Saturday, June 12, 2010

Senbagathope : Eastern Slope of Western Ghats


8th and 9th of May 2010 were public holidays, and even by noon of 7th , I was scratching my head to find an apt place to spend two days. A
ctually there aren’t much places left near by, that we haven’t visited. Struck with ‘Senbakathope’ near Srivilliputhur in Tamil Nadu. Sembagathope is actually the other side of Periyar Tiger Reserve, which we had explored many times earlier. The place is famous for Grizzled squirrel- better known as Srivilliputhur Grizzled Squirrel Wildlife Sanctuary -and of course have all other fauna, characteristic of a Tiger Reserve, as they are not bothered of the state boundaries. Rang up Dinesh, who is a DFO with the forest dept., to ensure necessary arrangements for our stay and exploration. Then contacted Sunil to inform the discovery. 

Route: Trivandrum - Nedumangad – Madathara – Thenmala – Aryankavu – Senkottai – Rajapalayam – Srivilliputhur

              As planed on the earlier day, Sunil and I, with our family, started off at 8.00 AM, in Sunil’s Alto. We were to join Dinesh and family at Madathara by around 9.00 AM. Just before Nedumangad, I rang up Dinesh , to know that he has just woke up, and will join us only by 10. Showering abuse on him, we took an immediate right turn and drove to Aruvikkara reservoir, just to avoid waiting at a junction.
Aruvikkara Dam
              We had a leisurely drive and eventually Dinesh had to wait a bit for us, near Madathara. We took the lead and Dinesh followed us in his Alto. Drove through the picturesque route along NH 208 and took a left turn at Toll junction, just before Senkotta, to have the less frequented stretch, through ‘Panpoli’ and ‘Vadakarai’ to join the main route at ‘Kadayanallur’. Reached Rajapalayam by noon and had vegetarian meals at Hotel Asoka Bhavan, our regular joint. After meals drove to Srivilliputhur, just 11 kms, and another 4 kms ahead, we reached the Office of the Divisional Forest Officer. Dinesh, an officer of the same rank, had a warm welcome at the place, and we were directed to the Forest Guest House, at a place named Ayyanar coil, about 10 kms from Rajapalayam town, which falls in the fringe area of the reserve. 

           On information from the Srivilliputhur DFO, Mr. Balendran, the forester in charge, waited for us at the check post, and he led us to the Guest house. It consisted of four separate well appointed cottages. Unfortunately there was no power supply, at the place, for the last three days. Mr. Pon Pandian, a stout and able official of the dept. was assigned to take care of us during our visit. Had fruit juice and we were out with Pandian to explore the Ayyanar koil sector. Balendran was off in the other direction, to establish the power connection.
             It is remarkable here that this sanctuary does not even have jeep tracks into the core. Such is the terrain in this region. The tracks available are in the fringe region and that is pretty motor able even for our Alto. For patrolling purposes the officers have to walk kilometers daily.
Our first destination was the Neerkatha Ayyanar Temple, just by the side of the forest.
        The deity here is believed to be providing the village with ample water and hence the prefix –‘ Neerkatha’. Crossed the stream nearby and walked into the woods, led by Pandian and two other guards in charge of the place.
          Walked up to a place where there was a teak tree earlier, which was felled for some temple needs. Two teaks had then emerged from the same place and they were tall enough to be out of our camera range.           Ayyanar falls is about 4 kms ahead, but we dropped the plan, as the last stretches may not be easy for ladies. Returned to the temple premises and drove to a watch tower within the woods.
          Had a nice view from the top.           To the west, we had towering thick wooded hillocks, that border Kerala and TN. Periyar Tiger Reserve and then Thekkadi, fall on the other side of these mounts.                Actually Dinesh and I had a secret agenda to return to this watch tower by night, but it didn’t materialize. On the return journey we paid a short visit to the Paramahamsar Ashram, at a scenic spot near the woods.
             They served us refreshing herbal tea.
           Light faded by then and we returned. Took some snaps near the reservoir that caters to Rajapalayam, and found vast mango groves by the roadside.
                 Pandian assured that he would take us to the groves the next day. Reached the cottages by 7 PM to find that the power supply has not been back. Then it was time for the night safari. Pandian chose ‘Sappani Parambu’ and ‘Valakkulam’ reserves, for it had even and motor able tracks. Roamed around spotting deers and Sambars.
                      Got out of the reserve by 8.30 PM to find Balendran, waiting for us by the roadside, to convey the good news – Power is back. On his directions, Pandian took us to the best hotel in town – 'The Food Court'. Forest officials are more honored than the Police, in these towns; such was the treat we had there. The food was tasty and remarkably cheap. Six adults and five children had non veg delicacies to content, just for Rs.745. Drove back to our cottages and retired by 10.30 PM.

