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Sunday 13 January 2019

Nilgiris Part 4 - Kadanadu watch tower / Beeramukku Hill / Gene Pool Garden / John Sullivan Memorial

Kadanad Watch Tower

To the north of Nilgiris i had two more 2200 meters plus peaks to explore. One was Kadanadu forest watch tower above the mountains of China coonoor inside the reserve area and secondly the Beermukku mountain temple. I have scaled almost all peaks of north nilgiris to the left and right of Kadanadu and Beermukku and was greatly looking forward to enjoy the views as i had planned to trek both these places with Guard Gopal and Forest watcher Manoj in a single day. Myself and my dad Krishnakumar Started from Gudalur by 7am having breakfast at Pykara and reached Thalakundah by 9am. Parked the car and Gopals Bolero was already waiting with Shiva and to my surprise Suganya Akka ( wife of Gopal ) who works as a teacher decided to take a day off to join the trek as soon as she heard the days plan from her husband. All good we took left from Talakundah to Kavaratty and Denadkombai. Picked up forest watcher Manoj from kadanadu and after crossing the villages Tar roads faded into mud roads and the jeep pushed its maximum till a patchy grassland beneath the Kadanadu hill .

From here it was a 6km walk up and down and all 6 of us started walking. Oops that is when i realized i had forgotten my camera batteries. The December weather was pleasant and the views were bright and sharp with brilliant sky blue clouds and sunshine merging into the greenery of Nilgiris. But now i was left with my mobile camera and i regretted it very much because i felt the views from the peak must be amazing, such was the weather . To the right side i could see the Bikapathi Toda mund area as we climbed. The beautiful patches of sholas and eucalyptus trees was so welcoming as it has been quite some time i have trekked in Nilgiris. In the next 1 hour we reached the top layer grasslands and every step forward i was getting a glimpse of the horizons of karnataka. The forest watch tower is now visible and in the next 15 minutes the entire sigur area of Mudumalai Tiger reserve, the moyar river cliffs, Gundulpet town in Karanataka and parts of Nanjangodu were visible, the clarity was unbelievable. I have never seen such a long distance throw with naked eyes from any of the Nilgiri peaks probably because it was December.

Spent some time at the watch tower. There was more to climb to the top of the hill so we got down from the tower and marched to the top between the dried up Kurunji plants. As we reached the top there were stone temples and idols built by the long past tribals of the land and Gopal told us even today Badaga people perform poojas once in a year for their well being and good rains. As we reached the top the views just got bigger and now the sholur mountains,Kalhatty hills and the roads leading to masignagudi were visible. I got down to the edges of the cliff all alone. Found a spot and sat there for a some time gazing from the 2200 meter peak.

Each of us enjoyed the place to the core. Akka and shiva decided to walk back on the same route while the remaining four of us got down through another direction discussing more on the Tribals of Nilgiris. On the way Mr Gopal showed me that special tree which is used to make Bow and arrow by the Toda tribals for their Marriage Rituals. Within an hour all of us rejoined at the base of the mountain where we left the jeep.

Our next stop for Lunch was at Cheruth etan's Eucalyptus shed. On the way we visited a much more advanced Eucalyptus factory equipped with all modern machinery. on the way the jeep stopped near an orange farm and shiva and manoj climbed up to pluck a few..thirsty throats and stolen oranges.. that was a real combo. Next stop was at the shed where Cheruth ettan and Ponrasu have cooked rice and sambhar for us.

It was wonderful to see them and the place had beautiful memory in my heart because i had stayed here one night with Sreejith on our 3 day Nilgiris cycling tour 5 months ago. By 2pm we left the place walking back through the carrot farm assuring that i will be back within a couple of months. I just love that aromatic hut.


