It's a long, long drive to Beermukku from the plains of Coimbatore. Leave well ahead of dawn, and you'll have the road to yourself. Hit the ghat section, slip into some eucalyptus-scented dreams and find yourself in Ooty before the magic hour of 7, when the sun has still not revealed itself fully, and the mist and fog hang heavy. After a filling breakfast of jasmine-white idlis and fresh off-the-stove sambar, get set for a bumpy ride downhill till you reach the vegetable bowl of the Nilgiris — Ebbanad.
All along the route, the fields are ripe with hill vegetables and bulbs that'll shortly land on supermarket shelves — slender beans, bulbous double beans, pearl-like garlic, still-wet potato, purple cabbage, beetroot, and more. The mist makes the whole scene rather surreal. Try and capture some of the scenes on camera. Or, lock them forever behind closed eyelids.
Ebbanad is a typical hilly village — wisps of smoke from logwood fires and kerosene stoves rise into the air, there is the refreshing scent of bubbling tea, children in woollens and mufflers strike charming poses and friendly locals enthusiastically help when you stop for directions. Some even hop on board and offer to walk with you to the hill shrine of Beermukku.
It's a long walk up hundreds of steps and some deceptively easy-looking slopes. The joints creak and one gasps for breath. And, there are the leeches to tackle. It's been raining and hungry brown-black leeches rear their heads — as desperate to make contact as you are to avoid them. Follow the locals, who happily sprint up the cobble-stone path littered with mulch, and you'll stay relatively safe.
Keep your eyes wide open to see animals scampering past — a mongoose, a barking deer, and colourful jungle fowl.
A while later, Nature's unspoiled beauty reveals itself layer by layer. The jamun trees on a lovely lawn look inviting. This is where thousands of people are fed during the yearly temple festival. A barking deer peeps from the fringes of the forest, but before you can take a second look, it flees into the green haven.
Clamber up the white-washed, red-bordered cemented slopes that have the names of benefactors chiselled on them, and the view changes. Tall, dark trees rise to the sky. Plod on till the stone steps and you can see the terraced hills framing the trees. At the next level, workers in the fields appear like toy people. A notch higher, a fresh-smelling mist envelopes you before settling down on the valley like a white-grey blanket. It leaves behind a hint of the fragrance of the valleys and peaks it has crossed.
Just as suddenly, it lifts, allowing a spectacular view of the valley below and the blue-green hills of the Nilgiris. Each of the trees in the lawn far below appears solitary, with just anklets of scattered white boulders for company.
An hour into the climb, interspersed with catch-your-breath stops, and stories of the local deity, and you reach the point where footwear has to be left behind. A five-headed serpent with forked tongues rests on a massive ‘musical' boulder that the temple priest taps on to announce his arrival to the idol.
With the shoes gone, the feet learn to fit into the natural grooves and dips in the rock, and the climb gets easier — there is a spring in your step and you almost match the agility of local farmers P.N. Raju and D. Subramani, who've accompanied you. Another blind bend and the temple perched on the hill suddenly opens out.
Mist hangs heavy in the air, and there's a stillness that's invigorating. The shrill cry of peacocks lingers long after the last one has announced its presence.
The rocks nearby provide a great viewing point. On a clear day, Chamrajnagar district in neighbouring Karnataka, Nanjangud in Mysore, Kodanad, Gudular, Thengumarahada, Sathyamangalam, Siriyur temple and the Moyar dam are visible.
The mist hugs you again. Then, get back to base, to some hot tea and biscuits.
On your way back, you could return to the plains via fauna-rich Kotagiri. If lucky, you could sight gaurs standing majestically by the road, frolicking monkeys and colourful birds too. Before you know it, you've reached the cacophony of Mettupalayam, a world far, far away from the haven of tranquillity called Beermukku.
How to get there
Ebbanad is 16 km from Ooty via Anikorai and Thenadukombai. It is about 20 km from Kotagiri, via Kattabettu and Iduhatty. From Coimbatore, Kotagiri is 47 km away and Ooty, 98 km. There are buses plying from both Ooty and Kotagiri. You could also hire a car from either place.
Where to stay
There are many hotels and resorts in Ooty, across varied budgets. Kotagiri has some hotels too, besides some homestays. You could also check out the Hidden Valley Jungle Camp in Ebbanad. There is a British-era bungalow with three rooms and 10 cots. It is set inside a 150-acre private forest. The charges for 24 hours (inclusive of food, guide fee and trekking charges) range from Rs. 1,700 to Rs 2,000. For details, call 94430-43552 or 0423-2443552.
When to visit
The best season to visit is January to May. For details, call the Ebbanad Panchayat President at 94864-77660.