Monday, February 3, 2014

In Love with Kokkal

My never ending journey led me to a mystic place called Kokkal. I tried searching Kokkal on the web to find out more about the place, and as I had rightly imagined , nothing could be found on Kokkal. I found few which did not throw light on this sleepy village.


We started trusting the northern slopes of Nilgiris to such an extent that irrespective we spot any wildlife or not, we gear up with child like enthusiasm everytime. That’s the specialty of the place.

Our tracker leading the way
We chugged into Mysore and started our 2 hour exciting trip to Theppakadu. I seriously wonder if I would ever get to know the number of times I have been to Theppakadu. I remember every bit of it as if I had been there for a life time. We had our lunch at Masinagudi and packed all essential needed for couple of days.
Elixir of life

In an hour’s time we were near the fringes of the reserve forest. This was not an easy trek, as I had rightly thought. Fourteen hours of continuous travel, full stomach and a 15 kilo backpack for a 12km trek is not easy even for the fittest. It was uphill all the way except for a 200 meter downhill midway to cross a valley. Two months of relaxed schedule had made me a victim of exhaustion. I had a guide with me all along till we reached the end of our hike.

 The terrain was unforgiving. We finally reached the camp site. It had splendid view of Seegur plateau.Negative impact on the environment can be seen from the distance. Resorts have usurped the land of the animals at a staggering rate and ruined the last remaining forests of this great land. A lot has to be done to our human behavior in order to restore and preserve the forest.

All these years I trekked inside forest never had I felt like giving up during a tough hike, but this time around I nearly felt giving up midway, but something inside gave me the strength to reach Kokkal.

Our tracker dropped a bombshell after few minutes “Sir, we have to walk 3 more kilometers to reach a village for our dinner”. The very thought of walking few meters was unimaginable and our guide wanted us to walk three kilometers for food. I thought of staying back. But the terrain and the area with no humans in vicinity made me do a U-turn. Few minutes of rest and changing to a dry cloth (I had drenched myself with sweat) we started the epic journey for dinner.

After a kilometer we ran into a tractor which had completed the day’s work and returning back to the village. The driver was kind enough to give us a lift. The weather was beautiful. Cool winds and the drizzle of the mist and hot tea made our difficulty disappear.

We packed hot idlies for dinner and came back to our campsite. I had made a lot of friends in the tea shop by then. They were curious to know where we are from. Cameras, wind cheater and all other gadgets definitely make you stand out in a remote village. It had become dark when we had started to our camp site. Two britelite flashlights helped us reach the camp with no untoward incident.

We were awake till midnight to at least hear the tigers roar without luck. The climate was at its best and this combined with lot of other things made me fall in love with the place. Early next morning we made our way back to the place we started the previous afternoon. Except for a few gaurs we dint get to see anything. We still had an entire day and half remaining so we decided to camp at a new place which had a great reputation of seeing the elusive black panther.
Scenic view of the plateau below midway to Kokkal

The very fact that only a handful have stayed at a remote place like Kokkal makes it more special. The view from the camp site was mind blowing. The stay, climate, people, the place which has a bit of history attached to it(Tipu sultan had used the same route to come to Kokkal) and finally the tea made us go gaga.

The trip as such didn't have on the edge of the seat thriller moments which we normally expect, but just the hike and the place made us fall in love with the quiet village. Waiting for an encore!!!

Friday, May 10, 2013

A day with the Prince!

I had never counted the number of times I have gone to the forest, but every time when I pack my bags, I can feel a rush of adrenalin bettering the previous occurrence. Sighting wild animals in Tamil Nadu is a herculean task. I have read articles from people who have experience matching my age who argue sighting is not by chance but by sheer understanding of terrain, animal behavior and tons of patience, but I would beg to differ. I would rather say luck 90% and the rest with all those above put together. Expecting the unexpected would be the best way to describe wildlife sighting. Few years ago I had in fact trekked from Thengumarahada to Siriyur via Thulakampatty without even seeing a Chital.

Hungry Elephant

Lets have a drink... Photo Courtesy - Hariprasad Lakshmanan

Behind Bars :) - Photo Courtesy - Hariprasad Lakshmanan

Last December, we had plans to visit the Singara Range in North Ooty forest division. I think we were blessed that time, the moment we left behind the villages, we came upon 4 elephants (2 female and 2 babies) and with favorable wind we ended up filling our memory cards with some beautiful shots. Little did we realize that we would be a part for the greatest display of wildlife congress to unfold in the next 30 minutes.  A Male Gaur, A bull elephant and a pair of female sambar all in a single frame made us go gaga for a long time. Luckily we had spare memory cards and we ended filling that too.

