I am an Indiblogger

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Valparai (The Hidden Gem in the Annamalai Ranges,Tamil Nadu )



  The  car drove past the winding roads ,as I sat at the window and gazed outside.The gentle mountain breeze caressed my cheeks,while I gaped at the tea gardens which stretched to the horizon.I looked up to see the sky now ,which attracted my attention forming different patterns of white on blue.

  We were driving from Pollachi to Valparai now.  Pollachi being the small town at the foothills of the Annamalai hills. Valparai is clean ,serene tranquil; a place to fulfill any tourist's desire. However Pollachi adds that rustic appeal to the trip ,that many hearts would secretly yearn for..The pleasure attained from simplicity,or reliving the treasured memories of childhood when very simple trinkets made us so delighted.







We had a differently satisfying lunch of fried fish and the local biriyani at Pollachi ,The Azhiyar dam can be seen from the road.The dam has  an adjoining park.The dam and the park seemed to be a very popular place among the local people.Post lunch we drove past this crowd to start our journey to Valparai.



The Azhiyar DAm



   Valparai ushered us the perfect mountain way.A little gloomy sky some where,followed by  a light drizzle,and then  a quick sunshine. The entire scenery in green glistened in the afternoon sun.

 A cheerful bunch of kids waited for their bus to arrive as we stopped by the winding road for  a quick tea break.The small shops selling tea would close soon as the sun would set in about an hours time in these gentle slopes of the  Annamalai Ranges.The drive to Valparai was  a green canopy with pleasant surprises by the Nilgiri Tahr grazing by the roadside. More so, after the rains the landscape wore a very verdant look.

Right beside the car window,THE NILGIRI TAHR

   
  Somewhere beside the road,tea garden workers bring in their bundles of plucked tea leaves and wait patiently to get their hard days work weighed.We drove along the  near perfect pitched roads between the tea gardens with unique patterns,and observed people follow a little different routine. Every time  the pockets of in-habitation was over the place returned to its tranquillity,the only sounds that could be heard were that of the birds and the moving car.




Finally we reached the resort.Since it was already dark ,no outdoor activities could be planned.We sat at the porch of the chalet of the resort,listening to the chirping  sounds of the cricket in the tree trunks.We sat observing the flowers and gazed at the clear night sky. A thousand stars glistened in the sky as I gaped at the  moon with the kids ,a ritual practised only when we are on an outing.




.














  We felt that  a lot was missed the previous evening,so we set out for the tea gardens early next morning.The villagers were by now busy with their chores.the cattle was already lead by the herder.A man sprayed pesticide (probably) in the tea garden,quite oblivious of the intermittent drizzles.A light chat had commenced between the owner and the visitor at the  local tea shop . As a temple bell rung at  a distance, frankly,I was not in a mood to go back to the resort for breakfast.



  We rode through the tea gardens,and watched the workers pluck the tender leaves with their nimble fingers.At times we peered at  a lone house amidst the tea gardens,trying to guess how it feels to stay there at night..





    A temple tucked in between the tea gardens,added that perfect charm to the monotony of the the scenery.It did not look like a very significant place religiously,but seemed to provide an outing for the villagers  .A group of picnickers (possibly from the villages nearby) sat relaxed in front of the temple ,peeling veggies for a presumably sumptuous lunch.One of them even willingly posed for my camera along with his friends.











THE  NALLAMUDI   PEAK

   Standing at an edge at the Nallamudi cliff, a lean and agile man lifts up his arms towards the sky and gives out a shriek to the unknown.The man known as Velu,  is a local who claims to have seen God. He seemed to be a friendly man ,ready to explain his rationale to those who wish to believe.
A crowd gathered around him,few amused and others too bewitched to react.


While he had seen God or it was  just a hallucination ,is  a different story altogether,his act could be interpreted as  a gratitude to the same God ,he claims to have seen. An acknowledgement perhaps for an event in his life or simply a praise for the natural bounty around him that makes him so happy.A portrayal of how little it takes to be contented sometimes.

