Vanakkam from Valparai

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#1 Jan 11th, 2012, 14:27
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#1
VANAKKAM FROM VALPARAI

A LAND WHERE THERE'S NO KOLAVERI - DI


SAY THESE LOCAL RESIDENTS



Malabar Giant Squirrel


Tea ladies at Woodbriar's Stanmore Estate


Curious Bison


Friendly Hornbill


Christmas Turkey


Lion Tailed Monkey out on his daily stroll




So much for the preliminaries.

This is about our unplanned last moment trip to Wonderful Valparai. My husband had miraculously survived a life threatening ailment and after a month of staid convalescence in Mumbai, we decided that we both required some urgent recuperative therapy amidst nature.

Our usual December "pilgrimage" is to Avalanche in the Nilgiris. The previous year we went to Valparai and to Avalanche, but this time we felt Avalanche may be too strenuous for my hubby with the cold and lack of infrastructure, whereas Valparai fit the bill perfectly.

A quick call to ascertain that rooms were available, and off we set. We need not have worried. With the Mullaperiyar problem ongoing, there were few December visitors to Valparai which gets most of its tourists from Kerala.

Jagadeesan, our old faithful taxi driver was waiting for us at Coimbatore airport with his usual beaming smile. A few hours later and we were in Valparai. A troop of Lion Tailed Macaques and a Giant Squirrel greeted us warmly on the road up from Aliyar. It was as though they had been specially sent to welcome us.

I will continue this tale a bit later. In the meantime, posting some general travel information.

Coimbatore is the convenient airport and railhead.

Driving time without stops Coimbatore to Valparai via Pollachi: 2.5 to 3 hours.
Taxi fare for drop from Coimbatore: Rs 1500 upwards depending on vehicle, and negotiation skills.

Frequent public and private buses available from Coimbatore to Pollachi, and Pollachi to Valparai.

Direct Coimbatore to Valparai buses, maybe twice or thrice daily.

From Kerala, buses ply from Chalakudi to Valparai.

Updated List of hotels & guest houses and general information about Valparai:
here


Trip report and more pics coming soon [Nowhere near as organised as Kshil or detailed as Naveena, Im afraid, but coming up nonetheless!]

EDIT: Thought I would explain Kolaveri - Di for those who are not familiar with the term.
"Why this Kolaveri Di" is a super duper hit song currently, from the Tamil movie 3. Broadly it means Why this murderous rage or uncontrollable rage?.
It is a hit on the net and has spawned several multilingual versions including Kolaveri-Ji in Punjabi, Kolaveri-Chhe in Gujarati and so on, some of them quite hilarious.

The reason why I used Kolaveri as a caption is because Valparai is far removed from rage, it is peaceful and tranquil and perhaps one of the few places in TN where there is no violent reaction to the Mullaperiyar issue, commendable given Valparai's proximity to the Kerala border.

Travelpod / Flickr


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Last edited by snonymous; Jan 12th, 2012 at 15:03.. Reason: added note
#2 Jan 12th, 2012, 14:13
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#2
snonymous: Nice start! .. waiting for more. Another nice thread in the making?
.
#3 Jan 12th, 2012, 15:04
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#3
Thanks KS, especially for being the first to comment.
#4 Jan 12th, 2012, 15:34
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#4
Any points for commenting 2nd ?

Yes, Vanakkam!

Oh well, how do you manage to get these photos of 'giant squirrel' everywhere ! Is there any secret formula which you would like to share? Also the hornbill photo is too good!

Now should I praise each & every photo there? No, better to just join the 5 others who have already liked the 1st post!! Here I go!

Will, ofcourse, be waiting for further posts .
#5 Jan 12th, 2012, 15:52
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#5
Very well written with detailed Information about the places it will be very very helpful for all those who will be traveling to Valparai,
Thanks for the Info
#6 Jan 12th, 2012, 16:20
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#6
Thanks Naveena and Basheer

Big hug for you Naveena!
We saw Giant Squirrels at least twice a day on this visit. They came to cheer up my poor hubby, along with their buddies, the LTMs.

Actually the best place to photograph Giant Squirrels is in our own backyard - Mahabaleshwar. Want to know why? Because the trees there are extremely stunted due to high wind velocity on the plateau, so its easy to get closer shots without needing a full zoom or straining your neck. Also those Minkies are not shy unlike their southern cousins.


