Tag Archives: Amboli Ghat

Faith Accompli: 10 Quirky roadside shrines in India

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Bullet Motorcycle temple, Aeroplane Gurudwara, Traffic Ganesha to Visa Hanuman, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY pick out 10 quirky roadside shrines in India

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India is a country that takes religion quite seriously. As if 33 crore gods in the Hindu pantheon were not enough, there are temples dedicated to seers, saints and larger than life figures. Actors are often idolized – there’s an Amitabh Bachchan temple in Kolkata, a Khushboo shrine at Trichy and a Namitha temple in Tirunelveli. Politicians too have ardent followers – a Mahatma Gandhi temple at Bhatra village in Sambalpur to a cardboard temple in Karimnagar dedicated to Sonia Gandhi, an MGR shine at Thirunindravoor, Chennai or a proposed Mayawati temple at Natpura in Uttar Pradesh’s Bundelkhand region. Actor Manoj Tiwari takes hero worship to a new level with a Sachin Tendulkar temple (because he’s the ‘god of cricket’) in his hometown Atarwalia in Bihar’s Kaimur district. Forget humans, there are shrines for animals too. Rats are deified as ancestors at Karni Mata temple at Deshnoke in Rajasthan while dogs turn into gods at a unique canine temple at Ramnagar in Karnataka’s Channapatna district! Here we showcase some truly offbeat roadside shrines in India…

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Bullet Bana temple, Pali (Rajasthan)
Nobody can deny the cult status the Royal Enfield motorbike enjoys in India, but a shrine dedicated to the 350 cc Bullet? Bang on the NH-65 highway via Rohet to Jodhpur stands the roadside temple of Bullet Banna or Motorcycle Baba. It is in memory of Om Singh Rathore of Chotilla village, who died here in a motorcycle accident in 1988. The cops took his bike to the police station, but the next morning it went missing and was strangely found parked at the crash site. Each time the bike was impounded, it returned on its own to the accident-prone spot. Believing it to be divine will, locals built a temple in Om Banna’s memory with his Bullet enshrined alongside his garlanded photo. Travelers stop by to light incense sticks and pray for a safe passage.

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18 bata 2 temple, Naldehra (Himachal Pradesh)
In the hills, it’s not unusual for shrines to crop up at accident prone areas and treacherous spots. However what makes this Naldehra shrine unique is its name – ‘Atharah bata do’ or 18/2. It is believed that in a tragic crash some years ago, a bus went over the precipice resulting in eighteen fatalities and only two survivors. The temple that came up on the dangerous curve thus got its strange appellation.

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Chain Tree, Vythiri (Kerala)
In Kerala’s hilly district of Wayanad, beyond the misty ghats of Lakkidi near Vythiri, just off the NH-212 stands an unusual tree in chains. It recounts the tragic tale of Karinthandan, a young tribal who guided a British engineer to find a safe route through the treacherous Thamrasseri Ghat. He was killed equally treacherously. It is said his troubled spirit began haunting travellers and often led to accidents. So a puja was performed by a priest to pacify his soul which was then chained to a tree. The iron shackles still drape the branches of the famous Chain Tree as tourists drop by for a quick picture. While on trees, the nature temple of Chingan Chira, 10 km from Kollengode in Palakkad district, deserves mention. With a canopy spread over 2 acres, the cluster of banyan trees looks eerie with wooden houses and offerings dangling from it. Adding to its strange mystique are blocks of flat stone with grinders, mortars and pestles placed around it. Devotees drop by on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays to perform pujas, sacrifice fowls and prepare thanksgiving meals to the deity. It is a popular spot for shooting films, videos and the odd wedding album!

