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A riot of green

Valparai: physically and mentally invigorating, says SOMA BASU


THOUGH POPULARLY known as Cherapunji of Tamil Nadu, Valparai in the Anamalai hill range remains somewhat untouched. Owned mostly by private tea companies, a large part of the area is out of bounds for tourists.

Only if you have a friend in the tea estates will the heavy iron gates with a `No Entry' board open to unveil a landscape that is so enchantingly draped in a feathery vapour. Each estate here boasts a waterfall. A visit to Valparai town at an elevation of 3,500 feet is a good choice given the superb weather and the view of undulating tea estates. A good part of the land has been declared a forest reserve.

Scenic beauty

The delight of trekking in the rainforests was too much to resist. And I set off on this journey from Pollachi, 64 km from Valparai.

Regular bus services are available from Pollachi to Valparai but the road is bad and the drive takes double the time particularly on the 40 km ghat section. But then the beauty all around is so scenic that it compensates for the bumpy journey uphill.

The ride with 40 hairpin bends is a riot of green. The fragrance of wildflowers, the soothing breeze brushing against your cheeks, the sight of waterfalls cascading over green rocks — they are both physically and mentally invigorating. Mist starts silently swirling up from the valley below. And by the time you reach the top, a green emptiness envelops you. With a pleasant climate, you can have fun simply doing nothing. Or hire a local cab and go sightseeing temples (there is a famous Balaji temple) and dams (there are two in the region, the Nirar and Sholayar dams, which from a height of over a 1,000 metres offer a picturesque view.)

But a better option would be to go trekking, for what else could be a better way of viewing tropical wetland fauna. Trekkers — both professional and unfit ones like me — can comfortably walk along the paths that cut through the forests, in a good pair of shoes. And don't be taken in by awe, surprise or fright if you come dangerously close to animals. Particularly bisons, lion tailed macaques or the big flying squirrels the size of a mongoose. Taking the help of a local may elevate your confidence level as far as animal sighting goes.

The forest is also an ornithologist's haunt. A good variety of sparrows, the fairy blue bird, common Malabar and the hornbill can be spotted.

Encounter animals

As dusk sets in, the green landscape turns grey as the mountains stay cloaked. Locals assure me that a night walk on the forest road can be equally exciting. The Indian gaur, sambar, elephant and an occasional panther can cross your path.

I decide to take a long walk till my legs buckle under me. But I am not as lucky as I was during the day when I came close to a herd of bisons and also had the pleasure of seeing and hearing a noisy bunch of lion tailed macaques effortlessly gliding among treetops.

A camera is a must for such trips. And so are a binocular and a hamper. Small hotels are available in Valparai. Do stay on in the refreshingly cool climes if you have the time and do not miss the view of the mountains beyond Tamil Nadu and into Kerala from a point ironically called Suicide Point, before you leave Valparai.

The nearest railhead, airport and mini-metro to Valparai is Coimbatore, which is 102 km away. From Coimbatore, buses are available or a cab can be hired. The shorter route is from Pollachi.

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