund Sahib & the valley of flowers) up ahead does not have all facilities. As I stroll down the main market road, there’s no electricity tonight but the whole place is aglow with the soft lights of the candle-lit evening and millions and trillions of stars studded in the sky above. I suddenly realize how dependent we are on technology and how we have, in the name of progress, lost the many beautiful sights that nature has to offer. There’s a chill in the air and I feel snug in my overcoat and muffler. I walk into a small dhaba on the roadside and order some hot food. The strange glances towards me continue…but am so hungry that I just ignore them and enjoy the food. 


I have a good sleep and am up before dawn. I take the 6:40 am bus to Badrinath. The bus is a hotchpotch mix of passengers. The back is filled with the locals while there are a few Bengali tourists in the middle. There’s an antique-looking villager and he’s got a running commentary on… of his visits to Haridwar & is adding his own notions and ideas on religion. He keeps looking at all of us hoping someone would lend him ears, little knowing that we have no choice but to listen to his ramblings….a child is crying somewhere in the back and the bus is packed. The bus conductor has a whacky sense of humor: Bumbai ka fashion…Uttaranchal ka rotation aur Gadhwaal ka mausam – koi garantee nahi! I agree with him. The mountains are lush green and sheer drops of waterfalls dot the scenery. The clouds are still up there and I can see a build-up. Well, the whole valley is shrouded in fog. It’s going to be another wet day!


We reach Gobindghat at 7:15 and I get off the bus and feel my pulse quicken. I look up at the mighty mountains and breathe in the dew-laden air. It smells good. I take my time to gauge the exact time I might take to reach Ghangharia and, realise that I have no idea! I walk through Gobindghat, taking in the ambiance created by the hundreds of pilgrims… some sturdy enough to climb in a short span of time while some are so old that I wonder how’ll they make it??? While I contemplate taking a porter, one suddenly appears out of nowhere, GhanBahadur Singh. He has a kind face and I agree to hire him to carry my backpack. We agree on Rs 200. It has started raining now and I am huddled inside my raincoat.


As we cross the bridge and head towards Pulna, I’m slowing down. It takes some time getting used to walking in the mountains. The fresh air is too good for these hungry lungs of pollution-laden Mumbai and the going becomes tougher. I stop at Pulna and watch the farmers in their fields. Alongside is a tributary, Pushpawati, in a mad rush to meet Alaknanda. The clouds are closing in now and visibility drops. To add to woes a cobbled path, mixed with rain slush and horse-shit, makes it all the more difficult to walk and one has to be careful of putting one’s feet in the right place. A slip here would not only be painful but will cause much misery if not be fatal at this point in time. I make two more stops to enjoy the flavors of the villages and keep a steady pace going. We finally reach Ghangharia at 2:30 in the afternoon.


    Pulna Village


Ghangharia lies bang in the middle of a dense forest shaped in a gorgeous V shaped valley. The tall pine trees shoot skywards like rockets as if to lay a personal claim to the bright rejuvenating sunlight, while the clouds come rushing down, blanketing everything in sight. It has an ethereal feel and I suddenly get a feeling of Déjà vu. I can’t believe I’ve reached here – on my own. The tiny hamlet is bustling with pilgrims and I spot a few Japanese tourists. Just before the hamlet lies an open meadow converted into a beautiful helipad. Today, there are some children playing hopscotch and I am tempted to go join them but I know, I can’t trust my legs now. The last bit was a trifle hard. In fact, I felt like a Jack-in-the-box and my legs are so rubbery that I practically have no control over them.


    Ghangharia


    Ghangharia


I check in at the GMVN guest house and take a dorm-room – all to myself, as there are hardly any tourists. It’s a four-bed room with a bath attached. So far, so good. I dump my backpack and go out to explore. I walk into a hotel opposite and order some food and afterwards, a hot ‘chai’ and watch the people around. There are all kinds… I meet a local couple from Bhyundar village and have a good chat – about their life … and, they look so happy together. Somewhere deep inside, I envy them their blissfully simple lives and think of the madness of my own life in a metropolitan city. It is then that I realize what a loser I am! I go out and explore the small lane selling all the various paraphernalia of temple offerings and flower garlands, sweetmeats and guide books. Spotting a photography shop, I walk in and am greeted by a pony-tailed youth, all smiles and at service. I look at the marvelous photographs of the flowers of the valley. Rajnish Chauhan is an amazing person and a walking encyclopedia of Botany. A resident of the Bhyundar village, he’s been studying the flora and fauna of the valley and the upper regions of the Himalayas since the past 6 years. He’s passionate about his valley and as he talks, a glow spreads across his face as he lovingly dishes out the almost-alien names of the flowers. His shop is full of the most exotic flowers I’ve ever seen – all frozen on postcard-sized glossy photographs.


    GMVN - Ghangharia


It’s now 4:00pm but feels as though it’s 7:00 in the evening. Rajnish has invited me to come view his slide show at the library. As I come out of the library after the amazing show, I can feel my toes and fingers going numb with the cold creeping in. I walk back into the restaurant and dive into some hot tomato soup with paranthas and rush back into my room. I order for some hot water for the water bottle I carry. As I wait for the water to arrive, I pack for tomorrow’s trip to the valley. Everything in order, I jump under the blankets with my water bottle and try to sleep. Outside it is 12˚C and it is raining. The chill is too much and I find sleeping difficult. Have tried all positions and am not sure if I’ve slept even a wink the whole night.


