Category: Travel

A stay at Annamalai Tiger Reserve

Sunrise - Forest Rest House Attakatty
Sunrise – Forest Rest House Attakatty

We decided to take a small break during the Christmas holiday period, pretty much at the last minute. As expected, decent places to stay without having to break the budget were hard to find. But as I started looking around places that can be reached in a comfortable day’s driving, the hill station of Valparai stood out.

Valparai is located on the Western Ghats in Tamil Nadu, close to the town of Pollachi. As I started reading more, I realised that Valparai is located adjacent to the Annamalai Tiger Reserve, which in turn is contiguous with Parambikulam Tiger Reserve in Kerala. While researching for suitable accommodation for the family in and around Valparai, I came across the Forest Rest Houses located within the Tiger Reserve.

While I have stayed inside or adjacent to forests previously, I realised that my kids had not. This, along with the suitability of the accommodation for this specific trip and the budget were the key factors that influenced us to consider this option. But the most important, and surprising, factor was that accommodation at any of these Forest Rest Houses could be booked online through a surprisingly good web-site.

Accommodation booked, I rented a car through Zoomcar for the duration of the trip. An important point that we had to keep in mind was that, as the place was located within a Forest, access was restricted after 4 pm. This was to minimise any wildlife encounters. As the place is a fair distance away from Bengaluru, we decided to break our journey at a friend’s farmhouse near Coimbatore.

The drive to the rest house (at Attakatty) was uneventful, except for the fact that the location of the rest house is not very well sign-posted from the main road. We ended up missing the turn-off and had to make some sharp U-turns to get back on the route. But once there, it was very nice. Accommodation is in the form of low-slung rooms, beneath tall green trees nestled on the side of the Western ghats. It is sufficiently far away from the main road to block off vehicular noise, but close enough that we could walk down to the tea stall at the junction for delicious snacks.

Attakatty Forest Rest House
Attakatty Forest Rest House

The room was spartan, but reasonably clean. Bed linen was provided, but one has to carry all toiletries, as well as soaps, towels, etc. There was running water in the very clean toilets, but ours was missing hot water. The staff were attentive and made arrangements for hot water, so it was not too much of an inconvenience.

Dinners and breakfasts were at the Rest House. Prior notice of a few hours has to be given to the caretaker so they can prepare the required quantity of food. The food was typical basic South Indian fare, but delicious.

We were only there for a couple of days. but the experience of staying inside the evergreen forests of the Western Ghats, one of the key ecological hot-spots of the World, was a very memorable one. On the first evening, we were visited by a small group of Lion-tailed Macaques, a species of monkey endemic to the Western Ghats.

View of Aliyar Dam
View of Aliyar Dam from Attakatty

I had high expectations of spotting endemic bird species, but this did not fructify. But I still managed to observe a good number of birds, some of which were lifers for me.

For a last-minute holiday, this surpassed expectations and made for a refreshing break.

 

 

A Stay At A Farmhouse

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A friend of mine owns a farm in the state of Tamil Nadu. As we were passing by the area enroute to a holiday at Annamalai Tiger Reserve last month, he kindly agreed to let us stay at the house on his farm.

The farm and house are located near Mettupalayam, at the foothills of the towering Nilgiri hills. We enjoyed a scenic and spectacular drive to reach his place. It was evening by the time we reached the place.

Sitting on the verandah of the house, nurturing a drink while listening to the sounds of the evening and night was a beautiful moment, worth the long drive to get there.

Dinner was a delicious affair, cooked by the wife of the caretaker of the farm, using vegetables grown on the farm itself.

The next day, we went on a walk to explore the farm. The setting was quite brilliant, as can be seen by the photos on the top of this post. We were treated to a lovely selection of fresh fruits and vegetables that we gratefully carried back home with us. Kids also enjoyed running around the farm and playing with the friendly farm dogs.

We had to leave the farm soon after breakfast. It was a very short stay but I hope to go back there some day.

Bird-list – Kandivaram and Annamalai

Orange Minivet
Orange Minivet – Mobile phone capture

The list of birds observed while on a recent trip to a farmhouse near Kandivarama (Karamadai) and Annamalai Tiger Reserve near Pollachi, both in Tamil Nadu state.

