South India Travel - Travelling in South India
South India Travel
The mountain region (Western Ghats), which extends from Vindhyas to Cape comorin,running almost across the western side,has some of the most beautiful hills in the world. Also home to numerous exotic species of wildlife and rare flora,this range nurtures the plains with rivers. Travelling in south India involves touring many a tourist destination along this Ghat region.
Chiefly,the river Kaveri,originating in Kudagu,an exquisite sleepy region,which flows across all the four south Indian states (another reason for internal strife),is the blood line for the farmers and people alike.Nilgiris,Yercaud,Palani hills,Munnar,and Anaimudi (the tallest peak of the range)are part of this range.
The tallest peak in south India is Anaimudi (The tuft of an elephant)located in Kerala state. This is where you will find the rapidly declining animal (ibex) pictured left, that looks like a cross between a goat and a deer,but with the extra ordinary capability of moving in the face of sheer cliffs that would make a seasoned mountaineer green with envy.
These animals are (called as 'Varai Aadu'in Malayalam) near extinction. Once these mountain animals flourished in the western ghats, but in the last few decades- the increase in human population and the gradual decline in the rain forest cover have almost wiped them out.
Rightly called as the 'Queen of Hills',this blue mountain (has even a Train named after this hills - Blue Mountain Express) extends across a district (Nilgiris Dist). As a person who still cherishes memories of my school days in the hills of Nilgiris,I strongly feel that life will not be complete with out a visit to the following places:
The road leading from Mettupalayam,at the base of the hills, to Ooty is broad and travel can be pleasant with only around 15 hair-pin bends.Compare this with the road to Geddai,which boasts of over 30 narrow hair-pin bends.The stretch from Wellington to Ooty has grassy slopes,alternating with Eucalyptus trees reaching up to the skies,enervating one with their characteristic fragrance.
Incidentally,Indian Railways boast of 2 mountain trains built by the Swiss.The NMR (Nilgiris mountain train) is around 100 years old and offer an exquisite view of the hills and the ride can be enchanting.The little train meanders through a magical woodland interspersed with a few tunnels.
The combination of mist and vapour emanating from the woods render a bluish tinge to the hills.Ootacamund (ooty),Coonoor and Kotagiri are the large towns,nestling atop the mountainous region.Kotagiri, a quiet town at the 'right' altitude,offers almost a steady temperature throughout the year.
Nilgiris has the ideal climate and soil to nourish and sustain a bewildering range of flowers and plants. Our old house boasted of 9 types of Roses .They needed little attention other than regular watering. Stay close by and imbibe the atmosphere, cherish the long walks in the 'English country side' and pick up ample supplies of Eucalyptus oil from the Co-operative stores (where you get genuine fragrant oil).This pungent oil can alleviate muscular pains and decongest running noses.Add 2 drops of this aromatic oil to your hot bath and luxuriate - for a lasting relief to body pain.
Visit a couple of dams,wonder at the tall trees in Sims park (coonoor),feast your senses on the flowers in botanical garden (ooty)and be prepared to walk long distances to explore the nooks and corners of these parks,if you love nature. Nilgiris is noted also for premium tea plantations and you will find a Tea factory almost at the drop of a hat.
Plums and valberi are the favourite seasonal fruits.Most of the villagers (the local 'badagas' tribes )tend to their field where they grow tea,potatoes,cabbages and a host of other vegetables,unless otherwise distracted by the film crews and the ever increasing tourists.
Gudalur,a small town at the borders of Kerala,Karnataka and Tamilnadu will lead you to the Mudumalai Wildlife sanctuary. A night stay in the Government guest house,Abayasaranalayam (Refuge of the Innocent),can fill you with wonder with the sounds of the Wild animals. From a perch,watch the frolicking gazelles,ride in an elephant in to the deep forest
In nearby Bandipur sanctuary,ride with the forest rangers's vehicles to explore the Karnataka jungle.
Kaveri river enters Tamilnadu through this 'Grand canyon' ,about 85 km from Dharmapuri.The cascading water falls into the valley,gouging out intricate shapes in the surrounding rocks.In some places,the raging waterfall throws up enough water spray to cause rainbow most of the time.As a tourist resort,this spot may not present much by way of comfort.
The roads are poke-marked,narrow and dusty.Bathing in the waterfalls of various sizes might rekindle the spirits. Nearby,small pavement vendors will offer freshly-fried fresh water fish which would be most welcome after a long soak in the rapid waters.
Start in the morning for a 'parisal' ride - a round wooden frame - coracle,clothed in hide,with a capacity to carry about 4 adults.
This parisal or coracle will take you in a round trip of the water ways,which at times,can mean a short walk across rocky outcrop to reach the other side.The boatman will carry the parisal over his head to cross the rocks. Early start is advised as a complete trip can take around 2 hours.
If you have soaked up in water long enough and need a quiet hill resort to cool your heel,try Yercaud,near Salem,not far from where you started. In this idyllic hills with coffee plantations and fruit trees,one can find peace and solitude.
National Highway 45 (NH45) will take you to Dindigul,about 400 kms from Madras,which will be the starting point for this travel laden with spices... If your idea of holiday translates to a boat ride in a hill resort,long walks in sloping meadows far away from the maddening crowds,Kodai as Kodaikanal is called in the local parlance, will be ideal.
This little hills resort located about 690 km from Madras is another quaint mountain resort located in the Western Ghats. Not as crowded as Ooty is, Kodaikanal offers cool respite from the sweltering heat of the South. Nearer to Madurai, Kodai has an exquisite garden,lake and even a paved pathway (Coaker's walk) for a leasurely stroll, imbibing the pine-scented air.
Drive on through Theni,Kambam and Kumuli,(about 4 hours drive) to reach Thekkady,where Periyar wildlife sanctuary is. A boat ride in the river might entitle you to steal glimpses of Elephants swimming in the river, dragging their calves. Shop around for varieties of spices to add to your culinary expeditions in Kumuly,kambam region.
Most of the Indian spices are grown in this region. Another half a day's journey will take you to Munnar,( confluence of three rivers in Malayalam)an exclusive hill station almost owned by a private Industrial house 'Tata Tea' which implies hills sprouting green 'carpets' of tea plantations.
As is usual,in this western ghats, Tea bushes need to be punctuated with silver oak trees.Being in the western part of South India,monsoon rains can be torrential during rainy season.
Unlike Ooty's tall peak Doddapetta, Anaimudi -the tallest peak in South India, near Munnar, does not have a road leading up to it.You will have to trek about 8 km to reach the peak,from the road.