    Rajnish Chauhan


Am up, even before the alarm goes off and drag my numb body out of bed. Have a quick change of clothes, arrange my things neatly and as I step out of the room, I get a shock of my life! I can’t see a thing as the fog has completely shrouded everything. And worse, it’s drizzling. I go to the reception area and ask for a chai. I have no choice but to enjoy the moments of a steaming cuppa. The clouds have rolled in too and except the trees closest to me, can’t see anything beyond. I wait for an hour and then, decide to move on. It has cleared a bit and the receptionist assures me that it’ll completely clear in an hour or so. He was right.



    Entrance to Valley of Flowers


I go up to the entrance of the valley and sit there twiddling my gloved fingers. My legs have taken their own sweet time to get there – after a long, sleepless night they seem out of gear. I buy a ticket at the entrance and wander inside and am greeted by clusters of asters and erigrones – all in purples and yellow, complimenting each other with their unique identities. The path is cobbled through a thick forest of birch, maple and oak. And yes, lots of ‘bhojpatra’ trees. I come upon a small waterfall and take a few pictures. I slow down here as the path now winds uphill while the Pushpawati flows downhill. After a kilometer I reach an old wooden bridge and standing on it, can feel the tremendous power of the swollen tributary. Ahead, I bump into some college kids, who have come from Delhi. They are amazed that I’m doing this trek on my own… well, so am I! As we walk together, chatting about this and that, I spy a Himalayan Pit Viper under a stone. I catch it and show it to the kids who have never seen it. After all the oohs and aahs, I let the snake slide back under the stone. We cross another log bridge and see a glacier where the Pushpawati has cut through. This whole region is now a protected forest and is named as the Nanda Devi Sanctuary. You are not allowed to carry any eatables or disposable water bottles inside the sanctuary to prevent littering.


    The Old Wooden Bridge over Pushpavati


    Bhojpatra Tree


Just as we turn the bend, I find myself gasping for breath. The valley ahead is miles and miles of a many-hued carpet. Yellows, pinks, blues, reds, purples and whites… all clambering for attention! I feel tears roll down – out of sheer joy! It’s a dream come true. The Bhyundar glacier pass is clearly visible and I just sit there gaping! I am sure this is where the Gods live. I walk the length of the valley, marveling at each miracle of nature. I take time to visit the resting place of Joan Margaret Legge and pay my respects to the brave lady who brought recognition of the valley to the world. I am almost at the end of the valley when I see the first cloud rolling in. Reluctantly I turn back and feel certain heaviness in my step as I hasten back. By the time I reach the bridge, the clouds have overtaken me and I’m caught in the downpour. I find shelter under a birch tree. After a 20-minute pour, it suddenly stops and the skies are once again clear. I’m tempted to go back but decide otherwise and head back to Ghangharia. After a quick meal, I join a group of pilgrims, on the way to Hemkund Sahib.







I start at 2 in the afternoon and although it is a mere 6 km trek, it takes me almost 6 hours to reach up. I think this is one the most arduous trips I’ve ever managed. It is 9 pm by the time I’m through visiting the holy shrine. Undecided whether to go down or stay put, I decide to stay put at the Lakshmanji’s temple. Although I now realize how risky it was to have stayed there, I knew I wouldn’t be able to do this again tomorrow. Fighting the biting cold and fatigue, I manage to pass the night, singing songs to myself and exercising to keep the cold at bay. The mountains look beautiful in the luminance of the moonlight, not to mention the majestic Nanadadevi Parbat rising just behind the Gurudwara. I don’t feel alone and the mountains seem friendly. At the first sign of dawn, I climb up a small hill beyond the Hemkund shrine and am again down on my knees – this time crying like a baby! The expanse of Brahma Kamals and Fen Kamals are the tip of the cake!!! It is a tremendously overwhelming feeling, which still haunts me to this day! And what’s more, I am out of film!!! Sheer bad luck. But, I guess the power of memory is greater than any film roll… a life-long consolation!


    BrahmaKamal


    FenKamal


    HemKund Sahib


I head back to Ghangharia, and head straight to the restaurant for a breakfast of the local ‘Madhve ki roti’ and black tea. I go to meet Rajnish but he’s gone off with some tourists and missed meeting him. But I do meet his father, Mr. Jagdish Chauhan and promise to come back. Back at the hotel, I meet a family from Kerala who are also traveling to Joshimath. Going down was tougher than climbing up because it was slippery like hell! And by the time I reached Gobindghat, my legs were like two stumps that just wouldn’t bend. I hitch hiked the ride with the family from Kerala, till Joshimath.


    Auli


I stayed there for two days, visiting Auli. Later I went to Mussoorie and did another trek to Har-ki-Dun… but, that’s another story altogether! This visit to the valley wouldn’t have been possible without the full support and motivation of my daughters. They believed in me more than I did and I do not have enough words to thank them. My only wish is for them to visit the place for themselves and re-live all the beautiful moments and experiences that I did.


