Sunday, May 02, 2010

Travelogue - The Switchback Mountain

Now that my vacation plans are toast, I thought I'll pull a travelogue that has been sitting as a draft for a significantly long time (almost 6 months), and publish.

Blessed are the people with a home in the mountains or close to it. It is an experience to be on the hills or close to one. The air, the silence, the sounds, the vistas, the clouds, the mist!!! I could go on and on.

The hills in the distance beckon
How many times while going on journeys, you come across a fork in the road or a board with directions to a place of which you have little or no idea of, but somehow urges you to visit it? Our visit to Kolli Hills (Kolli Malai in Tamizh) in Namakkal district of Tamil Nadu was one such. Used to see markers to it on the Salem-Namakkal highway near Rasipuram on my drives to Thanjavur, and before one such trip, decided to take the fork to Kolli Hills and then continue the journey. This was a rare 'whole family' occasion with my parents and siblings/family joining the trip.

Lonely road to the hills
Trolled about the place on the Web and one of the high points of the place was the approach to the top. I am not sure, but the road from the foothills to the top of the mountain must figure at least in the Limca book of records.

National Highway 7, as smooth as it gets
Bengaluru (mind it, from the outskirts) to Salem, starting in the morning, was an effortless cruise due to the NHAI paving an international grade road for the entire stretch. Detoured into Salem, packed lunch at Adyar Ananda Bhavan (A2B) at Salem and started towards Namakkal. The drive till the Rasipuram diversion was good (the national highway NH7 is being 4 laned all the way to Kanyakumari as a part of the North-South corridor) and then an abrupt slow-down to a crawl as we entered Rasipuram. After enquiries and around half an hour of further driving, we were at the foothills of the mountain range.

Kolli Hills is a part of the Eastern Ghats and is around 1300 metres above mean sea level (MSL). The climb up is heady. 70 hair-pin bends (or switchback turns) till you reach the first village on the top (approx. 20 kms) and from there to other places (villages) around on the hills, there are further more hair-pin bends to negotiate. Either you can enjoy those 180° turns or sit tight with your head reeling and stomach churning (and inhaling a citrus fruit or eat sour candy).
You can see the road starting at the top left corner and snaking its way to the center

Negotiating a curvy hair-pin bend
Green carpet
The beauty with any mountain/hill road is that as you slowly go up the gradient, the forest cover increases and by the time you realize it, there is a valley on one side and you have climbed the hills and a carpet of green soothes you. The hair-pin bends here were not difficult to negotiate with the sparse traffic, having negotiated the steep ghats from Bandipur to Ooty via Masinagudi (36 high gradient hair-pin bends, boy! what a route it is) a few weeks prior to that. It took around an hour to get to the top of the hills from the base, and the journey was worth it.

Approaching the summit
Stopped near a wayside temple with a mountain stream beside it, with a nice flow of water. The water was cold to the touch and refreshing. After standing relaxed in the flowing water for a few minutes in rapt silence with nothing but the sounds of the gurgling water on the rocks and the mini waterfall, unpacked the A2B lunch and gobbled it up, sharing it with two doggies that were roaming around. Surprisingly no monkeys at that point. Especially when you are really hungry, food tastes like 'devaamritha' and A2B's curd rice slips through your tongue to the stomach.

The vista view
There was a vista point at the summit from a government guest house where the valley down below and the plains beyond can be seen. The wind was very strong at this point pushing everything around. There were a few other vista points as well, but we decided to go to a few places and then head down before darkness falls.

Arappaleeswarar Temple
Some places of interest around
This place is famous for its Paari link to Tamil Sangam literature. The anecdote is that king Paari, who on seeing a jasmine (mullai) climber on the roadside without support to climb upon, left his chariot for the creeper to use as a prop. (Mullaikku thaer koduththaan Paari) Nothing much exists of a palace or its associated trappings. There is an ancient Shiva temple (Arappaleeswarar) and a gorgeous waterfall (Aakaasa Gangai) for which you have to go down a 1000 steps. We didn't do it as the skies were darkening, tiredness was setting in, and we had to go another 160+ kms from base of the hills to reach Thanjavur and driving in the dark is treacherous because of the curvy roads till Tiruchi and demonic drivers with their headlights blazing on hi-beam. On the way down, picked up some hill produce (pineapples, oranges etc) and the oranges proved useful to overcome nausea while negotiating those 70 bends down.

