Friends of Brahmagiri...

Oriental white eye
Oriental white eye. Photo: Jimmy Kamballur

The Tholpetty Wildlife Sanctuary is a great spot for a dose of adventure and an ideal place to go with kids, family and friends in tow. By adventure we just mean some wildlife and a forest and nothing fancy. But keep in mind to reach in time for a spectacular sunrise. A journey, with just five friends and no expectations whatsoever... We started the trip from Kottayam by 10 pm in a Ritz car and crossed the Thamarassery Churam to reach Lakkidi by 4 in the morning. This gave us an hour for some shut-eye before the grand rising show. But alas all hopes for a golden spectacle was dashed with the clouds gathering in and darkening the skies. After a 4-kilometre drive and merely touching up on the Pookode Lagoon, we headed straight to the Banasura Sagar Dam. The dam is said to be the largest earth dam in India and World’s 2nd largest dam. The Banasura Sagar Dam is set over the Karamanathodu tributary of the Kabini River. If there was any moodiness in the atmosphere surrounding the dam; this was immediately dispelled when the food packets from home were opened. And on the menu was Chendamuriyan Kappa (Tapioca) with spicy dried chilly chutney. It was truly blissful, enjoying this food and the lovely view, the slopes, dipping valleys and the tiny islands. Thank you Arjun-Geethu, for the awesome food that went with the view... When you reach Kattikulam from Mananthavady, there is a little confusion as to where to go next. If you take the right, you can reach the Kuruwa Islands via Bavalli. And from Kattikulam, if you go along the Thirunelli route, you can reach Kutta. A pretty safe option when you are travelling with family. On both sides of the road, there are only forest areas with sparsely populated trees, and this makes it easier for wildlife sightings. The picture that comes to your mind when you think of Wayanad, is that of pathways through dense jungles and a herd of wild elephants waiting ahead to make a crossing. Let’s hope for the best though! Our stay for the night was planned at Thirunelli. Before going there we continued driving along the Mananthavady-Tholpetty route, or rather inching along under a 30 kilometre speed limit and keeping our eyes and ears open to spot some animals. With the sun’s rays falling on the tender grass, we saw some wild Deer grazing; the leader of the lot was a little bothered with our intrusion. Some peace-loving Hanuman Monkeys atop the trees busy munching on something, wild peacocks. Even though we reached the point where we had to turn to Thirunelli, we kept driving on till we reached Kutta on the Kerala-Karnataka border. The scenes that just went by repeated over and over again, but still no elephants anywhere in sight! Along the road, glimpses from the forest life, deer, peacocks, wild hens, wild bison, roaming about in search of their daily bread. When we reached Tholpetty, there were long queues of tourists waiting to be taken on the Jeep safari into the jungle. We decided to turn back to our accommodation at Thirunelli. On the way that you have to turn to go to Thirunelli, there is a small road side eatery selling hot and fluffy Unniappams. Don’t forget to drop in to savour some; it is a sweet memory that will stay with you for long. Thirunelli is famous for the Lord Vishnu Temple that is situated at the foothills of the Brahmagiri mountain ranges. When you are travelling to Thirunelli, there is also another ancient temple carved out of stone – the Kottiyur Sree Kaleeswari Temple. Stop your vehicle on the side of the road here and walk a little inside, a pleasing experience indeed. Some huge footprints nearby will get you thinking, if it were of elephants, reminding you that the possibilities of the forest are myriad. Go much deeper and you will come across a clearing where the Adivasis (Tribals) do their pujas. You can see some spears adorned with glass bangles dug in the ground. But not a soul in sight to ask what this was for... After a short rest at Thirunelli, we went straight to the Kuruwa Islands in the evening. By the time we reached, it started raining heavily and entry into the islands was restricted because of the rising water levels. Just as we were heading back to Thirunelli, we heard that sound. An elephant herd nearby was making a ruckus breaking bamboo shoots and feeding on them. We saw the reddish brown muddy backs of the elephants first, with much ease they used their flexible trunks to gather the bamboo leaves and then into their waiting mouths. Within seconds they sensed our presence and retreated into their sacred spaces among the dense shrubbery. Finally the sight that we have been hoping for, and after that we just couldn’t get enough of the bounty that nature presented before our eyes. That’s how the magical forest is – some sights keeps eluding you, whereas some others appear when you least expect it. The Thirunelli Temple is situated right in the centre of the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary. On the North – East is the Nagerhole Sanctuary and Bandipur Sanctuary in Karnataka, and on the South-East there is Muddumalai Wildlife Sanctuary of Tamil Nadu. Due to the rich bio-diversity, this is an important bio-reserve under the Nilgiri range. Tirunelli is replete with wild-gooseberry trees and its pleasantly cool climate soothes you to instant sleep. After the night, all bleary-eyed and dreamy we were packed into the first trekking-jeep trip by 7 am next morning. In the trek, that will take an hour, the fauna on the previous day repeats – deer, monkeys, peacocks, giant red squirrel, wild bison, and all seem to be in a hurried mood too. During the safari, we saw a lamp lit near a giant tree, the guide informs us that this place is called Ayyappanpara. Lord Ayyappan who went in search of tiger milk is believed to have rested here en route. There are daily pujas done at the spot by those living nearby. Now that we were lucky enough for some wild elephant sighting, a leopard or a tiger would have been a big added bonus. We went on the jungle trek with this wishful thinking. But there are literally many more miles for us to travel, many more experiences that needs to come our way before we can know the forest in all its glory, before we are allowed to feel the throbbing pulse. There is no disappointment though, just an earnest hope that someday the real magic will definitely unfold before us. **Things to keep in mind before the trip:** 1.It’s a good idea to carry your own food if you are travelling with children. 2.Never dispose or be careless with plastic inside the forest. 3.The best time for a trek in Tholpetty is early in the morning. 4.Do not try to feed the animals with the food you are carrying. 5.The speed limit while you are in the forest is 30 kilometres, avoid blaring music and sounding horns. 6.If a Thirunelli temple visit is planned, then there is a Panchatheertha rest house nearby offering affordable overnight stay. Contact 04935_210055.

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