Valley of Flowers was indeed a dream come true. I have dreamt of visiting the valley ever since I first heard of it while still in school. Since this was my first solo trek, at the ripe ole age of 45, with low blood pressure and a bout of arthritis, it has been a tremendous achievement. Someday, I want to go there again and open a small school for the village children and give them vocational training.




Some advice to first-time trekkers:


• Always plan your itinerary keeping in mind the delays due to the weather and landslides. They are unpredictable.


• Always carry some fruit, chocolate, candy and nuts with you while traveling.


• A torch, batteries, candle and a matchbox are essential commodities in your kit.


• Keep the contacts of the people you know or meet on the way. It’s nice to know you have someone in case of an emergency.


• Be nice to the local villagers. If you are buying something from them, do not haggle too much over the price – probably that’s the only source of income they have. Life in the mountains is far tougher than we think or know.


• When traveling by road, keep a map, notepad and a pencil handy – it helps to jot down experiences.


• Keep your money safe – I usually travel with money in my socks!

• When packing, keep your woolies on the top – you never can tell when you may have to start layering yourself.


• Put all yr medicines in the same pocket as your water bottle for emergencies on the way and make sure it is not easily accessible.


• Especially while traveling in the mountains, carry an umbrella or a raincoat or a rainproof jacket.


• It is also advisable to carry an extra pair of shoes – in case one pair gets wet!


• One sure remedy to keep the cold at bay is to rub some Amrutanjan on the soles of your feet before wearing the socks, on hands and in the neck, just before you jump into bed.


• Never tell strangers of your plans nor let them know that you are new to the place.

• The best place to ask for directions is either the tourist office or the police station.

Bird Sanctuaries > Birding in Rollapadu Landscape , Andhra Pradesh India.
Posted by Murali on January 18, 2011

Birding in Rollapadu Wildlife Sanctuary, Andhra Pradesh:

        

        Grassland ecosystems are one of the finest ecosystems in the world which support very good populations of birds especially the grasslands specialist. Among such grasslands ecosystems in India, Rollapadu wildlife sanctuary is one of the finest grasslands present in India. This sanctuary was formed in the year 1988especially to protect the endangered bird The Great Indian Bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps) and also Lesser Florican (Sypheotides indicus) which nests in this region.Topography of the sanctuary is gentle undulating plains with an elevation of 290m and vegetation is of Southern Tropical Thorn Forest type. Climate is mostly hot and dry for a period of more than 8 months with mean annual temperatures about28°C, maximum being 42°C and minimum being 18°C.Average rainfall of the area is 450mm and usually it varies.  It is open dry grassland with interspersed thorny bushes. The flora includes grasses like Arisitida funiculata, Chrysopogon fulvus, Heteropogan contortus, Sehima nervosum, Dicanthium pseudoischaemun and small tree species like Morinda sp, Pheonix sp. etc. Fauna includes blackbuck, jackal, wolf, Indian fox, bonnet macaque, Indian bustard, Indian roller, sparrows, mynas and pipits, Russell's viper, Indian cobras etc.


         The sanctuary is bordered with the agricultural lands cultivated with dry-land crops like that of sun flower, tobacco and cotton. A small village named Rollapadu lies closely to the sanctuary. A mud-road passes through the sanctuary, which bisects the sanctuary; it is used for transportation by villagers to reach the agricultural fields present on the other side of the sanctuary. A small man-made water body is maintained in the sanctuary to quest the thirst of wildlife. Alaganur reservoir is another man-made reservoir present adjacent to the sanctuary to store the rain water. This is located three km towards east of Rollapadu village. Prosopis sp. covers the dry area during dry season.

          

        Nearly132 species of birds were recorded which included the resident and migrants (winter). The resident birds included a wide range of them starting from small sized warblers to the huge sized Short-toed snake eagle. The tall trees interspersed provided nesting for the large sized raptors like that of Eagles and the old abandoned wells acted as nesting sites for the Eurasian eagle-owl. The reservoir served as a roosting and nesting place for many aquatic birds including winter migrants such as the Bar headed geese, demoiselle cranes, harriers etc. Short-eared owls roosted in scrubby areas. It is also doubted that Greater Flamingo’s use this area as passage route during their migration to southern parts of India.


For check list of Birds, Please mail me @ (murali7murali@gmail.com)

Bird Sanctuaries > Magadi Lake, Gadag, Karnataka
Posted by Shirolkar BW on December 22, 2010
Magadi Lake is located in Gadag district of Karnataka state. It is a part of North Karnataka. Every year thousands of Bar headed geese come to this lake. This year some of my friends of North Karnataka Birder Watchers club has noticed two geeses which are banded. They are successfully photographed and traced their origin to Mongolia.

Shirolkar
National Parks > mudumalai national park
Posted by thirumal ram on October 18, 2010
i have visited the mudumalai national park in Nilgris of tamilnadu
on the way in to the forest i have watched man extinct species of birds and other mammals such as
indian gaur ,elephant with their calves and many spotted deers with a group of nearly100-150
i have also spotted an extinct species named sambar
while we r on return i spotted two tigers  fighting with a common sloth bear
that looked so awesome so dont fail to visit mudumalai the nilgris
Little Known Destinations > Purna WildLife Sanctuary
Posted by Palak Thakor on September 13, 2010
      I live in Surat City which is 130 Kms away from Purna Wildlife Sanctuary.I many time visit that place just to observe the changes in the biodiversity of the forest.I am going there since last 4 years once every two months.Now a days the NGO workers around the Forest area means from Surat & Navsari visit that places every Sunday just to watch night life of jungle.On seeing their regularly visit in particular area i saw quite changes in biodiversity of that area.There were Leopards, Hyenas & Wild Boars were found in that area but due to the Constant interference of the NGOs in that area now leopards & Hyenas are spotted less & quantity of the wild boar increased.

