Thursday, October 28, 2010

KM Tiger Reserve - Approach from the west

          

          Kalakkad Mundanthurai is the southern most tiger reserve of India, shortly known as KMTR. Normal access to the reserve is through Ambasamudram, in Thirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu, the eastern side of Western Ghats. There are pockets of tea plantations within the reserve viz. Manjolai, Nalumukku, Oothu etc. I had explored these place during March 2009 and could reach up to Upper Kodayar reservoir along the road from Ambasamudram (For that travelogue click here)


              Though the track extended beyond the reservoir, couldn't explore further as there was a gate with three locks, across the dam, blocking the passage. A TNEB employee who was guiding us then, revealed that the track beyond the gate lead to Muthukuli, the core of KMTR, to which permission is strictly denied. Muthukuli, being the western side of KMTR, is more close to my home town Trivandrum, but access to the place, as I knew, was only through the east, via Ambasamudram.


            In July 2010, Sunil, Dinesh and I had a two day trip to Kanyakumari, with our families. As it was a leisure trip, we avoided the regular NH 47 and opted SH 45 of Tamil Nadu, which went along the foot hills of Western Ghats and ended up at Aaralvaimozhi, just 30 kms from Kanyakumari. I had 'Kalikesham', a small waterfall, in my mind, which was a mere 11 km deviation from SH 45. Convinced Dinesh, a DFO with the Forest Dept., that it wouldn't consume much time, and took a left turn at Thadikarankonam, to reach Keeripara, which is 9 km from SH 45. As Dinesh had intimated Forest Dept. officials about the journey, we had Murukan and Subbalekshmi, dept. staff, waiting for us at Keeripara. They took us to Kalikesham river, just four kms from Keeripara, where the road ended by the river side.


                A chat with Murukan revealed that 4WD jeeps and heavier vehicles can cross the river flow, to get on to the track on the other side, which leads to Balamore Estate, a spice plantation. He continued that the estate authorities will not allow vehicles to enter the estate, with out permission from forest dept. and hence vehicles seldom cross the river. Why should it be so and what would happen to the track, once it crossed Balamore estate? Murukan, the poor chap, unaware of my intentions, opened up that its KMTR beyond the estate and 14 km up the slippery forest track, from the estate limit is 'Muthukuli' !!.


                          I had what I wanted and Murukan was in trouble. He opted defense and found it hard to convince us that the track beyond the estate is blocked by a gate and its key is under the custody of Kulasekharam Range officer, which shall be handed over only on direction from DFO Kanyakumari and so on. Of course that would take time, but Murukan can take us to Balamore at least. He conceded and we had two 4WD jeeps from Keeripara, on which we crossed Kalikesham river and drove up to 'Kaduva Pori', the eastern end of Balamore estate.




             The track to Balamore is about 8 km long from Kalikesham and winds through thick woods, along the side of Kalikesham river. 

 
         Just on crossing the river, Kalikesham Falls can be spotted below the track, to its right.



        Our chauffeur, Vincent, was born and brought up at Keeripara and he was well versed with the geography of the place. At a turning he stopped the vehicle, by a boulder, which had burrows drilled into it. It was not burrows but marks of elephant attacks, to taste the salt content, the boulders had, and the place was meaningfully named 'Aana Kuthi Modangu'.


                       At the estate entrance, Subbalekshmi got out of the vehicle, and we were allowed in. 


                   An abandoned tea factory by the way side indicated the past glory of the property.


              The mountain folds of Maramalai, spread opposite to ours, is famous for its clove plantations. Finally after an hours drive, we reached 'Kaduva Pori', which means 'Tiger Trap'. Many good old ones would have lost their lives here. While Vincent was turning the vehicle, for our return, I was watching the track, which went further winding up, inviting.


             Thus, for the second time, Muthukuli is just out of our cup. Returned to Kalikesham by 3 PM, had a late lunch at a remote joint there, and continued with our trip to Kanyakumari.

         

                   Before the third journey to KMTR, did a lot of home work. Though a bit risky, decided to take our family along with. Made use of all available contacts and Thiruvananthapuram DFO, Mr. Pradeep Kumar, was of real help. He had direct contacts with Kanyakumari DFO and KMTR DFO and he introduced us to them, over telephone. Decided Vincent to be our chauffeur and Murukan to be our guide, and obtained permissions accordingly.