Here comes the next installment:


The drive up the mountain to the Valparai plateau really begins at the Aliyar Dam, a scenic lake surrounded on three sides by the mountains and dense forests of the Anamallais. We did not stop by the Monkey Falls this year. A large group had taken over the falls and the prospect of pushing through the crowd did not appeal. It is a beautiful waterfall though, worth seeing at least once.

Aliyar Reservoir, correctly spelt “Azhiyar”


The Monkey Falls and the reason why they got that name – last years pics.


Apart from being scenic, the road between Aliyar and Valparai is in excellent condition, a dream to drive on though one has to watch out for speeding on coming vehicles.




This are some of the 40 hairpin bends between Aliyar and Attakatti.


Aliyar Lake seen from Loam’s View Point or “9th Bend” as it is locally known.


The “9th Bend” is THE place to see Nilgiri Tahr in the evening, as every Valparite worth his salt will swear. We did not see any. Right place, wrong time.

The Waterfall Tea Estate came into view shortly after Attakatti. No prizes for guessing how it got its name!


Never have tea from their estate tea stall, it is “bl---y awful”. The humble ‘tea kadai’ next to the falls serves a much better cuppa.

And there he was – the first of the Lion Tailed Monkeys bidding us Welcome to Valparai


A Giant Squirrel and some Nilgiri Langurs echoed the Vanakkam but I could not get any photos.

Here are some wildflowers instead, both wild balsams, endemic to this region.

Unidentified Impatiens


Impatiens maculata

This balsam is supposedly rare, but rampant in the Anamallais. Step in the ground where these grow at your own peril, it is leech infested - Last years experience, this time I kept a safe distance and macro be damned!

Eventually, there we were at lovely Valparai, a small little “Tea Town” on a mountain plateau in the Anamalai range of the Western Ghats.


This is the view from our room

On the eastern side, the Grass Hills looming over Valparai. The bananas are in the house next door.

To the north, the pretty tea estate of Nadumallai, part of the Peria Karamalai Estate


And guess who that is, glued to his phone – in the balcony outside our room




Some snaps from a short stroll, later that evening




Tree Daisies [Montanoa grandiflora] – common local wildflowers overlooking a tea estate

Changing colours of the evening sky



More later ........




#7 Jan 12th, 2012, 16:41
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#7
Quote:
Originally Posted by snonymous View Post Thanks Naveena and Basheer

Big hug for you Naveena!
We saw Giant Squirrels at least twice a day on this visit. They came to cheer up my poor hubby, along with their buddies, the LTMs.
Oh that's a huge treat...I mean the hug from you, thank you for the same and a warm hug to you too and best wishes to your hubby!

Quote:
Actually the best place to photograph Giant Squirrels is in our own backyard - Mahabaleshwar. Want to know why? Because the trees there are extremely stunted due to high wind velocity on the plateau, so its easy to get closer shots without needing a full zoom or straining your neck. Also those Minkies are not shy unlike their southern cousins.
Hmmm, but I am waiting for rains 'AGAIN' though I need to visit Mahabaleshwar pronto !

Quote:
Apart from being scenic, the road between Aliyar and Valparai is in excellent condition, a dream to drive on though one has to watch out for speeding on coming vehicles.

This are some of the [B]40 hairpin bends between Aliyar and Attakatti.
These hairpin bends look gorgeous! Infact the route seems so much like 'Yercaud'(29 hairpin bends, I think). But Valparai is much bigger place, I suppose? As you have rightly mentioned the on-coming traffic can definitely be very dangerous, I just could not take any pictures from the roadside .

EDIT: Wasn't there any side effects of 'Thane', my aunt at Neyveli informed me that almost all the trees in the township are uprooted!
#8 Jan 12th, 2012, 16:51
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#8
wow. great snaps. The lion tailed monkey and giant squirrel especially!
For more of my travelogues off-the-beaten-trail check http://www.greatholidayideas.net/
#9 Jan 12th, 2012, 20:45
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Great thread and wonderful photos! Thank you for sharing this trip with us, snonymous.
#10 Jan 12th, 2012, 20:53
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snonymous,
Beautiful pictures as usual. Some of the pictures reminded me of my last year's visit.

