The Euphoria of 40 Bends- Anamalai

We zoomed past the web of neatly stacked houses etched in green and blue, adorned with bright windows, that lined the narrow, criss-cross roads. Beneath the thatched roofs of their verandahs, a few aged eyes and wrinkled faces relaxed and chitchatted into the lazy afternoon. Amidst the pleasant scent of freshly smeared dung in its courtyard, sat a small temple of Lord Ganesha. A cow with almond shaped eyes and horns like perfect half moons grazed lazily in the shade of dried palm and coconut leaves. 40 kms to the south of Coimbatore, a quaint village called Pollachi calmly tiptoed towards dusk; the sublimeness of which was distinguishable to thousand other villages rapidly metamorphosing into meaningless urban jungles.


The quaint village of Pollachi


Every bit of the heritage home, ‘Shenbhaga Vilasam’ on the outskirts of Pollachi, was instantly appealing. Beyond a petite temple resting under a huge banyan tree, an aged fountain peeked curiously through the foliage of entwined creepers. An elegant wood chariot stood with pride adjacent to it. The intricate pattern of the mosaic floor tiles, gigantic metal vases, iron shields and swords in the squared corridor exuded sheer class and royalty. The dull yellow walls were the loyal secret keepers of the timeless era of this vintage chalet built by the Zamindars of Samathur 90 years ago. From the rear-view mirror, Shenbhaga looked like an angelic unicorn pacing back into time.


Pollachi quietly rests at the fringes of the mighty Anaimalai range at the southern side of western ghats bordering Kerala and Tamlinadu. Anamalai, simply means Elephant Hill in the local dialect. Like a divine goddess, Anaimalai holds rich biodiversity in one hand and alluring tea estates of Valparai in the other.


1st view of Anamalai range from Pollachi


Golden rays of the melting sun creeped through an impressive tree-tunnel, displaying a mysterious play of occult. The Anamalai flashed breathtaking views of the backwaters of Aliyar Dam peeping through the alternating bends of the ghats. Monkey Falls, that might have once been a virgin Goddess with milky waterfall gushing from her breasts; now stood tarnished and ashamed, adorned with litter and noises, holding in her womb the weight of restless, junk-fed monkeys. Amidst the chaos, a few giant squirrels, unruffled by the mob of tourists merrily swung and fed on a fig tree.


The occult of shadows-Tree tunnel on the way to Anamalai


A Giant Squirrel feeding off a fig tree at Monkey Falls


Not far away, the landscape transformed into a thick blanket of charcoal grey clouds gently pushed by a cool breeze and dew-like showers. Soon, we had our rendezvous with the first of the 40, stomach-churning, serpentine, hairpin bend. Each bend here on, was almost at a 40 degree elevation cutting through unending slopes of stunt hills with rolling carpets of tea plantations. Futile anticipation took its toll at the 13th bend that had a signboard with ‘Nilgiri Tahr crossing’ written on it. While a bald mountain peak was being gently kissed by the rays of the setting sun, a petite hut peeked from between the stunt eucalyptus trees. Dozens of Nilgiri Whistling Thrushes roamed carelessly; their hypnotising whistles making my curious eyes follow them. Conquering the 40th bend, when we finally reached Valparai,  we were greeted by countless crickets stridulating under the dark diamond studded sky.



Sipping piping hot tea in the verandah of a tea estate, listening to the chirping birds while admiring the lazy bisons grazing on a gloomy morning is perhaps Valparai’s epitome of seduction. We swooshed past the tapered roads piercing the heart of the estates until we reached a village dotted with a few huts on the forest fringe. From the backyard of a hut, some 400 mtrs away, a much awaited drama was being unfolded by a herd of elephants. Two calves played under watchful eyes of mom. The trumpeting by the youngest calf was loud enough to send vibrations under my feet. Eventually when the herd disappeared into the jungle after what seemed like an era, I woke up from a trance and fell into a orchestra of melodious tunes of Red Whiskered Bulbuls, Yellow browed bulbuls, Vernal Hanging Parakeets, Oriental White Eyes, Green Leaf-Birds, Doves, Sunbirds, Minivets and Babblers bustling in the backyard!


