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Monday 16 November 2015

Nilgiris Part 1 - Longwood Shola / Catherine falls / Rangaswamy Peak / Rangaswamy Pillar / Bakasura Malai / Chenguthu Mala / Aanamattom

These are a series of Nilgiri short treks in the last two months which I thought to bind it together as one blog. 

Longwood Shola ( 3km ) Kotagiri
Write-up : Anish

A pristine 280 acres of protected shola forest within the boundaries of kotagiri town. It reminds and rewinds time back to 200 years of how surroundings looked but now we are at least left with this small natural patch. Permission from the forest department is required to enter or nnhs ( Nilgiri Natural History Society) can get you in. From nnhs Prithvi arranged Kuttan ( a native toda ) and Abishek showed me around their place and explained their working methods towards uplifting the indegenious tribal communities by producing and marketing their local products like honey, wax, pepper, ginger, clothing's and working on programs towards human wildlife conflicts.
Kuttan has been working here for the past 10 years and both of us drove off to longwood shola. Watcher Moses was is control and guarding the forest. The reason being the forest is still alive is because of the water springs. In the British period when tea plantations came into existence locals were encouraged to destroy the forest for planting tea. From the lower plateau bordering wayanad to the highest plateau of Nilgris just imagine the man power with hundreds of sq km been swept off in the past 150 years. Before clearing up the longwood area an Englishman stopped and advised the villagers not to. He explained the importance of those water springs which is still the water source for Kotagiri town.
 All the water forms a small rivulet which can be seen inside is collected somewhere down in a water tank and supplied to nearly fifty thousand people of Kotagiri. Crossing the gates through a small trail we followed. It was a small walk of 3km. Out of the 25 types of trees in nilgri sholas kuttan spotted and explained trees like Cage which is used to make fire in their toda temple by friction and sparks. Even today this custom goes on.

A group of gaurs are daily visitors here and Indian flying fox are said to be spotted very rarely. Tress like Corkwood or Mapia (toda lang), Meshtini which is used as firewood, An unusual tree called Therd, Kuttan scratched the tree using a small stone and asked me to watch the experiment. Within a minute the scratched part turned its color from green to dark red. Then the Bikki fruit tree which was occupied by some birds. A tree named Pesteri (toda lang)  is used to make small sticks for temple pooja and Keeshkark tree is pollen variety used my honeybees. Off the trail we climbed up to see a couple of honeybee nest inside the branches.Stopping near a water spring Kuttan explained more about their toda culture and we were back to the gates.
A small chat with the forest guard both kuttan and Moses were eager to know about the leech socks I was wearing because kuttan was bleeding from bites. They will be stitching a pair very soon I hope. Reached back to NNHS and met Abishek and left the place as my next stop was Catherine falls trek.

Catherine Falls (4km ) Aravenu

Catherine Falls is named after the wife of Scottish coffee planter Cockburn. Its the second largest falls in Nilgris. It is about 250 feet in height. Since it’s a double cascaded falls those who have been to Dolphins nose from Coonoor has a better but long straight view. Reaching Aravenu from Kotagiri took right for the next two km until it hit a dead end. Yes I am almost near the falls. Parked my car there and the cement steps was leading to the viewpoint. More of a tourist spot I was wandering like where should I trek to. On my right was the tea plantation with fencing. I decided to check out the view point first. Within the next 15 minutes I was on top. Waterfall view was not in one single piece, since the angle was more to the right I had to leave the so called viewpoint immediately and started walking upwards to see if there was a way to climb down.
There I saw some good views towards Dolphin’s nose and Mettupalayam town through the valley. Clicked some zoomed shots of Mettupalayam town and came back to the viewpoint i decided to cross the estate fencing and head towards the first falls.
To the right of the hill walking through the small village entered into the tea estates and after many lefts and rights i was listening to the splashing sounds of the falls as I was nearing.
 An estate watcher helped me with some shortcuts and I reached the first tiers which is a shorter falls. Since it was raining for the last ten days rocks were slippery. For a full view I had to get down some 20 feet but it was not possible at this time. But anyways ive got a waterfall now and started experimenting with the shutter speeds and apertures with my dslr to get the flow right.

Spent some time there and while climbing back there it was! A male and a female Gaur. The largest cattle on earth grazing through the tea plantations. I was not heading towards them so decided to click some pictures until it charged towards me. I think the lady didn’t like the idea as she was staring straight at me.        

