Monday 18 October 2010

Unplanned Unwinding

It was three years back that I got myself involved in a case, knowing very well that, it would require me to travel again to that place. So, soon after giving my witness in the case, we took the train to Nileshwaram, where a friend of my husband was getting married the next day. As we got off the train at Nileshwaram, we were picked up by the friend and his brother. Their home was about 40kms, form Nileshwaram, in the thick of rubber plantations of the Western Ghats. The conversation on our way was evolving exactly around this, the rubber plantations of malappuram and Wayanad districts. The tropical forests have been giving way to plantations for decades now and this has changed the entire surrounding. Every peak is covered by rubber trees. Most of these plants are over exploited and disease stricken. Our run for money has changed these hills. What would be the effect of mono-cultivation? Nobody knows fully. Our conversation took us to the destination, a traditional, Nair ‘tharawad’, surrounded by all types of trees and plants… We took a small round of the garden around. Actually it’s only garden and plantations all around. The small rivulet, that flows nearby adds beauty to the place. Anoop brought us a grass like plant, on its edge was small dew like formations. Though, it looked like dew, it was as condense as nectar. I was told that it is the condensed rain water, which gathers on the edges of the grass strands. He demonstrated how to insert the dew into the eyes. It was so….chill... Eyes got instant freshness. Night dinner was typically keralite. The enthusiasm of the family was contagious.


The preparation of next day’s marriage was in full swing. For the groom and male relatives there, the ‘spirit’ was already in the rising. It was 21.30, and time for us to leave. We had to catch a train at Nileshwar to Calicut at 23.00.


As the train reached Calicut station, our driver for the next three days, called us to inform about the waiting vehicle. It was 03.00, when we reached Nilambur. As we entered the hotel, what invited the instant attention, were the Kerala mural paintings on canvass. We got ready for the day after a short four hour rest. We had a fluid plan. We were still deciding whether to explore wayanad district or to travel to Ooty via Bandipur. Our first visit was to the oldest man made teak plantation on earth the Conolly’s plot.


The hanging bridge across river ‘Chaliar’ offers panoramic view of the chaliar and the surrounding mountains. Other side of the bridge is the world’s oldest teak tree standing amidst thick cover of trees. The place is rife with butterflies of all hues and sizes. The plantation is well maintained by the forest department and the annual auction of teak logs conducted by the forest department attracts bidders from all over the country. Nilambur teak is known for its quality.


Emphasizing this is another edifice, standing at this very place, though not living. It’s the teak museum of Nilambur. The saw dust statue of nature and various kinds of bamboo plants that adore entrance road to the museum and the inverted root system of a 55 year old tree that is placed at the portico of the museum elevate this place to a surreal stature.



   All these bamboos have name plates to help novices like me. Placing the plant name near the plant is one thoughtful act of forest department that we notice in all important places of Nilambur.


In the museum, one comes across various kinds of teak wood, and the sample pieces to educate us as to how grading is done. The giant root piece is the main attraction of the museum. With the inner most ring coinciding with Akbar’s birth and the outer most ring marked as twentieth century, this five century old piece of wood has seen a lot of history.


There are specimens of butterflies, moths and insects whose life cycle involves teak trees. Sadly ,1/3rd of the specimens are missing. Adjoining the museum is the botanical garden which houses various species of water plants, orchids, and medicinal plants rare and near extinct trees. This is a well maintained garden and one can easily spend a day here. Here we came across a plant that attracts hundreds of butterflies.

 Sadly the name board was missing. After the botanical garden, we decided to go to Bandipur, which is approximately 100 kms from Nilambur. We took the Gudalur, Mudumalai road to Bandipur. The caution, that the driver was exhibiting while driving within the sanctuary area of Mudumalai and Bandipur was evidence to the care both Karnataka and Tamilnadu governments were taking of this tropical forest. The driver repeatedly told that nobody can enter the sanctuary area from 09.00 pm to 06.00 am. There is speed restriction on the Tamil Nadu side of the sanctuary. The awareness these restrictions have created is very encouraging. We only had an initial plan of touching Bandipur jungle lodge and returning to Ooty the same evening. However, the forest guest house at Bandipur and the herds of spotted dears made us change our plan. Hundreds of deers around, and pleasing weather for support, the place felt like a hermitage.


Maintenance of guest houses by forest department is good. With all basic facilities, one can’t ask for more in a place like this .It would be a stay on the lap of nature.

 After dumping our luggage, we decided to take a ride again on the Bandipur-Mudumalai road. It was getting dark and we were hopeful of sighting some wild life. We spotted a sambar stag. The more exciting one was a lonely tusker. His majestic presence was impeccable and astounding.

We touched the Tamilnadu border and came back to the guest house. The night was all pervasive… and I was remembering Annie’s song, by John Denver. ‘You fill up my senses, like a night in a forest….’ In a night, forest has no individual identity. It’s a moment when the sounds of chaos settle on us as a silent blanket and sleep wraps us down on the bed.


Morning dawns, slowly dragging away the dark blanket and giving back the identity. Everything is back to its self and burst of activity catches us also. Around 06.30. am, we set out into the forest. The previous day’s rain had made everything brand new. From the straws of grass to chirping birds, everything is new and fresh. We saw a family of Indian gaur. A herd of elephants with a cute calf was an unforgettable sight. The grownups were pampering the small one so much that it looked like a fantastic family drama.


The Indian gaur family


As the rain has played havoc with the interior routes, we cut short our ride and stopped by a watering hole.


The silence of the place was ruptured only by the occasional fluttering of winged residents. Sitting there speechless, is a blessing in life.


Once out of the forest we decided to push off to Ooty as early as possible as we had to reach Coimbatore the same evening. This time we took the route of Bandipur –Masinagudi-Ooty. The road gets narrower once we start climbing up. The climb was steep and there were more than 30 hair-pin bends. We got luckier as we spotted a Malabar giant-squirrel, lazing out its mid day. The photo doesn’t show the entire length of its tail. We didn’t wasn’t to disturb it either. So, felt happy with whatever we could click and left the place quickly.


Once in Ooty we headed straight to Avalanche as we didn’t want be in the crowd. Avalanche boasts of having the Trout breeding facility which had its origins in the 19th century. The fisheries department official explained us the entire process and it only kindled our interest further. Watching them holding against the current of water from the upstream was wonderful. The temperature near this shed in the trout farm was freezing and the air was cold and heavy. However the swimming beauties in the nearby tank were all that mattered.


We went further to the Avalanche power station, and a chat with the guards there was very informative. One of the guards said “the English didn’t waste a drop of water. Everything is converted into power “. Here, in and around Ooty alone, there are more than a dozen power stations.


The water released from here goes to the Avalanche dam.


The guards insisted that we walk up to nearby waterfalls. On any other occasion we would have instantly accepted. But this time our preoccupation at Coimbatore kept us pulling. While coming back, we spotted the lion tailed –macaque with her off-spring, at the very same place where we saw her while going to Avalanche. As her attention was on us, we didn’t try to click ay pictures. By the way, what is the necessity of a photo, when the warm hug of the primate is so vividly etched in the memory?


You may wonder why this journey in a hurry? This is only a trailer for an elaborate visit. …So wait for the main picture to release.

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