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.
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.
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
in the twilight.
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.
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
simply spectacular and mesmerizing in the golden morning sunshine.