Thursday, January 24, 2008

Ooty Trek

Year: 2004
I reached Coimbatore from Vijayawada in the morning. Checked into railway rest room in the railway station. This was because I have to catch Nilgiri Express going to Mettupalam at 0500 the next morning, which was the connecting train to 'The Toy Train' runs between Mettupalayam and Ooty. I thought this will be the right place to reside to catch Nilgiri Express. Had break fast in a restaurant in front of the station. After a long time I tasted tamil sambar. It was too good to resist. After that I roamed all around. In the evening had idly with sambar instead of dinner in the same restaurant and hit the bed. Next morning at 0500 boarded Nilgiri Express reached Mettupalayam at around 0700.Immediately after reaching Mettupalam jumped from the train, rushed toward Toy Train to grab a window seat. Now went all around to inspect the railway station. The toy train is being run by The Nilgiri Mountain Railway. Still steam hauled, it has a diesel engine also. But because of cost restraints they are not using it. After reaching Coonoor station they replace this steam loco with the diesel one which takes to Ooty. This train service began in 1896. Steam loco uses 8000 kg of coal and 14,000 liters of water for this journey. Train runs through dense forest at some places, crossing water falls, streams, bridges and tunnels. All the journey gave splendid views of Nilgiri Hills. In between there were stations where one can be refreshed with tea, snacks and drinks. Another great thing was I had mobile connectivity through out the journey. At 1245 reached Ooty. Upon reaching I was busy with last minute purchases. After completing all of them had lunch at some place and proceeded to Ooty Youth Hostel. There I shed my excess luggage and now I had only a ruck sack, which contains my belongings for the trek, was served by YHAI. After completing my trek I have to re deposit ruck sack at youth hostel. My initial plan was to catch 1330 Ooty - Portimund bus which goes via Parsons Valley which was our base camp. I missed it. I hired an auto rickshaw and began my journey. It was a 12 km journey. After passing Ooty out skirts there was no vehicular movement on that road. Literally the road was laid in the forest. Suddenly a leopard jumped on the road. First it was spotted by auto driver and he yelled 'see there'. We saw it crossed the road and vanished in the trees. I reached base camp at around 1600. Already all the members in my batch reached trekking shed. After chai and snacks we gathered for intros. The oldest guy was from Mumbai. He was 77. There were 5 members from Andhra Pradesh and 3 of them were from Vijayawada. At 1730 another late comer joined our batch. He was also from A.P, raising the number to 6. A slab was fitted beside entrance of the shed.It read the place was at 2295 M above MSL. The road leading further down the trekking shed was going to Parsons Valley dam. It was full of water. It was a no snap zone. This dam is one of the main drinking water sources of Ooty town. Authorities are pumping water from this reservoir to Ooty town. Security persons told that was the spot where climax scenes of film Roja were shot. The place was scenic, weather was cold. That cold weather further intensified the beauty of the surroundings. This was a restricted site. But we had the privilege of YHAI, so we have access to the area. At night before dinner we had a briefing about the trek. Dos and dont's, what to see like that. They told KURUNJI flowers,which bloom every 12 years, were in bloom. Next they will bloom in 2016. Earlier I told some people about the big cat I saw. They told that thing to YH people in that meeting. They asked me what did you see. I replied I saw a tiger. They immediately dismissed and said there were no tigers in the forest. Only leopards. I told them it was certainly a big cat, what ever you name it, a leopard or tiger. They told it as a leopard.
Day 1
Next morning had a bath, took break fast, packed lunch and ready to take off. YH people introduced Mani, our guide for the next 3 days. At 0815 we started trekking with Mani in the front, his deputy at the rear. Few steps after the gate of the trekking shed, Mani deviated from the road and vanished in the trees. We followed him. The path was narrow. It rained heavily at the night. It caused trees to fell in the path because of loose soil. Mani was clearing the path by cutting trees. Where it was impossible we were by passing the path. Trees were heavily dense here. We could see up to ankle portion of the person who was in front of us. It took us 2 hours to negotiate in those wild woods. After that we came to an open grass land. A stream was flowing in the middle. After half an hour we entered in to a pine tree forest. This forest was man made. All the trees were planted in rows. So that we can walk with ease. At the end of this tree line there was another big stream. We were amazed see the water in that stream. It was crystal clear. Some people asked Mani for a break. He said no. After the stream there was a little up hill. At that point there we saw a deep red mushroom with a small frog on that. It was clicked by every member of the batch.
