Shola forests, lush green hills, velvety tea gardens, birds, gaurs, cool mountain air, adventurous treks and blissful silence – in short Kotagiri.
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. But we were not heading for Ooty.
Our destination was some 30 Km east of Ooty, a place called Kotagiri. The 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 forest patch of the valley. While climbing up the hill, the forests turned out to be greener and greener with each passing mile. Almost an hour into our bus ride, we started to get a glimpse of the famous Nilgiri tea; bright green tea bushes carpeting either either sides of the road. We deviated from the main road from Aravenu, before reaching Kotagiri. The stay was near ‘Catherine’ Falls view point. It took 20 more minutes through the steep sprawling tea gardens to reach Sparrow`s Nest.
A well kept 100 year old tea godown, perched on the slope of a peak, that has been turned into a mini hotel with a couple of rooms and a huge dormitory. But we were too hungry to savour the scenery on reaching the nest.
After the late lunch, we discussed our 3-day plan and set out for our first trek at the Longwood Shola, some 20 Km away from the nest. We climbed back the winding estate road to Aravenu and then on to the Longwood. It was 4 in the afternoon by the time we hit the trek path. The 3 Km hike through the thick Shola where hardly any sunlight reach the forest floor was as serene a trip as you could have in this part of the world. 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.
The rest of the evening was spent at the Kodanad view point which offers a piece of the beautiful Moyar valley with the silvery zig-zag of the moyar river barely visible through foggy air.
We woke up early next day to visit the Catherine falls view point before breakfast. Unfortunately it was not very nice since the falls had dried up due to scarce rain. All we could see were rugged rocks.
The day’s main event was the visit to the Thoda tribal village. A half hour bus journey and an hour’s trek through thick Lantana bush forest, took us to the village situated high up the Kotagiri hills. There was a 30 minute halt at the small village and interaction with the Thodas which revealed how well they have adapted to changing times. The women, who seem to be in charge of the village, was friendly enough to welcome us with a cup of black coffee and also informed us of their business of hand woven shawls, blankets and clothes. Although most of them live in concrete houses with mud-tiled roofs, a popular design in Nilgiris, some members still reside in traditional Thoda huts. The peculiar huts, half cylindrical in shape, are crafted with mud and wood with straw roofing.You have to literally kneel down or walk on your knees to get in, as the doorway is at most 2 ft high.
We left the village and spent the rest of the day trekking in the nearby birch woodland. Sun had set by the time our bus was trudging down the winding road from Aravenu.
On third and the last day, we woke up early and went for a short trek up the hill to the nearby Banagudi shola which surrounds an ancient tribal temple. An air of mystique surrounded the centuries old structure made of small rocks and straw thatched roof.
After the final breakfast of the tour, we bid adieu to ‘Sparrow’s Nest’ and left for the forests of Maamaram, a village en route to Metupalayam. The locals had informed us about elephants roaming around. Cautious and at the same time determined to get a sight of the big mammal, we ventured into the deciduous growth that took us down the Maamaram hills. Although we never came across the mighty pachyderms, it was an adventure that lasted for over 2 hours. In between we visited the Junior Catherine falls. The 15 foot cascade drains into a tropic pool and is a popular picnic spot for locals.
The route to the falls was a steep slope into the valley and that made a steep climb to get back to our ride inevitable. The fear took shape in the form of a notorious 2 km, almost vertical, path that directly led to the main road. The water bottles which were filled up at the falls were empty long before reaching the top. Reaching the road and we all fell instantly fell on the tarmac panting like dogs. After resting a while, exhausted to core, we walked towards the junction where the bus was waiting. Beside it, on the road, was an Ice-Stick vendor, busy doing business with kids of a neighbouring school. For a bunch of trekkers breathing hard and tummies on fire, the scene was heavenly. A fitting end to the journey!