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A drive through some of the National parks on the Western Ghats


Earthian

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Earthian

Our daughter moved to Ahmedabad from Chennai recently, and since her car was at Chennai, we decided to bring it back and at the same time visit some of the National Parks along the Western Ghats. Our plan was to cover the following:

  1. Silent Valley National Park
  2. Bandipur National Park
  3. Nagarhole National Park
  4. Dandeli National Park
  5. Koyna wildlife Sanctuary

The idea was to travel through the meandering roads of the western ghats and take in the sights on the way. While we had to make reservations at the National parks, we kept a day or two to spare in between some of them so that we were not rushed and had some leeway. Accordingly, we had earmarked 15 days for the trip starting from 29th November at Chennai.
The route planned was as follows:

 

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We had just finalised the plan when disaster struck! There was a storm warning at Chennai for 28th and 29th of November. We had planned to reach Chennai on the 27th November by air from Ahmedabad, take a day to pack essentials and check the car, and leave on the 29th morning. Chennai had some extensive rains the week before and we did not want to take the forecast lightly.

After rescheduling every thing, the revised plan was to now start on the 1st December from Chennai and hence we planned to reach Chennai on the 29th November.
However, as the saying goes, the best laid plans.....

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Continuing with the narrative.... All of us, including the driver turned to her." i have left my medicine in the fridge at the cottage" - she said with woebegone face. Not retrieving the medicine wa

The rain continued through the night. No way we are going to postpone again. It was still drizzling in the morning and my parents ( we were staying at their place) had some misgivings - We quickly loa

The next morning we were off on the morning: surprise! Nagaendra's ( guide at Bandipur) brother Ravi was our guide. Seems that serving the environment is the family's priority! Ravi had grown up in th

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Earthian

Our daughter suddenly remembered that the car service person had mentioned that the brakes needed to be checked. She got in touch with the service centre and he agreed to check the car and if necessary, replace the liners. The car was taken on the 28th and the agent promised to deliver it by the evening.
We reached Chennai as per our revised schedule on the 29th before noon. There had been no rains (why am i not surprised?) on the 28th despite the storm warning! When we landed the sky was quite clear and we looked forward to make our preparations. When we reached the house, we had the first shock. The car had not yet been delivered!!!

When we telephoned the dealer, he maintained that he had sent the car last evening itself. Now that was a puzzle. Well, it transpired that the driver who delivered the car figured that we would not need it last night and had decided to deliver it in the morning of the 29th and by a happy coincidence delivered the car to our friend's place ( from where he had picked it up) when we were telephoning the dealer. Phew!
By 29th evening, the rain started and the intensity steadily increased. Worse, reports on TV channels reported extensive flooding in parts of Tamil Nadu. We were informed that the road to Vellore was in a bad condition.
Fingers crossed and hoping the rain would slacken.

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wilddog

Best laid plans................All a bit of a nightmare before you have set off. :huh:

 

@@Earthian How many kilometers/miles would your planned trip be?

 

Looking forward to hearing ore about what is, already, quite an adventure

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michael-ibk

Looking forward to this. Most of these parks are on my list so I am very interested in your experiences.

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Tom Kellie

~ @@Earthian

 

What a tale thou tellest!

Although every time I make preliminary plans about an India visit, they somehow fall apart, I'm fascinated to read about visits to its wildlife areas.

What you've thus far written is a vivid recounting of the ups and downs, and the back and forth of kismet.

Your spouse must be a resilient sort to bear up under such a series of setbacks, false alarms, and frustrations.

I particularly like your map, which anchors your reporting on a geographical scale.

Very enjoyable reading!

Thank you!

Tom K.

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Earthian

Best laid plans................All a bit of a nightmare before you have set off. :huh:

 

@@Earthian How many kilometers/miles would your planned trip be?

 

Looking forward to hearing ore about what is, already, quite an adventure

We travelled 2800 kms. It was such a lark that we have set sights on a trip to the seven sisters ( NE India)

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Earthian

@@Tom Kellie

Thank you. as i mentioned , we (an euphemism for I - helps to ram home the argument that the idea was both hers and mine) are now planning a more ambitious road trip.