After the up hill a big lake has come in front of us. It was Mukurthi Lake. The waters are actually the back waters of Mukurthi Dam looks like a lake. On the other side of the lake there was Mukurthi Peak which was reflecting in the water. Mani declared it as rest point. After the rest we kept on walking. All were hungry. Mani was walking in the front as if he forgot to give a lunch break. We came to Mukurthi Dam entrance gate area and crossed Mukurthi Dam over flow canal. Mani warned us not to take photographs. If so no guarantee for the cameras cos dam guards immediately seize cameras if they notice any flash. No one dared to do so. After crossing the bridge Mani halted us for a lunch break.It was 1400!! We started half an hour later. From that point it was up hill task. For some extent there was a road. At end of the road it began to rain. We were busy protecting our ruck sacks from rain. All have covered themselves with polythene covers which were purchased at a shop in Parsons Valley. We continued uphill, the gradient was medium.After some time the path took a turn and we were at the side of a hillock. On the other side there was a gorge. On the gorge side we could see a vast area, all covered with greens, small hills and Mukurthi back waters. A beautiful scene. We almost reached the summit. Here a huge boulder was there along the path. It was sloppy toward the gorge. We had to cross it to continue our walk. One side of the rock was steep gradient and other side was gorge. There was no way to by-pass it. So all were carefully crossing the boulder. Because of drizzle the rock was more slippery. Chand(77 years old) called me when I was about to step on the rock to cross. He asked me my help to cross the rock. O.k I told. He held my hand with his one hand and we were venturing to cross the rock. Carefully we were going but at one point he rattled for a while. If we slipped, it was only a 200 feet straight drop. We both controlled, safely reached the other side of the path. We continued the down hill and reached tea plantation at around 1600. One of the trekker asked Mani at what time we reach Mukurthi trekking shed. He replied "15 minutes". All have energized upon hearing that and walked in a steady pace. Mean while Mani showed us Kurunji flowers. Everyone was eager to have a look at them. After half an hour another one asked Mani, how much time we require to reach the shed. He replied the same 15 minutes. Like that he told us 5 times. Everyone was tired. At 1730 we reached Mukurthi trekking shed. Everyone sat inside the shed and took rest. Then asked the camp leader Rama Subramanium about the distance we covered. He told more than 20km. But in the itinerary YH guys mentioned it as 14km. Chai and snacks were served. They both refreshed the people a lot. Mukurthi trekking shed was having 2 rooms, one with toilet, a kitchen and in front a veranda. It was having an over head tank. A pipeline was laid in to a natural spring which brings water to the tank. The shed was also having a spring in front of its premises. Totally a nice place to hang with. Here there was also a slab which indicated the place at 2253 M above MSL, and was built in 1966. It was at one hour walk distance from the jeep track which takes to Ooty. After dinner all of us had a chat with Rama Subramanium. He told us about Himalayan treks. All were tired, so we called it a day.
Day 2
All the mornings were as same as Day 1 morning. We started at 0815. Initial trek went through tea plantations. A slight up hill. Up on reaching certain height down hill started. From the up hill it looked like a small valley, full of tea plantation and a tiny village. The village was surrounded by hills. Our path was leading to that village. As soon as we entered the village Mani has vanished. Rama Subramanium also accompanied us. His duties were over at the camp. Some other guy takes his duties for the rest of the trek days. He walked up to jeep track. We ordered chai at the only tea shop village was having. Mean while some one in the village brought just plucked carrots. They were having leaves also. We bought them and devoured. Mani came back wearing a new dress. Then only we came to know that it was his native village. We began our journey toward the hills. Here we spotted some of the portion of a hill in the distance was purple in colour. that was because Kurunji flowers were in full bloom at that portion. We started climbing a hill. In some moments a big cloud came and surrounded all the hill. We were walking literally in the cloud. The path was very narrow, couldn't see more than 2 meters, one side steep up, another side steep down. Really enjoyed walking. Some time later Mani halted us for late comers. Right from the beginning Mani did like that. After every half an hour or so Mani made us wait for late comers. Started again to reach tea plantations. Here we saw small trenches between the rows of tea plantations. They were there for conserving rainy water. We enter a small plain land. Here we saw potato and beans gardens. Next to this plain land there was a hill. We stopped there for some rest. View from here was amazing. Moved from here to stop for our lunch beside a stream. From lunch point we leisurely walked up to Anumapuram camp site on a BT road. The camp site was in a good location. It was a pukka building with toilets. In front of the building there was a big compound. The camp site was surrounded by big woods. Camp leader was Changappa from Madikeri. We heard noise of vehicular movement. Upon enquiry we came to know that Anumapuram is on Ooty-Mysore route. In the evening after tea some members proposed to visit Eucalyptus oil extracting place. While we were reaching Anumapuram we saw many females collecting Eucalyptus leaves fell on the road. Some one asked them, why you are collecting the fallen leaves rather you should take them from trees itself. They told it was an offence. If forest officials noticed it they will book a case against them, they told. All have started walking to watch oil factory. It was very cold. All others wore jackets except me. Why, Swapan Bhattacharji from Rasayani, Maharashtra, questioned. I told him if you are living in Vijayawada you should have known that. Heat, dust and humidity cause hell like stifling situation. But in The Nilgiris it was not like that. Cool. I really enjoyed the atmosphere here. We saw how they extract oil from Eucalyptus leaves. Questions aroused were answered by the owner of the factory. Some of us bought oil bottles. Anumapuram is at 2145 M above MSL and was built in 2000. After dinner it was time for camp fire. At Mukurthi camp shed there was no camp fire. Only chit chat. Burning of wood in the forest is an offence. Also its against the rules of YHAI. So YH officials at Mukurthi just lit a candle and told, assume it as real fire. Here also we thought like that. But Changappa made superb arrangements for the camp fire. He arranged a real camp fire by firing real woods. Then started mazaa. We stood round the fire. One of the assistant in the camp Ganesh danced really well for the movie songs. He was a Rajani Kant fan. All have appreciated him. Other guys in the camp told he was a newly wed. With sheer joy we hit the carpet (no beds).
