Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Kotagiri - walking along the ridge

Image Courtesy: Vijay Chandran

BMC started a new trek at Kotagiri from this August - http://bmcindia.org/events/bmc-trek-to-kothagiri.html. We were excited to go to Kotagiri as our previous visit in 2013 had been very pleasant. Unlike Ooty, Kotagiri is still away from tourist crowd and touts.

We boarded the BMC-organized minibus from Indiranagar at 8:30pm on a Friday night. After picking up a few more from Domlur and LifeStyle, the bus was zooming past the Friday night traffic towards Hosur. Since the Bandipur forest is closed to night traffic, the only other option is to go via Salem -Coimbatore-Mettupalayam. Kotagiri is 30km from Ooty, famous for International Schools and tea/coffee estates, including newsworthy Kodanadu estate.

All of us were sleeping like babies until Kotagiri, thanks to the expert driving of our driver. After reaching Kotagiri town, Shivaji escorted us to our camping site. Ayyappan welcomed us with hot tea and allocated the tented accommodation amidst tea plantations. We soon learned that Ayyappan is a  full-time serial actor and busy on weekdays at Chennai.

After morning ablutions, we got ready for the trek. Then comes the best part of this trip- the hot sambar/idli combination was so delicious that we couldn't satiate with one or two serving. After packing our lunch, we started walking towards a cliff.

Image Courtesy: Vijay Chandran

A huge tree was uprooted in the recent cyclonic storm in July, Shivaji explained. Mesmerized by the fog covering us, we got thrilled to climb down the cliff to a nearby cave. After spending a few minutes there, we started climbing up through a rough patch to a house occupied by locals. Many affluent businessmen from Chennai make Kotagiri their vacation home, obvious by the unoccupied palatial houses along the road.

The native tribal people of this area are called Badugas -http://www.badugaa.com/  - . and they speak a language by the name Badugu - a mix of Kannada and Tamil. No script and if you know Kannada, you can understand 70% of it. The local children walk 30minutes to get a school bus and educated at an English medium school. Shivaji also explained that government runs many welfare schemes for them. He mentioned that there is no birth control practices among them, intentionally to have more population of this indigenous tribal group. The school going children could use a few basic phrases to communicate with us, though they were too shy to see a big group of city-dwellers.

Image Courtesy: Vijay Chandran

After resting for a while on top of the peak, we marched along the tea estates towards Catherine Falls. A horde of peace-loving wild gaurs greeted us on the way. Occasionally a snake slithering away from our group of trekkies. Shivaji spotted poop of bear and cheetah on the trail, which accentuated our wild-life experience on the borders of a thick forest.

Image Courtesy: Vijay Chandran

Catherine Falls was not blessed with much water, thanks to deficit monsoon this season. We had our packed lunch and then started walking back. The locals were greeting us and asking about our whereabouts. Some of the ladies told us about their sons working or studying in Bangalore. Visiting  a tea-factory was a nice experience . The tea-leaves are collected by women who work for Rs 350 per day plus incentives. The huge bags of tea leaves are transported to the local factory where it is dried using huge fans and then powdered through a long mechanical process to various forms based on the granularity.

The tea sacks of 35kg each go to the town and are auctioned and processed and packaged by different brands.

Later at the campsite, we had a sumptuous dinner around the campfire. By this time, we were all friends who have never met before. The mercury dropped close to 15C and we were ready to snore and rest our aching legs. We really didn't want to leave the misty morning next day, but life is not  a dream. We returned through Gudalur- Mudumalai- Bandipur-Mysore.

If you are driving or riding to Kotagiri, contact Ayyappan for tented accommodation, food, trekking - Mobile: 9840909470

We had lunch at Thorappally Post, Gudalur. Hotel Regency owned by Sabeesh offers good meals.He also owns a lodge above the restaurant (dbl Rs 700) and a resort at Ooty. Mobile: 9487-866238

www.Lastforest.in - an NGO working with the tribal groups for a sustainable trade of forest products at Kotagiri.

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