  1. Little Cormorant
  2. Cattle Egret
  3. Black Kite
  4. Brahminy Kite
  5. Grey Francolin
  6. Grey Junglefowl
  7. Indian Peafowl
  8. Spotted Dove
  9. Little Brown Dove
  10. Plum-Headed Parakeet
  11. Asian Koel
  12. Greater Coucal
  13. Spotted Owlet
  14. Alpine Swift
  15. White-Breasted Kingfisher
  16. Small Bee-eater
  17. Indian Roller
  18. Coppersmith Barbet
  19. Lesser Golden-Backed Woodpecker
  20. Rufous-Backed Shrike
  21. Black Drongo
  22. Ashy Woodswallow
  23. White-Bellied Drongo
  24. Bronzed Drongo
  25. Grey-Headed Starling
  26. Common Myna
  27. Jungle Myna
  28. Indian Treepie
  29. Jungle Crow
  30. House Crow
  31. Pied (Bar-Winged) Flycatcher Shrike
  32. Scarlet (Orange) Minivet
  33. Small Minivet
  34. Common Iora
  35. Gold-Fronted Chloropsis
  36. Red-Vented Bulbul
  37. Red-Whiskered Bulbul
  38. White-Browed Bulbul
  39. Yellow-Billed Babbler
  40. Jungle Babbler
  41. Asian Brown Flycatcher
  42. Oriental Magpie-Robin
  43. Pied Bushchat
  44. Paddyfield Pipit
  45. Tickell’s Flowerpecker
  46. Forest Wagtail
  47. Small Sunbird
  48. Purple Sunbird

A Drive Through Hasanur and Thalamalai

Lake enroute to Sathyamangalam
Lake enroute to Sathyamangalam

Our last holiday in 2019 was to Annamalai Tiger Reserve near Pollachi, Tamil Nadu.

We decided to break our journey to the Tiger Reserve at a friend’s farm-house, located near Mettupalayam. We were informed that the more scenic route would be via the mountain road running through Hasanur and Bannari, connecting the town of Chamarajanagar in Karnataka with Sathyamangalam in Tamil Nadu.

We decided to take the Kanakapura Road towards Chamarajanagar as it is the more direct route. We left Bangalore at 7 am and halted for breakfast at Nasa’s Food Court at Nettigere. This is a recent and very welcome addition on this road, providing delicious South Indian breakfast in a clean, family and wallet friendly setting.

After a filling breakfast of dosas washed down with excellent filter coffee, we hit the road again. Our next stop was at the stunning Hoysala era temple at Somanathapura.

By the time we finished seeing the temple, it was past 11:30 am. We reached Chamarajanagar by 12:45 pm and decided to halt for lunch there. The drive, almost immediately after we crossed Chamarajanagar, took us into the forests that form the boundary between the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The road, which was very good till then, started deteriorating significantly. But thankfully, traffic was quite minimal and we were able to make steady progress.

No sooner did we cross the border into Tamil Nadu than the condition of the road improved significantly. It was silky smooth, as good as any road I have been on! The scenery was also stunning, though the dense fog at the top of the mountain pass reduced visibility to just a few metres. It made for an exciting drive, but we could not appreciate the beauty of the lushly forested hills and valleys.

Foggy ghat section
Dense fog severely restricted visibility of the hills and valleys

But this disappointment was more than made up for by our encounter with a lone tusker. The male elephant appeared out of the forest to our left, a few metres in front of our car and proceeded to cross the road and walk towards us, but thankfully on the opposite side of the road. It then passed our vehicle, not more than 5 metres away from our car. It is the closest I have ever got to a wild elephant and was a memorable encounter.

Wild elephant
The wild elephant that crossed the road in front of our car – picture taken through a dirty windshield

The rest of the journey was sedate and we reached the farmhouse by around 5:45 pm.

Ring in the New!

2020
Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

As we begin a new year (and possibly a new decade!), here’s a brief look back at what 2019 had to offer:

Visit places, new and old – While we did not do as much traveling as I would have liked (:-)), I still managed to see quite a few new places – Pench, Shivanasamudram, Talakadu and Annamalai Tiger Reserve – while revisiting some places I had last been over a decade ago – B.R. Hills and Ahmedabad. Most of all, I enjoyed spending a couple of weeks in my hometown, Mumbai, showing my kids some of the landmarks of this unique city.

Bird-watching – I have been watching birds for well over 35 years now, and this year was a good one. Highlights include observing over 90 species over 4 days at Pench, spotting ‘lifers’ at Ahmedabad and Attakatty, and reconnecting with my old bird-watching group in Bangalore. I ended the year with my e-bird checklist showing 163 (with 149 in 2019 alone).

Healthy lifestyle – While my journey to a healthier lifestyle started in 2018, I managed to stay focused on this in 2019. I have tried to make healthy eating, exercise and yoga a part of my daily life and do feel that it’s been beneficial.

Teaching – Again, while 2018 was the year I started teaching, I was lucky to have more opportunities to teach in 2019. This also enabled me to revisit Ahmedabad and the IIM-A campus.

Consulting – 2019 was the year when I expanded my consulting business. I was lucky to work with some exciting brands and great founders.

Writing – I started consciously focusing on writing in the second half of the year. It is something that I have been wanting to do for a while now, so I am glad I finally gave it serious attention.

Reconnecting with friends – I was fortunate to meet and reconnect with a lot of friends in 2019, from my student to working days. This will definitely be one of the highlights of the year.

Spending time with my kids – My kids are growing up fast, and I have been extremely fortunate to have spent some good quality time with them this year. And I am very grateful for that.

So as I look forward, on this first day of the new year, I hope to be able to do more of each of the above.

Here’s wishing everyone a very happy 2020!