Day 3
Morning as usual like all mornings, started at 0815. Approached toward the road and deviated for an up hill task. Soon we entered into woods, where sunlight was unable to reach the ground. We continued walking to reach open grass land. We were walking particularly in no civilized areas of hills,but there was some civilisation on the surrounding hills. Here we came across terrace farming. Potato and carrot were mainly cultivated by them. The path went up and down but easily doable. Another time we entered tea plantation area. After a down hill we reached Ooty-Mysore high way.There was a tea shop. Every one had some snacks and tea. Here guys from A.P took a snap. After some time we were on our path. Here the path was very much plain, still found terrace farming. This time we were mostly walking on open grass land. Finally we came into a vast land with a stream flowing. Mani declared it as our lunch point. Post lunch session was a leisure walk. After our lunch point there was a water body. The other bank of the body was a big grass land. After the grass land large woods were there.Wild buffaloes were grazing on the field. Mani told so many swimming enthusiasts lost their lives in those waters. Upon asking why he told the stream contain a type of plant which makes swimmers unable to swim. The plant swirls round the legs of swimmers so that they will be unable to move their legs. No one dared to test it. We followed the stream for a while then deviated for an up hill. Down hill took us another time on to Ooty-Mysore high way. That was Pykara. Our destination! we checked into Pykara rest house which is at 2084 M above MSL. Pykara rest house is near Pykara dam over flow canal bridge.Pykara village is famous for its dam (Pykara Dam) and falls (Pykara Falls). We reached Pykara some what early compared to other camps.So Camp leader arranged us a trip to Pykara water falls.We had to go down from the main road to reach water falls. If dam authorities generate power then only Falls will be in full swing. Now they were not generating, so falls were just seeping. On the main road there were many tea and snack shops. They were well utilized. Camp leader requested us to use public conveyance which was on the road. We obliged his request. Rest house was really a big one.It has a fire place too! Front portion was allotted to trekkers and back portion was occupied by DFO of that division on that day. So we were mentally preparing for a candle camp fire. Cos burning of wood was some thing. We urged the camp leader to lit the fire place so that it gives some warm in the night. He didn't dare. From here Mani signed off as our guide. There will be new guide for tomorrow. We collected some money and handed it to Mani. Then he left to Ooty. The next day he will be guiding another batch. Ooty was 21 km from Pykara. We invited DFO as our guest for the camp fire. 'Camp fire inside' he exclaimed. He was surprised to see the candle we lifted up. He laughed and guided us to the back of the rest house. There was some open place between rest house and kitchen. He ordered his staff to arrange a real camp fire. Within minutes we were round the camp fire with faces glowing more than the light from the flames. Every one was delighted by his gesture. Every one thanked him. He told us about his experiences in forests, near misses of king cobra bites twice, like that. He answered our queries. He dined with us. After dinner some of us gathered in side the rest house and began playing antyakshari. While some people were already in sleep and some were ready to sleep if we stop that nonsense. We tested their tolerance up to 0000. Finally we stopped it because next day morning we had to start early.
