A trek in the Anamalais has been on my mind for a while. I was advised to wait till the monsoon rains arrived in June. The forest was meant to come to life after a rather dry spell during the hot summer months. I was also keen on visiting before the leeches took over the forest floor.
Our group for the trek included an award winning photographer, nature lovers and a few fitness enthusiasts. We were a mixed group, across age groups, but we were all equally excited about the trek. We arrived in TopSlip just when the morning sun was beginning to make an appearance from behind the monsoon clouds. After a quick breakfast and briefing by our trek leader, Saravanan Chandrasekaran of Canopy Nature Academy, we headed into the shola eager to see what the forest had in store for us. We started out on a wide track with tall trees towering over us on both sides; that was damp from the rains.
The sound of the cicadas seemed omnipresent and felt like the pulse of the forest, ebbing and flowing. The guards and watcher who accompanied us were very alert, scanning the forest for signs of animal activity. Meanwhile, Saravanan shared with us interesting facts along the way as we traversed the shola. We stopped to observe tree trunks, wild mushrooms, giant spiders, animal scat, creepers climbing onto trees and the undergrowth.
Once we exited the shola, we checked for leeches on our shoes before moving along the path. A loud and hoarse call from the higher canopy drew our attention. It was a pair of hornbills. The dense canopy above us made it difficult for us to spot them, although the sound was loud and clear. As we were all busy looking up for the birds, one of the guards made a very exciting discovery on the forest floor.
Among the litter of leaves on the ground was a Cochin Forest Cane Turtle, an endangered species endemic to the Western Ghats. With all of us crowding around it, the turtle quickly tucked its head and legs under its shell. The emerald green sheen on the turtle’s shell made it look like it has been wandering around in this forest for a very long time. He barely moved and only a lucky few managed to see his bright pink head peek out.
Later, through Saravanan, we learnt that it was an extremely rare sighting. The Cochin Forest Cane Turtle was first discovered in the year 1912 and there were no official sightings for the next 70 years. As of date, there are no known specimens living in captivity, anywhere in the world. Even researchers who looked for this turtle in the Anamalais for weeks have gone home disappointed! We left the turtle behind in his humble habitat and started climbing a hill shortly.
A couple of hundred meters of climbing led us to the face of a hill with vistas of the forest below and reservoirs across the state border in Kerala. The tree cover below was lush green from the monsoon rains. We could clearly see below, the bamboo thickets, the teak plantations and the sholas; each distinct from the other. We walked up the hill a little more where in places, the forest looked a vibrant mono-chromatic green.
When we emerged into the open again, we walked into a meadow that had a few hundred grasshoppers with yellow and black stripes, quickly hopping out of our way. We could see the rain clouds rolling-in from across the state border. So, we decided to head back soon. Shortly after we started our descent, it started raining. After a quick stop to put on our rain gear we trudged down the hill and our pace quickened only in the areas where leeches were present.
We slowed down in one area and were cautious as the guards observed signs of bear activity, with small pits dug on the ground and fresh bear scat. Further down the hill, Saravanan pointed to an area where he speculated that an elephant calf could have played, not long ago. Along with some dung there was a small patch of mud on the grass near a pit; the calf could have rolled on the grass after dipping itself in the mud pit.
We were almost down the hill when we heard an elephant trumpet very loudly, not very far from us. The cheerful stride of our group came to an absolute standstill, with all of us anxious and wide-eyed. The guards and watcher paused and scanned the area in the direction of the noise. Saravanan remarked that it is a sign of good elephant behaviour as the animal is just alerting us to its presence. There seemed to be this unwritten rule – If you respect my space, I shall respect yours too!
We slowly moved along the track after they ensured that the elephant had moved on and was no longer a threat to us. Near the streams we could hear the frogs croaking in delight with the rain still coming down upon us. A final short climb led us back to the tourist office near which we paused for a short break and a quick snack. We were all physically weary after walking back in the rain but felt rejuvenated and calm in our minds. The Anamalais embraced us in all her glory and showered upon us (pun intended!) her beauty and magnificence.
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