Kerala Chronicles Part IV. Kolukkumalai-Anamudi
My cuppa @ 1730 feet!
The jeep arrived at 4 am at our homestay in the quaint village of Suryanelli. Shivering under our jackets, we embarked on our ride towards Kolukkumalai on a chilly December morning under the canopy of a pitch dark sky that glittered with diamonds. After about two kms of driving on tar road, our vehicle took to first gear. A few jeeps ahead of us tossed, jerked and swayed and within seconds, we followed suit. I could feel every bone of my body shaking while the jeep ran on the rough terrain of gravel and stones as big as rugby balls! We finally made it to the top of Kolukkumalai at 5 am.The bone breaking ride had taken us an hour to cover a distance of 6 kms! With numb and shivering hands, we set up our equipments and patiently waited for the spectacle to begin. The sky brightened a bit, casting shades of purple and indigo.
Towards my left was a tall cone-shaped mountain, almost barren but green. Lush tea estates spiralled all the way down to the base from where we had started. Conical hills in shades of dark blue and grey rolled into the horizon. A small peck of yellow light appeared from behind the hills and matured into a sparkling ball of bright gold. A magical sunrise was born in the lap of Kolukkumalai, illuminating every part of the hills that shivered in the unrestricted winds blowing from the east. The utopia had left me flabbergasted!
Watch the fast forward video of the epic dawn of Kolukkumalai @ https://youtu.be/UQXvzDQINh8
On our bumpy ride back down, I indulged in the stunning beauty of the tea plantations that basked in the fresh morning glow underneath a spotless blue sky. A visit to the 100-year old ‘Kolukkumalai tea factory’ which boasts of being the highest organic tea factory in the world was welcoming! The factory still withholds its British charm with its tin walls, wooden flooring, primeval machines and age-old techniques. I was overwhelmed to see and smell the many varieties of tea, from dark green to light green to white, whilst learning about the entire tea processing cycle.
Standing amidst lush tea gardens, I sipped on my steamy hot cuppa brewed right out of the estate at 1730 feet blowing trails of steam into the chilly air of Kolukkumalai.
A date with the Sholas of Anamudi
I conveniently missed the diversion, a few kilometres ahead of Munnar; leading to a half-hour detour. When I asked for directions to reach Anamudi, the locals looked at me with blank eyes, as if they had bumped into an alien asking for a route to destination ‘Mars’. It was 5 pm when we finally took the mud road leading to Anamudi Shola Log House. My intellectual google map told me that I was just 13 kms away from it. Just when I heaved a sigh of relief, it started drizzling. Within minutes, the chaos of Munnar fell behind and I found myself driving on a marooned and narrow road cutting through a dense forest. Not sure of whether I was heading in the right direction, I reached out to make a call, only to realise that it has lost coverage. I decided to follow my gut and my offline GPS which was still telling me to continue. Light was rapidly fading and the trail got leaner. All sorts of situations and strategies began cooking in my head. What if I encountered a tusker on the way? Well the only way out would be to drive in reverse gear all the way to the outskirts, but then wouldn’t it be stupid to try such stunts in the dark? What if the tusker was in a bad mood or in a lighter one perhaps, either ways, what if it decides to just knock or stomp my car a wee-bit? My throat felt parched but who had the time to stop! After a blind turn, I unanticipatedly hit the forest gate and instantly gave out a sigh of relief. I had almost forgotten to breathe! Adjacent to the gate, stood a small forest office. Vibrant wildflowers lined its fence. The last light had faded out that I could see was from the candle that burned inside the office. Our log house was just 200 meters away, but walking the distance in pitch darkness and in the middle of a jungle was unnerving. One of the helpers accompanied us to the rest house. The log hut made of wood was so cozy and neat that I instantly fell in love with it! The backdoor opened up to the washroom located outside the hut; the only thing separating it from the primeval forest was a 3-feet wall! Our hungry tummies called for something yummy and nothing could beat the packets of Maggi that I had coincidently picked up on the way. Getting to the kitchen meant walking back to the forest office; the thought sent chills down my spine. Nevertheless, we swayed our torches in all directions to ensure no green eyes were hideously staring at us! We gulped the delicious Maggi over stories narrated by the forest guards that revolved around leopard and tigers that they had spotted some two weeks ago. While returning to the log house, I happened to casually look up. It was a moonless night. My gaze followed the million stars twinkling above my head. I could also faintly spot the milky way. I stood in absolute darkness; stupefied by the infinity of the cosmos and my insignificant iota of existence! After a simple supper of rice and dal, I sneaked under the cozy blanket and dozed off in the pleasant opera of crickets.
I woke up to a chilly morning. Anamudi was enveloped in a thick layer of mist and passing clouds. I stepped out to follow the intermittent and alternate calls of birds I had never heard before. I spotted a Scimitar Babbler and a Kerala Laughing Thrush in the woods from a distance; the mist made it impossible for me to go any further. A few langurs stared at me from the top of a fig tree. A pair of Oriental white-eyes chirped merrily while playing a hide and seek in the thicket of bushes.
I returned to the patio holding a steaming cup of tea. The sky had cleared and the clouds floated over the valley like cotton balls. A wet sun rose over the misty mountains of Anamudi and diffused itself though the woods, caressing every corner of the pristine Shola forest with its gentle radiance.