  Needless to say the Nallamudi peak has now become a place also known for "SEEN GOD"as the man is refereed to now.
At first glance Valparai seems to be  a place of endless tea gardens ,but soon enough few unexpected things like  these  keep you engrossed.
To reach the Nallamudi cliff one has to walk for nearly  a mile  between tea gardens,from the parking. It is an excellent place with a amazing view of waterfalls from the surrounding slopes.




LIKE MY PAGE HERE



THE   NALLAMUDI  PEAK

YOU MAY LIKE READING
Kalpa ..a complete guide to the mesmerizing hill station in the Kinnaur Valley

Our successful itinerary to the Kinnaur Valley of Himachal Pradesh

Rakcham .Why we preferred it to Sangla (Kinnaur)









This place is worth a visit

Office of an NGO working at Valparai










   The Koolangal river is  a stream flowing between the tea gardens. It seemed to be a favorite spot for taking  a dip in the ice cold waters.The place was seen crowded from the early hours of the morning till sunset. In fact the crowd at the stream almost gave us the feel that a dip in here has some kind of religious significance.The place around the stream is very scenic and the stream is an excellent place to spend some time.




Parking at the Koolangal river



The Valparai township






Tea blossoms





THE   VELLANKINI  CHURCH

  Amidst  the calmness and the serenity of tea estates someone quietly prayed at the Vellankini Church very close to the Karamalai tea factory  .The Vellankini church is a little high up a hillock in the Karamalai Tea Estate.It is a scaled down version of the Vellankini Church near Chennai .Its location between sprawling tea estates and  a gushing stream flowing nearby makes it a wonderful place to visit .We spent quite sometime at the stream.





  Very close to the church is the Balaji Temple of  Valparai.The temple has  a panoramic view of the tea gardens surrounding it.Visiting the temple involves a steep climb of nearly  a mile as no vehicles are allowed on that road.The temple is a property of the tea estates .Moreover photography is strictly prohibited.So one can think of giving this a skip if elderly people are concerned.



 The Sholayar Dam is another point of interest ,between the ranges.The reservoir stretches for a few kilometers  along the way to the dam.Not just the dam but the reservoir with its surrounding tea gardens compose a delightful visual treat after the rains. Although we visited the place during  the monsoons,the water level in the dam was scanty.



The reservoir



  
    Getting up early in the morning paid off. A herd of elephants walked past at the distance.I could not get a clear capture due to the morning haze.The lion tailed Macaque ,a breed found in the tropical forest could be seen in good numbers in the forests adjoining the tea gardens .Trushes sang in between the tea bushes as we intruded in their territory.
 
   We strolled around observing them and capturing the moments through our lens.We experienced sheer bliss in their company amidst a painful reminder of how it was created for both; for them and for us,before we took over.We drove down the slopes with a silent prayer that we could find Valparai
drenched in the same beauty if we return someday.


Try spotting the elephants in the pic




The lion tailed macaque



  The best part of Valparai is that it is not yet exploited commercially.There are not many hotels or stay options.The very few resorts are located in the tea gardens.The roads are perfect.All you can see around you is the green tea estates .Stopping at shacks by the roadside and strolling between the tea estates in a drizzle is what makes the place different than regular tourist destinations.The place has  a very balming effect away from the cacophony, especially for city dwellers like us .




The chalet at the resort
Flowers at the Resort








Since there are many tea factories around , a visit to the factories could be arranged .We opted out of it as we had seen the process once at Munnar.





                Valparai is approximately 450 kms. from Bangalore and a 9 hours drive.Since we started in the evening,we took  a night halt at Salem ,and proceeded towards Valparai after breakfast
in the morning.
Valparai is nearly 107 kms. from Coimbatore,which is approximately an hours drive .The nearest International Airport is at Coimbatore.
Valparai should not be visited without an advance booking of stay,as already mentioned,stay options are limited. We stayed at the Sirukundra Resorts.The only preferable restaurant is Sri Krishna Cafe in Valparai town.WE visited in the month of August,so one layer of warm clothing was enough.Keeping an umbrella can be useful ,since drizzles are very common.If travelling with kids ,having some dry food items with you should be helpful as the place does not have many eateries.