Just to give an example of how two photographers see the subject of the picture differently. I was admiring your last picture for capturing the symmetrical tree line on the top of the mountain and debating as to why you have not cropped excessive coverage of sky until I read your caption 'Changing colours of evening sky'

I like your comparison of peaceful environment of Valparai with Kolaveri song though I am no longer a fan of this song. The reason -In my recent visit to Tarkarli beach, I was annoyed with a waiter of the MTDC restaurant who showed more interest in listening to Kolaveri song on his mobile than taking my breakfast order
#11 Jan 12th, 2012, 21:06
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#11

Talking

Thanks Flash

Naveena, we had left Valparai on the 22nd, much before Thane hit TN, but I doubt there would have been anything more than some light rain, if that. The High Ranges of Kerala would have blocked most of it anyway from the Valparai plateau.

Looking at the satellite picture I expected some rain while we were there and we faithfully lugged along our raincoats every day, but it did not rain. Murphy's Law, if for one day we had forgotten the raincoat it would certainly have poured.

Infact we were in Chennai when Thane hit the coast between Cuddalore and Pondy. It was gusty and raining but our flight took off with just 5 minutes delay. Neyveli is of course very close to Cuddalore.

About hairpin bends, I have never been to Yercaud so have no idea. Must go sometime. Have you posted anywhere about it?

These Valparai bends are nothing. If you go to Avalanche [Nilgiris] via Anaikatty, Mulli and Geddai, there are 54 bends in the Mulli-Geddai stretch alone and they are steep and at a worse gradient. Certainly not a drive for those prone to car sickness.
--------------------------



Here is the next chapter:



By now we were comfortably ensconced in our guest house. The Nepali night watchman instantly recognized us from the previous year and was only too happy to find someone he could converse with in Hindi. People in the neighbourhood also recognized us. I guess not too many older couples spend a whole week here doing nothing but roaming around. It is a small town after all where everyone knows everyone else. The folks at the Plaza Restaurant where we took our meals, were also very kind and went out of their way to give us food of our preference. We felt very much at home.


We set off the next morning at a leisurely pace towards the Parry Agro estate, hoping to see their resident herd of [pet] bisons. On our last visit, the herd would cross the main road promptly at 10am each day!

Pic from last year



Heading down a familiar short cut path through the PWD compound, I could not resist taking these repetitive shots of wildflowers overlooking the Woodbriar tea estate.



Guess who greeted us from the tall trees of the Puthuthottam forest?


Here are the vast Parry Agro Estates


Not a bison in sight !!!

The workers there said the bisons had changed their timings. They had crossed the road early in the morning and would now return to graze only at 5pm. Oh well, we would surely see them one of these days. It was a pleasing walk anyway.


This little fella said “What about me?”
Red whiskered bulbul


Oxalis wildflowers amidst tea bushes


The sun was getting to be intense if not hot, and we decided to saunter our way back.

As we passed the Puthuthottam estate workers quarters, Joseph, the Monkey Watcher – yes that is correct - Monkey Watcher – called out to us.

He pointed to the roof of one of the houses, where the gang had just arrived. For lunch. Apparently they love the chow chow vegetables grown by the estate workers. Yes, much tastier than the fruits of the forest no doubt. Besides, who does not crave variety in their diet?




Joseph and Dharmaraj are the official Monkey Watchers employed by the Nature Conservation Foundation, an NGO supported by the estates, engaged in restoration of rainforest and protection of the Lion tailed monkeys and other fauna of the Anamalais.
http://ncf-india.org/

Joseph and Dharmaraj’ main duty is to see that the monkeys do not get run over by speeding motorists. We knew Dharmaraj from our last visit and had been introduced to Joseph the previous day. Here they are:

Joseph


Dharmaraj


This bridge for the monkeys was put up when we were there last year but the monkeys do not use it, preferring to cross the road – much like pedestrians not using the fancy skywalks in Mumbai!



Here are the famed Lion Tailed Macaques of Puthuthottam out in full force:



Shake hands?



This breeze is ruining my mane!



You still looking at me?


Its time to move on. See you later, alligator



Some children of the estate workers. The light was too bright.