As we all know night stay inside the forest is not that comfortable. After an uneasy night stay, we started our 20km hike. After a hour or two we were on top of a mountain. The wind was cool and we decided to take a short break. It was a breathtaking view of the Seegur plateau. All of a sudden we heard a mating call from quite a distance. We had no idea if it was a Tiger or the leopard. Our guide leapt on his feet and made a dash towards the sound. I was pretty sure we wouldn’t see anything like the million similar instance I had been before. But curiosity did make us move with the guide and finally we spotted a feline figure lying on top of a rock on edge of a cliff overlooking the plains below. We weren’t sure if it was a tiger or a leopard as it was quite far. We had been fooled by such figure earlier as it normally turns out to some discolored rock or fallen log.


I took my new weapon, the SX40 to confirm if we had hit Jackpot. Yes, finally a leopard! It was a huge male matching the size of a full grown female tiger. We spent close to an hour or two capturing various moods of the “Prince”. One small movement of my friend and the leopard spotted us and disappeared into the thicket. We made up our mind to follow the “Prince”. Half hour of trek through the worst thickets I have ever gone through led us to the place where we spotted the leopard earlier. We found him lying few meters from the spot enjoying the warm breeze rising from the plains below. The breeze was so strong that it did silence our noisy approach and suppress our scent from the otherwise vigilant cat.

Add caption

Sitting just 15 feet away from the Cat with nothing between us made me overlook the hardships I have faced just to get a glimpse of these magnificent creatures. I have spent countless hours driving, trekking and planning a hike inside the forest and also buried our egos just to get permission for a stay inside the jungle. All the suffering came to an end right away that was the power of the forest dweller. We were in awe for the next 20 minutes. I wanted to stay put for eternity, but we wanted to return the favor by not disturbing him. We retraced our steps back to the point from where we first saw it. It had by then gone into deep slumber.
We started our way back to our camping place with memories and lot of photos (obviously) for a lifetime. I know a repeat is next to impossible, but hope is what which makes the wheel spin.

I only peck...but u cut trees...

Dream of a bird watcher - Great Hornbill

Campers paradise!


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Trail of the tiger

Anaikatty Forest Rest House (top)

Gentle cool breeze, towering mountains, winding roads, diverse landscape greet you on the way to a sleepy village called Anaikatty. This is not as famous as the one which is near Coimbatore. “You can spot a tiger on the way if you are lucky” says the forest watcher guarding the check post at Vazhaithottam enroute Anaikatty. The decent tarmac till the village attracts people throughout the year. Built in 1910, the forest rest house greets us warmly with pristine air and near zero pollution. The rest house is built on a small hillock overlooking the tiny village in the valley below. The village is a Kurumba hamlet with less than 100 families who rely far too much on agriculture to make ends meet. The moment you enter the rest house, a skull of a Gaur on the wall gets the attention. “Killed by a tiger in Anaikatty - Sep '38” on the varnished wooden frame gives an idea of what is in store. The forest guard who accompanied us to the forest rest house asks us to visit the Siriyur Mariamman temple in the evening which is nearly an hour’s drive from the forest rest house. These two villages lie on the seegur range of the north nilgiri forest division and serve as the buffer zone for the surrounding wildlife sancutaries. This is also the place where the legendary Kenneth Anderson slayed the “Man-eater of Seegur”.

A small talk with the resident guard at the rest house and he is more than happy to tell tales of the flora and fauna. The removal of cattle camps from the forests by the Tamil Nadu Forest Department,improved protection, largely offered by the inadequately and irregularly paid tribal anti-poaching watchers and excellent breeding in the adjacent wildlife areas of the Mudumalai Wildlife Santuary and the Bandipur Tiger Reserve, have resulted in a sheer increase in the population which has triggered dispersal of tigers seeking new territories.
The dispersing tigers easily found a home here to settle down, as the Seegur range with its abundance of forage species and plenty of palatable and nutritious grass, always had a substantial population of the chital, the sambar and the gaur.

Bison at Aadikombai

Babies with mothers

You could see Gaur, elephants, Sambar deers, sloth bears, mouse deer, monitor lizards,dholes, Striped hyenas, black bucks, hundreds of chitals and if you are lucky the elusive tiger on the way to siriyur. The spine chilling drive and the excitement of what’s round the corner makes the drive worth every penny. The accomodation is basic with a cot in both the suites and food is prepared by the temporary cook from the village with the ration which needs to be bought from vazhaithottam. The nearest grocery shop is near the check post in vazhaithottam which is a good half hours drive from the rest house. Relaxing on the wooden arm chair is a must in the morning as it gives a splendid view of the blue Nilgiris along with silence breaking cry of a peacock.