Sunday, 30 July 2017

Sarahan (Kinnaur Valley)---Why you should include it in your itinerary.



   As I write this post and go through the pictures of this hamlet in the lower Kinnaur valley,a beautiful picture fills up my mind.I realise that Kinnaur had kept up to its promise of presenting  a different picture in every halt of ours.This was our last destination in the valley ,nevertheless proved to be as exciting as the others.

I had dozed off in the car when the car screeched to a halt.As I opened my eyes,the majestic structure of the Bhimkali Temple stood before me.We enquired about the availability of rooms at the temple rest house.To our disappointment,we had to book a room elsewhere.
A light drizzle accompanied us as we walked from the hotel to the temple that evening.This time we did not pay heed to it.Each one of us was in low spirits now as we were drawing close to the end of this memorable trip. Quite in contrary to the other tourists around us, the majority of whom were just starting with their trip to the Kinnaur valley. So we decided to spend time outside, to soak in the last few memories of this magical fairyland.
   Next,with the temple behind us, we tried exploring the place on foot. Saharan is  a small hamlet, so it goes without saying that everyplace is approachable on foot.
 We whiled away the rest of the evening at tea stalls and buying knick - knacks, listening to folklore of how a little girl was born following an explosion and grew up to be a  very strong female power  known as Bhimkali. There was a lot to listen to,and even more to be perceived,as the owner of the local shawl shop preferred calling the place Bushahr (Sarahan was the capital of the princely state of Bushahr) even today,his pride very much palpable in his tone.








The Bhimkali Temple
  This  has been the most intricately carved temple I had seen so far in my two visits to the state The temple was the abode of Bhimkali or the incarnation of Goddess Kali the presiding deity of the Bushahr kings.As per mythology, goddess Bhimkali  was called upon by the ascetics practising meditation here ,to ward off the demons who disturbed them.

 The temple is unique by its own rights ,the intricate wooden carvings on its walls are worth seeing.
The architecture of the temple was an interesting mix of the Buddhist and Hindu features.The ancient Indo Tibet road passing nearby, this fusion was nothing but obvious.Few of the sculptures in the temple  even showed  a Kushan influence. My scarce knowledge of history relates this to the fact that  the Kushan kings were instrumental in the spread of Buddhism to far off. lands.  Yet,  for the regular tourist ,the temple was an awe inspiring structure in a very fitting set up,of the serene landscape.

 

   The temple consists of a twin tower of wood and stone.It is believed that one of the towers got tilted in an earthquake and again got back to position in another quake.The other tower was built later and the idol of the Goddess was shifted here.
   The twin towers  are visible from almost any part of Sarahan. .The steps to the main idol of Godess kali  are not visible from outside but a climb of few steps are required inside the tower ,as the main idol is at the third floor.The temple kept us engrossed for nearly two hours ,as we went around viewing the small rooms and the museums inside the temple complex.The entire structure was built with wood and interlocked stones,which made it strong enough to resist earthquakes.The small rooms around the towers were places where the kings themselves resided  before the palaces were built.The Bushair kings were dynastic  priests at the temple.
Very interestingly ,the towers also have many other idols other than Goddess Bhimkali   ,who are also worshiped there. It is so believed that as the kingdom saw different queens coming from other kingdoms, they brought with them idols of the family gods of their parents kingdom,who were given a place in this temple.
The temple is also one of the 51 Shaktipeeths. According to mythology,this was the place where Godless Sati's ear fell,after the Daksha yajna incident.
















   Be it the misty mornings,with the temple standing in sharp contrast to the haze,or the beautiful paths that led to the palaces ;  the temple,the palaces, the landscape or the local people seen around,  all weaved a beautiful story connecting us to the past.