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Earthian

The rain continued through the night. No way we are going to postpone again. It was still drizzling in the morning and my parents ( we were staying at their place) had some misgivings - We quickly loaded the car amidst the drizzle and set off before they could voice their concerns. The early morning drizzle, within no time turned into a steady down pour. Surprisingly, the traffic was quite heavy at 0600 hrs. Mostly trucks and buses. It was quite trying negotiating the potholes in low visibility and heavy traffic. I had thought that the practice of two wheelers and three wheelers and at times, cars using the wrong side of the road was only prevalent in the Northern States, but i was wrong.
With all the excitement we got into the wrong road- the chennai bypass road- instead of continuing on NH 4. My daughter commented that the Porur lake seemed full but we thought nothing of it at that time. In fact we could see water bodies every where and some of them overflowing on the road, but slightly- we didn't think much of it. We managed to take the Wahajabad road-quite a bad road- and reached kanchipuram where the first business of the day was to have breakfast with a relative and check out the temples. The breakfast was delicious and after an hour, we found that the rain had not slackened and we would have to drop the second agenda of visiting the famous temples of Kanchipuram. But wait. We were informed that there was one temple just round the corner and we braved the rain and had a look at the Vaikuntha Perumal Temple.

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This temple was built by the Pallava king during 720-96 CE (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiru_Parameswara_Vinnagaram )

 

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We left Kanchipuram at 1030 hrs or so. By that time Chennai had started flooding and some roads were closed. We had just beaten the deluge by a few hours! The plan was to go to Vellore and check out the golden temple. Being ignorant of temples, i had assumed that it would be an heritage one, affording one with a glimpse of the past. Little did i know that it was a new temple built on vast grounds, with a covered walkway some 2 kms long!
My enthusiasm quickly cooled off since neither was the temple old nor was photography allowed. Still having come all the way, we took a look inside. The temple is run like a corporate with customers, sorry pilgrims, forced to enter shops peddling various goods ( the pathway is diverted through shops) and boards advertising the principles and qualities of the management and founder. The temple had few visitors, no doubt due to the rain, and we could go through it quickly.

We came out and got into the car. While driving out of the parking, a couple of gents were gesturing wildly and saying something (which we could not hear since the glass was rolled up). This happened again and we realised that Mr Murphy was at it again.....disaster had struck.

 

 

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xelas

@@Earthian

 

By reading your road trip in India I will prepare mentally for my upcoming self-drive in Sri Lanka. So do not spare with details related to roads, traffic, etc.

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kittykat23uk

This already has the scent of adventure! Looking forward to more! :)

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madaboutcheetah

Readers should note (if unaware) that's one of Chennai's worst floods in history ......... Thanks @@Earthian - look forward to the rest.

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Earthian

@@madaboutcheetah

My parents were marooned for 6 days without electric power and water. Their car was totalled and they had just bought it less than a year back. They are 87 and 83 years young(!) and spirited. They just bought a new car with the insurance money and some top up. I guess a lot but they have brushed the question aside. :unsure:

The spirit of the people of Chennai was heartwarming. While it seems the government , as usual, dithered and pondered (plundered?); the citizens of chennai rose to the occasion and helped each other. My parents live on the 2nd Floor of an apartment and it seems the ground floor was knee deep in water- thereby the residents had to take refuge on higher floors. On one of my calls to my mother, she was busy making food for the displaced residents.

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Earthian

We rolled down the window and asked them "What's up?" or to that effect in Tamil. They again gestured to the front of the car and when we looked we had a flat tyre, flatter than a plank of wood, freshly cut from the saw mill! And of course it was raining. And you guessed it. The nearest puncher repair shop was 5 kms away.
Taking out the luggage, and my 15kgs of photographic equipment in the rain was not an option and there was no shelter to speak of. The nicest thing about India (and Sri Lanka for that matter @xelas) is that people are ready to help- sometimes even if you don't ask them. Two kindly souls mentioned that there was a garage a 100 yards down the road and that i could fill up with the air compressor which was available there and dash to the puncture repair shop .
Well, thank god for small mercies- i drove with the flat tyre sans the passengers, filled up air and scooted to the tyre shop, which luckily had an awning in front. These tubeless tyres makes life simpler -at least for mending punctures- till Murphy throws a curve ball!-more on that later.
Soon we were on our way to the night halt at Salem and we booked at the Park Plaza. I must mention that the smart phones have made life easier ( though i used to consider them a pest, when i used to work :) ) and we could check out the options available, select the one that we wanted, call them up, negotiate and finalise- all while on the road and just a couple of hours away!

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The Park Plaza was a decent place and after checking in, we came down for some much required (liquid) sustenance, only to find the bar and the restaurant deserted. Too early, it seems.

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The manager seeing our about-to-commit-suicide- look took pity on us and ushered us into the restaurant and fixed us with a couple of stiff ones. The world seemed considerably better after that and after an excellent dinner we repaired to our rooms for a much needed rest.

Tomorrow it was off to Mukkali- and then Silent Valley- that is if Mr Murphy had forgiven us.

