Thursday, February 26

Western Ghats: Focus Berijem

Not the foreign traveller getting condescendingly bemused by habits of another nationality, I have a distinct advantage in wandering with a pair of eyes reserved for better uses. How snide observations have come to dominate travelogues is another story though; pepping it up is regarded as a good story, even though it does not enlighten. I did nothing more than book a bus ride to Kodai; in hindsight the only thing better I would have done is to write to the forest officers, get appropriate permissions, and learn basic Tamil phrases. Or hire a jeep after having got the permissions. Though as long as you can gesture, language isn’t much of a barrier. Neither is lack of transport.

I first saw Kodaikanal in a completely fog-enveloped November afternoon in the year 1989, when I was a mere child filled with the most bloated curiosity in this world. We had drove down from Palani, where waiting under hot sun for winches that would take us to Lord Subrahmanya and tender coconuts that never seemed to exhaust of water or malai had already made us eager for the cooler climes of Kodai. And we didn’t stay long, except to make me realize that if there is anything in this world that the Amazon forests would be like, then that is the Western Ghats. I have always had a great difficulty in explaining to tourist agents and to hotel staff, that sir, I have not come to see any particular tourist spots, I don’t want to go yet again to any suicide point, and I would much prefer soaking up the wet stillness in your hotel room rather than staring deep into the Devil’s Kitchen. Or that I would like to go to once again explore the Munnar-Kodaikanal shola grasslands.

I fell in love with Munnar the first time I saw it more than a decade back, just as I had disliked Ooty the very first time I saw it. It’s just instinct: nothing I guess about the places themselves. I still remember how excitedly we clambered out of the bus, took a very small room in a hotel right atop the town square, and clambered back out to find a tea shop whose owner used to run a tourist information centre with his daughter, and with his hand-drawn maps, just because he really loved Munnar. That evening, I was in an auto-rickshaw, dragging itself up the sholas of Eravikulam National Park. I don’t really know if I did glimpse a Nilgiri tahr or not, but at least I persuaded myself firmly that yes I did. Which is enough, at least just short of the animal appearing only a couple of feet before you in full pristine glory. A couple of days later, I was at Top Station, the border of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. A tribal passed on to a narrow hill path, and he told me that I could go to Kodaikanal if I wanted to. From what I could understand of him, he offered me his company, but fearful of nights and animals in a forest, I declined the offer. How stupid of me! Was a boring school and college life where people are more interested in appearing in campus interviews going to teach me more?

A week ago, I entered the magical world of Berijam forest! A tourist agent got the permission for me first, since it’s a reserve forest area. It’s not about the air which makes as much noise there as a boiler room, or the dew drops continually dripping as if it’s raining, or the fog rising up like factories coughing up smoke columns, or the Capsfly where caps thrown to the precipice defy gravity and come back laughing to your faces--well or sometimes get too thrilled, come back, and get stuck in the tree branches--it’s about the regeneration I felt, the world that I have been systematically taught to be afraid of, to ignore, to kill, to forget, to love only in films with special effects, to only talk about by years of stupid education, cowardly people, and a weak spirit.

Located 21 km southwest of Kodaikanal, there was once upon a time a road that connected Munnar and Kodaikanal directly through this magical forest. Through the Top Station. There was also once upon a time a ropeway and a railway line for tea transportation from the Top Station to Munnar (where Lower Station was), via the Middle Station. Now, corrupt officials have ensured that nothing’s there, and the Tamil Nadu authorities have even ensured that the road is in a state of disrepair, so that either one treks in a group and keeps a wary eye on bisons and leopards, or one goes till the Berijam lake and returns with dreams in his eyes just as I have done. Mathikettan Shola was nearby, where a man never returns after having once entered: due to some rare herb’s effect. I wished to enter it: why would I want to return? A little further north, and I would cross into Eravikulam, the sholas in which I marvelled and ran as a teenager more than ten years back; a little more desperation and a little more of my native spirit would soon prompt me there: and discover all the connections.

The Western Ghats never cease to amaze. Yercaud has the warmth of a tea glass and steep narrow paths still unused to tourists, while Coorg the warmth one feels under an umbrella and dangerous river ravines. Ooty has a bitter medicine’s after effect, while the Gersoppa has wild vegetation fiercely flaunting its derring-do just as Queen Chennamma did against the British. Ranipuram lulls you into sweet leech-filled trills of water flowing alongside fear of encountering a viper, Courtallam greets you with roar of water and sight of a massive wall of white sheet of water thundering down, and Vazhachal entices you to step on its slippery rocks, making you forget that you exist!

There are stories waiting at each corner, always! Tenkasi had a burnt temple which was strangely ghostly, and Chalakudy had an abundance of bakery shops! Kodaikanal has a tiny unkempt shop called “The A to Z and the Pin to Plane Shop” on Anna Salai, and on the way to Igatpuri through Kasara Ghats you would find strange little deserted hotels on crags, as if waiting to hurl tourists down the ghats! Tomato chutneys and idlis on the Munnar town square, the gay abandon with which students of Kodaikanal International School roam the town, a continuous procession of trucks crisscrossing Chalakudy on one of the busiest highways I’ve seen, the still to be seen Wayanad and Hassan, each tap of the woodpecker, each silence that echoes in those forests of eucalyptuses and pines and myrtles, trees easily more than 150 feet high...and the romance continues...

There are some photos at



Blogger Shriya said...

what a lovely post
You have descibed all the western ghat places beautifully. Except for the hassan Shakleshpur belt and munnar eravikulam belt, I have done almost all the places mentioned by you. Berijam never ceases to amaze how many ever times one goes in.

Because it is a restricted area, it is still pristine and beautiful.

Hopefully it remains the same

you can see some of my bandipur mudumalai wildlife / bird pictures at

you can see some of my kodaikanal pictures at
Best regards

10:25 pm  
Blogger ankyuk said...

Nice to hear from you...Hassan belt is something that I also haven't seen so far. I haven't seen Wayanad too. Anyway, Western Ghats is so dense and big that it can last a lifetime. A lifetime of romance and love with this country and the ecodiversity it has.

I didn't know Mudumalai had some kind of an accommodation. Guess it must be lovely there in the monsoon.

8:45 pm  

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