The Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu
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We drove via Manjur to Avalanche in the Kundah reserve forest. Avalanche at 2036m altitude, is by a crystal clear, turquoise lake of the same name, surrounded by meadows, mountains, plantation forest and dense sholas [montane rainforest].
The Tamil Nadu electricity board maintains a Power house there as well as part of the Kundah power project. Our days were spent lolling in the meadows, walking up the surrounding mountains about 2500m, exploring the dense shola forests and just basking in the peace and pristine clean air. Nights were about -4C but daytime was bright, sunny and at times warm, thanks to the high altitude, low latitude [about 11N] combo. A family of Nilgiri jet black langurs were residents of the trees in the rest house and they entertained us no end in the mornings. Another family of Malabar giant squirrels occupied the trees at the back but we could spot them just occasionally. We spotted a herd of Nilgiri tahr high up on the rocks above the valve house of the powerhouse. A drive to Upper Bhavani reservoir [30km] rewarded us with views of the huge Thai shola valley, herds of bisons and scores of barking deer and sambar. Last year we saw elephants, nilgiri martens, wolves and civet cats but not this year. The best bit was exploring the shola forest, dark, dense and dripping with all sorts of epiphytes. Numerous mountain streams run through the sholas creating little waterfalls along the way. The forest floor was carpeted in ground orchids[seeded] and assorted high altitude wildflowers. Crimson nilgiri rhododendrons were just coming into bloom, they are called Pongal pooh as they flower during Pongal festival which is around 14 Jan. We also saw a huge feline pugmark which we were told was of a tiger. Could be given the size. After a few days here, we proceeded to Ooty stopping at the scenic bridge dividing Avalanche lake and Emerald lake. Ooty seemed grotty coming from Avalanche. We stayed at the govt run Hotel Tamil Nadu which gave us a 50% discount, and was quiet and well located on a small hillock near the main commercial area. As this was our second trip we knew exactly what we wanted to see. The next day we first went upto Dodabetta Peak at 2637m the 2nd highest mountain in peninsular India, then took a trip down the Pykara road stopping first not at the touristy "Pine Forest" but about half a km further where we cut through the woods down to the Kamaraj Sagar lake. Very pleasant. A stray ordinary monkey and lots of birds kept us company. Further down the same road, we stopped by and entered a small patch of shola forest, delighting in the new unidentified orchids we found here. After a long while, we continued to the 9th Mile meadows and again went further about 1 km, cut through the forest and were rewarded with a huge vast expanse of meadows all to ourselves. Great views of the nose shaped Mukurthy mountain and surrounding ranges, without any other tourists and their litter. Resting in a meadow is a wonderful feeling. From here we continued to Pykara waterfalls, not much water at this time of the year, its more rapids or cascades, but a pleasant walk along the river nonetheless. Pykara Lake further down was serene and vast, completely cleaned up since last year, credit to the tourist department. Bisons and deer come to the shores late evening and early mornings. It is possible to combine the Pykara trip with a visit to the Mudumalai WLS which is a downhill detour from Thalaikundah on the way, but as we had been there the previous year, and fresh from Upper Bhavani, we decided to relax on the Pykara route instead. We also spent a day at the huge Botanical gardens, walking upto the Toda tribal mund [settlement]on top. A strange sight at the gardens was of a group of Indian male tourists approaching a young white couple for a group photograph with some of them covertly staring down the girls blouse. I thought that was very disgusting, they would never have dared behave like that with an Indian woman. From there we walked to Ooty Lake and took a mini train ride along the shores. Also did the Ooty Coonoor Ooty mountain train ride which gives different views of tea gardens and slopes, and visited Syms botanic Park in Coonoor as well. We bought our fill of tea, aromatic oils, spices and scrumptious Ooty fudge from KingStar and excellent bakery products - puffs, butter biscuits and cakes from Ooty bakeries. Ooty cheese and marmalade is also a good buy. Home made chocolates of every variety are sold from all outlets including the mechanic, electrician and hardware stores, but we didnt particularly fancy them. Jagdeesh took us back via the Kotagiri Mettupalayam route which is a good clear road with less traffic, passing by vast tea estates, eucalyptus and shola forests at the higher levels and tall evergreen forests at the lower levels. There was a light sleet and the air was laden with the fragrance of eucalyptus and mist. We were lucky to see a Malabar giant squirrel frolicking in the jungle on the way. From Mettupalayam we took a different route all the way to the airport byepassing the Coimbatore city traffic. All in all a fantastic holiday, we are going back as soon as possible.