Tag Archives: Western Ghats

Enthusing Slackers.

Now, as we all know slackers is a term used for people who laze and avoid work. At least that is the way the Queen would understand it. As is their wont, them Yanks have put some weird Puritanical twist on it. Refer same link as above. Anyhow, I like to think I’m in the first class (insert your first class joke here). And so does the Urban Yogi. So what do slackers do? They take Friday off and go on a long drive.

This is how it transpired. The Missus had combined a week’s official trip with a weekend of hanging out with her folks, and was kind enough to let me loose. Having got said weekend, I appended a Friday and called up the U Yogi to check his availability. Both him and his Gypsy were available. Having decided anywhere in the 300 km radius of Bengaluru was not worth the effort, where to go was decided by the simple process of elimination. Points North and East were discarded because of the heat. The west, because anything beyond 300 km would put you in the Arabian Sea, so the only direction left was the South. I suggested Valparai. The last trip to Valparai, in 2006, was not exactly a trip. It was more of one long round trip from Bengaluru, with a brief stop over at Valparai. I thought I should remedy that. The Yogi agreed. So Valparai it was.

A February morning at the Tennis Bungalow, Waterfall Estate, Valparai.
A February morning at the Tennis Bungalow, Waterfall Estate, Valparai.

On the drive out, the Yogi commented that all his trips out of Bengaluru, involved taking one major, critical right turn. And that he was tired of it. So to get to Valparai, you take NH 7 up to Salem, then take a right at Salem on to the NH47 and then the all important left off NH 47 to Tirupur. That satisfied the Yogi, and to satisfy his natural urge to take a right, we got lost in the maze that is Tirupur so ended up taking another right to get on to the main road to Valparai. Since we were slacking off, left or right didn’t matter. However, if you’re one of those who get antsy about getting to their destination, then ask for the old bus stand at Tirupur and follow the road out to Pollachi and thence to Valparai. At Pollachi, they’re building a railway bridge, which looks like one of those projects that successive governments use to showcase their achievements. The alternate route will give you a short trip inside Pollachi and then you’re out. The last stretch is excellent, in fact the roads all the way through are good. At least as of early 2010.

The Valley View Bungalow at Waterfall Estate, Valparai.
The Valley View Bungalow at Waterfall Estate, Valparai.

Our drive ended at the Waterfall Estate, that is just past the 28th hair-pin bend on the way from Pollachi to Valparai. Them hair-pins go all the way up to 40. The estate has 3 bungalows that they let out, Indraprasth, the Tennis Bungalow and the Valley View. We got the Tennis Bungalow, named because it has a tennis court attached to it, if it was not clear. Once we got their, we mostly filled time till our helpful caretaker, Chandran, placed the next meal in front of us. Not to mention the endless cups of tea.

Bison in the tea gardens of Waterfall Estate

Now, earlier trips have drawn a blank in the animal sighting department. Valparai more than made that up. While on our desultory walks about the estate, we spotted gaur and barking deer. On our drive out to the Sholayar dam, we spotted a family of Lion Tailed Macaques. That was a little sad though, as the macaques were near the road, where beings allegedly above the macaques on the evolutionary tree, were feeding them. Passing traffic is definitely a hazard for the macaques, which are an endangered species.

All this talk of walks and drives, of course, makes it difficult to imagine that 2 slackers got any slacking done. How does a combined total of 40 hours of sleep, 5 games of carrom (won by the Yogi 3-2) and 6 hearty meals sound? Of course, the Yogi didn’t win 3-2 as much as lost 2 games by very helpfully pocketing the cover before the Queen. Valparai, it would seem, lends itself very well to the art of doing nothing. That should enthuse the slackers.

In which Leeches feast

So we learn about this place near Ujire which is supposed to be a really nice trekking trail that doesn’t usually feature a lot when folks are talking about trekking in Karnataka. While obviously folks seem to have trekked it, there’s not a lot of information floating around.

And the title kinda says it all. We chose November on the premise that the rains would’ve abated. However, it rained, and it rained copiously all over the Peninsula leading up to the trek. And just to trick us into going, the rains stopped for a couple of days prior to us leaving. Obviously, we weren’t going to let a little bit of the damp to dampen us. (Yeah, tired old joke). However on the night we left in the comfortable confines of a new Innova, it rained. Which brought out the collective population of leeches in the entire southern Western Ghats on to the trail leading to Bandaje Arbi. For that is where we were going and where Mr. Murphy decided leeches should be.

The Urban Yogi pondering over the evolutionary need for leeches.

This post is going to be short on both details and photos. For the simple reason that on the way up, all of us were worried about not getting feasted upon, so we didn’t stop too much. And our confines-of-A/C-offices flogged bodies couldn’t take the rush-up-the-hill-before-we-get-bitten pace. So there are no photos going up. Once we got up there, we barely had time to find a place to camp – which was relatively leech free – before we could cook and before the rain Gods descended upon us again. Which left us grappling with another issue. One of our allegedly (meaning the Usual Suspect was lying through his teeth) waterproof tents turned out to be not. So in a tent meant for 3, there were 7 sweaty, hungry trekkers. But then what is life without some breaks? And it did come through with the showers stopping in about 20 mins and then with some amount of water evacuation both the tents were fairly sleepable. Which is a long winded way of saying that we didn’t even get to the waterfall. Where by the way, there are excellent spots to camp.

The Farmer making the most of the morning light at Bandajje.
The Farmer making the most of the morning light at Bandajje.