History of Sarahan
Kamru was the first capital of the princely state of Bushahr,and then the capital was shifted to Saharan   Read about the Kamru Fort here.
The capital was then shifted to Rampur (another hamlet 24 kms from Saharan).The palaces at Sarahan are still functional.The members of the royal family (the present Hon'ble Chief MInister  of the state Virbhadra Singh,himself is a member of the royal family) though do not stay here all through the year, they come back during the festivals. So the palaces are not open to the tourists.The temple and the whole of Sarahan can be seen in a different mood in the Navaratras ,as it is the prime festival here.



Do like my Facebook page here for more interesting posts and itineraries



    The lanes in this place were perfect for a morning stroll.With the Shrikhand ranges overlooking the place  and apple orchards and deodars dominating the scenery,Sarahan glistened in its glorious past..No matter where we walked in Sarahan ,a distinct aura of  a mountain kingdom was felt .The palaces looked so well maintained that they gave us the feel that the kingdom were not too many years old.WE later learnt that the palaces were relatively newly built ,only after the kings shifted from their residing place inside the temple.

Places to visit apart from the temple

Apart from the palace one can stroll up to the stadium or the pheasantry a little uphill (however, not many birds can be seen there). These are places which are barely 500m from the temple.We walked up only till the stadium , as we had to leave for Shimla soon. As we walked on these paths, we saw men and women rush to there workplaces.Quite a large number of local people could be spotted in their traditional attire.
   The place seemed to hold on strongly to the traditions ,as well as keep themselves well braced with modernity.


You might like to read- Kalpa,a complete guide
                                     Our successful itinerary to the Kinnaur Valley of Himachal Pradesh
                                        How to travel with small children -16 useful points
                                           Rakcham .Why we preferred it to Sangla (Kinnaur)


Vessels  at the museum inside the temple

The houses of teh priests in teh temple premises





 It was quite pleasing to note that everywhere in the valley ,we were always greeted with cheerful smiles. People ,though busy in their chores did not miss sharing a few words with us.They even paused to complement us ,as we tried out the Kinnauri caps while in the morning stroll. I think though rarely noticed ,these anecdotes  make a trip so memorable at times.

 


 As we drove down the slopes to Shimla (our next destination),this marriage procession with the groom was on its way.Now that was some luck ,I must say.



About seventeen km,from Sarahan as you go down the slopes is Jeori, a place where a temple houses a hot water spring ..We took only a brief pause here.The nearest petrol pump is at Jeori.




   And then the roses...I can actually go back to Sarahan only for them.They grow everywhere,and did not seem to be well cared for. These add to the show of the enchanting path down the slopes.In fact,the drive down the mountain till the deviation for Sarahan from the highway is a very charming one. Flower laden trees and cute houses,bid that lasting adieu ,as one climbs downhill.



























This picturesque hamlet of Sarahan  is the first destination after Narkanda as you step in the Kinnaur valley. It is at a distance of nearly 200 kms. from Shimla and takes about 6 hours on an average day. We visited Sarahan on our way back as per our itinerary.Since we were there in the month of May,we saw Sarahan covered in green. Sarahan also gets good snowfall.If you visit in the months of February and March you can see Saharan covered in snow.  The temple amidst snow forms an excellent picture!



Stay options 

The temple rest house rooms

   I shall always regret not getting an opportunity to stay in the temple rest houses.The temple rest houses are in the temple premises itself. The rest house consists of 8 spacious rooms and 2 dormitories.They are very economical and provide an excellent view from the balconies.moreover ,a stay here ensures that you don't miss the evening arti at the temple.Footwear camera or mobiles are strictly prohibited inside the main shrine.Special lockers are provided in the temple for this purpose.The same premises houses a canteen serving simple vegetarian fare.It is difficult to get a booking , as they are always prebooked by the travel operators,but you can always try your luck!

The other stay options include The PWD circuit houses located very close to the temple.
The Shrikhand is the HPTDC property in Sarahan located at the Srikhand peak, with a magnificent view of the temple and snowcapped ranges .This place can of course   be booked online.