Posts Tagged ‘Munnar’

Nilgiri Wood Pegions of Pambadum Shola

// December 22nd, 2009 // 4 Comments » // Culture and Ecology, Eco Watch

Madupatty Dam Reservoir

Madupatty Dam Reservoir

In the first week of December 2009 I visited Munnar Top Station and Kovilur.  It was bright and sunny in the afternoon and the sky was a blue deep.  As I passed Madupatty  and Kundalai the fog came in and covered the green hills and dales.  When I reached the Top Station the forest guard told me that it would be clear by 6pm and visibility would come back.  Forest department log houses and cottages are available nearby in the Pambadum Shola National Park. There are also rooms and humble home stay provisions around.  So after having a hot cup of tea I decided to stay there.

An Elusive Bird: Nilgiri Wood Pegion

An Elusive Bird: Nilgiri Wood Pegion

At four in the evening I started my journey to Kovilur, 12 km away in the north on bike with a local guide.  The KSTP road in the Top Station region for 4 km is not tarred because it is the land of Tamil Nadu projecting into the Kerala border.  The board informed me that it is highest road south of the Himalayas!  As we approached the check post of the National Park I noticed a big wood pegion in the nearby tree.  Because of the mist and low light I could not take a decent picture, but it was surely a Nilgiri Wood Pegion!  The checkered pattern on the back neck, the dark plumage tone and the size confirmed this highly threatened bird which is in the red data book.

Kovilur

Kovilur

Passing the forest check post we  entered the moist and chilling Pambadum Shola.  It was quite dark and freezing inside that thick shola at around 2000 mts in elevation.  My guide and friend Suresh from Top Station told me that he has seen leopards and even tigers here.  Once they were returning from the sight seeing trip and caught in front of a tiger couple!  They were shocked and could not even take the camera.  The eyeball to eyeball stand still continued for a few seconds and fortunately a jeep came from the back and the tigers vanished into the green thickets!  There are still places like Panther Rock inside the forest on the old Munnar – Kodaikanal road now closed as it penetrates the Shola National Park.  Through that abandoned and closed road Kodai is only 60 km away from Top Station!  Now a new route is being developed through Kovilur.  But again it is through the Kurinji Malai National Park which is under consideration.

We saw the marshy bogs and fields were Gaur and deer come to graze and drink water and marked the spots for the return journey.  A giant squirrel was enjoying some tender shoots on nearby wild tree.  Kovilur is a small rural town full of donkeys and vegetable fields.  Eucalyptus plantations are changing the soil structure and climate here.  It is at 1800 mts above sea level.  After taking a few shots we soon embarked on our eagerly awaited return journey in and through the dusky shola.  The mist was cleared and visibility was better

Rhododendron Nilgirica: A Shola delight!

Rhododendron Nilgirica: A Shola delight!

in the twilight.

Gaur calf coming close!

Gaur calf coming close!

The first animal we saw was a huge Indian Gaur.  This bull was grazing in the distant marsh land.  We admired the sight and moved forward to find a herd of Gaur right on the road.  One big bull, a few big females and two calves. One calf even came to us in its naive curiosity.  we watched them for almost half an hour in close proximity in 10 to 20 mts.  Finally they crossed the road and faded into the Shola darkness.  We soon returned to our camp in Top Station as it was getting darker and darker and unknown and eerie sounds were coming from the wild.

Indian Gaur: A small herd of a bull, few females and calves

Indian Gaur: A small herd of a bull, few females and calves

The cold was unbearable at night and especially at the early hours of the morning.  But again in the morning around 6 it all cleared and glorious sunshine was milking the whole landscape.  There was a Thai film crew shooting a documentary at the view point about the vegetables and flora of the region.  Typical Shola trees and shrubs are seen in and around the view point in Top Station.  Rhododendron Nilgirica was in full flowring mode.  As I was admiring the red jewel-like blossoms they, the fairies of the woods appeared again! Yes the Nilgiri Wood Pegions in a small flight of five individuals crossed me over head.  And it was

Surise at Top Station

Surise at Top Station

simply spectacular and mesmerizing in the golden morning sunshine.

Serpent Eagles of Chokra Mudi

// November 29th, 2009 // 3 Comments » // Culture and Ecology

Chokra Mudi as seen from Rajakumari

Chokra Mudi as seen from Rajakumari

I got a unique chance to climb up Chokra Mudi near the Lockhart gap in Munnar last Wednesday (25 Nov. 2009). Chokra Mudi or Choka Mudi as local tribal people call it is the second highest peak, south of the Palghat pass after Anamudi (Dodabeta is the second highest peak in the whole South India after Anamudi, but it is in the Nilgiris north of the pass).

It is a pivotal natural structure having great geological and cultural significance in the history of ancient tribes like Mannans and Muduvans in the Anamalais and Cardamom Hills. Its south slopes in Muttukad hosts megalithic dolmens and rock-cut caves. Its western lower reaches still retain place names like Mannan Kandam now known as Adimaly. It is visible from Adimali, Vellathooval, Ponmudi, Rajakad, Rajakumari and Bison Valley. This magnificent rock peak towers well above 2400 Mts. above sea level.

The Mighty Hights: Chokra Mudi Peak

The Mighty Hights: Chokra Mudi Peak

My friends Kannan, Rajesh, Vinod and Unni from Rajakumari were not much interested in birding but were really enthused in rock-climbing and hiking. The craggy and steep terrain was a real challenge for them who were mostly raised in the high ranges. I followed far behind them and could manage to see a few birds as well.P1070200

Plenty of House Swifts and Dusky Crag Martins were seen in agile fast motion overhead. A few Alpine Swifts were also seen. In a grass patch a pair of Pipits were found, but did not get any shots and there fore could not identify them. A few Stone Chats were also seen around. Grey wagtails are abundant in the lower areas of the mighty peak constantly drenched by tiny springs and cataracts. In the foundation we can see unique flora mixed up with the grassland and rocky terrain.

P1070222After an hour of climbing we reached the half way mark and began to rest. Unfortunately this unique natural and geographical heritage of the Western Ghats is illegally colonized by a dominant religious group and some religious marks and icons adorn the rocks and the peak! We can see the whole northern Idukki district from here. From Bodimettu to Adimali is visible. This immense rock projection offers a panoramic view of Bison Valley, Rajakkad, Pallivasal, Rajakumari, Santhanpara and Muttukad areas down below. As we were enjoying this breathtaking sight I heard a distant “Klee – klee – klee…” from far above! It was repeated in short intervals.

Crested Serpent Eagle Spreading Wings over Chokra Mudi

Crested Serpent Eagle Spreading Wings over Chokra Mudi

Yes, it was a Crested Serpent Eagle above Choka Mudi! It was soaring well above the pinnacle. To add to our amazement we saw another one near the first bird. They were hovering above in tandem! The circling motion of the Eagle couple was a moving sight at that location, that even attracted my friends who were not so keen on birds. As we watched curiously the huge birds of prey slowly moved towards the shola grasslands adjoining the Muttukad plantations.

After one more hour of hard and painstaking ascend we finally reached the summit. It was fortunately cleared of mist. Normally we see the pinnacle always covered with heavy fog and clouds. This time we saw clouds sailing well below us! It was a magical experience, though tiring. And without wasting time we began our down hill task which was more risky and dangerous. We managed to get down to the National Highway 49 near the gap-road as the dusk was engulfing the whole landscape. the sight of the Serpent Eagles in elevated flight and their repeated calls and responses are still simply unforgettable.

Down-hill Task

Down-hill Task