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Traffic Ganesha, Bangalore (Karnataka)
The Ganesha temple on Kasturba Road in Bangalore is known by many local names – Vahana (Vehicle) Ganpati, Traffic Ganesha or Accident Ganesha. Though the temple is believed to be 600 years old, for the last 60 years, motorists have been bringing their new vehicles for blessings of an accident-free life. After all, it has royal approval! As per temple priest Subramaniam Deekshit, the Maharaja of Mysore Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar was travelling in his Rolls Royce from Mysore to Bangalore, when his car broke down nearby. Forced to abandon his vehicle, the king started off on foot and saw the roadside temple. On performing a puja here, his Rolls Royce mysteriously sputtered to life. This happened a few times. Even the Diwan of Mysore, T Ananda Rao, after whom the Anand Rao Circle is named, stayed at Cantonment and regularly prayed at the shrine. When TVS opened its showroom in Bangalore, it brought its new chassis and vehicles for puja. With the opening of the Benz and Nissan showrooms on Kasturba Road, the practice caught on. The belief that an accident can be averted if you perform a puja is so strong that people come in the thousands for vahana puja during Ayudha Puja. Two-wheeler owners believe that they would upgrade to a car and small car owners think their aspirations to buy a bigger car would be fulfilled. Whether the vehicle is old or new, a cycle or a Merc, Traffic Ganesha’s fame only increases each year.

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Jaswantgarh Memorial, Near Sela Pass (Arunachal Pradesh)
Maha Vir Chakra Jaswant Singh of 4 Garhwal Rifles laid down his life during the 1962 war, fighting the Chinese Army for 72 hours along with two other soldiers. He was eventually caught and hanged at the same place where the Jaswantgarh Memorial now stands, 14 km from Sela Pass in Arunachal Pradesh. Besides a garlanded bronze bust of ‘Baba’ Jaswant Singh, the war hero’s belongings are also enshrined – his Army uniform, cap, watch and belt. An earthen lamp placed in front of the portrait of Jaswant Singh burns round the clock. While the rifleman may be no more, his six caretakers from 19 Garhwal Corps believe Babaji’s spirit lives on. He is served bed tea at 4:30am, breakfast at 9am and dinner at 7pm. They make his bed, polish his shoes, deliver the mail sent by his admirers and even clear the mails the next morning after ‘he has gone through them’. They change his bed sheets every Tuesday. Besides serving Baba, the soldiers manning the unique shrine also help needy travelers along the hazardous mountain road.

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Betaal Mandir, Mithbav (Maharashtra)
Maharashtra too has its share of strange shrines – be it a Shiva temple at Kunkeshwar built by shipwrecked Arabian sailors as thanksgiving or Pune’s Khunya Murlidhar temple whose foundations are soaked in blood. Even as the idol was being consecrated, a feud took place outside between the Peshwa and Dada Gadre, a local moneylender, leading to its strange name. Across the Konkan region, it is not unusual to find village shrines of gram-rakshaks, like the Shreedev Upralkar Prasann near Sawantwadi. Echoing the tale of Wayanad’s Chain Tree, the shrine is dedicated to a dhangar (shepherd) who revealed the passage through Amboli pass to the British and thereby got killed. He became the custodian of the passes and once when the British attacked the region, his spirit protected the people. Speaking of spirits, the small Betaal Temple by the road near Mithbav beach is much revered. The wandering spirit is invisible to the human eye. It is said, every evening, his palki (palanquin) carried by his ganas roams the area for an hour. People avoid going near his shrine around 7, else they get possessed, pull their hair and go mad. The madness is abated only after the god is appeased.

Ayyanar shrines Tamil Nadu

Keeranur Ayyanar (Tamil Nadu)
Though Tamil Nadu has many celebrated temples of the Cholas, Pandyas and Pallavas, the roadside shrines of village deities called Ayyanars are quite fascinating. Often seated with a sacrificial sword in hand or shown riding horses or elephants with a retinue of lesser gods and attendants, the deities act as guardian of the adjoining village – as rainmaker, protector of the fields and night patroller of the village borders. As votive offerings, people donate terracotta horses lining the pathway leading to the shrine, usually located in the shadow of a sacred tree or grove. Perhaps the best example can be seen off NH-210 at Keeranur, 25km south of Trichy on the road to Pudukottai in Chettinad.

