say God is impartial, but there are some places on this tiny planet of
ours that defy the claim. One such place is located right next to God's
Own Country -- Kerala, not Africa.
Just an hour away from
Kodaikanal in Tamil Nadu, lies the fresh-like-a-breeze Mannavanur
valley. If, instead of taking a car, you choose to get aboard the state
transport bus, do so on an empty stomach. You'll save a tonne of money
but super human powers of balance and courage will be needed to
withstand the ride.
The ancient bus will hurtle through
winding hilly roads and hairpin turns at the speed of sound. For the
duration of the ride, which is about an hour and a half, the bus driver
will nonchalantly chat up passengers and conductor alike, oblivious
that the bus is almost a breath away from certain disaster. But then,
as Calvin's dad would say, "It builds character."
you leave Kodai town behind, wilderness and terrace farms alternate,
expanding into the valley below. But all the views and valleys and
busted valves (yes, the bus breaks down from time to time) cannot
prepare you for the Mannavanur valley.
The very first
glimpse will ensure instant silence. The second will cause disbelief.
By the third glimpse you'll try to take it all in. The rolling grassy
hills with clumps of chola forests that take over at regular intervals,
a lake located in just the right spot and the Perijam forest spread out
like a blanket, its edges skirting the valley. Ferns of silver, bronze,
green and brown invade the hills and offset the many shades of green.
marshy stream escapes from the lake and snakes its way between the
hills, its water plants straining against the wind. The road generously
curves all around the valley offering you a panoramic view before it
leads you to the Mannavanur village.
over a thousand households clustered around the road and spread over
the hills beyond, the village offers little more than a few condiment
shops and three or four tiny hotels or chai kadais (tea shops), where
you can get meals and meat, dosas and steaming hot cups of tea and
There are a few places to stay in, if you are ready to rough it out.
a kilometre long walk back on the bus route (or you could request the
driver to stop on the way if you're alert) will take you to Bird's Eye,
the best accommodation for miles.
A different perspective
pretty rustic as well, with bare stone cottages on a hill side with
mattresses and coarse blankets on stone beds. But there are three
things that redeem it. First, true to its name, a 200-degree view of
the valley greets you every time you step out of your cottage. Second,
there's no back-breaking climb to get there. You cross the road, step
off, and you're in the valley, bounding over hills, racing towards the
occasional trees carpeted with fluorescent fungi. There are several
rough paths made mainly by zealously grazing cattle and, other than the
marsh, there are no dangers you'll encounter on your way. Third, the
loos are fabulous. Richard the caretaker, doubles up as cook and the
man will bring you warm water whenever you want. If you take your own
supplies, the kitchen can also be used for an extra fee.
The magical nook
are plenty of hidden surprises to uncover, so if you have your own
vehicle, explore the hills and valleys on your wheels. If you choose to
walk, then do visit the magical enclave I stumbled upon.
couple of kilometres beyond the village lies a path into a magical
forest with plants and nooks the likes of which are rarely seen. And it
all starts with a stream. Follow the stream and discover a wonderland
that goes on and on, every turn revealing new curiosities and colours.
Numerous visits aren't enough to explore this pretty patch. Other than
leeches in the rainy season, there's nothing here that can bother you.
With so much to explore, tremendous positive energy, an explosion of
life and many scenes to drink in, Mannavanur is a place that promises
to draw you back time and again.
Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai, there are daily buses to Kodaikanal and
trains to Kodi Road Junction located at the base of the hill, three
hours from the town. The Nagarcoil Express leaves from CST on all days
except Monday and Tuesday.
a bus that leaves every couple of hours from the Kodaikanal bus stand.
The ticket costs Rs 30-40. Taxis are also available and are a more
comfortable option. They cost anywhere between Rs 800-1,400 depending
on the driver, your bargaining skills and the time of the year.
best time to visit is between March to August, before the rains
begin. There's a tiring 23km trek or jeep ride to Perijam lake but I
wouldn't even speak of it in comparison to this forest close by.
Permissions are needed from the Government of Tamil Nadu Tourist
Office, Annasalai, Kodaikanal, Ph: 04542- 241675.
When he's not busy radio jockeying, Hari doubles up as a writer and photographer