The next morning we woke up as refreshed as we could’ve been in the circumstances. But again, we didn’t go all the way up to the waterfalls. For those interested, the trek begins at Bandaje. This is near Ujire and Dharamasthala. You’ll need to call up Narayana Gowda, whose farm is at the base of the trek who’ll then arrange for one his trusted lieutenants Vasu to come with you. The actual trek is from Bandaje to Ballalrayana durga to Sunkashale. Or the other way around. Because the elephant grass between Bandaje Arbi and Ballalrayana durga was not cut, we were hesitant to go all the way over to Sunkashale. Like all places remote, transport to and from your entry and exit points are minimal so you’ll need to make arrangements.

And yeah, try not going when the leeches are feasting.

Animal sightings, or how I don’t.

So it’s been a while since I’ve been around in the Peninsula and it’s been a long set of journeys to all points due North, South, East & West during this time. And some of these ramblings have taken me to places close to National Parks, reserve forests, forests or just areas where non-humaniod beings are wont to lurk. And in all these times I’ve seen a sum total of about 75 chital and 3 langurs. And going to Fringe Ford in Wayanad added a grand total of a cobra’s ass (or whatever herpetologists call it’s tail).

Considering that the rains that were missing all this while did the good thing and stepped in, I overlooked this total lack of congeniality on the part of the mammalian and avian families. Instead, I put my feet up, and took in all the peace and quiet that Fringe Ford had to offer. While I wouldn’t say Fringe Ford is at the back of beyond, the fact that the last 3 km took about 40 minutes says a lot. And I’m not talking about the 40 minutes it takes to go past Forum Mall on a weekend. It was a jeep ride that ended with 3 on-the-verge-of-vegetating travellers.

Till you start towards Fringe Ford from Talapuzha (yes it’s pronounced the same way rest of India can’t pronounce Kozhikode) and get to the edge of town, it does seem that you won’t be going too far from civilisation. To be honest I’ve been to places that have been further from civilisation than this, (Jainkhan is one, Coffee Valley is another). Somehow, this place makes you feel that you’re all alone. It might be the fact that there is room for 10 people at the most, and that the estate’s structure occupies a very small portion of the 520 acres at it’s disposal or just the fact that it’s hedged by the Wayanad Nilgiris on three sides that makes you feel that you’re now all alone and cosy.

View from Fringe Ford's dining area.

Because cosy it definitely is. Though the rains were not up to Wayanad’s sheet-of-water variety this season, it was drizzling quite a bit with the attendant misty weather. All in all perfect weather to curl up with a warm quilt – and Fringe Ford are generous with their quilts. Since I was the only one driving, the excellent lunch that was consumed mandate only one outcome – a siesta. Not that this program would’ve changed if there were other drivers. Meals at Fringe Ford has to be given it’s proper respect and should be followed by siesta.

I was with the Urban Yogi, and this plan was a last minute one. The only wrinkle in the otherwise perfect weekend was a 11 PM call the night before we left from our booking contact who asked if we were a family or group and how groups go to Fringe Ford and spoil the place. A charge dismissed by our host Mamooty (yes, that is his name). So if you’re booking, the site is Fringe Ford and call Hyderabad. We’d decided to stay on an extra day if we felt like it and just before we nodded off the first day, we ensured that Mamooty was clear that we’re going to lurk an extra day. That evening, after a hot plate of bhajjis with rain pouring down (the one time it did), we decided to re-acquaint ourselves with that salute to Capitalist greed, Monopoly. It was a while since we all played and the official rules were all junked in favour of the Indian version that we’d all played when we were kids. Yogi’s cousin who is at an impressionable age, was impressed by the Yogi to sell some really lucrative real estate which ensured that she lost. The next day when we played again, said Cousin having learnt that the world of grown ups is a screwy one where one can’t even trust cousins any more, extracted her revenge by ensuring that the Yogi went bankrupt.

Besides getting back to board games and reading up – there is a small but satisfying library – there are quite a few treks that Mamooty can rustle up. Mamooty himself is quite a renaissance man. There are furniture and art works that he’s made in bamboo and metal; he is quite the ornithologist, is a foodie himself and manages to run the place. We were assigned a cheerful lieutenant, Shaji, however. He took us on a short trek – which is when the snake almost-sighting occurred – through a thoroughly leech infested area of the estate to a hillock nearby. This one had a watch tower at some point in history, but geography has ensured that there is none now. Shaji told us that the wind brought it down, and though it was made of stone and mortar, the wind blowing there lent credence to that story. He also mentioned the fact that there was a middle-aged tiger that was sighted within the confines of the estate. This was of course after we’d left the safety of the compound. The view from this hillock is quite spectacular and we can see quite a bit off into Wayanad. We also saw bison on a distant hillock. So yeah, you can add those to my animal sightings. Though it seemed kind of like how Columbus would’ve seen America. Not at all.

If it’s not wet, there is a small machan, just behind the compound that you can climb up and watch birds from. Quite a lot of birds make their home in the estate, especially the Malabar Pied Hornbill. The climb to the machan would be slightly on the vertiginous side, but is worth it. However, since we’d gone in the middle of monsoon and it was raining, all we saw was beautiful mist from there.

Since I’ve been going on and on about the place with nary a glimpse of photos, here are some from the other member of the League of Extraordinary Travellers, as I am still too lazy to go develop mine. Be that as it may, since The Missus was not with me this time, another round of food and place appreciation is on the cards. Maybe then I’ll get to see the whole snake. And some chital.