Hey guys, Welcome to my favourite type of post, A travel Post!
Today’s post revolves around my awe-inspiring trip (and I was going all alone, no parents!) to a small town by the name of Rajapalayam, about 560 km from my hometown, Chennai.
Many of you may not have heard of this spectacular place nor have any clue as to where it is located. Well if you looked at the emblem of the Tamil Nadu government, you would see the Gopuram (Gateway Tower) of the Srivilliputtur Andal Temple, a renowned temple throughout southern India. Well, Rajapalayam is barely a stone’s throw from this famous (Not just for the goddess but also for a tasty milk sweet called Paal-Guava) temple town.
My visit was from 27th of September to 2nd October (celebrated as Gandhi Jayanthi in India). Though it may seem as a short time span, trust me it was totally worth it & we would have stayed longer if not for the fact that school (damn!) came calling the next day. I travelled here with a 14-member team of MNS (Madras Naturalist Society) an organization in which I am the youngest life member. Our hosts were Mr.T.S Raja of WAR (Wildlife Association of Rajapalayam), Cool name right! and his team comprising of Mr.Gandhi, Santhosh Anna, Mr.Vishnu Shankar & Mr.Pranav – they were absolutely amazing people who genuinely loved what they did & it was their company that we treasured the most during our stay.
So let’s begin the trip shall we? It all started at the Koyambedu Private Bus Stop in Chennai. The Departure time was 7:45 pm, seems simple enough doesn’t it? Well for me that time was like a timer on a time bomb! Why? I had sort of, kind of bungled up my packing time which resulted in me getting stuck in the middle of one of Chennai’s legendary traffic snarls. And to rub salt in my wounds, it was pouring cats & dogs. My phone showed that it was 5 minutes to board. Terrified, I leapt out of the car & then began a series of panic-stricken running towards the Bus depot, while carrying 2 massive pieces of luggage in one hand, babbling on the phone with the bus driver, trying to hold the bus as much as possible, all this in the middle of the thunderstorm of the century!Finally, thanks to the fact that Chennai’s traffic was as slow paced as a sloth, I was able to catch the bus. Needless to say that I was drenched from head to toe, causing some of my fellow passengers to crack jokes on my part.
(Disclaimer: You are going to read a lot of scientific gibberish so if you have a spinning head at the end of each para, don’t worry, it’s completely natural. Also these name of the species changes almost every year so don’t worry if a streaked fantail warbler become a zitting cisticola)
Day 1: Ayyanar Kovil
The 14-member team of MNS gathered at 9 am at Hotel Anandas, Rajapalayam to head towards Ayyanar Kovil, which is one of the key locations on the Western Ghats that skirts Rajapalayam. The trek started at the temple & was about 8 kms in distance. Near the temple was the residences of the forest natives (now more or less assimilated with “modern civilization”). We were accompanied by Mr.Karuppaiya, whose very spirit was interlinked with the forest & its residents.
Now Rajapalayam’s virgin forests were simply bursting with wildlife and a specific spot near a water stream had once recorded 231 species of butterflies (if that doesn’t seem astounding, well consider the fact that Tamil Nadu itself has only 306 butterfly species!). Among the species spotted by us, the presence of the Great Orange Tip, Common Banded Peacock and Blue Mormon (India’s 2nd largest butterfly) made this tiny piece of land seem like the famed Gardens of Paradise. As we moved on, our team could see different dragonflies and damson flies which were happily sculling near the water streams. The team stopped to take a detailed look at the symmetrical leaves and discussion on the significance of Maha Vilvam tree (a sacred tree dedicated to Lord Shiva).
Now we naturalists are a peculiar bunch, something as tiny as a Pill Bug invokes a passionate discussion on its distinction with similar looking Wood Louse but the pug marks of a dhole/Palm civet doesn’t really make the crew jump up & down in excitement (to be fair, the group consisted of mostly bird & butterfly lovers). So anyway, after a series of slips & slides, we reached a pristine stream at the top of the mountain. At the sight of water, the group went berserk, each one trying to be the first to fill their bottles / swim / explore in the magical waters.
From there, we headed to a school named Chinmaya Vidyalaya run by Ramco Group
(now you know that I am not the most school friendly person on this planet but this school actually surprised me with its emphasis on nature & modern technology, two things which I feel are indispensable in today’s world), is spread over 36 acres. We were stunned by the presence of 800 yr. old African Baobab tree at the school. This behemoth of the forest stood at 80 ft. & had a diameter of 25 ft.
Later in the evening, Mr.Ramachandra Raja, MNS Life Member and a Senior Director of the Ramco Group hosted us with a fabulous dinner which was followed by naturalist Mr.Santhosh sharing his experience and photographs of birds and wildlife he has captured over a period of 3 years.
Day 2: Sastha Kovil
Sastha Kovil (yes another temple, this one in honour of Ayappa) was the starting point for our next trek, this was as long as 16km! The Forest Guard who accompanied us kept repeating the same thing throughout the trek “you should have come during Monsoon, you’ll see everything”
Contrary to his statement, we did see quite a few bird & butterfly species, one of which, the Autumn Leaf Butterfly, caused quite a stir at it was the first time it had been spotted in Tamil Nadu!
In the night, some of us took the night walk, where we were fortunate to spot the Indian Night Jar and Mottled Wood Owl.
Day 3: Shenbaga Thoppu/Kattalazhar Kovil
This was an unusual trek as along with our team of 14, several locals were attempting the back-breaking trek to Kattalazhar temple to seek the blessings of Lord Vishnu, as Puratassi (the month in the Tamil Calendar) was sacred to him.
Brain Fever Birds welcomed us from all directions, which later was beaten by the Bonnet Macaque and Langurs. We also spotted some Grizzle Giant Squirrels which were endemic to the area. The Southern Birdwing, which is the largest butterfly in India was a sight for sore eyes as we completed the gruelling trek.
Energy & waistline lost during the trek was replenished thanks to a full banana leaf meal at the 100+ yrs old Hotel Kathiravan.
With due pomp & ceremony, we bid adieu to Rajapalayam at 5:30 pm via the Silambu Express, but the memories we made there can never be forgotten.
Well, that’s all for today folks, thanks for joining me on this massive blog post & I Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did, until next time, Goodbye.