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Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Valparai (The Hidden Gem in the Annamalai Ranges,Tamil Nadu )



  The  car drove past the winding roads ,as I sat at the window and gazed outside.The gentle mountain breeze caressed my cheeks,while I gaped at the tea gardens which stretched to the horizon.I looked up to see the sky now ,which attracted my attention forming different patterns of white on blue.

  We were driving from Pollachi to Valparai now.  Pollachi being the small town at the foothills of the Annamalai hills. Valparai is clean ,serene tranquil; a place to fulfill any tourist's desire. However Pollachi adds that rustic appeal to the trip ,that many hearts would secretly yearn for..The pleasure attained from simplicity,or reliving the treasured memories of childhood when very simple trinkets made us so delighted.







We had a differently satisfying lunch of fried fish and the local biriyani at Pollachi ,The Azhiyar dam can be seen from the road.The dam has  an adjoining park.The dam and the park seemed to be a very popular place among the local people.Post lunch we drove past this crowd to start our journey to Valparai.



The Azhiyar DAm



   Valparai ushered us the perfect mountain way.A little gloomy sky some where,followed by  a light drizzle,and then  a quick sunshine. The entire scenery in green glistened in the afternoon sun.

 A cheerful bunch of kids waited for their bus to arrive as we stopped by the winding road for  a quick tea break.The small shops selling tea would close soon as the sun would set in about an hours time in these gentle slopes of the  Annamalai Ranges.The drive to Valparai was  a green canopy with pleasant surprises by the Nilgiri Tahr grazing by the roadside. More so, after the rains the landscape wore a very verdant look.

Right beside the car window,THE NILGIRI TAHR

   
  Somewhere beside the road,tea garden workers bring in their bundles of plucked tea leaves and wait patiently to get their hard days work weighed.We drove along the  near perfect pitched roads between the tea gardens with unique patterns,and observed people follow a little different routine. Every time  the pockets of in-habitation was over the place returned to its tranquillity,the only sounds that could be heard were that of the birds and the moving car.




Finally we reached the resort.Since it was already dark ,no outdoor activities could be planned.We sat at the porch of the chalet of the resort,listening to the chirping  sounds of the cricket in the tree trunks.We sat observing the flowers and gazed at the clear night sky. A thousand stars glistened in the sky as I gaped at the  moon with the kids ,a ritual practised only when we are on an outing.




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  We felt that  a lot was missed the previous evening,so we set out for the tea gardens early next morning.The villagers were by now busy with their chores.the cattle was already lead by the herder.A man sprayed pesticide (probably) in the tea garden,quite oblivious of the intermittent drizzles.A light chat had commenced between the owner and the visitor at the  local tea shop . As a temple bell rung at  a distance, frankly,I was not in a mood to go back to the resort for breakfast.



  We rode through the tea gardens,and watched the workers pluck the tender leaves with their nimble fingers.At times we peered at  a lone house amidst the tea gardens,trying to guess how it feels to stay there at night..





    A temple tucked in between the tea gardens,added that perfect charm to the monotony of the the scenery.It did not look like a very significant place religiously,but seemed to provide an outing for the villagers  .A group of picnickers (possibly from the villages nearby) sat relaxed in front of the temple ,peeling veggies for a presumably sumptuous lunch.One of them even willingly posed for my camera along with his friends.











THE  NALLAMUDI   PEAK

   Standing at an edge at the Nallamudi cliff, a lean and agile man lifts up his arms towards the sky and gives out a shriek to the unknown.The man known as Velu,  is a local who claims to have seen God. He seemed to be a friendly man ,ready to explain his rationale to those who wish to believe.
A crowd gathered around him,few amused and others too bewitched to react.


While he had seen God or it was  just a hallucination ,is  a different story altogether,his act could be interpreted as  a gratitude to the same God ,he claims to have seen. An acknowledgement perhaps for an event in his life or simply a praise for the natural bounty around him that makes him so happy.A portrayal of how little it takes to be contented sometimes.

