Same time last year in end-May, we spent a longish holiday in the Anamalais of Tamil Nadu – covering the entire range from the scrub-forest foothills to the evergreen sholas and grassland of the high ranges. Last year it was still dry and the monsoon build-up was only beginning. See May 2005 trip report.
This year was an altogether different story – the monsoon seemed well established and our three day stay was completely rained out. It was, however, great fun as the weather held no compromise on wildlife viewing. Animals were out in their entire splendor with most being totally unmindful of the rain – with the exception of a troupe of Bonnet Macaques that seemed to treat the rain like plague!
I made almost all images in the downpour – Image Stabilization (IS) in the lens finally proved an asset to me especially in low-light handheld situations.
We stayed a night at the Mount Stuart Bungalow near Top Slip which was originally constructed in 1886 and renovated about a hundred years later in 1996. It needs another round of renovation fairly quickly. It harbors a resident sloth bear which always flees as our jeep pulls up (not this time though) the last steep incline to the guest house. Also, since our last visit, the kitchen has been demolished by elephants. A few years ago a difficultly engineered elevated water tank was also brought down by elephants – permanently ensuring no running water in Mount Stuart. As a consequence, the good news is that this guest house is seldom given out to visitors and remains quite wild.
From Mount Stuart we made our customary foray into Karian shola in the rain. We didn’t go far when we were stopped in our tracks by the ‘deep roars’ of Great Hornbills. We got off the path and entered the thick shola and soon spotted the hornbills at the mid-tier of a massive (possibly ficus) tree. There were three birds – supposedly parents and a fledgling learning to fly. Soon the birds grew comfortable with us and came really close though still at a great height from the ground. It was fabulous watching them going about their business in the rain forest. And yes, it was raining heavily by then and we turned back to camp.
It became quite dark in the afternoon and we made a visit to the Kozhikamuthi elephant camp to watch the evening feeding session. The process of creating the meal for the elephants is fairly elaborate with specific diets for specific elephants. This feeding supplements their usual day- and night- long feeding in the nearby jungle. The mahouts and the other inhabitants of the village take special care of their elephants and it is amazing to see how their entire lives revolves around these big beasts.
The next day we drove to Kerala (less than a kilometer from Mount Stuart) into Parambikulam National Park. We stayed at the Inspection Bungalow at Anapadi just across the border. From here we went on long drives on the Kerala side of the Anamalais till the small jungle hamlet of Parambikulam. It was enroute where we got great views of a Grey-headed Fish Eagle immersed in the task of finding its next meal.
The next and last day we took the long, torturous and extremely scenic route from Top Slip to Valparai. The landscape and the habitat changes drastically as one climbs up the 40-hairpin bends ghat road. The weather changed too and it became rather chilly and visibility dropped to a few feet because of the rain and the mist. This was Nilgiri Tahr country and we photographed a herd of Tahr here last year. If there stood a herd of Tahr 10 feet from us we couldn’t have spotted them in the mist!
The grand finale was spotting the Lion-tailed Macaque troupe in the degraded sholas near Valparai – the same troupe we photographed last year at exactly the same spot. They seem to cross the road at a particular time everyday. The troupe size seems to have significantly grown over last year given the number of infants and juveniles in the troupe (no data). The danger is that these animals, typically very shy and highly arboreal, have almost completely lost fear of man and sometimes come down to cross the road. God only knows what the consequences could be…