On the Southern Rim of the Palanis (Part II)
On the first trip we had spent four days on the cliff area between Ibex Peak (the 2nd highest peak in the Palanis at 2,516 meters) and Vandaravu (the highest peak in the Palanis at 2,535 meters). In the second trip we made our way to Marion Shola via Berijam and then surveyed its cliff and marsh areas for three days. Marion Shola is an old favorite haunt and camping spot for people familiar with the Palanis. In days past its bungalow was an important stopping off point on the 80 Mile Round and has been the destination of many happy camping trips for generations of hikers. It once commanded a panoramic view southwards over rolling grasslands to the dramatic cliffs of the escarpment. Plantations of various non-indigenous trees now block this view.
My parents brought us here on one of our first camping trips in 1980. The inimitable rascal and con artist Perumal was supposed to help us organize packhorses from Berijam, but he failed to show having taken a chunk of money as a down payment. That story joins the legions of famous Perumal tales and it provided an interesting anecdote as I brought my own family on our very first camping trip together. The road from Berijam Lake to Marion Shola is badly pot-holed and virtually abandoned. Trees have fallen over parts of it and several times we had to saw and hack our way through thickets. Elephants seem to like using it and I was astonished to see more than 20-30 piles of their droppings on the way (in days past elephants were extremely rare in the upper Palanis). Granite milestones still mark what was once the road between Kodai and Munnar (built as an evacuation route in the 1940s in anticipation of a Japanese invasion). We based ourselves at the Marion Shola bungalow, which though dilapidated is still standing and provides shelter during heavy showers.
Once again Bob & Tanya from the Vattakanal Conservation Trust played a key role in organizing this trip, securing permissions and ensuring that any findings would find their way to the Forest Department. Their range officers and other officials in the area are indeed very interested in the potential for restoration in the area. Two officers visited us during the trip to talk about specific grasslands restoration ideas.
The issue of grasslands invasion by non-native species was once again brought to our attention. Near to the bungalow the grasslands parallel to the cliff are being overtaken by eucalyptus and wattle. At Prayer Point a place (see images) where we have traditionally come to see the cliffs, wattle trees have grown out over the edge of the cliff. We had a sighting of the herd of Nilgiri tahr that is regularly seen here. We had last seen and photographed them on our Kurinji trip in 2006. This year’s Tahr census reported some of the healthiest populations from here and the nearby Pass Peak.
On the 2nd day we explored westwards to a promontory labeled on survey maps as “rocky knob.” The 80 Mile round hike takes a short cut that cuts off this fascinating section of cliff and, thus, most people are unfamiliar with it. In May 1990 I had camped here with my schoolmate Matthew and we had explored the cliff area and pockets of shola. At one edge of cliff dense shola tumbles over the edge down to the lower plains near Bodi. The “secret shola” is still very healthy and on this trip we found what looks like a path at the top. The survey map has a marked trail descending to the plains through the valley. We will leave this task to the able talents and explorations of Bruce Dejong who was searching for the path on our earlier expedition to Ibex Peak. Unfortunately the grassy cliff path has been almost consumed by wattle and pinus trees. We returned to Kodai convinced that this area is in urgent need of restoring action.