A sub-adult tusker crossing the road


Visiting this range is a must for every responsible wildlife enthusiast to enjoy nature at its best without disturbing the peace and tranquility of this legendary place.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

How it all "Started"

My rendezvous with forests was totally unplanned. It all happened when my friends suggested a new place to ‘chill’, instead of the regular “OOTY”. We were a little disappointed when we reached our destination Masinagudi. Short thorny trees and bushes and not so cooler climate made us think that we should have stuck with our usual stuff, but we realized how it changed our lives (at least my life) for the better.

Our stay was in a government trekking shed tucked inside the forest. I never had a feel that I was inside a forest, as my perception of a jungle was towering trees, lush green plants with a lot of animals inside the forest. I was in for a biggest surprise, when a bull elephant chased our vehicle. I was always fascinated by the inmates of the jungle and this incident ignited the passion which was lying dormant inside me for a long time.

Since then, my trips to the forests in and around Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve (NBR) increased multifold. The pleasure of sharing the experience with my pals prompted me to take photos of the unseen landscapes and the forest dwellers. The sheer diversity in flora and fauna in this biosphere is mind boggling, be it the fauna, flora and avifauna.

In spite of improved awareness among people, increased patrolling by forest guards and anti poaching staffs and improved conservation techniques, safeguarding our forests from the poachers still goes for a toss. Forest cover in India is declining at an alarming rate. Conflicts between humans and animals still remain with the latter losing in the long run. On the bright side, as a result of removing settlements from the core areas and also due to increased patrolling, NBR is seeing an increase in the population of the endangered species which brings hope that our forests will survive the human onslaught.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Simply Singara

The name Singara brings joy to my otherwise gloomy life. Greenish meadows, towering teak plantations,
leopard hunt, leech attacks and tick bites along with census activity do make your trip etched in your
memories forever. A trip to this tiger country does make you get addicted and would prompt you to
back pack and get “relaxed” every now and then.
"Posing" Langur

This place was notorious for poachers and smugglers and now; gradually and effectively the forest
department under the guidance of DFO Ramasubramaniam and his predecessors has restored peace to
this tranquil place. The reserve forest is surrounded by coffee plantations and you might be lucky to see
wild game at the fringes of the reserve bordering the plantations. The herbivores and ungulates tend to
stick around the coffee plantations for a safe resting place during the night which brings the big game
closer to human settlements. “We cant have jackfruit in the shed” warns the anti poaching watcher
Ramachandran and he explains how they survived by smoking the small room when an elephant herd
surrounded the trekking shed to get hold of the Jack fruit inside the shed.

Anti-Poaching Shed

The anti-poaching trekking shed consists of two 10 * 10 rooms with a small outdoor kitchen. Toilets are
a luxury in this remote land. Five days of census duty took me to the remotest parts of the jungle. This
beat has 4 APW’s along with a forest guard and forest watcher. Three years ago a poacher had shot a
sub adult tusker on the forest fringes. The APW recollects on how they had combed the area to capture
the poachers and their loot. During my stay we had reports that Marijuana has been cultivated on the
borders of Singara and Naduvattam which prompted a raid to the remotest part of the beat only to find
that it was a false alarm.

Reptiles of Singara

Five days of all animal census activity took me to places where only handful of humans would have
ventured. The distinct name of places I went made me realise how a place is named. Kanjapally, Mamara
pallam, Badugar Vayal, Noor ekara, Naidu estate, Maanivayal, Periyavayal, Kolathumedu, Kuthirai rodu,
Simkona moolai, Thean Paarai , Naicken Kottai and Hooker moolai to name a few places in this beautiful
On top of Hooker Moolai
During Ganja "Raid"

I have hiked a lot inside the forests of Tamilnadu, but nothing could beat the last day hike. Trapped
inside the forest with fading sunlight and surrounded by herds of elephants can only point to one
thing “Disaster”, but with experienced Anti-poaching watchers along my side I had hope of making it
alive. As the elephants surrounded us, we had to take an alternative route which led to another herd
of elephants. With all routes blocked, we took a breather and decided on how to reach the shed. We
crawled under shrubs and bushes without making too much of noise, it was a very close call as we
literally crawled under the elephants noses. Probably we were downwind which turned the situation in
our favor.

Honey inside Honey Comb

We bypassed the elephant herd but were still at the mercy of other inmates of the jungle including
the elephant. As night crept in we thanked the one, who invented flash light. Finally we crossed into
the coffee plantations by crawling under the solar electric fence which separates the reserve from the
surrounding forest. We reached the shed and thanked heaven for bringing us back alive. I would have
never made it back if not for the expertise of the anti poaching watchers.

The dedication and commitment of the meagerly and irregularly paid forest staffs in protecting the
remaining part of the forests is amazing, considering the fact that they have to bear the hardships and
sacrificing their best part of their life to protect the forest from their own kind.