Drive to the Sahyadris
30 Jan 2017: Day 30 (Thirunelly and around)
After a quick breakfast, we set out to explore the area and just wandered around the hilly terrain, but the hills were engulfed in the early morning fog making birding a little tricky. To add to this, a wild tusker came too close for comfort and we decided to return to our hotel and pick up our car. For the next two hours, we drove around and managed to do some roadside birding spotting birds like the Black-throated Munia, Orioles, Ioras, Malabar Barbet, Orange Minivets, Brown Shrike and a Asian Fairy Bluebird.
Before returning to the hotel, we visited the forest check-post and and were advised to report by 7 AM the next day for the Brahmagiri trek.
In the evening, we went to the Iruppu waterfalls which proved to be a typical tourist attraction with massive crowds. Undeterred by the busy trail, we kept birding and managed to spot a few birds like Greater Goldenback, a few warblers, flycatchers, pipits and a Rufous Babbler.
On our way back to the hotel, a gaur was seen from close quarters.
Overall, it proved to be an exciting day starting with a wild elephant face-off and ending with a gaur sighting.
31 Jan 2017: Day 31 (Thirunelly – Kotagiri, 206 km, 7 Hrs)
All eager to experience the Sholas, we hiked to the forest check-post reaching by 7AM as advised yesterday. It was a crisp and sunny morning and we were looking forward to some good birding today, however, the forest guards had a different plan. All were fast asleep and it took us over 30 minutes to even wake them up. Another hour went by while the guards got other things sorted out and we could commence our trek only by 9 AM. While the sun was beating us down, we continued our trek and got an opportunity to appreciate the very beautiful Shola landscape. From a birding perceptive, we spotted several birds like the Malabar Grey Hornbill, Square-tailed Bulbul, Large-billed Leaf Warbler, Blue-capped Rock Thrush, White-bellied Blue Flycatcher and the Pale-billed Flowerpecker.
After returning from the trek, we quickly packed up and commenced our drive to Kotagiri at 1400 Hrs. While driving, we also called up Aggal Sir and requested him to book a room for us.
En-route, we stopped to have coffee and while referring to an out-of-print book “A birdwatchers’ Guide to India”, we realized that we were very close to a location that the book mentioned as having a good possibility to sight the Grey-headed Bulbul. So we decided to give it a try and took a detour towards Sultan Bathery and followed the directions as mentioned in the book. It took us about an hour to reach the spot, but were dismayed to find out that the entire streamside bamboo had vanished. On inquiring with the locals, we came to know that the entire bamboo belt had died out 5-6 years ago owing to natural causes.
Nevertheless we continued our drive, but by the time we crossed over to Tamil Nadu, sunlight had faded away and soon it became a nightmare to drive on the ghat roads with no road reflectors, blind curves every few minutes and no roadside protective railings between us and the deep valleys. To add to the woes, the road was randomly dug out for repairs with no warning signs. While years of driving in the Himalayas had made us resilient to such things, we were still a little worried as there was no other vehicle on the road and we were driving in pitch darkness with nothing to warn us on the next curve.
We kept driving under these challenging circumstances for over 30 minutes when a truck approached us from behind and we gladly gave way to it. Thankfully, the truck driver turned out to be very supportive and guided us through almost 60% of the ghat roads. When the truck finally took a turn towards a village road, the driver gave us a thumbs up and we happily waved our hands in appreciation.
We somehow managed to cover the rest of the ghat roads and driving became easy as we neared Ooty with more vehicles on the road giving us a directional sense and more visibility on the curves.
We finally reached Kotagiri by 2130 Hrs and were really happy that Aggal Sir had booked a very comfortable room for us in a beautiful vintage bungalow.
Tamarind KTDC Easy Hotel: This is a government run property very close to the Forest Check post, the starting point of the Brahmagiri Trek. The rooms show age, but are well maintained and the staff is very helpful. Booking rooms online on KTDC website gets you a good discount as well. Try out the coffee, its amazing.
Phone: +91 4935 210475, +91 944 773 9472
Brahmagiri Trek: A short hike from the KTDC Tamarind brings you to the Forest Check post, the starting point of the trek. The entrance fee is exorbitant at INR’ 1,900 for a group of 1 to 5 persons (Do insist on a receipt). The trek as such is very easy with good potential for elephant sighting. We did deviate a bit from the trek route and venture into the grasslands. However, Jungle Boots and a bit of judgement is strongly recommended to avoid any potential encounter with snakes. Things to carry: Sunscreen, Drinking water and snacks.
Please feel free to ask us any question that you may have about our time at Thirunelly. Also, stay tuned for details on the next leg of our road trip.