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Aeroplane Gurudwara, Talhan (Punjab)
Punjab’s Doaba region, the fertile land between the two rivers Beas and Sutlej, has over six million natives settled abroad, with at least one member from each family staying overseas. Many of them owe their overseas stint to Shaheed Baba Nihal Singh Gurdwara at Talhan village near Jalandhar, better known as Hawai Jahaz or Aeroplane Gurudwara. Just off NH-1, a gate capped with a British Airways aircraft model leads to a road lined with shops selling toy planes of Lufthansa, British Airways, Air Canada and other international carriers. These are not souvenirs, but offerings to the gurudwara in the hope of going abroad! The inner sanctum on the first floor of the century-old gurudwara has several plane models in neat rows. Because of the lack of space, the gurudwara committee has started distributing the toys to underprivileged children.

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Visa Hanuman, Ahmedabad (Gujarat) & Hyderabad (Andhra)
Lord Hanuman is often considered by some as the unofficial god of encroachment. One day suddenly someone may find an udbhav murti that’s manifested itself magically or after a dream. Some just have to place a Hanuman statue or idol and within no time a small shop and a cluster of buildings will come up around it. But Hanuman or Balaji is no ordinary god. In the narrow by-lanes of Desai-ni-pol at Khadia in Ahmedabad, a Hanuman shrine guarantees 100% visa approval for any foreign country. Himanshu Mehta, priest and caretaker of the 250-year-old temple elaborates on this amazing feat. Once eight applicants had their visas approved on Diwali eve after seeking Lord Hanuman’s blessings. The temple is packed on Saturdays, with nearly a thousand ardent devotees filing their appeals for his consideration. Similar is the tale of Chilkur Balaji Temple, popularly known as Visa Balaji. Located on the banks of Osman Sagar Lake, 17 km from Mehedipatnam near Hyderabad, the temple of the Visa God is perhaps the only one in India that does not accept money offerings or have the ubiquitous hundi for donations from the devotees.

Anicut Hanuman of the 19th Vent, Trichy (Tamil Nadu)
There are Hanuman shrines on hillocks, at crossroads and by the river, but a temple in a dam, now that’s a first! Situated 15km from Trichy, the Grand Anicut or Kallanai (kal means stone, anai is dam) built by Tamil king Karikala Cholan 2000 years ago with unhewn stone is believed to be one of the world’s oldest man-made dams. At its base lies an unobtrusive Hanuman temple that has been there for 200 years. A stone tablet in one corner has an engraving of Lord Hanuman on one side and an 1804 inscription by British captain JL Calddell. Despite several attempts, engineers of the East India Company could not complete building the 19th vent of the dam. It is said that Lord Hanuman appeared in a British officer’s dream and instructed him to build a temple for him at the spot. Brushing off the bizarre dream, the officer didn’t act upon it but was soon accosted by a troop of monkeys. Strangely, the local mason too reported receiving a similar vision. Fearing further disruption of the dam work, the officer conceded and a temple was eventually built at the 19th vent. Work magically resumed thereafter and jinx was broken. Today, despite the force of River Cauvery’s waters lashing through the temple and perilous water levels in the rains, the tiny shrine still stands in defiance, almost echoing the indomitable qualities of its God.

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 30 March 2015 in National Geographic Traveller online. Read the story here: http://www.natgeotraveller.in/web-exclusive/web-exclusive-month/india-shrines/

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Drive down the Konkan Coast: NH-17 and beyond

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY drive down the Konkan Coast from Mumbai to Goa to discover quaint homestays, a Burmese palace in Ratnagiri, a temple built by Arab sailors and delicious Malvani cuisine

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Located just off the busy NH-17 or Mumbai-Goa highway lies a slice of Konkan many tend to overlook. Hop on a flight or an overnight bus bound for Goa and you are likely to miss the charms of the countryside, but take a drive down the coast and a magical world reveals itself. Pristine beaches, seaside forts, unusual temples, imposing palaces and dramatic landscapes are always close at hand from Konkan’s diverse homestays, which range from tree-houses and organic farms to earthy cottages of wood and laterite.

