Monthly Archives: October 2009

The Black Eagle of Kolukku Malai

Last Wednesday (28 October 2009)I began my most awaited journey to Kolukku Malai the highest tea garden in South India well above 2100 Meters in the Western Ghats. It is a Kerala frontier in the Anamalais and borders with Theni district in Tamil Nadu. I started the trip on bike from Rajakumary in the early afternoon and reached Santhanpara a few minutes later, from where my friend Mr V P Raveendran joined. Hill Mynas and Blue-winged Parakeets were heralding our sunny expedition in the cardamom plantations nearby.


Through Poopara, Anayirankal, Periyakanal and Chinnakkanal we reached Sooryanelli in the east of the Elephant Lake after riding for around forty Kilo Meters. Then we began our ascend to Upper Sooryanelli to Naga Malai and finally to Kolukku Malai – a difficult stretch of around 12-15 KMs. we entered the age old tea estate roads laid more than a century ago by the British pioneer planters. We were welcomed by a few Indian Robins here playing and picking up worms on the stone poles and hedges.

The old world colonial Bungalows and beautiful Pines and Oaks dote the mystic landscape. We enjoyed the richly flavoured hot Tamil tea and Vadai from the roadside shop. According to local people in the earlier times pesticides and fertilizers were not used in Naga Malai and Kolukku Malai and once it was the highest tea garden in the whole world. But later the British themselves planted tea in Darjeeling and other Himalayan foothills.

It was getting colder and colder and we watched the mysterious formations of meandering mist and clouds on the hills and dales around us as we went up. On a Silver Oak my companion spotted a small raptor savoring flesh. But before we could identify the bird, it just slipped down and vanished into the misty ether…

As we passed the winding ghat road from Naga Malai to the summit we saw some Bush chats in flight. The cold was unbearable and it was the onset of north eastern monsoon. We were drenched by a sudden sweep of rain and we took refuge under a Grand old Oak by the road. The roads are also bad as we go up here and stray dogs are also a problem at times. But a few four-wheel drive jeeps are operating here for advanced explorers. Pillion riding on the bike is a bit risky here.

Nagamalai and Kolukkumalai seen above the clouds

Nagamalai and Kolukkumalai seen above the clouds

Near the Echo Point in Kolukku Malai we had the unique sight of our trip. It was like a flash or lightning. A huge dark raptor struck our eyes like a bolt from the blue! After a few rounds of soaring it merged into the craggy shola beneath. A few seconds later we again had a glimpse of the huge bird of prey. This time in better light and angle we clearly saw the lucid yellow nostril patch and claws against its jet black plumage. Yes, it was a Black Eagle in its sheer power and glory!

The bird, a mighty cousin of the Aquilas, sunk down into the canopies again and never appeared after wards. It really was an awesome and transcending sight!! That glorious glimpse is still unbelievable, and is unforgettable too.

And then we visited the View Point from where we had a breathtaking panoramic view of Theni and Madurai districts in Tamil Nadu lying down under at ground zero. There is a historic vintage tea factory here built by the English that still manufactures the renowned Kolukku Malai tea. We can go up to the check post and beyond it we have only the old horse trodden path down to Bodhi Nayakanur. Both the horizons were getting blushed as we began our retreat.

Wagtails of Devikulam

In Manimalayar at Chirakkadavu

Yesterday I visited Old Devikulam and the surrounding valleys. I had the rare opportunity to spend some time on the banks of the Devi Lake from which the place derives its name.

This ancient natural lake is one of the oldest freshwater resources high up in the Western Ghats and forms a unique ecosystem, though the English enhanced its capacity and area with minimum intervention at the beginning of the twentieth century.

It is known throughout South India for its mineral richness and medicinal powers from the early Tamil Sangham age onwards. It has also been a sacred Dravidian lake-shrine in the ancient Tamil country. It is also unique for its endemic flora and fauna. The moths and insects here are even unknown to the experts. Unfortunately it is now decaying in private hands.

The Britishers made this ethereal banks their second home and planted plenty of English trees around it. It is a trekker’s paradise! Pines, Eucalyptus and Oaks adorn the hills and dales. the seductive lush green meadows are mowed consistently by the perpetually grazing cattle. Common Swallows fly around in lower notes! Some small raptors are also seen around, picking up the odd green lizards.

According to the native Tamil people the exotic Trout, introduced by the British colonial masters as a game fish more than a century ago still thrives in the Devi Lake; though I could not see any. This important habitat is in the hands of Tata Tea Ltd. and we need their prior written permission to visit and fish in the Lake. Their Office is situated in Munnar town.

The Old Boat House and Angler’s Hut built by the British still survive without much damage. The Lake is surrounded by thick vegetation. I saw the mating of plenty of green frogs in the shallows. Till date I have not seen this species anywhere else. I could see a few Cattle Egrets and Jungle and Hill Mynas near.

But the real sight was that of two types of wagtails. Grey wagtails are plenty here. This place is well above 2200 mts. in elevation. I also saw a White-browed or Large Pied Wagtail sitting pretty on a weed in the lake. Its call was resonating in the quiet and serene Lake-scape as the last sigh of a fading eco-cultural location.

This place is around four kms. north east of the new Devikulam town and six kms east of Munnar town. We need to reclaim this unique habitat from private plantation interests and rehabilitate it into its past glory, by preserving and enriching the ecosystem.