Pankaja Srinivasan finds peace, quiet and some spectacular views at Annamalai
Barely a few meters off the Mettupalayam Road after Karamadai, you notice the change. The nasty din of the main road recedes, you leave the psycho drivers behind, and you are cocooned in green calm. This is another route towards the Nilgiris, very different from the usual one leading to Coonoor and Ooty. The destination is the Annamalai temple, just three km short of Manjur, a small hill town. Before you know it, you are way above the plains and, looking down, all you see are scattered Lego homes and moving specks of brown and black cattle.
It gets quieter and quieter. There is not a soul on the roads and barely a vehicle. We have been warned not to linger on the forest roads, especially around dusk, as there are elephants around. We don’t see them but we notice fresh elephant dung everywhere. Beautiful as the surroundings are, it is rather eerie and it is not a place you want to have a flat tyre or run out of gas. But you can’t help feeling a sense of release, with all that fresh air, trees and shrubs without the grime, and the special something that lifts your heart when you are in the hills. There is bird song everywhere and birders would love the drive.
Cross two forest check-posts where you have to enter your name and vehicle number in a register, and a hydel power station at Geddai. After a drive of a couple of hours and 33 hairpin bends (out of 36) later, we drive through seven colourful arches. They show the way to the Annamalai temple. As temples go, the Annamalai one is relatively new. It is situated at 1,790m above sea level, and was built only 30 years ago. But it comes with a story and it has a spectacular view across the Nilgiris.
Lord Muruga appeared to Guru Krishanandaji in a dream and asked him to build a temple. It started as a small shed with no gopuram that he built at a cost of Rs. 8,000, and slowly grew in size. Today a pink-cheeked Muruga smiles at you in a friendly fashion in a modest hall. The temple has become something of a pilgrim spot with thousands of worshippers descending there on auspicious days.
Krishanandji lived in the nearby village of Kilkundah as a boy. When in search of spiritual fulfilment, he stumbled upon a cave where he sat and meditated for four years. You can see the small cave if you walk down a steep pathway that leads down from the temple.
The 360 degree view from the temple is staggeringly beautiful. Shrouded in mist, the hills border the Avalanche catchment area on one side and the Silent Valley on the other.
A cold, crisp wind strips away all fatigue. You feel you can stay there forever just gazing at the rolling hills all around. Below, a grey road snakes its way towards Ooty and Coonoor.