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On a high Devashola estate
On a high Devashola estate

The enchanting beauty of the Nilgiris comes alive during a rock climbing programme

Silver oaks swaying in the wind, above the tea bushes and under the towering presence of the Sengottarayar peak, greet the 16 participants of the Rock Climbing and Jungle Adventure Programme, held recently on the 650-acre Devashola Tea Estate in Kulakombai, Nilgiris.

The Sengottarayar peak, a two-hour trek from the estate, overlooks Silent Valley in Kerala. Behind the mist, far down below, Mannarkkad in Kerala and Peelamedu in Coimbatore are also visible. The participants ranged in age from 10 to 65. It was a treat for the kids, many of whom hadn't experienced such natural beauty and adventure before. The programme begins with a night walk up the estate — soothing darkness, interrupted occasionally by an odd sodium vapour lamp from Irula tribal settlements; billions of stars; the song of cicadas and Tamil cine music coming from a wedding party far away….

We stay at the Sultana Cottage, one of the four colonial-style cottages on the slopes of the estate. Decorated with rosewood sculptures and old State Tourism posters, Sultana's balconies overlook the valley below. A loudspeaker blaring devotional songs wakes us up at 5 a.m. The birds start their symphony at six — thousands of different birdcalls!

We then go on a jungle trail. Lantana overwhelms the wilderness here. Monkeys swing across silk cotton and oak trees, and above the pepper plantations, and rough jungle gives way to sun-kissed tea bushes. After breakfast, it's time for training in rock climbing. The method is to first ‘eye-climb' or map the climb mentally. Then, move forward using crevasses in the rock to grip on. By lunchtime, most participants are slithering up and down the boulders, like geckos. The pinnacle of this weekend adventure is rappelling. On one of the higher cliffs in the estate, the organisers rig up ropes to some rocks. After a harness is secured on each of us, we surrender ourselves to gravity and swing down the vertical rock face. The thrill of levitation is unparalleled. The programme is a de-stresser. Even the oldest participant, Valiammal, who accompanied her grandson, can't stop herself from trekking up treacherous rocks. We leave Kulakombai liberated, singing loudly as the bus rolls down the hair-pin bends on the way back. The programme is held every weekend, and costs Rs. 1,500 per head. For details, visit www.nals.in

PHEROZE L. VINCENT

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