The tusker family

Bird species of Anamalai


At the edge of the ticket counter, a Nilgiri Whistling Thrush fearlessly nested; a few grains of boiled rice were carefully placed by her side. The curious part of me was eager to decipher why Nallamudi Poonjolai was named “Seen God” by a random traveler who visited here ages ago. After trekking for a kilometer on gradual elevation amidst interesting debates on identifying poops of elephants, leopards and bears we found on our way, we reached the highest point of Nallamudi. From here, I could see spectacular views of the tallest peak of Tamilnadu called Anaimudi. Layers of lush, green mountains rolled all the way into the horizon. Deep into the heart of Anamalai, in the lap of dense forests, an enormous, milky, goddess-like waterfall flowed with tremendous force and vigour. Not sure why she was named ‘Idly’. Huts of the Mudhuvan tribes with small clearings and naked courtyards totally cut off from civilization were scattered deep into the valley, almost 1000 feet below, like tiny bits of paper flung into the air!


A Nilgiri whistling thrush nesting at the ticket counter is fed grains by the locals

Views from Nallamudi Poonjolai


On the winding roads of the Puduthottam Estate, two men were holding placards that read“ Lion Tailed Macaque(LTM) crossing, go slow”. With my failed attempts to spot this extremely shy mammal in the past, I pulled over with extreme hopelessness only to find myself 10 feet away from a dominant male LTM sitting on a lamp post trying to eat a guava whole. Soon we were amidst a group of 20 macaques, safely crossing from one end of the road to the other. Efforts put in by these men from Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) to ensure safety of these endemic creatures was noteworthy, rather surprising.


The endemic Lion Tailed Macaques of Valparai


A herd of 20-odd bisons grazed lazily in the estate, looking up at us intermittently with curiosity. One of them had horns curving inwards in the shape of a perfect heart, whom I referred to it as ‘the love bison’. The silence of a gloomy and drizzly morning was intermittently broken by the screams of a charming peacock pruning itself perched on a bare tree trunk. An elephant trumpeted somewhere deep inside the jungle. Puduthottam bestowed upon me the loveliest morning in years. Bulbuls and sunbirds chirped, parrots screeched and the whistles of the Malabar thrush continued while the climate flirted with us throughout our aimless drive through Sholayar Dam, Manamboli, Varattuparai and Mallakiparai stretches. When the dark mysterious serpent had swallowed the last of the golden ball of light, a pack of Dhols (wild dogs) briskly crossed the road without a sound, and disappeared under the blanket of stars.


The pruning peacock


An unexpected argument waited with an ugly face at the Topslip checkpost. The checkpost closed at 4pm and unfortunately we had missed it by ten minutes. But the outcome of an unexpectedly intelligent human mind multiplied with the luck factor can be amazing! In no time, we were on the rugged and bumpy road to Topslip. Soon after we reached the top, twilight creeped into darkness. Walking a few meters from the rest house to the canteen in pitch blackness in the middle of a thick forest was jittery. A pair of green eyes of a wild rabbit sitting still at close proximity shone in the gleam of our torch light. A pack of some 30 deer were in the vicinity, feeling safe in the company of two legged beasts. Thousands of crickets created a rhapsody together with croaking frogs and withered leaves that were being swept away by the chilly zephyr. This was the night of the forest- alive and bustling with sounds, yet so peaceful and immaculate! Wandering in pristine and humid Shola forests next morning, we couldn’t outwit the bloodsuckers! We sighted the rare and endemic Waynad laughing thrushes, streak throated babblers, grey hornbills, asian fairy bluebirds, and Malabar parakeets flying briskly in the thick of the bamboo hedges.


The midday sun was hitting hard when we returned from a three hour trek into the Sholayar. We bid goodbye to the Nilgiris and head back to the blinding city lights and tearing noises. I slept that night with the incense of eucalyptus and freshly plucked tea leaves; the songs of the Whistling thrush and the mesmerising cry of the peacock. I dreamt of standing next to the milky waterfall-goddess; a hundred green watchful eyes staring anxiously through the dark under a faint moonlit sky.



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