Left the place and within the next 30 minutes reached the parking area. My next stop was Rangasamy pillar and peak but not sure about the permission stuffs. By 8pm I was in Kilkothagiri a small village, no lodge, no Atm. Interacting with the local people I made some quick friends Shantakumar and Ramesh. I got a place to stay there for the night as well. Ramesh who is a forest fire watcher agreed to accompany me for the next day’s outing but I have to personally meet the Range forest officer the next day for permission for which I agreed. Till 11pm we were chatting about the happenings and I went off to sleep. Checked the weather status it was 10 degree. 

Rangasamy Peak ( 4km ) Sholurmattam

By 5:30 am I was out on the Kilkothagiri streets to check weather there was any sunrise points. Till 6:30 am it was cloudy and too chilly to hold on. Had a tea and came back to the deserted house in which I stayed. I was ready by 9am and Ramesh came. As I was packing my bags inside the car, a retired forest officer Mr Rangarajan nearby my house started sharing his experiences. He was in Gudalur sector for nearly 20 years. So I was very much excited to ask lots of questions about how forest life from 70s to 90s served him. After that both of us went to the nearby forest office and got the permission. At first the range officer was a bit skeptical about doing two treks, their concern was is it possible to complete both the treks before 6pm as it was too dangerous after dark sets in. I convinced them and by 11 we were driving to Rangasamy peak through the sholurmattom village we reached the check post. Parked my car and off we started to the peak. Rangasamy peak is a sacred hill.
There are internet stories about this hill about a priest called rangasamy from karaikudi came to this hill after fighting with his wife, I don’t understand who writes such comical stories. Aadiavsis, Todas, Irulas and other tribal’s are the founders of all the ancient looking temples in Nilgiris. February is the pilgrimage season time for which any forest permission is not required. Just 1hr of walk from the parking area we were at the top. Stone steps were laid out till the temple. I don’t visit or do temple treks with built in steps.
Here it was different because I wanted to experience one of the biggest water reservoir in the country and it’s also an earth dam very much like Banasura. After reaching the top there was a small temple and nearby the old stone idol structure which was placed by the tribals. It was a 360 degree view from the top and as I approached to the sides the Bhavanisagar reservoir was just stunning. Even after 30mins I just could get enough of it.

All the waters from the Eastern slopes of Nilgris and from north and northeast through the Moyar river ends up here.
Excess water in the Piloor dam near Mettupalayam has to be released to the bhavani river which flows to this dam. Water lines are piped through two canals Arakkankotai and Lower Bhavani Project to various districts including Salem, Coimbatore etc. I could have stayed there till evening. Such was the beauty all around but another long trek is waiting so we left and by 1pm and reached back to Sholurmattom. Had Lunch and soon drove back to the tea estates behind Kilkothagiri.

Rangasamy Pillar ( Bottle malai )- 8km – Kilkothagiri

By 1:30pm after parking our car nearby an estate house the walk was along the tea leaves till we reached a muddy patch. It was Denad reserve forest from now on. We were walking through a rocky way. Found  two worship places of Todas and some idols placed on the routes.
After the steep first km the trail was more like ascending and descending equally maintaining an altitude of around 5500 feet. Slopes of downhills and views of adjacent hills with the chilling breeze was over the top for me. Passed over some small waters with crystal clear ice water flowing. Washed my face and carried on.
I knew there was a possibility of rain while returning so my camera was hanging on my neck throughout the climb clicking whatever I could. Suddenly bumped into a curved rocky place. Ramesh asked me do you have any clue of what this is. I said It might be some broken stone house but it was more than a century old cattle and goat shed used by Todas. Couple of shola stretches and grasslands we stopped near a dried fallen tree. Ramesh asked me why do you think this tree has fallen. I stopped before commenting and looked under the tree there was a big hole under it. He said Bears like to eat small White worms under the tree and barks just as humans desire to eat chocolates so the they dig holes under the tress and eventually it disconnects from the roots and falls down.