However, Konkan’s biggest draw is its signature cuisine, spiced with kokum, tempered with coconut and synonymous with iconic dishes like kombdi vade (chicken curry-puri), Malvani mutton curry and a wide array of sea food. Lesser known, but as varied as the creatures of the sea, is the diverse world of Konkanasth Brahmin cuisine. Mild yet full of farm-fresh flavour, meals are usually eaten off a banana leaf plucked straight from the tree and washed down with kalan (Maharashtrian kadi) and that amazing Konkani concoction, Sol kadi.

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As the road weaves past Khed, the perfect mid-stop is Ratnagiri, about 350km south of Mumbai. Though famous for its hapoos (Alphonso) mangoes, the historic town is also the birthplace of freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak. The unobtrusive double-storey house with sloping tiled roofs is a showcase of his achievements and personal memorabilia. But what’s surprising is a palace in Ratnagiri for a Burmese scion.

After the British forces defeated and captured Thibaw, the king of Burma (Myanmar) in 1885, they shipped him here to prevent a possible revolt by his subjects. When the rented bungalow where he was placed under house arrest proved inadequate, the British permitted the king to build a royal residence for himself known as Thibaw Palace. Set on the far end of a grassy field, the stupendous red edifice has quaint windows with wooden slats, a small museum and unusual artefacts like a bed made of medicinal herbs!

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Soon, the busy town of Ratnagiri slips away and we reach the village of Kotawde. Surrounded by hills on three sides and located on the banks of the Kusum river, Atithi Parinay is a beautiful homestay on a 3 acre patch. Choose from immaculate rooms with wooden floors in the main house constructed out of laterite and stone, or a tree house overlooking paddy fields, a Swiss tent with a stone floor and two rooms with a designer cowdung floor. Medha and her mother Vasudha Sahasrabuddhe offer the sattvik (vegetarian) delights of Chitpawan Brahmin cuisine and leisurely walks to the river and paddy fields.

The homestay is an ideal base to cover Ganpatipule, the sandy lair of Lord Ganesha, where the waters of the ocean come up once a year to touch the image as a symbolic oblation. As per legend, a cowherd’s cows refused to give milk and would magically empty their udders on a rocky reef. A stone image of Ganpati naturally emerged from the hillside and a temple was contsructed by Shivaji’s minister Annaji Datto Sachiv. Ater a quick stopover at the cultural showcase of Pracheen Konkan we visited lesser known beaches like Aare-Vaare and Marve before heading down the coast to Devgad.

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South of the virtually impregnable bastion of Vijaydurg and the nodal town of Jamsande is the quiet seafort of Devgad. The coastal road continues to Kunkeshwar where a 400-year-old Shiva temple stands on the shore lashed by waves. Ironically, it was built by Arabian sailors who survived a storm and erected the shrine to the region’s patron deity as thanksgiving.

The entire coast is dotted by such unusual temples, each with its own mythology. Mithbav nearby, has a Betaal Mandir dedicated to a wandering spirit that bears a malefic influence on passersby at dusk. Equally fascinating is the Gajbadevi temple overlooking Tambarde Beach, where the goddess appeared in a dream and instructed villagers to install her there for safe passage.

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Our base for this sector Pitruchaya, is a sweet homestay near Shirgaon on SH-117 or the Devgad-Nipani Road. Surrounded by brick factories and Devgad’s legendary mango orchards, the house has a stunning terrace suite and bamboo furniture from KONBAC (Konkan Bamboo & Cane Development Centre) at Kudal. Vaishali and Vijay Loke also run a Malvani restaurant for occasional drop-ins and we are treated to unusual fare like kalva (clams) and modka, a small tasty fish. The real surprise however, is Mr. Vijay’s 106-year-old mother Savitri Devi, who still washed her own clothes and cut vegetables!

