It begins as a drizzle but within moments, it becomes a downpour and a deafening thundershows, drowning all other sounds of nature. The grey sky becomes darker but it is the greenery in front of us that greets me. I am in a wet and wild Valparai as the dense forests surround me. The trees close in on me while the creepers entwining around the branches take me into a magical world. We are driving around some of the places to visit in Valparai, in the quest to see some endemic wildlife in Valparai.
But there is something about the rains in a tropical evergreen forest that brings out the real wild person in you. Valparai is a plantation town, a hill station, a bio diversity hotspot and a tropical rain forest – all rolled into one. Located in the Anaimalai Range of the Western Ghats, this is one of the most pristine spots in Tamil Nadu.
The rains become a part of the landscape as we stop for the first glimpse of the Anaimalais. The mountains are in your face and intimidating, but the scenery is breathtaking. Low hanging clouds merging with the mist, playing hide and seek with the mountains, roaring waterfalls, quiet lakes – there is no dearth of them. I count the many shades of blues and greens as the weather turns nippy. The road curves and the winding hair pen bends treat me to some of the most beautiful vistas of nature. There are about forty of them and the mist comes calling as we climb uphill .
The rains come down in full force, but sometimes it is the gentle drop that drips from the ferns and leaves that refreshes you. I feel a gamut of emotions inside me. Initially it is all about gay abandon, then the rains rejuvenate you as the forests come alive. Then as the earth gets wet and the skies are forever wrapped in dark clouds veiling the sun out of view, you long for some warmth . However the rain forest eventually wraps you into a world of magic, a world which is green, misty and wet. There are ferns and orchids everywhere with droplets of water dripping from them . The mist and the rains take turns to come calling. The waterfalls beckon. I learn to ignore the leeches and lose myself in the roaring cascades . And for a moment, I almost throw my umbrella and rain coats and rain poncho and let the rains drench me to the bone.
There are patches of tropical evergreen forests and then there are rolling tea and coffee estates .But it is in this rich bio diversity hotspot, that some of the endangered and endemic species live, fighting for survival. And I am hoping to spot a few of them – from the critically endangered primate lion tailed macaque to the nilgiri tahr, to the great hornbill among several others.
Our journey comes to a halt as we have company on the road on the way from Pollachi. A herd of nilgiri tahr is effortlessly climbing uphill, only to lock horns and engage in a mock fight. The birds call as a lone nilgiri tahr comfortably sits high up in the grassy patch overlooking the entire valley.
We look for the endangered primates, lion tailed macaques and find them in their own world, blissfully unaware of the dangers that face them. Today there are barely few hundreds of them in the Anaimalais. Locals, NGOs and wildlife conservationists are striving to protect these species in this pristine environment. You can find them in and around Puduthottam Annexe or sometimes they meet you on the roads. Some villagers learn to coexist with these primates as we see them in their own habitat, busy with their day.
The birds are next on our agenda. We spot woodpeckers, eagles, babblers, coucals, thrushes, mynahs but the moment that I have been waiting for is yet to arrive. We squint through the greenery and look for the Great Indian Hornbill . As we almost give hope, we see them hiding amidst the leaves. We wait patiently and saw the majestic colourful birds fly away , a spectacle to behold and an image that will never fade away from my eyes .
We head out in the night and catch a glimpse of the flying squirrels gliding gracefully from the trees . We look for frogs, civets, insects and several other nocturnal creatures and attempt to photograph a few through our macro lens.
Valparai is not just a story about a tourist destination . It is about a journey through the forests that opens our eyes to conservation , to the shrinking rain forests and to the endangered species. We go on a wilderness trail across lush forests, encountering wildlife, soaking in the waterfalls and getting drenched in the rains, learning a bit about wildlife photography understanding the bio diversity of the region from conservationists . We drive through dense forests from Valparai to Athirapally, one of the most beautiful stretches . I would have loved to go to Chalakudy as well, although I have been on the road from Chalakudy to Athirapally earlier. This is one of the places to visit in Valparai.
However it is an understatement to say Valparai is beautiful . The plantations and the forests present a fabric of green . The mists are everywhere ; the rivers and the waterfalls follow you wherever you go . And the legend goes, that an old man called Velu claims to have “Seen God” in the human form here. Velu still comes to the viewpoint at Seen God or Nalamudi Poonjolai everyday,one of the places to visit in Valparai hoping for a second darshan . You should probably believe him, because in that rich dense canopy, there is a possibility that God does exist somewhere .
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