On Friday the 24th of May back in 2019, a day that is about to end for many, was opening up a new chapter for me. I left office with my face glowing thanks to the excitement of the upcoming trip to Kotagiri with Plan The Unplanned. I was excited because Kotagiri is a hamlet in the Nilgiri range of Western Ghats with zero mobile connectivity. But for me, Nilgiris were something mystical in nature. Growing up, I remember a particular scene from a Ramya Krishnan’s movie where in she performs some sacrificial rituals in the Nilgiris. From then on I have always associated Nilgiris to mysticism.
Never-ending tea estates, surrounded by lush green forests with the fog laying a blue filter. The landscapes of Kotagiri are unmatched to anything else. Mystical or not, I had no reason to conclude, but Kotagiri sure as hell was Magical.
New Trip, New Faces
Now coming back to the trip, I boarded the TT at Swad E Punjab, HSR and we were set off on the Hosur road. Hosur road on a Friday evening Is not a road. It was a flood of vehicles and smoke. So we slogged our way until Electronic city. In the meantime, Ice breakers started and the trek leads posed some interesting questions to everyone else. Few of them for you to answer in the comments 😉
- What would you do if you’re the PM of India?- Please don’t say you’ll bring “Acche-Din”.
- Enacting their names- Which I failed at, miserably xD
- Few truths and lies, we rested for a while.
Unlike the previous trip to Kumta with Plan The Unplanned, this group was a bigger one. So by the time everyone finished their introductions, the needle on my watch just brushed past 12 PM as the bus brushed past Karnataka border.
This stretch of the road barely had any restaurants so we stopped at a Fuel Station for refreshing ourselves before settling down for a nap. I woke up to the noise of the crowd at a crossroad in Annur. I don’t remember clearly if it was a signboard or the google maps that informed me about a certain lake around that place.
A sunrise beneath the lake would be a lovely scene, isn’t it?
Yes, It would’ve been. Only if the lake had any water left. They built houses on the lake bed. And just like that, another lake wiped off the face of the Earth. What a sorry sight. :\
I sighed at the dismal state of affairs and rejoiced this view.
The Ghats Of Mettupalayam To Kotagiri
After around 30 minutes of the drive, we reached Mettupalayam. The road diverged into two. One of which leads to another hamlet called Coonoor while the other read, Kotagiri.
Soon after taking the diversion towards Kotagiri, the ascent started via a Ghat road. It was not as dangerous as the one in Agumbe but picturesque. I could see the entire valley around Mettupalayam from that road. The landscape changed dramatically soon after the ghat section was over. There were tea plantations everywhere, like literally.
And it was lush greenery on every corner and as far as my eyes could see. It was as if someone painted a green carpet and laid it on top of the entire hill range. At few corners, the mountains by the road, had tea plantations wrapped around them, all the way through the top.
Each curve of the road revealed a spectacular view of the tea plantations and the hills beyond. I stuck my neck out t get a clear picture of the landscapes while the bus drove past beautiful corners. At around 8 AM, we reached the homestay, a beautiful campsite. We freshened up and started the trek after having breakfast 9:00 AM.
Within 10 mins of the trek we were already walking in the tea plantations. With the loud chirps of Red Whiskered Bulbuls (which btw were huge in number all around Kotagiri), a gentle wind, lush greenery stretching way beyond what my eyes could capture, and the sun so gentle, it was a perfect recipe for a beautiful day out.
A Walk In The Tea Plantations Of Kotagiri
We stopped after a while and our guide started explaining the origin of the tea plantations in the Nilgiris. Apparently, the leaves that come in pairs of three form the best tea. I didn’t pay attention as the vast landscapes caught my attention.
After a seemingly knowledgeable session, the ascent started. The end of the ascent was the beginning of a Shola forest stretch. It felt surreal entering that forest stretch. The sunlight couldn’t pierce through the canopy of trees, so it was slightly dark. Since my eyes could barely see anything, my other senses heightened. The chirps of crickets and Bulbuls and the rustling of leaves accompanied me throughout.