Again crossing through some dark forest it was ascending time. Again some stone idols were placed as we are now on top of the Rangasamy pillar peak. Actually I was just walking without expecting anything indeed I forgot the whole story behind this place suddenly it was bang on my face. I was blown away for a moment. Ramesh was laughing at me. I knew I was knocked down by the structure of this Bottled shaped hill just opposite me. It’s a straight pillar with sloping sides of around 500 ft in length.
Actually it is not all what you see in this pics.. its damn terrific. To view its entire structure we will have to get down which is impossible because all the side were steep cliffs.  In 1950 dec 19th an Air India plane crashed into this structure while crossing this valley when it was engulfed with mist. 20 persons was later found dead in a decomposed state inside the forest. You can find the actual link here from the Hindu Newspaper.
It is a straight slope from top to bottom there is no possible way to climb it without ropes or mountaineering skills but 15 years ago a person from Kilkothagiri village has climbed with bare hands. He has placed a flag on top of it which still flies high.  I wanted to meet that person but Ramesh said he met with an accident and is no more.  Just by watching that hill I was imagining the scenes where an old plane just came and crashed here.  By 3.30 pm it started drizzling and we returned.
 Ramesh showed me some new places inside the thick forest. It went straight into a lake with thick trees. He said this is where elephants enjoy their swimming. It was more like watching  Anaconda part 1. I was just wondering how fast we can cover distance with two people. With rains rocks were slipping but by 5pm we were back to Kilkothagiri. Had tea and interacted some more time with the retired forest officer..he said you guys were too quick to finish off two treks.  Finally Ramesh has some stunning trek routes especially for me, he said we will do it at any cause. Bid Goodbyes to the beautiful people of Kilkothagiri and I left the place at 6pm.

Bakasura Malai ( 6km) Coonoor – Nonsuch 

When you drive up from Mettupalayam to Coonor the huge hill on the left is part of Bakasura Malai or Droog fort.  From Coonoor It is a 15km drive till nonsuch factory. Turn right into the first hair pin bend from coonor which goes to Glendale and then the first left to Nonsuch tea factory. After the factory its jeep roads so I had to leave my car near the factory.

Ganesh is the chief mechanic in the factory and he was waiting for me at Droog village which is a km away from the factory. An estate guard joined me till Droog village. Met ramesh by 11am and we kept walking through the estate roads for some time. There is a concrete view point built on top of bakasura malai and from droog if you try finding the topmost hill after 3 stretches of tea mounts that is the place you want to reach. Ramesh said before going there I will take you to a suicide point where 3 people have ended their lives. We took left and climbed up for sometime to reach the edge of the hill. The entire strech from Coonoor to Metuppalayam was before me.

If you are a Nilgrian do visit this place you will not regret.  After few clicks we returned back to the diverted point and followed the way up the hill. When the plantations ended, trails with stones was laid till the peak. From the peak, upper portion of Coonoor and south- west regions like Mulli Ghat mountains and Attapadi regions were partly visible. It was misty all around and started drizzling.  

Soon our next leg was inside the forest to reach the actual ruined fort. Climbing down through the thick sholas was a tricky affair because of the thorny plants. Next opening into the rocks there was a cave like hole directly which is about 20 feet down.
In march the Bakasura temple festival starts off from here by sacrificing a goat and the villagers would take the goat back to the temple by walk. Ramesh also said a huge number of nearby village people would join the festival. Next was the final peak in itself. Nowhere to go from here. In all aspects the fort view was spectacular but misty . A small portion of the ruined fort was visible. It is no wonder why Tipu sultan’s army chose to build a fort in such a place because it has a complete view of the south and south east entrance into Nilgris and nobody can attack them directly at this elevation during those periods.
I will have to come here again on a bright sunny day once again to read the ends. It was drizzling I packed my camera into the bags and started clicking the remains with my mobile. When returning back I found an other hill nearby which is perfect for viewing Mulli ranges. Next time we have planned for a two days trek by camping inside the forest. By 5pm we were back to the village and I walked the final stretch alone. Drove off from there and reached Gudalur by 8pm. Last three days it was a fantastic experience through the hills and clouds of Nilgiris.

Chenguthu Mala (5km) Pakkana 

Chenguthu Mala or the real oosimalai is a picturesque art I would say.  Nobody in the Gudalur District and Pandalur District in Nilgiris have never missed or admired the beauty of it atleast once in their lifetime. And if you want to experience the entire hill ranges facing Gudalur from sholur hills to the O valley and Channana mala then this is the place for you. Paakkana Village is the entry. Paakkana is between Nellakota and Pandalur.    

Three of my friends Riyas, Rasheed and Abdu joined from Paakkana. From the road we entered into a grassland facing a tea estate. After crossing two small streams where we filled up the water bottles we jumped into the estates and again crossed into the steep grasslands. Now the backside of Chenguthu mala was facing us. It was a steep climb for the next 30 minutes we reached under the hill. Sat there for sometime and climbed up the remaining hill. If it wasn’t slippery with rains we would have tried climbing up till the top.