    Even forest Dept are not stopping NGO workers to come 7 stay in that area.Even they Catch the snakes from there & bring them to Surat to show them to others 7 then release that snake in outskirts
of Surat & which is a different habitat from the natural area needed for the survival of that snake.I had told them to mend their ways but they are doing it & Forest dept doesn't say anything to them as they are paid money for not taking steps against them.

    What can be done now?The Nature savior are destroying it.
Little Known Destinations > Trip to Pangot.Near Nainital,Uttarakhand
Posted by KAAJAL DASGUPTA on September 02, 2010
I visited Pangot on 27th August 2010 to capture some shots of the Himalayan species which are available in plenty in this area.I reached the place at around 7.30 pm and stayed at Janardan cottage which is located atop a small hillock at the zero point crossing.The time is not right for birdwatching as it is raining heavily in North India this year including the hills of Uttarakhand but the proximity of this place from my city (Bareilly)made me impatient!
Next morning I woke up to find that it is raining but around 7.30 am it cleared up and I set out to look for the birds.There are two roads ,one leading high up to the mountains (To Vinayak) and one down to the valleys.
Some famous birding resorts like Jungle Lore is situated at the lower road .
On my trek to the top I could watch Yellow Naped Woodpecker ,Yellow cheeked Tit,Black headed jay,White throated laughing thrush,Blue Whistling thrush , Nuthatch and Eurasian jay.
after breakfast while scouting the valley side I spotted Streaked thrush ,Grey tit,Oriental dove,Himalayan Bulbul,Yellow breasted green finch,spotted munia,blue drongo,sparrows,black headed tit,prinia,brown fonted woodpecker,lesser spotted woodpecker and many other small birds which could not be identified.
I will go back in winter to spot the Khalij pheasant ,Koklass and other Himalayan varieties.
It rained every now and then till evening but I managed to click many shots.
Little Known Destinations > Myth, Mist and Munnar
Posted by Anirban Dey on August 06, 2010

 

Since quite a few days, I’ve been noticing that, Chennai weather is changing. Not sure whether it is an effect of global warming. But,since past few days, the climate is quite pleasant and this was enough to make my mood for my next trip.

My luck generally favours during these kinds of suddenly planned trips, as Maitry, my better-half, is always kind of ‘on her toes’, when it comes to traveling. So, mentally we were all set; the only question was….where?

I always have a psychological inclination towards hills, but reaching out to the great Himalayas is quite an effort from this part of the country, both in terms of time…as well as money. So, it looked like a better idea to try any nearby hill station, during any weekend.

Munnar had always been in my list as a kind of less crowded hill station. It did not take much time to get my thoughts frozen for booking the tickets. It was a Friday evening (Aug 8, 2008), when we started from Chennai Central Station, heading towards Madurai.

We reached Madura iat around 6 in the morning. This was the first time I was in Madurai. In India, this place is quite famous since historic ages and renowned for its temples of great architectural beauty.Honestly, I was quite impressed to find the town to be such neat and clean,despite its thousands of pilgrims. In short, I liked the town, its morning, its people, its traffic…everything. But, as we both were quite eager to reach Munnar as soon, so we decided not to spend time there. We simply hired a cab and “Munnar….here we come!!”

Munnar can be reached from Madurai, via a plus/minus 4 hours smooth drive, and trust me, the road is quite bounce free and scenic too. In first two hours, you get to enjoy the beauty of green rural Tamil Nadu, with lots of coconut trees and huts around. We really enjoyed the drive and some soothing old romantic numbers added more flavors to it. We were so engrossed, that it took both of us some time to realize that, we’ve started climbing uphill. We took a small break on Tamil Nadu-Kerala border, had a nice hot coffee, put our warm clothes on, and pushed the accelerator again to reach the ‘Mystic Heaven’.

 

Looking Back:

 

In countries like India, it’s like, wherever you go,some history follows. It holds true for Munnar as well. The actual owner of this little peace of green beauty was the Royal Family of Poonjar. During British rule in India, the brits identified this place as one of the summer getaways of Southern India. But, it seems, the natural beauty of this place was not the only point of attraction for the Queen’s company, they had some bigger/better plans for this piece of hilly land.

 

The entire land (+/- 580 Sq. KM) was later leased from the Poonjar King for 99 years by a European, Mr. J.D Munro. Identifying the immense agricultural potential of the place, Munro formed a co-operative named “North Travancore Land Planting and Agricultural Society”. It was 1964, when TATA-Finlay group was established and till date, despite its virgin beauty,Munnar is equally famous for its acres of tea plantation, mostly setup by the TATA group.