The roads were lovely, especially for a road less travelled. The hills are still unspoilt and hopefully remains that way. There is an annual festival on Paari that happens which seems to get crowds there. But it is relatively peaceful and hidden, otherwise. For those who have heard of this place somewhere on TV, yes!, it was featured in a diversionary story in the Tamizh soap of a life-time, the one and only "Kolangal" (gee, I forgot the serial's name suddenly and had to look it up and whoa, I miss that stupid serial in hindsight :-))


gils said...

:((( no such trips for me in near future :(( unga post apdiye travel n living script mathiri iruku..semma writeup

Ramesh said...

Very nice. Did not know the existence of Kolli Malai, but you've brought it to life with a lovely write up (will evern forgive the A2B curd ice reference :) )

@RamMmm's Company - Please order him to go on his vacation, instead of "toasting" it ; we want to read more such posts.

zeno said...

edhai ellam nan solla kudathu than irunthalum solren, "neenga intha trip yum olunga vandi ottama, veetla thittu vanginatha pathi sollava illa" :)

sonnathu neengal thana? kolangal maranthu pochunu sonnathu neengal thana?

RamMmm said...

@gils-:-( Short trips should always be there. You can always go somewhere around. unga kittayirundhu oru travelogueum padichcha maadhiri nyabagam illai.

@Ramesh-:-)RamMmm's group is on a critical path and hence it would be all work and no play for some more time till things ease out. :-(

@zeno-No thittus that time as far as I remember. The fun is (as usual) in driving in the night. 3 pairs of eyes to watch the road. Self, Señora and my mother and scolding will always be there for driving in the night. :)

I was also surprised at the Kolangal miss. No recall for more than 10 seconds. Had to look back at my earlier posts for the recollection. :-(

Uttara said...

How true about people who are blessed to live near mountains! :).. Just posted something similar :P

RamMmm said...

:-) Saw your post Uttara. Almost an echo of this. Having a good time I presume.

zeno said...

free ya vidunga, avange eppavum ippadi than boss. sandaila kiliyatha satta enga irukku?

Swaram said...

Wow! I came to know about a new place, thanks to ur write-up :) Mountains, waterfall, temple .. all-in-one place. Am sure it makes a gr8 destination for a relaxing vacation. Beautiful pics :)

zeno said...

one more thot on criticality, evlavo critical path ellam travel panni achu, edha panna mudiyatha
BTW edhodho critical path ellama clear path agudhu, ungaladhu agada ;)

A journey called Life said...

nice write up.. loved the pics and i cant decide if i like the beaches more or the mountains..

Im thinking how nice it would have been to climb down those 1000 steps..

There is really so much to explore, wow.. makes me want to go on a trip like this.

RamMmm said...

@zeno-aamaa aamaam on criticality. :) olunga velai pannalainna, they will kick me out. :)

@Swaram-Still not spoilt, but really accessible is what I felt. Still to go a bit furter in terms of accommodation et al, and it is slowly starting up it seems. Thanks.

@AJCL-Would have been nice to climb 2000 steps (and suffer cramps maybe in the night) :-) You'll have to find a place like in California where the mountains abut the sea, if you want the best of both. :-) Thanks.

And the pics are downsized from their originals to reduce size. :)

ambulisamma said...

An exciting travelogue indeed,me thinking to visit,but for sure know,it can't happen any sooner.

RamMmm said...

@ambulisamma-Eppo vaenumnaalum poyittu vaanga. A family outing is always good. (as long as there is no samayal and special considerations et al for everybody, as Señora would say)