The estates provide quarters for their workers, as well as clinics and hospitals. They provide free transport for the workers children to attend schools in Valparai. The quarters along with water, are provided free of cost but they have to pay for electricity usage.


Saying bye to Joseph, we toodled along on our way. Barely had we turned the corner, and there was:

Mummy, Daddy and Baby


It was quite amazing because on our previous trip, we had seen Lion Tailed Monkeys just once. Even Dharmaraj said that they did not return for many days after when we saw them then.


Saw these pretty wildflowers against an azure blue sky as we neared our lodging.


Grass Hills from our room with the cloud coming in


And again, in perspective


Handsome Puss was posing on the ledge next door. Im sure one of his distant ancestors was a tiger!



In the evening we walked into the Nadumalai estate right next door.



Passed these two bulbuls on the way.


Red Whiskered Bulbuls were everywhere, every day. Delightful birdies.

We could see a small water body down below and decided to go there in the day time

The forest on the left is the Puthuthottam forest. It is a private forest within the estate, extending from Parry Agro to Nadumalai.

The sun was about to set and the skies were changing colour rapidly.


Here is a flying saucer in the sky


And the end of another glorious day







More later ......... for those who are not yet fed up of lion tailed monkey pictures, that is!





#12 Jan 12th, 2012, 21:12
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#12
Quote:
Originally Posted by theyyamdancer View Post Great thread and wonderful photos! Thank you for sharing this trip with us, snonymous.
Thanks Theyyam, also for adding the V

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sadanand Kamath View Post snonymous,
Beautiful pictures as usual. Some of the pictures reminded me of my last year's visit.
Thanks Sadanand. Thanks to your trip report which gave the impetus for our first visit.



Quote:
Originally Posted by Sadanand Kamath View Post I like your comparison of peaceful environment of Valparai with Kolaveri song though I am no longer a fan of this song. The reason -In my recent visit to Tarkarli beach, I was annoyed with a waiter of the MTDC restaurant who showed more interest in listening to Kolaveri song on his mobile than taking my breakfast order
Im not a fan of this nondescript song which somehow has become so big, though admittedly the tune is catchy. There is a very funny version in you tube picturised on the slap to Sharad Pawar.

Surprisingly in Valparai no one is listening to this Kolaveri - Di or Da as the case may be. Perhaps that is why they are so peaceful!
#13 Jan 12th, 2012, 21:37
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#13
@snonymous, why call those handsome hunks 'Lion tailed' and why not 'Lion faced'? The mane looks real royal! If you don't mind, I need to post one of my catch in Badami, may be a distant (very distant ) cousin!



Now, please do not take much time in posting your next edition, can't wait to check the next lot !
#14 Jan 12th, 2012, 23:27
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#14
Naveena, he is a gorgeous RAJU and a beautifully crisp photograph too, Im eyeing that HX100.

Lion Tailed Macaque is not the name given by me, in fact I have tagged some of my Flickr pics as Lion faced monkey.

In Tamil it is Shinga Vaal [tail] korangu and I was teasing Dharmaraj and Joseph with Shinga Moonji [face] korangu which they also agreed was more appropriate.

-----------------------

Further chapters

Akkamalai and the Grass Hills – so near and yet so far

Akkamalai Tea Estate of the Peria Karamalai Group, enjoys the highest location in Valparai. The factory is at a height of 1610m, facing the Grass Hills. We had enjoyed Akkamalai on our last trip and looked forward to another visit.

In the Christmas decorated bus to Akkamalai.


Valparai enjoys an excellent public bus service. Buses go conveniently, to all the estates. No doubt the signboards were written in Tamil which I speak but can not read, but the locals were ever willing to help out. We always sat in the first row next to the driver, with the picture window.

The bus to Akkamalai also passes the stop for the Balaji temple and Annai Velankanni church, two of Valparai’s most sought after destinations. Jagadeesan driver told us that the Lion monkeys arrive in droves at the Balaji temple on Fridays and Saturdays. At lunch time, naturally. We did not get off at the stop as we had just enjoyed the monkey gang the previous day, and we wanted to enjoy Akkamalai before the sun got too intense as it most certainly would.

Akkamalai Tea Estate


Balaji temple seen from Akkamalai – a bit hazy


In perspective, with the Velankanni church [white blob near lake] and Valparai town in the distant background


That’s us on the way to the Grass Hills




The Grass Hills of Valparai



Tea, forests and the Grass Hills.