 

Landed Up:

 

Along with lush green tea gardens, Munnar is also blessed with three beautiful river streams called Mudrapuzha, Nallathanni and Kundala.The name ‘Munnar’ is actually a Tamil word. In Tamil, ‘Mune’ (pronounced as‘m-oo-n-e’) means three, and ‘ar’ means river. So, on the lap of lush green hills, where three beautiful hilly rivers joins their hands, no wonder th eplace would be called…Mune-ar….Munnar. This simple, beautiful yet logical naming convention of rural people often amazes my thinking. In 21stcentury, I believe the most affected part of human nature is simplicity. My personal feelings say that we should learn a lesson from these rural and tribal people.

Once reached, my first job was to find a place to stay and this time I decided to go a little offbeat, I took a ‘home stay’. This was the first time I was trying a home stay, and I liked the concept. It’s like somebody would hand you over his own house, along with all the necessities like grocery, kitchen equipments, a good cook, a caretaker, a driver…almost everything. But the best part is, it does not make a big hole in your pocket,unlike other so-called star hotels. The only caution is, one should carefully check the home stay and its facilities before checking in. 

August is a month, when it rains in most of the southern parts of India.Munnar was no exception. This trip was important to me because it was basically a trip to test my new SLR and associated lenses. But continuous rain disappointed me to some extent, despite the sight-snatching beauty of the place. Anaimudi is the highest peak in this circuit (around 1800 Mts), but we could not reach out because the peak got covered with thick, dense cloud and accompanying rain. We could hardly see each other from half-a-meter distance. Though I love to, but still I could not afford to get drenched in that rain as I had to save my camera. Hence, the first day was mostly a leisurely pass time with some coffee, in the back yard garden of our home stay, sitting beside the river, watching variety of birds, listening to the untold whispers of the after-shower silence, romancing the freshly drenched nature.

Any tourist place generally has a list of sight-seeing spots,which one can avail mostly from the local cab drivers/travel agents. Same happened to us as well. So the second day was quite an active day. Though it was cloudy all the time, but those clouds did not disturb us much on that day.We hired a cab and took a tour of in and around Munnar. Echo Point, Highestpoint, Eraviculum National Park are some of those places. Beside these, one should also visit the tea gardens, tea museum, tea factory, numerous waterfalls, damns, boating etc. I take quite an interest in mixing and interactingwith local people and exploring the place, the market, the culture and so on.Munnar main market is decent, big and clean enough. Like other tourist spots,here also the prices are quite high and people are expected to bargain properly to get their best deal.

The food at our home stay was quite ecstatic. Especially the semi-thick chicken soup was our favorite. It was more palatable due to the climate with heavy rain and unending heavy breeze. In the evening, while sitting in the backyard with a coffee, I saw a kid trying hard to concentrate in her studies. I could make out that, she was not doing it quite willingly;rather, it was her mom, who was more concerned. They were quite a sweet couple,all the way from US. The man was French and the lady was an American. This lady actually reminded me of my sister. She also shares a similar nature like this.She will also insist her six year old kid to study during holidays. These two ladies, though they belong to two different corners of the globe, still the characteristics of motherhood shares many common flavors like this….and many others. Perhaps, this is called the beauty of human nature.

 

 

Chinnar WildlifeSanctuary:

 

The next day, was the day to return back and I was trying out options to make the most out of it, before we finally leave. Munnar can be reached from many different routes. Most popular are from Thekkady (Kerala), Madurai and Coimbatore.As I’ve already seen the Madurai route, I booked my return through Coimbatore.Both are equally far from Munnar (+/- 145 KM). But there is an advantage in returning via Coimbatore, that is, one can stopover at various beautiful water falls on the way and more importantly, try out a very interesting jungle trek in Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary, which comes on the way back to Coimbatore.As expected, I did not miss any of these chances.

There are many known/unknown wildlife sanctuaries in India. Most of them have got some conventional tours to attract the tourists. These include elephant safari, jeep safari etc. Some of them even run battery operated bus for tourists. If somebody is interested to spot more of wildlife, jeep/bus safari should not be a preferred option. At least my experience does not recommend that, as these jeeps/buses drive through a defined route everyday and over a period of time, most of the animals start avoiding places nearby to those routes. An elephant safari can prove to be more effective here. Anyways,in chinnar, we opted for trekking. This was almost 8 KM of trek, deep inside the jungle. The nature was breathtakingly beautiful. We could see the range of hills from distance and cloud floating over there. I am not a kind of person who visits jungle just to spot tigers. Even if I don’t see any single animal, I believe the nature itself is equally enjoyable.

There were some formalities for entering the forest with a trekking permission and the trekking needs to be done under the supervision of a forest guide. Once the formalities are finished, one can hire a binocular from the forest dept. We had a local guide, Manikanandan (Mani), who works for the forest dept. and belongs to the local tribe. This guy was quite energetic,decent person with a welcome smile on face.

We started making our way through the jungle, clearing the weeds, breaking the dead branches of unknown trees. Mani was surprisingly extra cautious in terms of his senses. Be it a new sound, smell or color… he was extremely quick to sense it. I could feel that this jungle is in the bloodstream of him, and so it is, for the local tribal people. Mani kept on trying his best to spot some animals. His, as well as our luck favored when we could spot some sambars, peacocks, langurs etc.