                        Thus by 6.30 AM on 10 - 09 - 2010, Sunil, Renchi, Sreedevi, I and our kids, were off in our Alto, for Keeripara. Reached Keeripara by 9 AM to find Murukan, Vincent and Jayasekhar, the forest official in charge of the place, waiting for us. On producing the permission letter, Jayasekhar handed over the keys to Murukan, and we boarded Vincent's 4WD by 9.15 AM. Crossed Kalikesham river, went through Balamore estate, exited at Kaduva Pori, and we were in KMTR. 


              Woods slowly transformed to grass lands, with altitude, and pockets of canopies appeared occasionally. Pechipara reservoir, in the valley, went on shrinking, as we climbed.





                          About a km from the first gate, Vincent asked us to alight. We found ourselves surrounded by towering grass hillocks. 


 
 


                Vincent drove towards the gate alone and we followed the track walking. Thick greenery is peace and flowing water is hope - what I expect in all my journeys and what  I achieve most often.


           The track we were to follow, went along the hillside, to the top of the adjacent mount.


                Kids ran along the track to reach the gate earlier. Murukan had by then opened the gate and got the vehicle through. 



           Continued to the hill top amidst the drizzle, and had another stop. 


                     Had a wide angle view from the hilltop and could trace the winding path, we had already covered.

Perunchanni Reservoir

Pechipara Reservoir

           The climb was almost over and the descent to Muthukuli sector started. Unfortunately mist spread by then, limiting our view. It was interesting to hear that the Maharaja of Travancore had a palace at Muthukuli, which has now ruined to pebbles. Even the British had interest in this place, for gaming purposes. They even used to play football at this altitude, it seems. Vincent pointed to a plane meadow atop the hill, naming it 'Panthadikalam' - the football court.


                 The light greenery of the meadows slowly thickened to dark woods of KMTR core. The drizzling persisted, reducing the chances of wildlife sightings. 



            Sighting Bisons run along the track, Vincent stopped the vehicle. I got out and walked cautiously to the next bend, expecting them there, but in vain. From that point onwards, I opted to travel by the top of the vehicle, to have a majestic view of the woods. The ride wasn't that smooth, as I was seated on the spare Tyre, with both hands engaged in handling a handy-cam and a still camera. Low lying branches and thorny bamboo stems added to the woe.


           Spotted a patch of water storage, at a distance, to realize that we were at the extreme end of Upper Kodayar reservoir. 


                    Onward journey was along side the reservoir, with canopies and water columns alternating. 

 
                The jeep went over many bridge like structures, constructed to block water leakage from the reservoir.


            Atop one such structure, Vincent stopped the vehicle abruptly, indicating a trouble. Got out to find the left front wheel flat. He had a lone spare Tyre and he got armed with the jack, for the replacement. That was a cause of worry, as we have to travel all the way back, with out another spare. Beauty of the nature around washed away all  the ill thoughts in seconds, and I roamed around clicking, while the kids were busy with the Tyre change. 


             Got it right and, drove up to Upper Kodayar dam, and parked the vehicle by the dam side, in front of the gate with three locks, which I had mentioned in the very beginning. Thus I have reached up to this gate, from both sides; from the eastern side earlier, and now from the western side of KMTR. And, if not for these locked gates, slippery tracks of KMTR, and stringent restrictions imposed by the forest dept., this would have been the shortest path to Ambasamudram and Thirunelveli, from Trivandrum. But let it not be so.


                As we were roaming around, a forest patrol jeep appeared from the eastern side, all of a sudden, and armed personnels surrounded us, threatening an arrest, for illegally trespassing the protected area.  They even ignored the presence of a forest dept. staff with us. The issue was that the KMTR DFO had failed to transmit the information about our visit, through the Muthukuli side, to the field staff of KMTR. The place was out of cellular coverage, and there was no scope of contacting the senior officials. Some how I managed to explain the whole story, to their head, a Range Officer. He was thankfully patient to listen, and the permission letter, we had carried along, brought them back to earth, to let us go free. Still I felt the discomfort in them and decided to clear off the place soon, to avoid further hassles.


              By around 3 PM, stopped the vehicle near a huge plane rock, to have our lunch, which was just bread and biscuits. Crossed Muthukuli and it started raining. Drove cautiously and deviated from Kaduva Pori, for Kilaviyaar falls, a small descent of  Kilaviyaar rivulet, which flows into Pechipara reservoir. 



         Spend there a while, fighting leaches and reached back Keeripara by 6.30 PM.


             This wasn't the end of the trip, but start of another, for we were heading to 'Maramalai', straight away, of which details will be shared in the next post.