Beeramukku Temple ( Ebbanad )

Our jeep then went past small villages till we reached Ebbanad Village. The straight road from here till the forest check post and towards are muddy and bumpy. Manoj opened the checkpost and we drove for the next 1 km till the base of Beermukku hill ( Veera Mughan ). Usually one has to walk this stretch. On the way Manoj showed me a small left diversion track which goes downhill to Anaikatty Temple in the Mudumalai forest. It is a 10 km trek. Yearly once during the festival days the route is open free by the forest department for public from all sides and thousands of people march up and down to be a part of these festivities.  Along with Anaikaty, Bokapuram temple festival happens on the same date. Both these temple festivals are of great importance to the local and tribal people in Nilgiris.
As we reached the base of Beermuku hill the jeep was parked under a tree and all of us removed our shoes inside the jeep and started walking. The entry surrounding were so clean and carpeted with green grasses and the 300 plus steps which leads to the temple peak were painted with white and red border lines.

There were still some local village women cleaning some long grown bushes around the corners and upon inquiry the festival was about to begin by 3 days and probably we are the first group to climb up those beautiful milky white steps. Akka was in full josh and as we climbed up those 300 plus steps the surrounding views of ebbanad again blosommed.

I was sharing the experience of climbing a couple of peaks above the Bikapathi mund which can be partly seen from here. While climbing the steps i did notice many uncut flat rocks measuring upto a meter placed slightly in an downward position where all the edges of the steps are slided up which gives more grip while climbing down. Since this is an age old temple which dated back a 100 years they still have retained the same uneven steps without cementing them. Now to the North of Nilgiris i just have one more peak to scale and that is Kookal, Probably next time i spoke to myself and climbed the remaining steps with my father taking some breaks in between. Upon reaching the peak there was a Statue of Lord Shiva to the left and the temple itself nearby. Went to the edges and i was literally Wonderstruck with the views once again. The views from here extended more to the right than what we saw at Kadanadu watch tower.

We could see Siriyur, Anaikatty, Anaikal the moyar river cliffs and to the right from Kukkal upto Kodanadu mountains. To the left from Masignagudi, Moyar dam and Mavanallah were visible. As usuall i found a place on the edges and buried my eyes into the beauty of Mudumalai. I could sit all day in such vantage points but for that i will have to come alone and even though i spent a good 30 minutes in solace gopal shook me up saying that its 5pm and time to leave. By 6pm we were back to the base and drove back to Thalakundah. It was a great day with Gopal Anna, Suganya Akka, Shiva and Manoj along with the wonderful views of Nilgiris.

Gene Pool Gardern ( Nadugani )

Two decades have passed since i first visited Genepool at Nadugani along with my friends cycling from Gudalur. I still remember all of us waiting clueless with our cycles at the entrance of Genepool scratching our heads whether to go inside or not. The area was in such a dilapidated state without any presence of humans and the muddy roads were scattered with bushes and dried leaves. We parked our cycles further up and walked some 3kms all the way through the roads between sholas and grassland until we saw some fencing. There were 3 glass houses with many plants, half of them dried up and a couple of broken buildings. We had fun those times exploring the area.

The Tropical Gene Pool Garden in Nadugani, which used to be run by the research wing of the Forest Department, was used for the conservation of highly endangered species of plants. But, it was in a state of neglect over the last many years, leading to the crumbling of a large portion of the structure.
Lately i have been hearing about the development that officials from the Gudalur forest division had been working on renovating various structures to draw tourists so that the department and the local tribal communities could benefit.Forest department officials said tourists could learn about the varieties of natural flora in the Nilgiris from a fern garden, an orchid center, an interpretation centre and a medicinal plant garden that were being set up. I also did hear trekking, bicycling, staying in guesthouse and other activities are in plans. Even though the area has 2424 acres i thought its better to go and check directly and took my father along.

It was not like what i saw two decades ago. The forest department has taken up the project under Gene Pool Eco-Development Committee (EDC), which comprises members from the Paniya tribal community aiming at providing a livelihood. So from the gates everything was polished. New counters and a building with parking area and 30 rs ticket for an adult. As of now all the other circulating activities like guesthouse, cycling and other stuffs have not started. A guided walk of 5 km up and down through the forest roads leading to the old glasshouse which is now renovated as fern houses and medicinal plant sections finally reaching the viewpoint. All the orchid center and plant gardens are fully stuffed and maintained very well.