A small climb followed the forest stretch after which we regrouped near the houses of tea plantation workers. It felt as if the tea plantations divided the wealth in Kotagiri. On one side from where we started the hike was full of cottages and beautiful villas. After crossing the plantations, it was quaint houses and concrete roads.
We went across the road and entered another tea plantation. At this point, I was convinced that this is going to be a cakewalk. No hard climbs whatsoever. Just a casual stroll in the tea plantation, a walk in the park for my standards. And just when I thought it was a park, a blueberry tree welcomed us.
Living On The Edge
A bunch of us were walking real slow because we were stopping and clicking a lot of pictures. Pictures of the tea plantations, the landscapes, the roads, the barriers on the side, sitting on the road, standing on the road, sitting beside the road, standing beside the road, well I think you got the point right.
We suddenly realized that we were far from the group. Of course, why would anyone wait for us while we were going all-out on our posing and photography skills.
We continued walking and after a while found the rest of the group. We took a short snack break and devoured the energy pack. I wasn’t hungry for food but was hungry to capture the beautiful landscape just beside the resting point. Trust me when I tell you that the below picture doesn’t do any justice to how pretty it actually looked.
After a short break, we continued walking into another stretch of tea plantations. A bright blue sky, lush greenery, soothing breeze, relaxing walk among the plantations, what else could one ask for another weekend getaway.
After the winding walk in the plantation, we took a sharp turn to climb up a rock and reach a cliff. Until now I was only thinking about a walk in the park, but boy this was totally out of syllabus. It was so unexpected that it left me gasping for air.
The wind here was so strong and the cliff far too adventurous. It’s a perfect spot for paragliding, only if there was a landing site in the vicinity.
The Life In Mountains Of Kotagiri
We continued walking, clicking pictures of the sun, trees, rest houses and soon reached a tribal village. Our guide explained about the various tribes that made Nilgiris their home and how their origins. I remember him saying that one tribe among them are descendants of the English. He gave us a sneak peek into their lives, what their primary occupation is and the challenges they face in terms of medicare & education. Something to ponder about.
The descent started from here and all the way to a running water stream. The water is “drinkable” and tastes sweet. We refilled our bottles and continued walking on the adjoining rock-strewn path. Our guide asked us to stop, stay calm and spot a bird that is endemic to the Nilgiris. I don’t remember the name but I spotted a lot of Red Whiskered Bulbuls, I mean a lot of them. They were literally everywhere. If you don’t know how a Red Whiskered Bulbul looks, here’s a picture I clicked during a bird-watching session at Hesaraghatta Lake.
We stopped at the end of this road, for a quick lunch. This was possibly the only place where we could’ve sat for lunch as there was water to wash hands, freshen up and enough place for all of us to sit.
A Twist In The Hiking Trail Of Kotagiri
I thought we’ll now turn around and walk back as the road was over. And the forest appeared to start from there. But to all of our surprise, the trek wasn’t over yet. The final point was a small Jacuzzi, but there is still a long way to go.
So, after a sumptuous packed lunch, we started walking along a narrow path by the plantations. The narrow path turned into a winding hairpin path leading to a huge rock. Standing on the rock gave me mixed feelings. I was feeling I was at the top of the world with unmatched views in front of me.
At the same time, it gave me a glimpse of the path ahead. We were literally standing on the edge of a 45-degree rock. Nilgiris stands true to its name here as there appears to be a blue filter everywhere you see. Anyway, behind the rock was the surprise waiting for us. A walk? Na. Should we crawl? Too dangerous. A snail-paced carefully crafted crawl using both hands and legs was a realistic expectation. After climbing it, there was another rock. We had to trek down that rock to reach the flat trail.
I will let the pictures do that talking 😀
Once we all climbed down the rock, we took a path that appeared to have been used quite frequently (I later learned that the path is used by hunter). A few hundred meters of simple walking and careful climb later, we reached the Jacuzzi.
Lights Camera Freeze!
The water was freezing cold as there was no direct sunlight falling on the water. There was a small waterfall making its way through two huge rocks. I tried capturing long exposure shots of the tiny waterfall. The result was decent enough, thanks to the stable tripod from Pankaj.
