Pristine shola forests, lush green hills, birds, gaurs, cool atmosphere; I simply can`t ask for anything more. Three days of adventurous trek and silence that can only be provided by lush green nature away from concrete jungles. The stay at the beautiful “sparrows nest” with a bunch of nature lovers was a marvelous experience for me. We were fortunate to spot many rare species like Nilgiri wood pigeon, streaked throated woodpecker & spotted eagle.
After an overnight train journey we reached Metupalayam at the base of Ooty hills at around 10 in the morning. The railway station itself is a relic of the British reign. The railway from Metupalayam to Ooty is a perfect example of the renowned British civil engineering. It’s a wonderful journey through the mysterious Nilgiri hills, a must-feel experience. But we were not heading for Ooty.
Our destination was some 30 Km east of Ooty, a place called Kotagiri. The place name is derived from the term “the mountain of Kotas” or “Kotagiri” where giri means mountain and Kotas are a clan of tribe who lives here.We left Metupalayam and hit the forest road by 11:30. We raced through the dry forests patch below the hills and then started to climb up-hill with the forest turning out to be greener and greener with each passing mile. Almost an hour into our bus ride, we started to get a glimpse of famous Nilgiri tea; bright green tea estates on either side of the road. We deviated from the main road before reaching Kotagiri, from a place called Aravenu. The stay was near Catherine Falls view point. From Aravenu it took 20 more minutes through the sprawling tea estates to reach Sparrow`s Nest.
A well kept 100 year old tea godown which is being used as a resort , and truly one of the most beautiful places I`ve ever got a chance to live in. We were starving when we reached. So we didn`t start our scrutiny of nature right away and had to ditch nature for food. After the late lunch, we discussed our 3-day plan and set out for our first trek at the Longwood Shola forest some 20 Km away from the nest. We climbed back the winding estate road to Aravenu and then to the Longwood. We reached there by 4 and began our 3 Km trek through the plush evergreen Shola forest with hardly any sunlight reaching the forest floor. Due to their isolation, altitude and evergreen nature, Shola forests are home to some of the most threatened species and several of them are endemic. Climate was wonderful, bright and breezy, so the trek was a memorable one for me
The rest of the evening was spent at the Kodanad view point from where we got a piece of the beautiful Moyar valley. The view was a breathtaking one!!!
We were back at nest at around 8:30, freshened up and had our dinner. There was a campfire too.
We woke up early the next day to visit the Catherine falls view point before breakfast. Unfortunately the view was not such a nice one, since the falls had dried up due to scarce rain. All we could see was a rugged rock structure.
The visit to the thoda tribal village and the interactions with a few of them were really interesting and informative. As a photographer, I must say it was a rich experience for me since I got a chance to interact with some really intelligent people. Among them was Aswathi, a 7 year old kid; cute, thoughtful and she talks beautifully. Although most of these educated, well behaved people live in concrete houses with mud-tiled roofs, some of them still live in their traditional huts. These peculiar huts have a half cylindrical shape made of mud and wood with straw roofing.You have to literally kneel down or walk on your knees to get in as the door way is at-most 2 ft high.
We were really sad that we missed an opportunity to get some snaps of a Gaur we spotted on the first day of our camp. But the next day we got lucky and we spotted a whole herd of Gaurs. We saw the same herd again on the last day of our camp.
On the last day, we woke up early and we went for a short trek up the hill in to the Banagudi shola, near the nest. We got a chance to see the centuries old tribal temple inside the shola, a truly magnificent structure.
After our morning trek we had our breakfast and left for the forests near Maamaram. The locals had informed us about elephants which were roaming around, so were cautious and the same time were determined to get a sight of the big mammal. Even though we failed to spot one, it was an adventurous experience which lasted for over 2 hours. In between we visited the beautiful Junior Catherine falls and had our lunch there. While we were filling up, a group of teenagers started to showcase their diving skills. One of acrobats named Manikandan was quiet a wonder to watch!!!
The route to the falls was a steep slope in to the valley and I knew that a steep climb would be inevitable to get back to our ride. My fear finally took shape as we had to climb a notorious 2Km slope which directly leads to a main road. Our water bottles which we filled up at the falls were empty long before we reached the road and we were all panting like dogs. We drank a hell lot of water from the first house we saw and after walking a little while we came to junction were a street vendor was selling ice-sticks. The joy of finding food when we really need it can`t be described in words. There was a school nearby and we were only happy to offer ice-sticks to a few enthusiastic ones.
So our three day rendezvous with Kotagiri ended with ice-sticks and it was a great trip. We got to see some great people and wildlife, that too in the fantastic cool climate of this little known hill station of Tamil Nadu. You visit this place once and it will remain in your head for a long time………….