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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Anaimalai Tiger Reserve

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.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


By PN Sampath Kumar
Concluding Part

Our stay in Colombo was taken care of by the Colombo Dock Yard. The Guest Relations officer of the Guest House helped us immensely in chalking out the trip.

Colombo has traditionally been one of the major commercial hubs in the sub continent from at least mid 19th to mid 20th Century which has attracted professionals from all over the places including India. Colombo has a rich maritime tradition; the tea, cinnamon and other spices from this land are even now very much sought after all over the world.

Colombo City Road drenched in rain
Colombo Railway Station
Current day Colombo is a modern city trying to regain its glorious past. There is a sigh of relief among the Sri Lankan people at the end of the internal conflicts. At last peace is returning back. Under a proper leadership, this land has the potential even to overtake Singapore in the very near future.

Colombo is the best place to shop items like gems (sapphire is mined from a place called ‘Ratnapura’) and readymade clothes. Sri Lankan tea, painted masks and batik works are also in high demand. Though coconut is a local produce, costs SL Rs.45/- (Indian equivalent of around IN Rs20, which is high by the Indian standards). Similar is the case with locally cultivated vegetables, rice and pulses.
Coconuts on sale
Masks displayed in a shop
Galle face hotel
Slave Island Area
“Peta” is the main market place where one can bargain  any item under the sun. There are good shopping malls which are relatively costly. Galle Face Road is the business centre and the beach on one side of it is the weekend escape for the families. National Flag is hoisted here. This is where the major hotels (including our TAJ Samudra) are located and also most attacked place in Colombo by the extremist elements. Adjacent to this is the “Cinnamon Gardens” the posh residential area. Places like Slave island are home for government and commercial offices.
Lord Ganesha kept inside the Monastery worshipped by Buddhists
Ganga Ramaya Monastery

Murugan (Karthikeya) temple
Colombo is the home for the Ganga Ramaiya Buddha Vihara, a Buddhist monastery, a couple of famous Hindu Temples dedicated to Kartik and Shiva, a mosque and a Portuguese church.

Sri Lanka has a number of world class beaches. Selecting a couple of beaches to visit during a short visit is difficult as there are quite a number of them to choose from. We took the coastal route through the west coast to reach  Galle, the southern most point in Sri Lanka. The railway and road go side by side and was pleasure watching sea on our right throughout.

Sea on our right while going
In between, we passed through a village (in the sea coast) of carpenters specialised in making Sri Lankan Furniture. They still make those wooden easy chairs and rocking chairs which has market all over the world. These carpenters are excellent artisans who also made excellent masks and craftwork. En route near Hikkaduwa beach, we visited one mask museum  dedicated to promote the works of the artisans.
Masks Museum

Hikkaduwa beach
Hikkaduwa beach is one of the famous tourist destinations around 60 miles south of Colombo. It was about 10 am in the morning, the most horrible time possibly to visit a beach. The sudden rain added to the spoilsport. No wonder, the beach was deserted.

We ran into a building, having “Hikkaduwa Diving School” written on top. The inhabitants there offered us to take to sea to show us the famous coral gardens and the underwater world. We readily accepted in exchange of SL Rs. 1500/-, which according to our driver was a good deal.

A couple of Kilometres into the sea, has in stock the most beautiful views of the underwater life. We get a good view of the underwater life through the glass bottom of the boat. It was fascinating to watch flower like corals in different designs (cabbage coral is one of them) and shapes and the multi coloured fishes swimming in group. I found it difficult balance myself to take proper photographs. Sea was rough. We turned down his offer to take us to go further to watch dolphins.

The effect of dreaded Tsunami would have been even more severe had there been no Coral reefs in the coastal sea. Incidentally, it was in Hikkaduwa, the devastating tsunami overwhelmed a passenger train killing some 1,500 passengers.

Half an hours journey from Hikkaduwa brought us to Galle. This town is also known for the devastating Tsunami which killed thousands. Galle is a decent town having Railway station and a good Cricket Ground (international cricket is played here). Portuguese and later Dutch built Fort and maintained their control over here. Ruins of the Fort and a functioning light house are the major attractions. The town and the antique shops resembled our own Fort Cochin Area. Yes, both the places are sharing similar history. Galle was the ancient seaport. Cinnamon is said to have been exported from Sri Lanka as early as 1400 BC.
Galle Fort gate
An Old Building inside the Fort
Galle Fort
A Lane inside the fort
A Light House at the Southern Tip
The "modern" history of Galle starts in 1505, when the first Portuguese ship was driven there by a storm. However, the people of the city refused to let the Portuguese enter it, so the Portuguese took it by force. In 1640, the Portuguese had to surrender to the Dutch. The Dutch built the present Fort in the year 1663. They built three bastions, known as "Sun", "Moon" and "Star". The British took over the country from the Dutch and preserved the Fort unchanged, and used it as the administrative centre of Galle.
Unawatuna Beach
Three miles further south East is one of the 12 best beaches in the world (at least that is what they claim this to be). “Unawatuna”, the 4km expanse of palm-fringed sand is a paradise for all those who enjoy the silence of the sea and dive deep into the blue waters of the ocean. There is a reef protecting the beach, which makes it perfectly a safe haven for bathing. Other major attractions of this southern beach include shallow waters for swimming, and diving.
Unawatuna Beach
It is the most favoured beach for all those looking for some exciting water sports like scuba diving or snorkelling, which, of course, we did not venture into. We spent bathing floating and swimming in this beach for about 3 hours. It was only in the evening our son readied to leave this beach. This, according to me is the best beach that I have taken bath.

Unawatuna Sea
Unawatuna Sea
Post Tsunami, for about a couple of years, there were nobody ready to return to this place. Many of them migrated to central Sri Lanka. Only in the recent couple of years, tourism has started picking up, thanks to the efforts of the government and also the interest shown by the international tourists.

Back in India, after a fortnight, we checked once again what all places we missed to visit in Sri Lanka. Definitely Trincomale, the famous harbour of the British (Thirukkonamalai in Tamil, famous for the Shiva Temple, as important as Rameshwaram or any other Jyotirlingas), Kathirkama (Kataragama), the historically important Skanda Kumara (Kartik) Temple in the southern Sri Lanka, a couple of very good beaches in the East, “Yalle” National Park, Adams Peak, and the disturbed North. Now that the shipping services are restarted between Tuticorin and Colombo and another one due from Tuticorin to northern Sri Lanka, a second trip to this land is thinkable. That is the beauty of some places; you tend to visit again and again, like your home town.