Day 4
Before the start DFO addressed us. He told us to visit Pollachi forest. He remarked that Indians cant wait to see a leopard or a wild animal. We make noise he told. If anyone wants to see a wild animal, needs patience, which is lacked by our people he claimed. We started walking toward Pykara dam over flow canal. We went past it and deviated on to a vast grass land. We crossed two hills and came up to a stream. Crossed a log bridge on it to continue up hill. Our guide told us that the area was tiger zone. If we maintain silence we might be able to see a tiger. After the up hill we were walking on the side of the hill. Beside our hill there was another hill. Between these two hills a stream was flowing. The hills were covered with woods, so now and then we were walking in their shade. Suddenly guys in the front stopped and signed us not to make noise. 'Tiger' murmured Vamsi from Hyderabad, who was right behind the guide. I just had a glance of it. Nearly 10 members sighed. After some time noise raised and we started walking. Here we saw a canal which was at a steep depth taking water to the other side of the hill through a tunnel. Nearly half an hour later we entered tea plantation zone. At this point we saw a scenic view between two hillocks. It was far and seemed to be lower than the area where we were walking. The area was green with black patches. We were walking on the path which was leading to a tiny village. It was actually having the houses of the labourers working in those plantations. Here I was walking along with Swapan Bhattacharjee. He was using all electronic gadgets including GPS. What do you do,I asked him. After some hesitation he told that he was United Nations Chemical Weapons Inspector. There was a chai hut. R P Raju, whose digital photos I am using for this blog, made a phone call from chai shop land line to his house using ITC card. After chai and some rest we came to a point where there was a path leading down the hill. We were between the two hillocks. This was the point from where we saw a beautiful area, which appeared before the village. Guide told that was Mudumalai wild life sanctuary and National park, which lies in Tamilnadu. Beside that there was Bandipur National Park of Karnataka. They both come under Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. The area was vast. It was green up to the horizon. At some places there were black patches. They were the shades of clouds! The scene was amazing. We were nearly one thousand meters higher than the forest. There our guide gathered all of us and told that were now entering into Veerappan zone and also that was an elephant roaming area. So be careful. Some were telling what they would do if Veerappan comes in front of them. We began our down hill process. It was mostly on the stones which were laid long back. The Path must have been used in ancient times where there were no vehicles. We were descending in a slow pace. That was because Chand had some problem with one of his legs. So he was not carrying along with the rest. Beside the path there was a stream. We thought it was a big one because it was making so much noise. We were continuously loosing height. It was already 1345, the guide still was continuing. All were feeling hunger. At a place, the route was completely covered by fallen trees. To continue our walk we had to climb a piece of land which was about 5 feet of height. Our guide first went up. I was third. Then our guide and me, by giving our hands helped all to clear that height. Bagul Sagar Santharam from Maharashtra, unable to control his hunger opened his lunch box there itself. He asked not to wait for him. We kept going.Then a question came into our mind, can he clear that height? After some time there was a bridge to cross the stream we were following. We were stunned to see the stream, which was a tiny one. But it was still making much sound. It was our lunch point. It was 1430. All were too hungry, so every lunch box was emptied in no time. Mean while Sagar came and joined us. Our guide assured he will show us at least one elephant if we were silent. We didnt find any although we were not talking but found some fresh droppings. Mean while we came to the foot of the hill. There was a stream. Some were walking in the water to reach other side. Some have removed their shoe and stepped in the water to cross. I found some boulders in the stream at some distance off the path. I stepped on them and crossed the stream neither removing my shoe nor making them wet. All appreciated especially Swapan. Now we were on plains, no descending. We crossed a resort and reached a temple,where jeeps and our Mudumalai camp leader were waiting. He told us we were the group which took much time to reach that spot. The other groups came around at 1600. But we were there at 1700. Sanctuary gates were to be closed at 1800. We loaded all our luggage on jeep tops. From here we had a glance of mighty Nilgiris. I thought we conquered The Nilgiris. We vroomed toward The Mudumalai Wild Life Sanctuary. When we reached the main road we were stopped to have tea in a restaurant. We hurriedly finished our tea and continued our journey. We were in, in time. Checked into Minivet dormitory, built in 1978. It was at 880 M above MSL. So from Pykara we descended 1204 meters in one day. Immediately we gathered in one of the dormitories. Our camp leader first told about the forest and then introduced us Subbu, a forest guide. That meeting went on for an hour and concluded with a decision to have a private program to visit forest on jeep that night, which was not in YH itinerary. Fees was Rs.200/-. People who didn't participate in the raid were remained in dorms. Jeep started at around 2100 after our dinner. That jeep has some special arrangements. It has extra focusing lights and open top to have a clear view in the wild. All were hoping to find a tiger. First we had a glance of Bisons and then 2 Elephants. Like that we roamed, but didn't find any Tiger. At midnight we reached our dorms. Here we found herds of Deers. In the morning, after break fast reached bus stop. From Mudumalai, Ooty has two routes. One is via Gudalore, Pykara and another one is via Masinagudi. Gudalore route is the regular Ooty-Mysore route. Masinagudi route consists 36 hairpin bends. We opted this. Reached Ooty around at 1130 and deposited my ruck sack in YH. I spent two more days in YH Ooty. Here there was a poster about Himalayan Treks conducted by YHAI. Next day I explored Ooty.On second day morning I boarded a bus to visit Dodda Betta which is the highest point in Nilgiri hills. People in the bus were in deep discussion about some thing.Veerappan was shot dead last night!!

7 comments:

Unknown said...

From: subhrajit.ghadei@gmail.com

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