A trip to Valparai was on the cards for sometime. It happened this March, when my husband and I took a day off coupled with a weekend and headed to Coimbatore. I had made reservations online at Briar Tea estate Srikundra Bungalow (incidentally, Valparai has limited options. The best ones are the Briar tea estate or the Tata estate).
As per google intelligence I was led to believe, it would take max about 3.5 hours to reach from Coimbatore. We landed at the airport at around 11.30, went to catch up with a friend and left in a couple of hours. Unfortunately, the vehicle had a minor issue with the door and the fixing took about half an hour or so more . But turns out, Google timing was not right. It takes a solid 6 hours to reach this place traversing atleast 40 hairpin bends.
So by the time we reached, it was well past dinner time, dark and deserted. Luckily the driver was well aware of the place. This as we realised, was not just an absolute boon, but much a necessity to travel safe in this terrain. We retired straight after a modest dinner only to be woken up by the estate guys to check out a bison in the vicinity of the cottage.
Next morning, we were up and early for a Nature walk in another of their property. We were welcomed by the Naturalist there, Rahul Aradhya. This location was pretty wild. First stop, was at a beautiful swamp and a few clicks later, moved on to a whole territory of lion-tailed macaques, that’s endemic to the Western Ghats in South India. Out there, we thought we saw a Hornbill. Rahul confirmed there were Great Horn Bills in that region. We were to eager to pursue so he led us on through some trails following the bird’s sound. While the walk was so wonderful, and the air fresh and crisp, the Hornbill evaded us. On the way back we spotted a family of Gaurs or the Indian
bisons, at a safe distance and moved on. But just around a curve was another of this beast barely a few metres away staring at us. Rahul insisted we stood still until it turned away, which it did in a while. But that was not all. There was a whole family of bisons behind this one. I was definitely scared. With the Naturalist leading us slowly and carefully, I heaved a sigh of relief once away at a safe distance. A sambar deer with its little one was our next spotting.
We then got back to the start point, spent some time over a cup of tea about the habitat, people, etc. Leopards were apparently not uncommon in this area. Turns out that Valparai was a complete forest, that was destroyed for human settlements a few centuries back. If Rahul’s tale is to be believed, Elephants which are known to carry memories from generation to generation is quite unforgiving in these lands for this reason.
We headed back to our cottage after the walk. A few hours later we left to pick up Rahul and explore Valparai further. Our driver Siva was a wild life enthusiast himself. Rahul, Siva and us made a nice team looking forward to making the best of the day. We picked up lunch at Krishna café, a decent joint for food in the town.
On our way, Rahul found the perfect picnic spot. We stopped by a brook side , had lunch , washed up at the stream, enjoyed the place, some chit chats and moved on. We then went to Neerar dam. What seemed to be just a dam, turned out to be a surprise. This had a tunnel ranging about 8 kms in length. Once you enter the tunnel, you
could close your eyes to acclimatise to the darkness and then have a splendid view of the never ending tunnel . Since the water level was not high then we were able to wade through. This is not allowed during seasons when the water levels can go really high. We spent a good few minutes, did some photo shoots and left.
Young Rahul turned out to be someone I would term as ‘a free spirited’
soul. A huge nature and animal enthusiast, he kept us enamoured by his experiential tales. He had been extensively involved in rescuing animals and is well trained in handling venomous snakes and the likes. Quite inspiring.
With the impromptu itinerary looking so delightful so far, I was more than looking forward to what was next. We travelled back through off beat paths. Siva was desperately looking forward to seeing elephants, which he had apparently never failed to see in Valaparai every time. But that was not to be. We however spotted porcupines, giant malabar squirrel, bisons again, some more deers in the dark with their eyes gleaming when struck with torch light and a kukri snake on the road. Rahul promptly got off and prodded the snake away with a stick, to avoid risk of being run over by vehicles. The ride in all was super thrilling. Through the day we spotted drongos, fantails, woodpeckers, whistling trush, peahens, bee eaters and some more birds.
The best was yet to come. Rahul had a surprise laid out for us.
We stopped at a particular spot. Completely engulfed in darkness, I wasn’t sure what to expect. We obediently closed our eyes as instructed, until after a minute we were asked to open. What I saw then was breathtaking. There were stars as far as my eyes could see. It was a splendid sight. The whole territory was infested with fireflies. In complete darkness the stars in the sky and the lights of these fireflies were just the same. We took a few good minutes
to breathe in this beautiful sight completely. No camera possibly could capture that in a frame . What an experience it was! This was Rahul’s gift for us, as he claimed, for our Anniversary. Thanking him for making this so memorable, we finally got back to our cottage.
Next morning, was uneventful. We left soon after breakfast. So in all, it was one day well spent at Valparai with some beautiful memories to look back forever.
“People don’t take trips. Trips take people”