Being turned away from a trek up the Velliangiri Mountain was a boon as K. Jeshi finds magic and birds in the foot hills
Ah…yellow marigolds! Bright and cheery they look on a fertile landscape along the Siruvani Main Road. It’s a refreshing Sunday morning and our bus has just crossed Alandurai (20 kms away from Coimbatore) and many acres of greenery where the farmers grow grapes, plantains, tapioca, turmeric, red onions…
“It’s an outing with Nature and bird-watching,” announces P.R. Selvaraj of Coimbatore Nature Society about our trek to Velliangiri in Poondy. A detour from the main road at Iruttupallam junction gets us to Poondy, the foothills of the towering range, made up of seven hills. Along the bus journey, we spot common swallows (a steel blue bird with a distinctive deeply forked swallow tail), drongos (a full-black bird that has a forked-tail) and the common white-throated kingfisher too. “Swallows come in millions from Siberia to escape the harsh winters and stay here for three months till February,” says Selvaraj.
After a tea-break, we begin our climb to the first hill and that’s when things start going wrong. “Take one more step at your own peril,” yells an angry old woman. We stop, confused. A sadhu warns us of dire consequences if we proceed. We did not know that women were barred from entering the hills.
The women in the team turn back, while the men continue the climb. We decide to take to the forest at the foothills. Rakul.S.V, a visual communication student, and Venkataraman of CNS, accompany us. There are more surprises in store. Butterflies — crimson rose, lime, chocolate pansy, and the double banded crow, flutter around and a beautiful bird flits by. It’s an adult Paradise fly catcher, a brownish bird with a tail that is exceptionally long. It perches on a tree and strikes a perfect pose. A pied wagtail, a lovely black and white bird, catches our eye. We zoom in our binoculars, and get a clear picture of a black throat and back, long black tail, and white underside. We continue walking, and stop when a bird chirrups. A green bird comes into the view - it’s a Chloropsis, a leaf bird!
We also spot shrike, a bird of prey. We identify barblers and red-vented bulbuls too. We zoom in on another bird and it sports a beautiful blue-ring around the eye. Is that a blue-faced Malkova?
The sun is beating down hard by now and the trek gets tougher. There’s just silence inside the forest and we see a stream of the Noyyal. I splash some icy cold water on my face and then photograph water spiders and multi-hued dragonflies. We rest awhile and begin our return trek.
We meet the men’s team and they share their experience over an energy drink, the nutritious kambu koozh, made from cooked kambu (bajra), mixed with butter milk, and a dash of mango ginger. It is yummy and packs a punch. “We spotted plum-headed parakeets, bronze drongos, Blyth’s reed warbler (a black and pale migratory bird), golden oriole (a yellow migratory bird) and the white-cheeked barbet, a green colour bird. At the first hill, we enjoyed a cool breeze of the bamboo forests. It marks the beginning of the second hill,” Selvaraj narrates.
He says plastic litter is a big threat to the fragile ecosystem of the Velliangiri Mountain. Besides this, there are used liquor and faeces everywhere. The forest needs attention and cleaning-up.
Another surprise package of the day is an unplanned trip to Ukkulam, the first tank of the Noyyal River, which is still unpolluted. And, the muddy waters turn out to be a bird lover’s paradise …cattle egrets, little egrets, woolly-necked storks, darters, spot-billed ducks, pond herons, black winged stilts… you can keep counting. In a few minutes, a stork takes off showing off its shiny black wings and white neck; a purple sunbird with a curved beak (to suck nectar) flutters on a tree branch… and draws to a close a beautiful outing with Nature.
How to get there
The Velliangiri Mountain, which is a part of the Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve, is at 30 kms from Coimbatore. Women are prohibited from trekking the mountain. But, the forest at the foothills is open to all and an ideal spot for bird watching as is Ukkulam, the first tank of River Noyyal. Prior permission is required before entering the reserve forest. There is a Forest Ranger Office (Bolampatti Forest Range) at Iruttupallam. For details, call: 0422-2456911.