There are some 10 workers employed from the tribal community to look after the place and to assist the guided walk. Now the pick of this place is the viewpoint. It a 360 degree splendid view around the Gudalur and pandalur taluk, the upper platue hills towards ooty, the O valley ranges and the kakur ghats sections towards Kerala and all i want to say is do not miss this place for the view point and if you are into botany then you are sure to hang on for an additional couple of hours.

The timings are from 10am to 3pm. Genepool garden gates located near the Nadugani junction.

John Sullivan Memorial - Pethakal Bungalow ( Kannerimukku )

                                               Uyilatti Falls on the way to Kannerimukku

No trekking involved here but this place holds much significance in the history of Nilgiris more than any of the tourist places built by the Britishers. John Sullivan ( Founder of ooty)who was the collector of Coimbatore ( 1815 ) and later the first collector of Ooty made explorations to the blue hills after obtaining an order from the British East India Company in 1819 after the origin of the fabulous tales that are circulated concerning the `Blue Mountains' to verify their authenticity and to send a report to the authorities.

Much before this there has been account of a Jesuit priest named Father Giacomo Finicio who trekked to the then Todamala ( Nilgiris )  from calicut in 1603 through Manarkadu, Mukkali the gateway to silent valley national park through walaghat up to melur. Father Finicio's report of the adventurous visit to the mountains was the first ever recorded account of the Nilgiris. After 200 years John Sullivan had a different trail route which started near the base of Sirumugai, Uliyur and went through Kokode, Arakode, Mettukkal , Kilkotagiri finally reaching Kannerimukku.

The team had Europeans and sepoys, several dozen elephants, hundreds of dogs and ponies. After having reached a level of 1,000 feet, the expedition was compelled to abandon its elephants, throw away its baggage and climb further by means of cords and pulleys. The first day, three Englishmen died and on the second day seven natives among the prisoners were killed. Further on the climb, two more sepoys and 15 prisoners were killed.Climbing step by step, cutting steps into the rocks, or descending by means of cords, hundreds of feet into deep precipices, Sullivan and party reached a plateau on the sixth day. An excited Sullivan wrote, "The British flag was hoisted on a high rock and the gods of the Nilgiris became subjects of His Majesty the King of Great Britain."  This place was Dimbhatti ( Now kannerimukku ). He was very much mesmerized by the beauty of this hilly place and set up a camp. Later it became a two-story structure called Pethakal bungalow, named after a sacred stone that existed there. Sullivan lived there till 1823. In the five-acre property, he experimented with cultivation of potato and other English vegetables such as cabbage, beetroot and carrot. In the 1820s, the spud finally made its appearance in Ooty

On this next visit the exploration went uphill from kannerimukku to ooty. He built Stone house ( present Arts College building- ooty ) with the help of locals -  which was the first ever European building on the hills and moved into his house in 1823. All the administration works continued from there and thus saw the development of Nilgiris. Ooty was now the capital of Nilgiris. He was instrumental in establishing the Ooty Lake, besides introducing hill and horticulture crops. In addition, Sullivan developed various routes connecting different areas in the hills. A proper route was laid between Dimbhatti (near Kotagiri) and Coonoor in 1830-1832. The Nilgiris has six entry points which later on was properly expanded and built by the Britishers (, Mulli, Gudalur, Sigur, Coonoor and Kotagiri and Sispara Ghat) at a time when most hill stations had two. Today, five remain open; the original Sispara Ghat that connected it to Calicut has been closed.

John Sullivan was a rare combination of magistrate, administrator, meteorologist, entrepreneur, town planner, engineer, capitalist, farmer, churchman, and protector of the poor.  He saw to it the rights and culture of hill tribes especially Todas were not disturbed and was friendly with them. After the demise of his wife and daughter in ooty he left to England 1841.
Pethakal Bungalow is now run by Govt and Gayathri who was in charge of the place orated much more info as she was around for more than 5 years here. D Venugopal a historian and author who runs Nilgiri Documentation center is particularly important in bringing up this place to its present state. I have read his book " Nilgiris" and has been in touch with him till i lost my phone a year ago. I thought i might meet him but he was out of town is what Gayathri said. My wife, father and mother enjoyed the little historical place and i bought a collection of Nilgiri Tribal books written by Jakka Parthasarathy.