We find ourselves back on the highway and turn from Nandgaon past Kankavali and Kudal to Sawantwadi, our final destination. Blessed with a 60% forest cover (the highest in Konkan), the town is swathed in green. Tucked away in a 12-acre cashew, coconut, banana and pineapple farm at the base of a small hillock is the picturesque Nandan Farms. Its mud walls, terracotta tiles, wooden beams and furniture lend an earthy appeal while Amruta Padgaonkar or Ammu’s cooking and warm hospitality make the stay worthwhile.

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The cultural hub of Sawantwadi teems with rare arts and crafts. At the ivy-laden 17th century Sawantwadi Palace, artists hand-craft Ganjifa (traditional playing cards) under the guidance of the queen Shatwashila Devi. Across Moti Talaav, families on Chitar Ali (Artist’s Lane) busily churn out lacquerware toys. Dilip Aklekar of Dwarka Farmhouse takes us to Pinguli Art Complex, where Prakash Gangawane strives to nurture the 11 loka-kalas of the Thakar community – leather puppetry, Chitrakathe and performing arts. 

After a wet trip to Amboli Ghat, a 690 m misty pass riddled with waterfalls, we are greeted by an elaborate meal at Dwarka. The 15-acre farm with cashew, coconut, banana, pineapple and 230 hapoos trees follows a plant-to-plate philosophy and acts as a migratory corridor for elephants, wild boar and exotic birds.

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Dilip remarks ‘Next time, visit Sagareshwar beach and Aronda backwaters; you’ll forget Tarkarli. In fact, you’re so close to Goa, you can take a ferry from Kiranpani to Tiracol’. But we realize, the best part about Bombay to Goa is what lay in between, as we head back up the magical Konkan coast.

Getting there: From Mumbai, take the Goa highway (NH-17) to Ratnagiri, 329 km south. Continue south on the highway till Nandgaon and turn right on SH-117 towards Devgad via Shirgaon. Take the coastal route via Kunkeshwar and Mithbav to Malvan and Vengurla. Or continue on the Mumbai-Goa road to Sawantwadi via Kankavli and Kudal. From Sawantwadi, it’s just 46km to Mapusa or a 525 km ride back to Mumbai.

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Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 16 May 2012 in Conde Nast Traveller online. 

The Hills are Alive: Top 10 escapes of the Western Ghats

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From waterfalls, peaks, wildlife parks to plantation escapes, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY choose their Top 10 spots in India’s Western Ghats across five states

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UNESCO recently recognized the Western Ghats as a World Heritage Site due to its great biological diversity and exceptional natural beauty. Running parallel to India’s western coast 30-50 km inland, the Ghats are spread over 1,40,000 sq km in a 1,600 km long chain of mountains interrupted only by the 30 km wide Palghat Gap. 39 sites across Kerala (20), Karnataka (10), Tamil Nadu (5) and Maharashtra (4) covering 7,953 sq km have been chosen in seven wildlife sub-clusters – Periyar, Anamalai, Agasthyamalai, Nilgiri, Talacauvery, Kudremukh and Sahyadri. Here’s a selection of waterfalls, wildlife parks and exotic hill escapes…

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Dudhsagar
The milky waters of the Khandepar River, a tributary of the Mandovi, plummet 310 m from a lofty ridge bisected by a railway track and a fairytale bridge. Straddling the Goa-Karnataka border deep within Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary (Mollem National Park), Dudhsagar (Ocean of Milk) is India’s fifth highest waterfall. The Vasco-Madgao-Londa railway line runs right near the falls, accessible from Castle Rock (near Tinai Ghat in Karnataka) or Collem (6 km off Mollem, 57 km from Panaji). The 12 km trek from Collem follows the railway track but the cross-country dirt track ride cuts across streams. Local bikes charge Rs.300/head for a return trip in monsoon (Jul-Sep), while jeeps ply in November. Stay at Dudhsagar Resort near Mollem checkpost.

