We had planned to visit Ooty (a hill station in Tamilnadu, India). I was all alone but my brother Sreenivasan was coming along with his wife Sitalakshmi. After we had our breakfast, we readied ourselves and occupied our seats in the car which was to be driven by my brother. After positioning himself, my brother announced that we shall be returning late at night and will have dinner en route. I was puzzled as we can not do justice to our visit unless we are at Ooty for a minimum of a night and two days. Since there was an urgent meeting the next day, my brother was in a dilemma. He then suggested to visit “Anaimalai Tiger Reserve” which was relatively nearer. I was happy for the alternative placed before me and readily agreed. This was going to be my first ever visit to that place.
Anaimalai (Elephant Hills) is at a distance of around 60 kilometres south of Coimbatore. At 40 kilometres distance there is a town known as Pollachi and from there we were to take a right turn for Anaimalai. Incidentally Pollachi boasts of a whole sale Jaggery Market which is supposed to the largest in Asia. Similarly the Cattle Market over there is the largest in South India.
As a matter of fact Anaimalai is a part of the Western Ghat Mountain Ranges and if one goes further down, “Anamudi” is the highest peak in India (South of Himalayas) with a height of 8842 feet. Anaimalai itself is only 8oo feet high but is surrounded by ever green forests. Although, it is a reserve for Tigers, they are very limited. On the other hand hundreds of Elephants roam around. Anaimalai hills are known for their abundant wildlife. Eravikulam National Park, Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary, Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary, and the adjacent The Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park in these hills are well known for elephants. Numerous wildlife species can be seen including elephants, gaur, water buffaloes, tigers, panthers, sloth bears, pangolins, Black-headed Orioles, crocodiles, Green Pigeons, civet cats, Dhole, Sambar and 31 groups of endangered lion-tailed macaques., Birds seen include Pied hornbill, Red Whiskered Bulbul and Drongo. The hills are also a trekker’s paradise.
On reaching Pollachi, we took a right turn towards Anamalai which was around 16 kilometres away. The entire route was dotted with dense Coconut Groves spaced with paddy fields and the mountain ranges smiling at you from a far distance. After driving a stretch of 7/8 kilometres, we came at a check post with a welcome gate. The sanctuary/reserve starts from here. There was also a hoarding of the “Parambikulam Wild Life Sanctuary” which was on the same way but a little farther from the place we were heading to. Near the check post, a lady was selling some locally produced fruits. We bought some Sapodillas/Cheeku (Manilkara zapota) which were very sweet and tasty. Further journey saw us through some plains followed by winding ghats (Mountainous region) having thick bamboo forests.
Around 12 Noon, we were at “Top Slip”. This place is called so, for the large sloppy ground which was being used for storing Teak Wood logs and then rolling them down to reach the bottom of the hill. All private vehicles are supposed to remain parked at this place and for travelling beyond that point, one needs to hire vehicles from the Forest Department. They have a small information centre with a tiny museum for the benefit of tourists. The forest staff have their living quarters built there. They also run a Canteen which serves food and beverages to tourists.
There are two distinct categories of visitors here. The first category consists of people coming here for picnicking and fun. The second category belongs to those who are of serious kind and come here to understand the forests, its flora and fauna and the wild life. Their visits are always pre-planned. They get cottages/vehicles booked in advance for their period of stay. Since we fell under the former category, we started exploring the possibilities of moving around the jungles. We were told at the information centre that a van takes people around but since on that particular day, the number of visitors was too small, the van facility was kept in abeyance. There was, however, an option of taking the Elephant ride. Perforce, we had to settle for it. The Elephants were not immediately available as they were already on their rounds. Nevertheless, we got our tickets booked paying a sum of Rs.400/- and proceeded to fill our bellies at their Canteen.
After replenishing ourselves, we just roamed around. There my brother came across some boars in the backyard of the canteen. When we reached the information centre for the second time, my brother questioned the Ranger over there “Are those pigs, the wild ones”. The Ranger, with all seriousness, replied “Yes, they are wild boars but come down because of easy availability of left over food”. So we were happy to learn that we could at least see some wild life. Thereafter, I wanted to enlarge my own knowledge base and inquired about the kind of wild life found there. We were told that there are around 368 (that’s what I remember) Elephants and 18 Tigers apart from Panthers, Gaurs, Blue Bulls, Lion Tailed Monkeys, Large Mountain Squirrels etc. Further, they have some 100 Elephants in their own farm. They are let loose in the morning to roam about in the jungles and they come back in the evening. If one wants to see them together, one has to be there before 8.00 A.M.
Soon the Elephants were ready to take us for a ride. For all of us, it was going to be our first experience in life. After climbing a platform, we were on the cradle like thing on the Elephant’s back. We proceeded deeper inside. Nothing worthwhile came across except for few Macaque (Lion Tailed) Monkeys and large Squirrels. They vanished from our sight within minutes without affording any opportunity of capturing them in our cameras. The jungle view all around was very pleasing though. After half an hour, the Elephant was turned back and in fact we very much wished to come back not being in a position to withstand the painful jerks. Soon we were at the platform which saw us boarding the Elephant but only to get down with a sense of relief.
While returning home, it dawned upon me that the month of April was not quite productive for visiting a place like this.