  Needless to say the Nallamudi peak has now become a place also known for "SEEN GOD"as the man is refereed to now.
At first glance Valparai seems to be  a place of endless tea gardens ,but soon enough few unexpected things like  these  keep you engrossed.
To reach the Nallamudi cliff one has to walk for nearly  a mile  between tea gardens,from the parking. It is an excellent place with a amazing view of waterfalls from the surrounding slopes.




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THE   NALLAMUDI  PEAK

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Office of an NGO working at Valparai










   The Koolangal river is  a stream flowing between the tea gardens. It seemed to be a favorite spot for taking  a dip in the ice cold waters.The place was seen crowded from the early hours of the morning till sunset. In fact the crowd at the stream almost gave us the feel that a dip in here has some kind of religious significance.The place around the stream is very scenic and the stream is an excellent place to spend some time.




Parking at the Koolangal river



The Valparai township






Tea blossoms





THE   VELLANKINI  CHURCH

  Amidst  the calmness and the serenity of tea estates someone quietly prayed at the Vellankini Church very close to the Karamalai tea factory  .The Vellankini church is a little high up a hillock in the Karamalai Tea Estate.It is a scaled down version of the Vellankini Church near Chennai .Its location between sprawling tea estates and  a gushing stream flowing nearby makes it a wonderful place to visit .We spent quite sometime at the stream.





  Very close to the church is the Balaji Temple of  Valparai.The temple has  a panoramic view of the tea gardens surrounding it.Visiting the temple involves a steep climb of nearly  a mile as no vehicles are allowed on that road.The temple is a property of the tea estates .Moreover photography is strictly prohibited.So one can think of giving this a skip if elderly people are concerned.



 The Sholayar Dam is another point of interest ,between the ranges.The reservoir stretches for a few kilometers  along the way to the dam.Not just the dam but the reservoir with its surrounding tea gardens compose a delightful visual treat after the rains. Although we visited the place during  the monsoons,the water level in the dam was scanty.



The reservoir



  
    Getting up early in the morning paid off. A herd of elephants walked past at the distance.I could not get a clear capture due to the morning haze.The lion tailed Macaque ,a breed found in the tropical forest could be seen in good numbers in the forests adjoining the tea gardens .Trushes sang in between the tea bushes as we intruded in their territory.
 
   We strolled around observing them and capturing the moments through our lens.We experienced sheer bliss in their company amidst a painful reminder of how it was created for both; for them and for us,before we took over.We drove down the slopes with a silent prayer that we could find Valparai
drenched in the same beauty if we return someday.


Try spotting the elephants in the pic




The lion tailed macaque



  The best part of Valparai is that it is not yet exploited commercially.There are not many hotels or stay options.The very few resorts are located in the tea gardens.The roads are perfect.All you can see around you is the green tea estates .Stopping at shacks by the roadside and strolling between the tea estates in a drizzle is what makes the place different than regular tourist destinations.The place has  a very balming effect away from the cacophony, especially for city dwellers like us .




The chalet at the resort
Flowers at the Resort








Since there are many tea factories around , a visit to the factories could be arranged .We opted out of it as we had seen the process once at Munnar.





                Valparai is approximately 450 kms. from Bangalore and a 9 hours drive.Since we started in the evening,we took  a night halt at Salem ,and proceeded towards Valparai after breakfast
in the morning.
Valparai is nearly 107 kms. from Coimbatore,which is approximately an hours drive .The nearest International Airport is at Coimbatore.
Valparai should not be visited without an advance booking of stay,as already mentioned,stay options are limited. We stayed at the Sirukundra Resorts.The only preferable restaurant is Sri Krishna Cafe in Valparai town.WE visited in the month of August,so one layer of warm clothing was enough.Keeping an umbrella can be useful ,since drizzles are very common.If travelling with kids ,having some dry food items with you should be helpful as the place does not have many eateries.










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