 

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Tom Kellie

@@madaboutcheetah

My parents were marooned for 6 days without electric power and water. Their car was totalled and they had just bought it less than a year back. They are 87 and 83 years young(!) and spirited. They just bought a new car with the insurance money and some top up. I guess a lot but they have brushed the question aside. :unsure:

The spirit of the people of Chennai was heartwarming. While it seems the government , as usual, dithered and pondered (plundered?); the citizens of chennai rose to the occasion and helped each other. My parents live on the 2nd Floor of an apartment and it seems the ground floor was knee deep in water- thereby the residents had to take refuge on higher floors. On one of my calls to my mother, she was busy making food for the displaced residents.

 

~ @@Earthian

 

When I read about your mother's work for others, it had an immediate impact on me.

 

In September, 1992, Hurricane Iniki struck the island of Kauai in the state of Hawaii.

My family home is located on the north shore, west of Hanalei, in Ha’ena.

My elderly parents similarly assisted the displaced after that devastating event.

I'm so pleased to know that your parents weathered the storm, and were sufficiently hale as to take care of others.

Thank you for explaining this to Safaritalk.

Tom K.

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Earthian

After a comfortable rest, the next morning saw a slight drizzle - nothing much, but i could not explore the grounds. We had a hearty breakfast at 0930 hrs and set off for Mukkali- the furthest point one is allowed to go by one's own vehicle- to enter The Silent Valley National park in Kerala. We were asked to reach Mukkali at 1500 hrs. More than enough time since it was just over a 4 hour drive. The route was as follows:

 

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It was a beautiful drive. The weather was cool, the air crisp and fresh, and the route scenic. In general, people down South are more traffic conscious and follow the rules, than people from the North of India. This does not include the big Metros. City folks are a different breed altogether. The best part of self driving is that you can stop at will. With democracy prevailing in the confines of the car, all the three had the same privileges and stops were frequent. Local agriculture produce was samples like tender coconuts, cucumbers, peanuts and such. Soon we started climbing the Nilgiri hills and the views were breathtaking. There were many interesting sights, such as this temple in the forest, called Sri Gangai Karuupa Sami koil in Kottathara on the way from Anaikatti to Attapadi. Taxi and bus drivers pay their respects to this deity- helps ward off accidents.

 

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The route shown in the google maps is not the route we took as far as the last 50 kms or so is concerned. We actually had to go though a different route ( which does not show up on the google map) and this cost us another hour- though we were not complaining. The long and short of it was that we were late. We were specifically told, nay instructed, to report to the Mukkali office of the Silent Valley National Park (SVNP) latest by 1500 hrs and it was already 1430 hrs and at the pace we were travelling, at least 45 minutes to go. We speeded up and after quite a bit of asking around, managed to reach the customer services center of SVNP at 1510 hrs. We were met by a genial young man, who after confirming our identities, asked us to go to the Forest range office down the road where we would be taken to the cottages. At the forest range office, we were met by a forest staffer who informed us that a jeep was waiting to take us to the cottages and asked us to park our car in the premises. The jeeps are outsourced by the forest department and we were met by a surly driver who probably being upset by our tardiness, didn't offer to help with the baggages. I had to request him to consider bring his jeep near our car so that the transfer could be easier, which he grudgingly did.

 

A half hour drive (more than half way through the same road we had come) and we came to the forest cottages in Boomiyampadi. We had opted for the Boomiyampadi package (see http://silentvalley.gov.in/boomiyampadi.php ) which included stay, food and a trip to the valley. We had requested a three person staying cottage which cost us Rs 7200/-, about US$ 110 - which covered stay, food, drive to the valley for one night and day, for all the three of us!

 

We reached the cottages at around 1615 hrs to be met by Gopalakrishnan - the receptionist cum caretaker cum chef cum general factotum cum chief information officer cum a knight in shining armour. and the best part was that he had a welcoming smile which warmed one's heart.
No, we could not have a late lunch regretfully, and no tiffin either. We made do with tea and biscuits.
There are quite a few cottages but no other visitors except for us. Some of the cottages had forest guards staying- some eight of them- seems that the area has some issues with some of the tribals - commonly termed as Maoists, though they have not been known to target tourists as such. The cottages are reasonably clean, over sized and built with a total lack of aesthetics or functional jurisprudence. The colour scheme inside the room is atrocious, to say the least.
I went for a walk and saw some scenic sights:

 

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The people were very friendly and always smiling. We had a splendid Malayalee dinner- simple and nourishing- and bedded for the night.