                 Few days later, I had a sad message from Vincent. It was that the KMTR authorities had dug a trench across the Jeep track, we had traversed. Thus we remain the last vehicle riders to KMTR, through the west of Western Ghats.


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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Kaarayaar Baanatheertham – The hiding beauty



            Kaarayaar, a major tributary of the perennial river Thamraparni, originates from Agasthya hills, in the Western Ghats, joins Manimuthar, at the foot hill, and flows east to join Indian Ocean, near Thoothukkudi (Tuticorin). I had been earlier to the mountain sector where Manimuthar originates. Then onwards Kaarayaar was in the hit list. Thamraparni dam is built across Kaarayaar, near to its origin and came to know that, unlike in other reservoirs, Kaarayaar plunges into the vastness, locally known as Baanatheertham falls. To add, this one denies view to a regular visitor to the dam, unless you ride in a boat along the reservoir. Planned the visit as a part of our Dhanushkodi trip, which I had mentioned in my earlier post. 
                Reached Kallidakurichi, close to Ambasamudram, by around 9 at night. The team comprised of four families, as detailed in the earlier post. While planning the trip, though I ploughed the web, couldn’t find a place to stay at Ambai. Then thought of an old internet friend, Mr. Robert Manjolai, and through his contacts, could book four rooms at Hotel Baskar, perhaps the only thing of its kind in the Ambai sector. And the loan Bar, for the entire region, is the one attached to this hotel. Owing to shortage of base area, the structure was tower fashioned, and we were allotted rooms in the fifth floor. Occupied the rooms, had a lightening body wash, and hit the bed, as we were good for nothing else, after the tiring drive. 

           Woke up by 7 in the morning, to have an aerial view of Kallidakurichi town surrounded by the greenery of fields, bordered by the majestic mountains, from the balcony of our floor. Even Manimuthar dam was visible from that height. Got down to earth to have tea from a wayside vendor. Got ready by 9, had break fast from Hotel Gowry Sankar at Ambai, and came back to Kallidakurichi, to watch the making of famous ‘Kallidakurichi Murukku’ and ‘Appalam’. Had to wait for a while, to have them that much we needed, out of their pans. Vacated the rooms, drove to Ambai and took a left turn for Papanasam, via Vikramasingapuram. 

                Went past Papanasam temple and entered Mundanthurai reserve. Drove along the winding road, somewhat in good shape. Stopped to have a distant snap of Agasthiar falls, at lower Kaarayaar. 




          Crossed Servalar, another tributary of Thamraparni, along the iron bridge and proceeded further. 


                A peacock, by the wayside, was used to intruders, and didn’t shy away.


          Parked our vehicles near the dam and walked along the reservoir side. Way side vendors had ‘ready to fry’ dam fish, soaked in generous spread of red masala, all over. Dinesh had upper levels of hygiene concern which deprived us of a bite over the crispy thing. 


       Hired a boat for Rs.300 and got geared for the ride. 


           Though Dinesh and Sangeetha opted to view the trail, from the shore, their kids had enough enthuse in them, to join us. 
  

                The reservoir was bordered by thick woods of Mundanthurai reserve, and the cruise amidst the greenery was enchanting. 


      None were bothered of the slight drizzle. Anoj was entrusted with the video capture and the poor guy could enjoy the beauty only through the three inch screen. Our boatman was very informative and he helped me in locating Kuthiravetti view point atop the towering mount to the left. 


             Thought of Jakkayya who lead me to Kuthiravetti, to have an aerial view of Kaarayaar and Manimuthar reservoirs, during an earlier visit to Manjolai and Upper Kodayar. After a 20 minutes ride, the white descent appeared all of a sudden, to the right. 






       Took the boat as close as possible, to have the richness well captured. Spent about 15 minutes there and took the U-turn. 




              

               We had an otter swim by our side with occasional aquatics. And he was keen not to be in any of our frames. We were dropped back at the boarding point, in another 20 minutes, where Dineshs were waiting eagerly, for our safe return. 

                On the return, took a right deviation for Agasthya falls, which was a thin descent. Spent a while under the shower, to wash of the tiredness. Got back to the wheels, drove back to Papanasam, and took left at Dana to join the Senkotta stretch. Crossed over to our state through Aryankavu Pass and back home by 9 PM.

        It has become a practice nowadays to wind up every travel with the planning of the next. Might be to have hope lead, till the next venture. For instance, 10th 11th and 12th of September were holidays and had to start the planning, the next day itself, for that was just two weeks ahead. 

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