There were lots of cactus in this jungle. I was as usual trying to focus a bee sitting on a cactus flower. Finding me interested on the flower, Mani asked me whether we were interested to taste a cactus fruit too.This was the first time I could try a cactus fruit. It is difficult for people like me, to spot the fruit in a cactus. The fruit contains a cover full of thorns and looks like its many other branches. Hence, the process of extracting the fruit was even more interesting than the fruit itself.  But, trust me, I liked it so much that I had almost three.

Finally we reached near the Chinnar River.The cold stream, flowing through the jungle, splitting it into two halves. Like all other hilly stream, it also has its own chorus, the sweet and silent roar,the roar which keeps the jungle awake. Simple adjectives would not be enough to describe the beauty of this river. Tired, exhausted we finally sat beside the river, the cool breeze, the melodious chirping of unknown birds and the cold ever flowing stream of water was soothing enough for our nerves.

The trek was over and evening was approaching, we started back towards Coimbatore.The hills, the trees, the nature, the silence…everything was moving away soon. I packed my dinner from Coimbatore station. The train was quite on time. I was hurriedly finishing my dinner.

After a long exciting day, it was time to sleep. The pillow on the berth was calling me like anything. But, I could feel that Munnar is not going to leave me so soon. The train started moving. From the window, I could see the station, vendors, lights…all started moving backwards. I closed my eyes…I saw those falls, the hilly streams, the mist, the cloud, the tea garden,the innocent face of that tribal guide…all were gathering one by one….to appear in my dream….the train is gaining speed…lights are off…and me, all alone…waiting eagerly for that mist covered dream, to take control of my sleep.

Little Known Destinations > Kannoru in Sharawathi Wildlife Sanctuary
Posted by Aparna V K on June 23, 2010


Sunlight penetrates in tiny patches just enough to give the seeds a chance  to sprout but not to grow, creepers as thick as my waist having spiraled  round its victim tree, blooms on touching the sunlight, on the canopy above and  gripping its victim more securely into a death embrace. Birds whose whistling and cacophony  keeps your neck stretched backwards drives you mad with the impossibility of  sighting them within the lush green layer or rather floors of leaves. Welcome  to the Evergreen forests of Sharavathi Wildlife Sanctuary!


The sanctuary covers the Sharavathi Valley Region, near the western border of  Karnataka. It is spread over an area of 431 Kms and is nourished by the  Sharavathi River.


Me, Guru and Ananth visited this amazing secret world one weekend. A rather  bumpy ride that almost broke our backs, being unfortunate to get the last 3 seats on the KSRTC bus, headed towards Linganamakki, left a red eyed tousled  trio embark at Kargal that is around 5kms from Jog. Gangadhar, our guide who had  arranged our stay, collected us and dropped us at Kanooru, a tiny village with  hardly 8-10 families. Being enthusiast Birders and wary of wild crowds from  Bangalore we kept away from the main group to explore the Kanooru forests.


Filling up with the idlis we filed out into  the jungle. Having been cautioned with many a thrilling tale of leeches, I  fell into a state of anxiety, this being my very first experience of leeches.  I almost had exaggerated them into centipede sizes swarming all over, biting  into you and slowly leaking out your blood, while you howl with pain. (I know  I was reading too much into horror movies!).


I was laughed at my attempts to wear the shoes and socks and a tucked in cargo's into my ankle length army shoes, nothing could possibly prevent the  crawlies! Well I had my last laugh! Take my advise, Ankle length shoes with  the ends of your pants tucked into them does protect you from leech bites! So  I can safely say not even a single one could feast on my blood!



Dharma, our guide took us along a path that steadily went down until it opened  up into the stream that eventually joins Sharavathi. Having had enough of  leeches we (read Guru and Ananth :)) decided its safer to trek along the  stream. The most arduous length was when we has to climb up a vertical cliff  to get to the other side, our nimble guide swung himself up and helped us all. Ananth had a hard time climbing up ;).


The guys while  engaged in a luxurious river bath and our guide prepared fire to cook our  lunch  I went to explore upstream and catch some nap.


One of the many irritating thing about being a gal and that too a gal  engaged in wildlife conservation is that not only your team thinks twice  before taking you along and take manifold precautions and planning before  they embark on the trip, that can generally dampen the whole wild experience,  but it also means you cannot participate in things like jumping into the  river and swim wild like monkey. :( .


Anyway the time I spent upstream, was one of the highlights of my trip, it  gave me some time on my own to soak in the beauty of that place. A constantly  tumbling water in the stream. An eerie silence of no-activity that sometimes  is interrupted by a flutter of wings and sometimes a distant call of some  unknown bird. The dance of the light on the water splashing sliver of silvery  ribbons. Some wonderfully coloured butterflies and beetles hovering over the  stream lazily. A scene of content and perfect solitude.


On a glance it might seem that the Sharavathi Valley is devoid of wildlife,  that's just an illusion. The denizens of these forests above all prefer to come out during the times the sun is down. And being there at dawn or dusk still does not increase your chances of catching a glimpse of these shy creatures,  they possess another weapon - camouflage not to mention the dense foliage  that completely renders them invisible to an untrained eye. The sanctuary is  a refuge of the endangered Lion-tailed macaque. Other mammals include tiger,  leopard (black panther), wild dog, jackal, sloth bear, spotted deer, sambar,  barking deer, mouse deer, wild pig, common langur, bonnet macaque, Malabar  giant squirrel, giant flying squirrel, porcupine, otter and pangolin.