We spent a good amount of time refreshing ourselves in the ice-cold water and soon it started drizzling. We turn around and walked back along the same trail. It was drizzling on our way back and the temperature dropped multi-fold. We stopped to have the famed tea in a cafe.
The tea was good bu the views were breathtaking. The villas on the edge of the tea plantations were my life-goals at the time. It was a pretty sight and we took our own time to let it all sink in. Without any rush, we reached the homestay just in time for a glimpse of the sunset sky.
We quickly freshened up, I stood by the road to watch the last rays of sun descend over the distant hills.
After a light dinner, we all pitched our tents and gathered around the bonfire for some good music and spooky stories. At around 11 PM, our guide called all of us to experience the night in Kotagiri.
Night Trek In Kotagiri
He said we’ll get to hear various calls of animals from deep inside the forest. We stepped onto the road and the guide showed a glow-worm. It looked really tiny but apparently, it is active only at nights & is venomous.
We then walked along the road and it was dark so couldn’t really understand where we were going, but the sound of waterfalls in that darkness and silence was so so soothing. I recorded the sounds and we all headed back. The plan was to go into the forest along the cliff but since it rained, our guide warned against it as it might be slippery. Add to that, the rains also bring out the reptiles creeping beneath the plantations. We walked back and tucked ourselves into the warmth of the tent and blankets.
Woke up to the chirping of birds and just in time to sit by and watch the sun rays waking up the lush greenery around and brightening the entire place. The plan was to go to Catherine waterfalls and take a dip, freshen up, have breakfast and head back to Bangalore via Ooty & Bandipur National park.
Catherine Falls was about a 1.5 KM walk away from the home stay. A beautiful waterfall with a huge Jacuzzi. Soon after we got into the water everyone became a kid and formed a line to enact a running train. The force of water fall was significant and doesn’t let one stand under the water for a long time. We all posed while Pankaj was recording all the moments in his Go Pro.
I laid my back on the water and was practising backstrokes I learned in Kumta. We spent a good 40 mins at the falls. One thing to be careful is to reach the falls early, as it can get really crowded as the locals also come here for freshening up. We got out early as we had a schedule. But it was a beautiful place to just relax. We went back to the homestay, changed into dry clothes, had breakfast & started for Ooty.
Breathtaking Beauty En Route Ooty From Kotagiri
Niligiri means blue mountains and the road from Kotagiri to Ooty shows a glimpse of them.
We continued on those winding & scenic roads and soon stalled on the road because of, guess what, Traffic. I knew Ooty was a big deal. Being the honeymoon capital of south India, it attracted a huge crowd in summer months. The next stop was Doddabetta Tea factory, as the name suggests it is a tea factory but is open for general public and hosts a series of framed facts about the origin of tea in India, specifically the Nilgiris.
They offered the team to the visitors made out of the powder from the production line. For people interested in shopping there are stalls selling various flavours of tea powder, chocolates & leather jackets.
We stepped out of the factory and were walking towards the bus. On the side of the road, there were stalls selling bright orange carrots. They looked so juicy and delicious. I picked up a few and boy they were really sweet and juicy.
All the restaurants were crowded since it was weekend and more importantly Ooty. So we just crashed into any restaurant that had space.
A Drive Back To The Grind
Post lunch, the bus rolled into the winding roads through Mudumalai National Park. Since it was still a long ride to Bengaluru, we played mafia. We killed each other, found the killer(s), argued about the rules, rewrote a few, eliminated a few and it was so much fun. We spotted elephants and deers while we were passing through the Bandipur National Park. Stopped after Mysore for dinner and reached Bengaluru by around 12 AM.
We bid goodbyes to each other and I slid slowly into the warmth of my bed and woke up to a routine filled Monday. But hey am all the more ready for opening the doors to the next Unplanned adventure.
Thanks for sparing your time reading it. Hope it was worth your time.
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This is post No. 20 of the weekend blog post series I started writing 4 months ago. If you’d like to check out the other posts, click here.
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