Blog-a-thon: The Lesser Known Place, Nellyampathy

This blog-a-thon submission comes from Dr. Prasanna Sriya who feels, “there is very little awareness, understanding, interest and connection between people and their surrounding environment in India.” He writes about a recent vacation to Nellyampathy.

I was wondering how I was going to do justice [to changing this reality] and take part in this year’s Blog-A-Thon, when my recent trip to a hill station came to my rescue. I reside in the coastal city of Chennai, which is on the East Coast and is the state capital of Tamil Nadu, in South India. My 12-yr-old son and I had this adventurous trekking trip in the southwestern state of Kerala in a place called Nellyampathy, a hill station in the district of Palaghat, through an excursion with a nature society. Our society, Madras Naturalist Society, has been undertaking such events for many years. It’s through word of mouth that I happened to know such a society even existed in this fast-paced urban life. 

pra4.JPGThe places [to which we travel] always fascinated me for the mere fact that we get to see, learn, and appreciate many things such as the culture, food, climatic condition, terrain, and people of the places. Though my short stay didn’t offer me the possibility of knowing everything Nellyampathy had to offer, I learned something from what I saw, photographed, and heard. 

Our stay was from October 6th to October 9th. The geographical co-ordinates for Nellyampathy are 10° 32′ 20.84″ N  76° 40′ 58.27″ E, this shows the exact location of where we stayed the Nelyampathy – ITL Hotel Resort. Kerala is one fortunate state, for a major portion of the state lies in the Western Ghats region, which is a hotspot in terms of the richness of resources, species, ecology, and geo-climate.

The place is luscious evergreen forest and one could find tea, coffee, and cardamom estates sprawling–and for once these estates added an aesthetic view to this destination and not an eyesore. Though man has tampered with the natural vegetation, the damage created by these plantations and spice crops was not very visible, unlike most of the other places I have visited previously. This in turn preserves the natural geographical condition of the place. A slight imbalance means disaster to the fragile ecosystem. Also, for the first time in my life, I got the opportunity to see a chain of uninterrupted mountain ranges as far as the eye could spot. This was awesome. The Seethakundu,Mampara and Kesavanpara in Nellyampathy comes under the Sahya mountain ranges. Nellyamapthy is situated at a height of 1585 m above the average sea level of Western Ghats.


The Dam with Unique Mixture

The gradual ascent from plains to hills can be well appreciated as the chillyness sets in the air and the atmosphere. The first thing that we got to see was the Phothundy Dam. This dam was built in the 19th century, and what is very unique about this dam is its construction. One can expect high pressure in any earthen dam, and generally a concrete core is used to counteract this pressure. But in Pothundy, the dam is an unusual mixture of jaggery and quick lime. I couldn’t believe what I saw in front of me. My mind raced with thoughts, such as “How on Earth were labor and materials brought here?” I had goose bumps and I was proud when I learned that this dam was the 2nd dam in Asia to be constructed without using a cement mixture.

Karasuri – The Mist and Cloud-covered Mountains

The journey to Karasuri was one of the best adventure rides that I have had. I would have thought that it would be dangerous for the elderly, but we had elderly gentlemen in our group who were all the more eager and enthusiastic because they were nature photographers, and they had already visualized what they might see as the daylight broke through the darkness. We were rewarded for all the troubles that we undertook. We saw paradise on Earth.


The Unforgettable Journey to Karasuri  

The terrain to Karasuri was one of the finest in terms of adventure. The mountain jeep is the best vehicle of transport for the entire two-and-a-half hour vertical climb. The path was strewn with boulders. The ride could bring out the stomach content. Though it was a tough ride, the glimpse of the picturesque view made us forget about the bumpy ride ahead. Since the forest department didn’t lay proper tar on the road, the place has not yet become prey to tourism. The road or the path was not more than 9 feet in width, just right for a vehicle to pass. If there was an approaching vehicle in the opposite direction then it became nightmarish.  The place was not exploited and it didn’t appear that it was unexplored either. We saw the spice plantations here too, in this tough terrain and altitude, which were privately owned and managed estates and a resort.

As the day broke we saw the tropical plants nuzzle around the
mist-covered mountain ranges. We saw a breathtaking view down below us–a
group of 30 Great Pied Horbills just took off. This is a fairly big
bird about 160 cms. The sight was a mesmerizing one. This bird is
characterized as “threatened” by the IUCN as more of its habitat has
been vanishing.


Tribal People at Work

We visited a leading tea factory and saw the processing of the tea
leaves to its final form of dust. The best grade gets exported to
western nations. Since Nellyamapthy is least exploited in terms of
nature, we were able to witness the blend of the urban co-existence with
nature and natural environment. What fascinated me were the tea
estates, and how corporate responsibility rested in maintaining a
balance in this fragile eco-system. Strict government laws ensured that
virgin forest was not destroyed in the name of development. Reclaimed
forest land, which was given on long lease for agriculture, was a
welcoming sign for revitalization of the place.  

The people who worked in the teas estates were predominantly the tribal
people. They retained their identity, their culture, and their way of
living, but mixed comfortably with the society and this changed
environment. Women took up the less strenuous job of cutting the tender
tea leaves; earlier the tea leaves were hand plucked and only the tender
leaves were used. The quality and aroma of the tea are determined by
the tenderness of the leaves that are either plucked or cut. However, I
only witnessed the leaves being cut, rather than handpicked.

The workers at the estate were given a place to stay; a place where you
and I would pay hefty amounts year after year in the name of resort,
wilderness, getaway, and holiday. I envied these people as they were
getting the best. They lived in huts made of mud and clay with thatched
roofing in the wilderness. They told stories of wildlife encounters with
creatures such as leopards, Indian sloth bear, and the Indian Bison.  I
learned about co-existence between different groups of people, namely
the tribal and the urban man, and last, but not the least, the different
species of wildlife.Our group was fortunate to trek these shoals, which
were amidst the urban setting. A memorable conjure!!

Dr.Prasanna Sriya

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