Rolling meadows, bronzed ferns, 165 species of butterflies, 204 varieties of birds … SOMA BASU discovers a paradise of flora and fauna in Mannavanur
All through this journey, the mist tiptoes around mysteriously wrapping everything in it. The forests and the mountains often disappear and the 35 km drive from Kodaikanal to Mannavanur takes almost two hours. The bad road adds to our woes but the dip in mercury keeps our tempers cool.
As we drive past groves of eucalyptus and pine trees, wattle and shrubs, the forests morph into meadows and the hills with terraced farms on their slopes appear closer. And you know you have reached your destination when silver and bronze ferns mingle with multiple hues of green; when the landscape is dominated by grasslands and shola patches; when silence reigns supreme at 7,000 ft. above sea level.
It is noon and there is a lot of activity on the village main road. Women walk in a file along the roadside with logs of wood on their head. Tourist vehicles zip in and out of the village. There are many kiosks and small eateries and the village even boasts of a high school and electricity supply.
Chennai-based ‘The Nature Trust' that promotes eco-tourism has joined hands with the Kodaikanal Forest Office to “protect, maintain and retain” the picturesque landscape of Mannavanur.
It is said Mannavanur's landscape takes on different colours during different seasons. It turns brown during summers and a blinding green after the rains. During spring, colourful blooms run riot on the hills. Primarily an agrarian hamlet, most of the inhabitants are farmers growing potatoes, broccoli, carrots, French and butter beans, peas, cauliflowers and cabbage. The ‘malai poond' grown here is famous and finds takers across the State and beyond.
The best way to discover Mannavanur is by walking around the lake. It is easy to cover the six- to seven-km stretch as a cool wind continuously caresses, and a variety of beautiful birds flies over you. We are joined by forest guards Annappan and Balasubramani who excitedly blurt out, “There was a leopard here just last week.” Mannavanur is otherwise known as Bison Valley. Annappan takes out his digital camera and shows photos of a horse carcass and points to a particular site. “You can also see other wildlife such as sambar, barking deer, Nilgiri langur, wild dogs, jungle cats and the gaur,” he says. The place is also home to 165 species of butterflies and 204 varieties of birds.
As we walk past the bare stone houses skirting the village, and along the small intercepting stream, we find a group of men dancing on a bed of carrots. They are actually cleaning sacks of carrots under a mini water fall. We soon reach the Mannavanur lake, bordered by mountains, reflecting the cloudy sky above and the distant hazy forest in its sparkling waters. You can sit here endlessly, and soak in the panoramic view of the rolling meadows — butterflies flutter around and birds scoop down and sing to you.
Mannavanur is 35 km south-west of Kodai town. It is 135 km from Madurai, 520 km from Chennai. The best time to visit is between March and August, before the rains begin.
Where to stay
The Camper's Club run by The Nature Trust is the only accommodation available. Four cottages with attached baths are set to open next month end. For prior booking and details, contact 94444 77358 or 94456 73959.
What to do
The rich biodiversity of Mannavannur lends itself to trekking, camping and star gazing. The Nature Trust organises educational tours and treks (there are 21 routes). For going into the forest, permission should be sought from the District Forest Office, Kodaikanal.