Ain’t no mountain high, ain’t no valley low, ain’t no river wide enough to keep MetroPlus Coimbatore from taking the Road Less Travelled (RLT). Here are some spectacular getaways we have written about not too far from the city
It feels like heaven to stretch my legs and just sit still after four hours of trekking. Sitting on a boulder at approximately 1,500 ft above sea level, I splash water on my face, and relish the moment. We are at a pre-historic site near Velaricombai, a Kurumba hamlet, located 16 km from Kotagiri. The ochre painting, spread over the rock canvas date back to the pre-historic era and unfolds vital clues about how the Kurumbas, a tribal community in The Nilgiris, lived.
Do I have to climb rocky mountains, take deep breaths, alternate them with sips of water and rest on passing boulders? The thought is unsettling. But, Thalinji, our chosen destination, is a cakewalk. It is a six-km trek on the plains from Chinnar on the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border. Sightings of sambhar, spotted deer, bear, panther, bison, and elephant are not uncommon. But our guide, forest guard S. Manivannan, tells us it happens only if you are lucky. I am not. I only manage to catch a glimpse of a beautiful peacock. But, with Thalinji still a long way away, there is a glimmer of hope for an encounter with the wild.
Vettu Maduvu Aruvi
This is elephant terrain. The halo diminishes somewhat as one watches the team arming themselves with small explosives and scythes, the former to scare away the elephants and the latter to cut a path through the jungles. A last longing look at our car and we start our march. As I clutch my side and gasp my way onwards and upwards, every rock looks like a baleful elephant and every rustle of leaves sounds like an imminent charge. At this juncture, Sivamani the milkman enlightens us about the malaipaambu that also make their home here. So, now, I also have to watch out for pythons.
Just how many temples are there on the banks of the Cauvery? In the relatively short distance between Erode and Karur there are temples everywhere you turn and as far as the eye can see. Amidst verdant fields, behind banana plantations, in between coconut groves, on distant hilltops, the temples stand out like jewels. Most of them, like the ones in Kalamangalam, seem to be ancient going by their appearance. And they are strung together by the silver Cauvery. Outside the temples, the ambience is as divine. Just the temple bells, the rustling of leaves on trees and, of course, the river in the distance. Always the river.
The monsoon had unleashed itself on neighbouring Kerala and our RLT destination, Kumittipathi, is a mere four kilometres from the Kerala border. Our guide, ARK Arun is a fossil expert. Kumittipathi, he vouches, is home to Neolithic paintings that are more than 5,000 years old. If you thought RLTs are about obscure places tucked aeons away from civilisation, this one is different. A mere 30 km from Coimbatore, the place haunts you with its deathly stillness but has an inherent capacity to surprise you. We begin our climb and the skies open up with all fury. After a climb of nearly 30-foot, a huge oval mouth, around 20-foot wide opens in front of you. There it is, the granite formation in rock, pregnant with more than 3,000 million years of history and waiting to unfold its story.
It’s a sun-drenched morning, we are headed to Kunjapanai. No river, no waterfalls. But, we are promised a ‘wonderful something’. Forest watcher Vasu says a herd of elephants staged a road blockade at the Odanthurai checkpost early that morning, and signed off in style: damaged electric fences. Our vehicle careens on hair-pin bends and hair-raising curves. The sleepy hills that have been stalking us all along finally wake up, and we are at Kunjapanai. We get off at the Forest Department’s quaint guest house. And, turn around. Right in front is the ‘wonderful something’ we were promised: a breathtaking view of Mettupalayam.
Thengumarahada means ‘a plain with coconut trees'. But, don't dismiss it as just another verdant village that can calm your frayed nerves. The thrill lies in driving through 35-km of well-preserved forest to reach the sleepy village. It is a bone-crunching two-hour drive from Bhavani Sagar to Thengumarahada in Kotagiri Taluk. What makes it tolerable is the possibility of sighting wild animals.
In the stillness, you can sight a herd of fleeting chital or black buck. The photographer and I keep looking for elephants and gaur, but in vain. On our way back, we see a dark shadow on the road — a majestic tiger out on a stroll at 2.30 in the afternoon.
This is photogenic territory. Playful Nilgiri langurs take part in a swinging match on the trees and the hill slopes blush in shades of green. Manamboli in the Western Ghats is a valley rich in wildlife. Treats include sighting herds of gaur, elephant, bear and wild boar, listening to the shrill calls of birds and insects and watching a carpet of wriggling leeches. The really lucky can spot a tiger or leopard. Our destination is a shed at Mandhiri Mattam, eight km away, a vantage point from where you can see the backwaters of Parambikulam.
Some 10 years ago, when the doors of the Chandraprabha Tirthankara temple were thrown open for puja, the main deity was found missing. The empty pedestal is adorned with flowers, and there are traces of murals on the wall. Time has taken its toll. Built around the 16th Century by Harihara II, a Vijayanagara king, it is said to be one of the oldest Jain temples in the Kongu region. The temple was a ‘perum palli’ or mutt that was frequented by Jain monks during the 10th Century. In the temple’s courtyard stands an unfinished edifice, believed to be a shrine for the first Tirthankara. Again, this structure is a mystery. No one knows why the construction was stopped. It is the untold stories that make the temple special.
The Palani Ghat Road to Kodaikanal turns 14 hairpin bends, each close behind the other’s heels. It runs through none of the manicured beauty of hill station tea estates though. A sharp turn to the right near ‘Silver Cascade’ falls leads us to the century-old Natural Science Museum in Shenbaganur. It’s home to a collection of plant and animal species native to the Palani Hills, curated by biologist Louis (Aloysius) Anglade in the early 1900s. Stuffed tiger, pangolin, brown flying squirrel and porcupine sit beside Indian moorhen and pheasant tailed jacana. Python and cobra skins hang alongside spotted deer and wild buffalo skins. A cross section of a 133-year-old monkey puzzle tree hangs on the wall — its lifetime, from planting to being cut for a TV tower, traced across its growth rings. NSM is a still jungle within four walls.