Reptiles include king cobra, python, rat snake, crocodile and monitor lizard. Some of the avian species found in the sanctuary include three species of  hornbill, paradise flycatcher,fairy blue bird, malabar whistling thrush,  blue-throated barbet and Indian lories and lorikeets. There are many  butterflies in the sanctuary.



Amidst growing concerns by Dharmanna that we might not be able to leave the  forests before dusk, Guru pointed out to the little and only torch we had amidst us and said we will bank on it. How could we hurry? when at every turn the scene grew more beautiful than the previous and dusk brought home, birds near stream and gave us the opportunity to see them. The last mile brought us to a lovely waterfall. This time again the guys had the time of their lives splashing around the fall and faithfully reminding me what a unique experience I have missed.  During this time I discovered to my dismay that mosquitoes are not the only  insects that syringe you for your blood! There are insects that are much  larger with much bigger stingers!


Night brought ten thousand fire-flies! OK some hundreds then.. All good-naturedly blinking from the trees surrounding the house, And as we fell asleep on the porch chatting about this and that I fell into a deep sleep  wondering why the fire-flies have abandoned us at cities as everything else that was a part of our childhood , like the multitude of butterflies and  sparrows, the little beauties of nature.


The next morning after waiting for Gangadhar who was to be our guide for the day, for quite a while we decided to do with our little buddy Yogaraj.  Trekking on the outskirts of the forest we came across this one particular  tree that seem to have attracted a lot of our avian friends, I saw my first  fairy blue bird. We decided to spend our morning on the roof of the fall to  which my friends seemed to very partial and indeed it was worth all the admiration. A clear view of the valley below sheltered by a fruiting tree on  whose many branches housed several other creepers like a curtain to this  awesome world. Some where down a Malabar whistling thrush was on with its singing routine, I could just imagine him going up and down his favourite tree  whistling away to lure his lady love. You have to hear one at its performance and feel one's heart fill with joy as it goes on. You could  easily mistake him to be some amateur boy whistling away in the forests, not  without reason the Malabar whistling thrush is also called whistling school  boy!



After a long time of resting in that blessed place we returned back for a  round of breakfast. We soon again crashed into the forests, this time journeying through the open fields to visit the hornbill's nest. A hornbill has a very curious behavior about nesting. It nests in the tree holes. During  the time the female hornbill has to lay egg she sheds her feathers (pulls it out on her own!) and makes herself comfortable in the tree hole her mate has  found and which she has approved and then shuts herself in by sealing the hole with mud and grit, leaving just a tiny slit through which the male regularly drops in food.


We spent a major part of our afternoon next to a natural swimming pool, with the guys again splashing and posing and exploring upstream around while I spent  time sleeping and listening to music. Just to keep Yoga from getting bored I  challenged him on who could keep their head-down-first into water for long. Needless to say he won ! The way back was quite a bit of journey, crossing  the deep pool over a fallen tree trunk, I did that one on all hands and legs!  jumping over rocks to keep my shoes dry which I gave up on the last stretch  jumping into the pool thenceforth at every opportunity..


As we trekked back Ananth kept our lungs tickling endlessly by slipping over  the dry and wet rocks alike in spectacular fashion. Yoga kept his eyes  tuned on him just so he woudn miss the next one coming. So much for the  really costly woodland shoes and the really cheap hawaii chappals that he alternated between! My favourite one was the last fall when while wading  across the knee length water he fell on his *** with his camera and binocs  held high above his head with a very surprised look on his face! Wish I had a  snap of that! This much I must say to his credit, he took all the jokes aimed  at him good-naturedly :).



The last of our adventure in the Kanooru forest winded up on a half done bridge over a stream that was hardly a trickle that summer afternoon.


After a hasty lunch we returned back to Kargal on an auto whose driver  insisted us on showing the secret submerged tunnel that opened up into Linganmakki. For me it was the thrill of seeing the swallows mud house  underneath the bridge that made the detour worthwhile.



With a lot of time to kill before the return bus to Bangalore from Sagar at 10pm we had a pit stop at Jog Falls. Despite the disappointment of the front  view wiped clean of all trees by a concrete corridor giving a naked fall, The Jog falls by itself is still is a marvel and a beauty to behold. A vertical drop of nearly 900 ft Jog Falls still remains a spectacular sight with multitude of  swifts hovering around it. As we three sat there looking at it for a real  long time I felt a sense of companionship, like some perfect understanding  passed between us unspoken about what lay ahead of us. A commitment to do everything possible to protect the forests of this land. Although I speak  here for myself  I am sure we all are of the same opinion.

Little Known Destinations > A night at Rasimanal Watchtower
Posted by Aparna V K on June 23, 2010

The last of the ground survey by KANS winded up at Rasimanal. Here is an account of the most wonderful time of my life..


Rasimanal Forest Guest house is around 2 hours drive from Anchetty. The narrow roads sneak up the hills and at one point gave a awe inspiring view of the valley. Tiny villages with hardly around 100-150 families have sprung up all along the way.


I tasted the most refreshing coffee and tea at a tea shop on the way that boasted a very interesting water heater, though I would say it was simply the lower part of water filter set up on a stove! The swooshing movement of mixing up the beverage with milk and water by the owner was worth filming!