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Amboli Ghat
In the dense mist, crystal water gurgles from Shiva’s ancient cave shrine of Hiranyakeshi, a source of the Krishna River. Perched at 690 m in the Sahyadris off the Konkan coast, this eco hotspot turns magical in the monsoon with seasonal waterfalls and incredibly high rainfall. Teeming with over 300 species of rare plants like basket karvi or aakara (Marathi for eleven) which flowers once in 11 years, Amboli became a British outpost on the road from Vengurla port to Belgaum for garrisons in Central and South India. It is believed that a dhangar (shepherd) who guided the British along the treacherous pass was killed after revealing his secret. Today, he is worshipped as the village guardian at a small shrine on Amboli Road near Sawantwadi (28 km). Stay at Whistling Woods Amboli with naturalist and reptile expert Hemant Ogale for a rewarding experience.

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Baba Budan Giri
The highest mountain range between Himalayas and Nilgiris, Baba Budan Giri is the birthplace of coffee in India. Worshipped by Hindus as Chandradrona Parvatha, where Dattatreya, Sage Atri and Anusuyya performed penance in a cave, it is also revered by Muslims as the grave of a mystic and his disciples. In 17 century Baba Budan went on a pilgrimage to Mecca and was captivated by the tantalizing aroma of coffee in Yemen. As the story goes, in 1670 he smuggled seven coffee seeds in his robes and planted them in this corner of Karnataka. From here the coffee plant, a closely guarded Arab secret, spread across India. Trace the journey from berry to cup at Chikmagalur’s Coffee Museum, climb Karnataka’s highest peak Mullayyanagiri (6,314 ft) or trek from Baba Budan Giri to Kemmannagundi via Galikere. Stay amidst nature at plantation estates like Nature Nirvana, Hunkal Woods and Villa Urvinkhan.

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Coorg
With one of the country’s best-maintained national parks at Nagarahole, the highest density of devarakadus (sacred groves) in the world and the source of South India’s holiest river Cauvery, Coorg is indeed special. It is the largest producer of coffee and honey in India, besides spices like cardamom and pepper. Scenic plantations, charming estate bungalows, and riverside resorts coupled with irresistible Kodava hospitality and cuisine make it a favoured holiday spot. Trek through wild tracts in Pushpagiri, Brahmagiri and Talacauvery wildlife sanctuaries, scale Coorg’s tallest peak Thadiyendamol, visit waterfalls like Irpu, Abbey, Chelavara and Mallali or go white water rafting with Southern River Adventures on the Upper Barapole River. For other adventure sports, contact Crimson Eye and Jungle Mount Adventures.

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Wayanad
Tilt the Rainmaker and its cascading seeds emit the sound of water. Swing the Binsi, a reed instrument for a whistling note. These astonishing bamboo products from Uravu near Kalpetta capture the tribal legacy of Wayanad. Trek past the Stone Age engravings of Edakkal Caves to the top of Ambukuthy Range, watch dholes chasing deer at Tholpetty Wildlife Sanctuary or search for the Wayanad Laughing Thrush at Muthanga. Scale Banasura Hill overlooking India’s largest earth dam from Banasura Island Retreat or Silver Woods. Spot gaur in the hikes around Fringe Ford, a wild 500-acre plantation at Makkimala or DTPC’s Tea County near Mananthavady. Climb Chembra Peak (2100m) and get pampered at Sunrise Valley and Meenmutty Heights while exploring waterfalls like Meenmutty and Soochipara.

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Nilgiris
Home of ancient hill tribes, the Nilgiris (Blue Mountains) transformed into the summer retreat of the British in South India by 1827. The 46 km ride from Mettupalayam to Ooty in the heritage Nilgiri Mountain Railway presents stunning views. Studded with churches, lakes, botanical gardens, tea estates and viewpoints, Ooty’s elite clubs laid down the rules of snooker. Climb Dodda Betta (8650 ft) or drive from Ooty to the stunning lakes of Emerald, Avalanche, Upper Bhavani, Parson’s Valley and Porthimund into Mukurthi National Park. Explore the joys of farm life at Destiny Farm and Acres Wild, an organic cheese-making farm. Wallwood Garden, Kluney Manor, Regency Villas and Savoy (Ooty), La Maison and Sunshine Bungalow (Kotagiri), boutique luxury stays at O’land Estate and De Rock (Coonoor) and bungalows run by Serendipity and Glendale are ideal colonial-style getaways. For wild honey, beeswax balms, Kurumba paintings, Toda shawls and agro products hop over to Green Shop (www.lastforest.in).

