Yelagiri is a small hill station located at an altitude of 3643 ft. As the temperature will be slightly lesser than in Chennai, if we couldn’t tolerate Chennai weather or in the mood to see Blue-faced malkoha,Rufous babbler like birds we immediately pack to Yelagiri. Most of our trips were usually planned immediately, but this Yelagiri trip is a very sudden one. Our birder friend Shanti has a house in Yelagiri. She dialed me one day when i was cooking and told that she is sitting and admiring the rain and mountain view in Yelagiri. She asked me would we care to join her in Yelagiri. My mom also was telling that in nagercoil everyday its raining and weather is awesome. When everyone was enjoying the rain what am I doing sweating in a kitchen in Chennai! So we packed immediately all our cooked food sambar,beetroot,spinach and started to yelagiri.
When we entered the twist and turn roads to reach Yelagiri itself the weather started getting pleasant. You can see tourist groups like ambur biriyani lovers,bullet riders in the weekend.
As we were travelling on a weekday the roads were with less traffic. As its a small hill station, there are only 14 hairpin bends. Each hairpin bend got a tamil poet name. Seeing the names like paari,oori,kaari,kamban in each turns itself will cool you down if you are a tamil literature lover. Also you cannot miss those monkeys on every turns who were so used to get food from tourists.
In the drizzling rain, inhaling eucalyptus scent we drove slowly in the hairpin bends. We all got used to closing the windows in cars because of the pollution in cities. Once you are in a place covered with trees, the air will be pure.
Try to switch off the air conditioner and lower the windows in car and drive slowly. You will start hearing birds sounds. You will start inhaling fresh scents of trees and flowers.You will start feeling the breeze on your face. These gentle touches with nature will make you connected with them and you will really feel relaxed.
Once we reached shanti house, we got refreshed and went to the hillock behind the house. Last time when we were there, we noted a nutmeg tree which had orchid plant in its branch. We checked if its in bloom but couldn’t find any flowers. As we cannot find any plants here, I was searching for birds. We saw the usual sunbird,tailorbird,red wiskered bulbul,green bee-eater flying around.
We went to the trail with lantana bushes on both sides to go to the hillock. As I love flowers, vinod and shanti were making fun of me why I was not considering Lantana as beautiful wildflowers and not taking any photo of it. The problem with Lantana is, its an invasive plant which took over major part of Indian forest area.If this plant starts growing in a place it will destroy the biodiversity of that area and no other plants can grow in that area. In Yelagiri from swamimalai to all the forest areas you can find only lantana. Its actually a big war between lantana and other wild plants. Currently lantana has won in many places. Its very tough to remove these plants.
Around this time we heard goats sound above all these birds sounds.
We started hearing the goats sound nearby and we looked around to see two little ones were standing on a rock and screaming in high pitch. They were very scared on seeing us, so thinking not to scare them we proceeded to walk further. After sometime we again heard goats sound. We were confused thinking whether the little ones followed us,but these were from the big ones who were standing infront of us, partially hiding in lantana bushes. They also screamed the same way as the little ones and we knew these were the parents. They were so scared that they jumped into the lantana bushes and ran down in that path. Once the goats screaming stopped we again started looking for birds. And there it was our favorite owlets sitting and watching at us in half sleep.
When we were walking down, we again started hearing goats sound. We were wondering why these goats didn’t yet reach their home. We saw the big ones on the pathway screaming at the little ones. And the little ones were so scared to move from the rock. Then seeing us, extra screaming started from four goats together. The big ones ran towards the little ones and after the reunion, they again started screaming at us. May be because ambur is nearby these goats were so scared that they will become biriyani soon!We did not want to disturb the goat family, so we started walking down fastly.
But in few minutes they followed us and were screaming behind us. Even when we gave way they were not ready to go. So we encouraged the goats and finally three of the goats jumped and ran downhill. But one little goat was left behind and it got so scared. Then its mom said some encouraging words in their language(We heard the same “meh”) and finally the little one jumped through the lantana bush and joined its family. Finally the four took a run downhill.
Why I am telling this story in detail is,mostly these type of incidents happen when we go outdoors and explore in wooded areas. When we infer these incidents only we will know that not only humans have family,love but other living beings in this world also experience that. We will understand that they too love each other, they get scared, they talk to each other in their own language. Most of us see animals only in TV and we are interested only in big animals like tiger,lion,bear,elephant. But that too only to watch, we don’t really understand them. I was telling to Shanti, if only we had the same incident with a wolf or tiger then it would have been a big story. Goats reuniting with family is not an interesting story for TV programs and people also wont see it if shown in TV.