 

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Tom Kellie

~ @@Earthian

 

The landscape with clouds image immediately above is lovely!

Thank you for posting it.

It shows an aspect of India about which I was wholly unfamiliar.

Tom K.

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Earthian

Silent Valley is an evergreen forest and it pretty much rains for 9 months in a year. The air is crisp and pure with all that oxygen that people like me coming from polluted cities got a high! There is no sign of dust and the leaves, birds, flowers and pretty much all the flora and fauna are clean and look vibrant - a far cry from the dusty place i come from.

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Is that a Nilgiri blue Robin? Confused since there is a white streak on its wings and tail?

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Could not identify this one.

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That is a lesser coucal?

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These, though, contributing towards protecting the environment, do spoil the view.

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Sharp at 0800 hrs , Nazier showed up to take us to the SVNP. Nazier was the antithesis of the grumpy driver of the evening before. He was amicable, a student and worked part time as a driver cum guide cum naturalist cum friendly neighbourhood help. Seems everyone was juggling a lot of hats!

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There did not seem to be any way to anchor my large lens, so i reluctantly settled for the 70-200mm and even more reluctantly attached the TC1.7 E-II. It was to be a 5 hour trip- 2 hours going into the valley, and hour and a half there, and 1.5 hours coming back. We were anxious to come back early since we had to travel to Bandipur and the forest road near Bandipur closed at 2100 hrs- we were warned that if we did not make it in time, there was no way to enter Bandipur Safari Lodge. Worse, someone helpfully declared that the time of cut off was actually 1800 hrs. Great! It was a 4 hour drive from Mukkali to Bandipur and if the gate closed at 1800 hrs, there was no way we could make it. We telephoned a couple of people and the jury was divided. One for 1800 hrs and one for 2100 hrs!

So we hustled and started out at 0800 hrs sharp. What we did not bargain for is the "entries" that have to be made in the register at the forest office, giving all details about yourself- wasted another 15 minutes.

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The drive, to say the least, is magnificent. For the first time in my life i understood what Lichens were. Silent Valley is the land of the Lion tailed Macaque and we spotted one about 30 minutes into our drive.

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Further we encountered some common macaques

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Edited by Earthian
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michael-ibk

Love the Lion-Taileds - incredibly cool monkeys!

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Earthian

"The British named the area Silent Valley because of a perceived absence of noisy cicadas. Another story attributes the name to the anglicisation of Sairandhri, the name of the queen, Sairandhri (Draupadi) from the Mahabharatha. A third story, refers to the presence there of many lion-tailed macaques Macaca silenus." - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silent_Valley_National_Park

There are many small waterfalls along the road. We stopped and tasted the water. It was refreshing. For those who have been to dry or semi dry deciduous forests in the plains, SVNP would be very different. First of all, due to the excessive green cover, spotting animals is quite difficult. Secondly there is only one road in and out. Hence you would only be able to see any animals on the way.

​Some two hours later we reached the end of the drive: a scenic spot which had a watch tower, some guard huts and some conveniences for tourists. Silent Valley was at the center of a struggle, some 25 years back, between the environmentalists and the politicians who wanted to build a dam for an hydro electric project, thereby submerging the valley.

 

The views were stunning:

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We climbed the watch tower and enjoyed the view. the clouds, mist and mountains seemed to merge together in a sort of mystical air. When i was young and read Phantom comics, there was one about the Misty Mountains- seemed in my mind similar

 

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michael-ibk

So I am not the only one who loved The Phantom! :-)

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Tom Kellie

~ @@Earthian

 

The unidentified bird species — is there any possibility that it might be a non-breeding or immature Lesser Coucal?

Tom K.

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Tom Kellie

So I am not the only one who loved The Phantom! :-)

 

~ @@michael-ibk

 

How did I miss out on ‘The Phantom’?

I've never heard of it until your and @@Earthian's post!

Tom K.

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Earthian

~ @@Earthian

 

The unidentified bird species — is there any possibility that it might be a non-breeding or immature Lesser Coucal?

Tom K.

I leave it to the experts like you to decide.

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kittykat23uk

I think your robin is an oriental magpie robin. Love the lion tailed macaques. My mum grew up in the Bangalore area and went to boarding school in the nilgiri hills. Nice to see a report from this area.

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Earthian

 

So I am not the only one who loved The Phantom! :-)

 

~ @@michael-ibk

 

How did I miss out on ‘The Phantom’?

I've never heard of it until your and @@Earthian's post!

Tom K.

 

Tom,

The Phantom, by Lee Falk, was a great series. Don't know if he ever married his long time girlfriend, Diana? @@michael-ibk?

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