Next to Chenguthu mala there was a beautiful green hill. Both the hills formed the artistic angle from Gudalur. It started raining and rasheed said there is cave under the rocks. All of us soon squeezed through the small holes and settled inside till the rains slowed down.
Some beautiful yellow and red flowers were seen nearby. Two deers were playing and grazing down near the sholas. The views of the Nilgiri mountains were half seen as most of the top layers was covered with mist. Next we climbed the nearby grassland hill.
Using the altimeter I checked the altitude it was around 1020 mtrs. All of us were a bit tired because we tried running and to the top. From the top almost all the villages surrounding the Pandalur and Gudalur Dist were visible. Got some classy pics of the peak, wished I had my camera. Rasheed opened up the lunch packets and we enjoyed the views with enough time in hand which is a scarcity in most of my treks.

By 2pm we decided to climb down through the adjacent hill and again it started raining. All three of them were drenched. They were just enjoying the walk under the rains. Gladly I had my rain jacks covered up. By 3pm we were back to the roads and reached where I left my car. I was very happy with the day but I will be coming back here again with my camera on a bright day may be next month.

Aanamattom (6km) Starts nearby Needle Point Gudalur

Aanamattom is the one and only hill which was left for me to explore surrounding Gudalur. Most of the people are not even aware of the name of this particular hill. From my school days whenever I visit Needle View point (soochimala) which is a tourist spot there is a path to the right to view this hill and the Mudumalai Masignagudi areas. Eventhough it was nearby it was always a mystery and fearfull option to cross all those thick forest and climb up to the top because of wild animals like elephants and tigers roam around the vicinity and are spotted many a number of times both by tourists and locals. This time myself and loga decided to do with a Gps.
 After inquiring about the routes what I found was we just cant enter anywhere nearby the soochimala area since its deep steep thorny thickets. By 10Am we parked the car there and walked till Chinese hills. Found the forest firelines which is almost non existent. Followed it with the help of Gps and the surrounding was getting steeper and thicker. Let me say that this is the first time some form of fear factor started arousing in me after seeing loga’s face. He was always murmuring like shall we go back because we started hearing all soughts of bush noises inside the forest. My idea was we will move forward till we hear something loud and that happened real quick. Something really loud was moving ahead of us. I asked loga shall we run. He said yes and we didn’t look back. It was helter skelter running uphill through the thickets. I stopped suddenly and asked him what are we running for. He said that noise. Then I replied anyways we are halfway may be it must be some monkeys or pigs which was moving around the bush but loga said it was definitely an elephant. He couldn’t convince me so I pulled him back again and started climbing down.
At any cause he was deliberately twisting my mind but I promised him we will run if see anything until then just don’t speak about going back. Each step forward was nerve wrecking because the entire area was under mist now and we were not sure if we are on the right track. Gps lost signals at places and reconnecting to satellites took time. Anyways we made ways through the dark bushes setting in on one direction. To top it all there were leeches everwhere. Loga was not wearing leech socks and it was another reason to return back for him. We reached a point where we had to wait till the mist cleared up. Loga was terrified as if he has seen a ghost. I convinced him we will be soon there. Once the mist cleared up after 20 mins of waiting we realized we were only half way. The fire lines ended up on a small stream and it was thick buses ahead. It was dark and freakish but loga started adapting to the scene and he too was fired up and I don’t know where that josh came from. He started moving forward and we followed some animal trails and finally got a good glimpse of the hill.
 As we moved forward just by the direction we were actually nearing it and from the forest we caught up the ridge lines and we were under that hill. After finding ways and climbing small rocks we were on top of the Aanamattom hill. It was a great feeling. Ive never experienced such a feeling because the fear factor crossing through the Mudumalai was extreme. To the right there were great views of Glenmorgan falls and Theppakadu.
As we were enjoying the views suddenly both of us heard an elephant trumpet sound. It was not nearby but somewhere down from the forest. Only half the job is done still we have to reach the main road. Our plan was to run slowly through the exact route we came down. Took pics from all the angles because I was not sure if I will ever return to this place and after an hour we left the place.        
As planned we were moving nonstop till the stream inside. A couple of times we diverted the actual route but I pulled back loga to set things right. From the stream it was a steep climb. It took nearly 50 minutes of breathless walk to the main roads. Removed my leech socks to see hundreds of them in each socks. I found some leeches to be very different as what we see in western ghats , it was bigger is size with a blue mark. Loga was bleeding so we stopped near the next water flow and cleaned up the entire bugs which took some time. By 4pm we reached back to the Needle hill.

  Author    : Anish vk
Clicked by : Anish
   Team: Anish, Loga, Ramesh, Kuttan, Ganesh, Riyas, Rasheed, Abdu
Place  :  The Beautiful Nilgiris