Not surprisingly, wildlife sightings are high at this estate – at the appropriate time. We did not see any, not counting some butterflies, a Nilgiri Langur, old Leopard scat and fresh Elephant Dung!

Here is hubby dearest with the Manager of the Akkamalai Estate, Mr Vinod Singh, originally from U.P.


He bumped into us “intruders” on his rounds, and we ended up chatting animatedly for two hours! In this picture he is very kindly taking us around the mountain, to a “secret” view point overlooking the High Range of Kerala, essentially the same view that you get from Nallamudi Poonjolai but from a different perspective.

The view. It was hazy so the High Ranges and Anaimudi were not clear but the views were splendid.




On the way back from the view point


Mr Singh spent twenty years in tea estates in Assam. He has been here for the last three years and is enjoying it thoroughly, especially the safe and peaceful environment unlike in the Assam estates where the Maoist stranglehold is deeply entrenched. He did say however, that Valparai tea is not a patch on the Assam variety! Oh well, something has to be produced somewhere to fill those ubiquitous tea bags.

We bade Mr Singh farewell as he continued his rounds checking the condition of the tea bushes at various locations in that vast estate. In the monsoons which last a good five months, it is terribly wet he said. The mist is all encompassing and leeches abound. There is a serious labour problem here as no one really likes working in those damp conditions. They brought in labour from Bihar but they did not last beyond one monsoon. Some of the Nepalis had stayed on though, and made Akkamalai their permanent home. Interesting ……

This chappie certainly likes his Akkamalai green tea, he’s in no hurry to go to Assam!


Blue skies over the Grass Hills as the day progresses. It is not hot temperature wise, but boy is that sun intense.


The Akkamalai Tea Factory

The path to the Grass Hills leads off from here.

Dense forest at the entrance to the Grass Hills road.

Mr Singh said to be cautious if we were walking there as an elephant had been sighted there the previous day. He said people usually drive through till they reached the grass of the Grass Hills, accompanied by a Forest ranger. No one ever walks there. Hmmm…….

This is the locked Forest office at the entrance of the Grass Hills road


Barricade at the entrance of the cement road


There was no signboard saying No Entry, in fact there was no signboard at all.


Soon there were some strangers to be seen walking on the Grass Hills road. Naughty Naughty, I wonder who they were …..


Unidentified wildflowers along the Grass Hills road


along with multitudes of butterflies of every hue, but too fast for my camera.

About two kilometres down the road, those strangers came across this – fresh elephant dung



Wiser sense prevailed and the two strangers did a quick about turn. After all, who would dare mess with a wild elephant?

Back at the barricade for an orange and chocolate break


He said: Don’t be disappointed, Im here!



Just then, a group of four young men turned up. They had come all the way from Chennai, a 12 hour drive. They asked about getting a Permit for visiting the Grass Hills. We told them we had none but there was no signboard prohibiting entry and suggested they go a little way along the cement road as those other “strangers” had done. Or they could drive there as they had a car and the barricade could be slid out.

Three of the boys were raring to go having come all that way, but one of them said that they could not do so without a permit as it would not be the right thing to do!

My God! Was that the Anna influence? How commendable.
The crusty old “strangers” felt a twinge of shame. Just the very slightest, teeniest meeniest hint of a twinge, but a twinge nevertheless.

We exchanged notes and pointed out the way to the secret view point for the young boys to enjoy. Revived, we commenced our return walk. We planned to walk beyond the Akkamalai bus stop down to the Post Office or to wherever we could catch up with the bus.

Goodbye Grass Hills, perhaps some other time



OM path in the estate

The downhill walk


Roadside wildflowers




And more wildflowers




Beautiful scenery



Hairpin bend before the post office



From where we caught the bus back to Valparai




That evening, we walked to the nearby Woodbriar’s Stanmore Estate, again through the same scenic short cut

Here is the same scene but with blue skies in the gentle evening light



Evening scenes at Woodbriars estate






Till tomorrow folks, its way past my bed time. Good Night!







#15 Jan 12th, 2012, 23:44
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Another great trip report snonymous, and beautiful photos. I love the captions on the monkey pics .
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