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On the trail of a legend

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Wood story The dilapidated stable from where Hugo Wood mounted his horse
Wood story The dilapidated stable from where Hugo Wood mounted his horse

Lying in the middle of a copse of trees, Hugo Wood’s tombstone in Top Slip is worth a visit

Even now, more than 70 years after he died, forester Hugo Wood’s grave in Top Slip in the Anaimalai Tiger Reserve is a must-see for forest guards, trainees, officers and Nature enthusiasts.

For, he is the reason why the hills are still lush with trees. More than a century and a half ago, when some British surveyors went up the still unexplored Anaimalais, they were pleasantly surprised to find it lush with strapping, naturally grown teak trees.

After this ‘discovery’, the hills were slowly robbed of its teak, which was transported by chuting it down the river to the plains below.

Many forest officers who were posted in the once-green hills tried regenerating the teak forests, but the soil did not oblige them. And, then came Hugo Wood (1870-1944).

Where those before him failed, he managed to coax the land into supporting teak.

A pioneer

His experiments took place in Mount Stuart and Ulandy Valley between 1916 and 1917. His methods ensured that the hills came alive again. His desire was to be buried amid his favourite trees, and that’s where he rests in peace.

And, what a setting, for someone who completely loved the Anaimalais and everything about it. His grave lies in the middle of a copse of trees, and on a wind-swept day, the leaves gently float down from the trees overlooking the resting place.

And, the most moving epitaph of all is inscribed on his tombstone — the Latin ‘Si Monumentum Requiris Circumspice’. It means ‘If you want to see a monument to remember me by, just look around’.

Close by Hugo Wood’s grave is the Mount Stuart Rest House and the stables from where he is said to have mounted his horse (“He had many, many horses, and used a different one every day,” informs tribal guide, Baby.) for touring the area. The stable is now in a dilapidated condition, and the walls that once held horse-riding equipment, now lie covered in moss and other creepers.

As for the Mount Stuart Rest House built in 1886, it stands in all its past glory, but for limited damage here and there, courtesy the wild elephants who seem to have taken a permanent fancy to the house.

Apparently, they keep invading the store room ever so often. Bears are frequent visitors too. The white wall in the front portion of the house bears their paw marks.

The rest house is still let out to guests, and if you cherish a stay in the wild, where all you have for company are the sounds of the jungle, and the occasional elephant or bear, go for it.

How to go

Mount Stuart Rest House is two km from Top Slip. Only wildlife enthusiasts and nature lovers are allowed accommodation.

Two suites are available, and each costs Rs. 300 a night. You can hire a cook and guide (charges extra) to help you. For details and reservations, call 04253-245002. The sanctuary is 80 km from Coimbatore. Coimbatore is about 470 km from Chennai.

SUBHA J RAO

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