                      Woke up by 5 in the morning and got ready by 5.45 AM. Pandian had reached the place by 5.30 itself. Our plan was to visit the Sastha Coil sector of the sanctuary, famous for Panthers and Indian Gaur. Drove back in the Thenkasi direction till Sethur and took a right turn. Another 10 kms took us to a forest check post. Mr.Mohanan, another forest official, was ready with his bike, at the check post. Following him we drove another 2 kms along the forest track to reach a watch tower by 6.50 AM.
               Planned a trek into the woods, and as it would be risky to take kids along, two of our ladies opted to stay back at the watch tower with them, under the protection of Pandian. Others moved on, led by Mohanan.                Just half a km into the woods, a single Gaur lightened across our path, and a stampede followed. We couldn’t see them but just hear them. That was a frightening moment as we couldn’t just make out in which direction they were moving. To our luck it wasn’t towards us. Moved on, spotting deers and sambars, here and there, so shy to be filmed. Dinesh, opined from his experience, that panthers seldom appear before guests. I know that... Man; still I looked for one, every turning. Near a water source Dinesh pointed to deep pugmarks of panthers.
                  Just on the other side was a huge rocky mountain, and Mohanan says that there are a large number of caves atop –the panther colony. Dropped the idea of climbing up and ringing the bells, we took the other way. Got back to the watch tower by around 8.30 AM. Drove ahead another 2 kms to reach Sastha Koil, which is a cave temple within the woods.
                Ten minute walk through the woods, from here took us to a beautiful jungle stream, flowing exclusively for us.
                   The water was clear as tear, and the place we were at had a nice slope. Leaving us there, Pandian left in search of break fast for us. We left the stream flow over us till Pandian returned. Pandian had fetched Idli, Dosa and Poori from a local tea shop near the check post. Drove back to the watch tower and raided over it.
         After a heavy intake we left the place, for Srivilliputhur town.

              Srivilliputhur is a temple town. We visited the ‘Aandal’ temple, famed for its gopuram (entrance tower) which appears in the emblem of TN Govt.
                Spent a while within it. Bought packets of ‘Palkova’, a sweet made of milk, Srivilliputhur’s own product. Returned to our cottages by 1 PM. While Sunil and Dinesh went for rest, Pandian and I along with Sreedevi, Renchi and kids went for the mango grove tour. Drove into a large expand full of mango trees, by the side of woods.
                   The care takers there have immense respect for forest officials and they welcomed us with tender coconuts, mistaking me as the DFO from Kerala. They filled our vehicle with mangoes, locally known as ‘Sappatta’ and ‘Panchavarnam’. And the real problem occurred when I tried to pay them. They ran around declining. Pandian some how won the game, screwing Rs.300 into one’s pocket – just Rs.300; I regret.

           Back at the cottage, we woke up the others and packed out by 2.30 PM. Fell short of words in thanking Pandian and he asked us just not to forget Rajapalayam- his home town – “Rajapalayam marakka koodathu Sir”

              Three kms from the Guest house, there is a forest check post, and the guard in charge, blocked our vehicles, informing that there was a wireless message from the Guest house, to stop us. Soon Pandian appeared in his motor bike and handed over the mobile phone, my wife had left behind. Huff... I should thank this man again. But he spoke before me. “Sorry to stop you Sir. I should have found this before you left the cottage”
           How will we forget you Pandian.... and of course your Rajapalayam?

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