Into the Anaimalais
(PART I IN A SERIES OF THREE)
To those familiar with the Western Ghats the Anaimalais (sometimes spelt “Anamalais”) conjures visions of vast wilderness areas with varied landscapes and myriad life forms. From the northern plains near Udumalpet and Pollachi a wall of rugged mountains runs east on the same latitude from the Palanis into the Anaimalais. On a clear day, it is a breathtaking view. Douglas Hamilton, the 19th Century British surveyor, artist and adventurer who was one of the first Europeans to describe and sketch the Palani Hills, visited the Anaimalais for indulgent bouts of “sport.”
Today the area around Udumalpet is a magnet for enormous wind farms generating significant amounts of electricity from wind flowing through the Palghat gap. The ‘elephant hills’ are indeed remarkable for their diversity and large protected areas. But there is also a good deal of modern human-influenced landscapes in the form of expansive tea estates, gigantic hydroelectric reservoirs and forests of teak and eucalyptus. The area has enjoyed protection over many years and today the Anaimalais is one of the 2nd largest (the largest in the Nilgiri Biosphere reserve) protected areas in the Western Ghats combing sanctuaries from Tamil Nadu as well as Kerala. In 2009 the large Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary was upgraded to the Anamalais Tiger Reserve (ATR), giving its protection a higher level of importance. Some of the hiking that we traditionally do out of Kodai is in the ATR and favorite hiking places such as Manjampatti and (parts of) Kukkal are actually in its jurisdiction.
I have had the good fortune to visit the Anaimalais on several occasions over the last 20 or so years. Most of the visits were on trips between Kodai and Munnar, as I passed through Chinnar and the dry thorn forests in the Marayoor valley. In 1993 my cousin Anna and I visited Ragupathy Kannan at his field station in Top Slip where he was conducting a landmark study on the Great Pied Hornbill (Buceros bicornis). A few years later I returned to Topslip and Valparai to photograph Lion Tailed Macaques (Macaca silenus). I had several rewarding LTM encounters in Anaigudi and then the reliable Puthuthottam estate near Valparai. But that was in an era of film before digital equipment was available. Places like Valparai (and even Munnar) were sleepy and neglected by roving tourists. Today, Valparai is changing and is being touted as the next great hill station in Tamil Nadu. This trip, at the end of our summer holidays, was designed to fill in some gaps in my fauna imagery to accompany the Western Ghats landscapes. I was also eager to explore the back road to Chalikudi and make contact with the Nature Conservation Foundation. Lenny came along too and it was a treat to share the places and adventure with him.