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Athirapally
Famous as the locale where Aishwarya Rai cavorted under a 42m high waterfall in Guru and Ravana, Athirapally’s adjoining Vazhachal Forest is the second most bio-diverse area in Kerala. As the only place in the Western Ghats where four endangered hornbill species can be seen, the International Bird Association declared it an Important Bird Area. The forest harbours the Lion-tailed macaque, Malabar squirrel, Malabar Giant turtle and Cochin Forest Cane turtle, among other endangered species while the Chalakudy River supports an enviable count of 104 species of fish. Besides Charpa (3 km) and Vazhachal Falls (5 km), drop by at the Forest Information Centre, museum and showcase of rare medicinal plants. Stay at Rainforest Athirapally where each room offers an undisputed view of the 220m wide cascade and visit a tribal settlement at Pokalappara for wildlife sighting and tapioca-fish meals smoked in bamboo.

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Silent Valley National Park
One of the best-preserved tropical evergreen rainforests in the world, the 90 sq km park forms the core of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. Named after the absence of cicadas, Silent Valley’s geographic isolation allowed it to evolve into an ecological island. Topping the list of 960 flora is the giant tree fern Dinosaur pulpan dubbed as a ’50 million-year-old living fossil’. The park’s flagship species, the lion tailed macaque lives in the towering Culinea trees. After a long crusade against a hydroelectric project, the fragile zone was declared a National Park in 1985. Mukkali, the park’s entrance, is unique as all three species of Crow butterflies can be found here – common crow, double branded crow and brown king crow. A 23 km jeep ride takes visitors up to Sairandhri where a 30 m high tower offers panoramic views. A 1½ km walk leads to a rusty steel bridge on the Kuntipuzha River. Stay at the Mukkali Forest Rest House or thatched tribal huts at Malleeshwaram Jungle Lodge, named after the peak that dominates the park.

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Nelliyampathy
The majesty of Nelliyampathy Hills (3,500 ft) slowly unfolds along the mountain road from Nemmara, winding past 10 hairpin bends towards Kaikatty. It was the Maharaja of Cochin who leased vast tracts of dense jungle to the British for tea cultivation. Soon Nelliyampathy oranges were being exported to Buckingham Palace. Today, the derelict Victoria Church stands on a lonely cliff surrounded by forests and tea estates. A short walk from AV Thomas tea factory is Kesavanpara, a rocky escarpment overlooking Poothundy Dam. But the ultimate adventure is the 18 km jeep ride from Pulayampara to Manpara (Deer Rock). If you survive the bone-breaking drive over boulders, visit Suicide Point near Seethargundu, Katlapara Waterfalls, Karapara Dam and Karassuri viewpoint. Stay at Ciscilia Heritage and Whistling Thrush Bungalow while chasing butterflies and endemic birds like Nilgiri Flycatcher, Broad-tailed Grassbird and Nilgiri Pipit.

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Parambikulam
The 450-year-old Kannimara Teak, believed to be the largest in Asia, rises up 48.5 m. With a girth of 6.57 m, it takes five men to encircle the giant. Not all of the park’s treasures are easy to see – the tiny Parambikulam Frog, the endemic fish Garra surendranathanii to the saprophytic plant Haplothismia exanulata. Wrapped around three dams that create a 20.6 sq km reservoir with Karimala Peak (1439 m) as the park’s highest point, Parambikulam is a scenic park. Eco-tourism packages range from jeep safaris, bamboo rafting, birdwatching and guided walks to overnight camping inside the forest. Trekkers will enjoy the Kariyanshola Trail while the Cochin Forest Tramway Trek showcases relics of the British timber trade. Stay in treetop huts overlooking the reservoir, Swiss-style tents or a bamboo hut on Vettikunnu Island, accessible only by boat.

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the August 2012 issue of JetWings magazine.