Next day early morning we went for birding in mild chilly weather. We went to a forest road where we usually see birds like Greater Flameback Woodpecker,Black-headed cuckooshrike,Common iora. We took some sideturns through thorny bushes to reach a meadow where we could sit and watch these birds flying casually. But the pathway was blocked and there were few new mud huts. One lady came out from one of the huts and asked whether we had come to shoot birds.
We shoot birds through camera, but she meant through guns. We were really stunned as none had ever asked this question to us. We were irritated and told her that we had come to see birds. She didn’t really understand and told us to go through a different path to reach the meadow. These people are surely not the owners of this land. Some rich,powerful guy would have grabbed this land illegally and asked these illiterate local people to stay in this land temporarily. After few years the rich guy will build a resort here. We were very sad and angry that another birding area was gone.
We reached the meadow through another bushy path. But we didn’t see any birds at all. Parthenium hysterophorus-congress grass were fully grown in the entire area. This plant will not allow any other plants to grow and also will make the soil infertile. When India was in drought during congress time, they imported wheat seeds from America.
The parthenium seeds came along with that and spoiled thousands of acres of agricultural land. The congress team didn’t take any action to rectify this error. So this plant was named after them as Congress Grass. Also this plant causes skin rashes which I had experienced on my first trip to Yelagiri. So I avoid these plants as much as possible. As we didn’t see any birds also, Shanti and me started gossiping about our family matters. But Vinod was very hopeful and keenly searched birds standing in the middle of parthenium meadow. Later, he also suffered from skin rashes.
On the way back we were so upset that we didn’t see any birds at all. When we were walking through the bushes, suddenly heard a “chitchit” sound. A couple of puff throated babblers were jumping through the bushes. Usually these small birds are very active and very tough to photograph. These birds will be constantly in movement. Somehow Vinod chased behind them and got a click!
The next stop to see birds was a view point. But no tourists ever come to this place. By this time the sun had come brightly and the butterflies,birds were actively flying. Long-tailed shrike/Rufous-backed shrike was sitting on a tree and eating an insect. Two Brahminy starlings were pecking at each others head. Female plum headed parakeet was sitting silently on a lantana bush. Seeing us, it flew away immediately to the nearby pine tree.
I was not confident to climb up this view point believing our government. So when I was thinking whether its worth a risk, vinod already climbed up and told the structure was strong. Shanti and me climbed up then and watched the town from the view point. The view was good in that pleasant morning.
Black Shouldered Kite was hovering in distance. We were telling that how nice it would be if we can see a big eagle or owl in this eye level. The wind force increased and the structure slightly shook. We were about to get down, when we heard the horse sound. A beautiful,healthy horse came there for its usual morning run. The dogs and goats grazing over there ran away seeing the horse.When we were about to get down, suddenly a Black eagle with wingspan around 6 ft flew so closely.
We were all so stunned at the grandness of seeing this majestic bird so closely. The bird didn’t sit in any nearby trees, it went away , circled round and came back after few minutes. That was the first time we all saw an eagle flying at eye level.
Now we have seen black eagle so closely, we were ready to have our breakfast. Shanti suggested to go to a banyan tree where we can sit and eat and see birds. That tree was next to a school and when we went there we saw another distressing scene. The tree was entirely plucked out and no birds in vicinity except for crows and mynas. We all felt very down thinking where all the birds will go if we kept on cutting down the forest and the nearby wooded areas.
Evening we went to a forest trail where Shanti has trekked many years ago. There were also lantana bushes on both sides of the trail, but good bird activity. We saw leaf bird,white cheeked barbet,oriental white eye. For few metres there was a stone path and then mud path started. Its an Eucalyptus forest, so here also you can’t see many diversity. In few minutes we saw a small pond and after that the trail is not clear. There were brandy bottles everywhere. I have no clue why people have to drink in forest area and dump the garbage there too.
Forest should be one of the cleanest places in the world, but in India there also we will see garbage. These broken bottles,plastic cups affect the wildlife living in forest in many ways. If humans are the intelligent species in this planet, why we cannot think these things through!
Next day after seeing flowers in the garden, we spent some time sitting on the rocks in the hillock behind the house. Then vinod and me started our ride back to Chennai. When checking the routes in map, we saw Vainu Bappu observatory in Javvadu hills. We always wanted to visit Javvadu hills and its just 1 hour from Yelagiri. So we started to Javvadu hills through village roads.Once we entered Javvadu hills road, the traffic was very less.
So we drove slowly seeing the trees and colorful butterflies wandering around. We reached Vainu Bappu observatory and came to know that the observatory is open to visitors only on Saturday. So we continued our drive to Pollur Reserve Forest. We saw tall rosewood,ironwood trees. We stopped at few places and enjoyed the mountain view.
We had been to Yelagiri many times, but we had never been to Javvadu hills or Polur reserve forest . In each travel, there is always some new experience. When there is always a new experience you will never be bored with travel.