 We waited at the last hamlet for the forest guard (who incidentally never turned up) for the guest house keys. When the waiting became intolerable a few of us started walking along the jungle path for birding, a few of the locals began telling me no to go any further as elephants frequented the path beyond the farm.  I would have loved to see some. As fate could have its last laugh I was again denied the elephant encounters. The heat of the afternoon gave way to the soothing evening breeze and my troop giving up the hope of the guest house keys collected the rest of the wandering gang and started moving towards RasiManal. Rasimanal belongs to the Anchetty range and here the Cauvery and Dodhalla meet up and continue their way into Tamil Nadu. With the pre-monsoon showers Cauvery had indeed swollen and was gushing away noisily.



You could feel it in the air that you were about to witness the unexpected. As is usual to me I floated away.. day dreaming wide awake. Wild Jasmine shrubs also called Kadu Mallige in Kannada littered the forest grounds profusely.. Its scent rose in spirals and set the scene of ancient Indian lore, For some reason I began to recount the tale of Shakuntala, that that lovely maiden must have sometime run around here with those wild flowers in her ear lobes..


We spotted a pair green imperial pigeon, my very first. Indeed a very beautiful bird found reportedly in the Western Ghats.The forest guard who accompanied us in the jeep prepared us for the sight of a half cooked elephant! Apparently during one of the beats last week they found a dead elephant , and had gathered dry twigs and set fire to the corpse. We found it alright, smelling it, meters away!




Finally we reached Rasimanal, my eyes all hooked at the Watchtower that guaranteed a bird's view of the valley with Cauvery just a few feet away. I accompanied the group that was hurrying to set the camera traps. We set a pair on the banks of the Cauvery around a kilometer or two from the watch tower. There were these huge trees with white bark and roots that almost seemed like skeletons hugging the loose boulders and keeping them in place reminding me of the Angkor Vat temples in Cambodia. I am guessing they were  Dhindilu or dhindal , Scientific name Anogeissus latifolia belonging to the family Combretaceae




The Camera traps are motion detectors. When an animal crosses its range of detection, it sets off the camera that normally sleeps during inactivity. If I am not wrong the camera is active only for a period of 5 seconds in a minute. After a lot of circus to hold the camera facing the stretch that seemed to have seen a lot of animal activity we rushed back to the watch tower as it was getting dark and the time for the elephants and the nocturnal animals to come to the river bed. As we crashed back we almost lost our way. Its really a wonder how the forests guards can make out the way even during night. I can easily get lost on the back streets of my house! We were still discussing the camera traps when flash-flash something eerily silver seems to  have floated past and my heart simply jumped into my mouth.. On a closer look however they turned out to be trees whose bark had a lustrous silver sheen, I am not sure what they are called though.


Night fall brought a  lot of surprises including Mr. Thillai god-bless-him who brought food and beverages (U know ...) During the time the whole troop devoured the fish curry and idlis I sat at the foot of the tower facing the river and the forests listening to light music and watching the greatest drama ever unroll, Nature unleashing its power.


As minutes trickled by dark clouds began gathering at the horizon that until now did not even have the white clouds , wind that ever so gently lifted tufts of my hair began to blow in real earnest almost pinning me to my side. The entire forests quivered in unease as the unrelenting winds grew in strength and a thunderstorm began to brew and very soon lightning forked the skies and a series of ear-splitting thunders rolled almost making you shiver at its intensity and cower in fear. For almost a hour this continued with no sign of relenting and giving way to rain, and we gathered on the watchtower's roof almost scared to stand at full height for fearing the lightning strike us!


And then with a whispering that grew louder than the howling wind it began to rain. Some of us staggered into the jeep some into the safe sanctuary of the watch tower and the rest of us filed on the side of the watch tower that provided at least little bit of shade from the onslaught of the rain. We shivered and laughed enjoying the whole scene like little children enjoying ice-cream.. We talked into sleeping all the adventures we have had every time peeking at the river bed for the sight of the crocs. The over crowded watch tower that day welcome eight of us tightly packed with me, the only girl in the group asleep facing everyone's feet!



Just imagine a perfect morning, a vast blue flushed sky , a mighty river with sandy bed and dark smooth stones jutting into her and you bend down to wash your face with the cool water. I wished my every morning would start that way! Me, Guru and Somyajit walked across for about 2 hours birding and we were lucky to see the Crested Hawk Eagle, a pair of otters who almost sauntered very close by finally beating a hasty retreat realizing our presence.



I almost ran back to the watchtower remembering Thillai's promise for a tasty Maggie for breakfast. Guru made a watery albeit tasty maggie noodles scorching Thillai's shiny vessel with black soot from the make-shift stove we made using half dry twigs and some bricks.


And there ends my most memorable day so far, rested between those soft hills and those dark angry clouds for ever.

National Parks > visit to pench national park
Posted by nikhil on June 17, 2010

  Hi friends,

I am Nikhil Rathod from Nagpur.


                                 I visited   Pench National (Known as Karmazari in MP ) Park with friends on 8th and 9th June 2010

            and the experience was fantastic.  Mother nature in summer is at full swing and the park

        looks beautiful in summer.  And the animals too.  We saw many animals and both days tigers, cubs 

        jackal, hyena and many more.


                           
Nikheel Rathod.
mob:- 9370275277
       
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