Tag Archives: Anaimalai Hills

Getting cold in Kerala

Both times I’ve been to Munnar, I was taken aback by it’s temperature. I mean, who would think that somewhere in Kerala, of all places, gets cold. But it does. And bitterly so. Or at-least bitterly enough for the season. The first time I went, it was middle of December. Granted we should’ve been forewarned by the season. But refer to the first sentence. The second time around, it was a last minute change of plan – go to Munnar instead of Kanyakumari – that did us in. While on this drive, The Missus decided that since going to Kanyakumari would entail a long drive back home, we should go some place closer. Various options were considered and discarded before we settled on Munnar. We booked ourselves into the Kannimalai Estate bungalow. The prices are a little on the higher side, but since we were on our annual vacation and more importantly, keeping the Missus happy was of prime importance, I didn’t quibble.

The drive from Madurai to Munnar is super fun and if you’re not careful about your driving, you’re likely to end up being part of very scenic scenery. Travelling when the monsoon is active means that a lot of the drive up the hills is very misty. Coupled with the propensity of Kerala bus drivers to think that they’re on the special stages of a WRC rally, you’re likely to encounter some hairy moments on them hair-pin bends. To put it mildly. The Kannimalai bungalow is little past Munnar town and the last 400 meters is basically a dirt road. For those who need details, the route is Madurai > Usilampatti > Andipatti > Theni > Bodinayakannur > Devikulam > Munnar. The one thing we noticed is that here, the Kerala Police/Forest officials were very thorough in checking your vehicle papers.

Now, I still don’t know what it is that you do in Munnar. We did see some honeymoon-types, so there is a thought. For the others, the fact that unlike Ooty or Coonoor, things are not exactly placed closed to each other means taking long drives through the country-side. It helps that it is very pretty country-side. Especially in the wet-season, when there are lots of small to largish streams cascading over the hills. Landslides would be a possibility though, so that is something you need to keep in mind if you’re planning your travel during this time. Plus, you need to like the rains, I mean sheet-of-water, misty and cold rain. When sometimes all you can do is curl up with a book. If you don’t like this, then it is probably not the time for you to visit. Or you could be one of the honeymoon types…

What we did was take a ride up to Top Station. In the rains, the last bit is a mess and you can’t go all the way down to the view point. Apparently that portion is part of Tamil Nadu, and access is now closed. A better option is to travel a little past Top Station, to one of the smallest National Parks you can see, the Pampadum Shola National Park. It is about 11 sq. km. total. There are a couple of forest huts that you can trek up to. There are two sorts, there is a short walk that you can drive to and a proper 3 to 4 hour trek. Since we didn’t want to provide leeches with any more blood than what the Gormint sucks out of us, we decided to drive. The walk itself was very interesting, we saw a family of Nilgiri Langurs. Theylook like LTM, without the white mane. Sort of. Then we saw what we thought was a fox at that time, but then later realised was a dhole. I didn’t know that they could be found at these altitudes or cold. For those interested, you need appropriate permissions from the DFO in Munnar. We found a very helpful, if a little un-informed guide, Sudhakaran (094427 84015). He claims to arrange for these permissions if informed in advance. Be advised that having a guide is mandatory.

Spooky dead trees in a small check dam at Pumpadum Shola National Park. The dam acts as a water-hole for the animals in the Park.

In fact, this is not the only trek in Munnar. There is the famous Munnar to Kodai trek. It will go past Pampadum Shola National Park, but according to Sudhakaran, getting permission from the TN forest department can be a pain sometimes. However, for those who want to trek in the High Ranges, head over to Eravikulam, for a day long trek. The starting point is a little away from the Park’s tourist zone.  For all the other tourists, there is always the Mattupetty dam and the boat rides there. Or Pallivasal. Or Top Station. Or the Tea Museum. Just make sure you don’t catch a cold in Kerala.

When in Munnar next, consider a day trip to Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary. This is in the rain-shadow region of Kerala’s Western Ghats. I think this is still the High Ranges of the Western Ghats. At the foothills is the Indira Gandhi National Park. This is where the hills would merge into the Anamalai Hills closer to Valparai. I’m always confused on the Southern-most ranges; where the Eastern and Western Ghats merge and multiple ranges abound. Both of these sanctuaries are on the Munnar – Udumalpet road. If you’re driving back to Coimbatore or Bengaluru, considering stopping by at the Amaravathi Nagar Dam. A pleasant experience overall.

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.

Long trips, short weekends

Valparai, 88 kms south-west of Coimbatore was the chosen destination. We did start out in time from Bangalore, but didn’t bargain for god-awful traffic between Salem & Coimbatore. Not to mention the numerous breaks we took and the long detour into Erode to fill LPG. When we found one right on the road just out of Tirupur. And the couple of experiments in short cuts. Sigh. The things you learn.

Mist rolls in the afternoon on the way up to Valparai.

Valparai is not your typical weekend break. At least not from Bangalore. For a start, it’s might be a little too far – about 415/420 kms. If you are lucky or drive like Sebastian Loeb. The drive post Pollachi into Valparai is an absolute dream. You will hit the Aliyar Dam and it’s reservoir will be the focal point of all the stops that you make as you climb upto Valparai. The climb however comes with a caveat, the 40 hair pin bends give the 37 hair pins on Kalhatti into Ooty a run for it’s money. It’s a difficult choice between the drive and the scenery. The Green Hill is the only place to stay in Valparai. There are a couple of others, but might not be up the alley of most. And at around 550 per room, it’s definitely worth the money.

There is not much to do in Valparai. However, there are excellent drives around the place. The drive to Sholayar Dam is highly recommended. For the exploratory, you can then take the road into Kerala. Go to Palakkad, Calicut into Wayanad and thence to Bangalore.

But you need a really long weekend for that!

Update Early 2010: I did finagle a long weekend and go here. Trip report here.