Droog

Droog is situated about thirteen Km from the town of Conoor. The hill is also called Bakasura Malai (after a fabled, cruel demon from the Mahabaratha). It is a hill about 2000 meters above sea level. One gets to it through the NonSuch Tea estate on the most dreadful roads. Estate roads, meant for a four-wheel drive and a strong stomach.

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Parking on the road, we began our ascent to the top of the hill. It was a fairly steep incline. Initially, through the most beautiful tea estate and then through the shola forest. There was a charming little paved path to follow through the forest. The path was steep and winding in places. Innocently effortless in others.image

The lush foliage looked alive, breathing in the morning air. There were so many unusual flowers, trees and plants. Lemon grass grew in plenty deceiving us with its sharp edged leaves camouflaging the fragrance and flavor of the plant. Beautiful wild flowers in the most vivid colors. Growing in abandon, unaided, content to be blowing in the breeze.

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We passed the remains of the fort of Tippu Sultan. Build in the 16th century it is said to have been a vantage point and the out post to oversee the surrounding areas. What remained was only the wall of the fort. Just piles of stones stacked to build a semblance of a wall.

imageOn the top of the hill was situated a Lookout tower of sorts. Now vandalized of course, with scribblings all over the walls of names of lovers and new-gen heroes. A reminder of those who have managed to get to this point, not to absorb and appreciate the incredible view but to record their pathetic presence on the walls of this monument. Reprehensible, to say the least. The last time we were here, we were startled by a group of police officers in their camouflage uniforms said to be combing the forest for terrorists. Very reassuring that was! Thankfully, no such incident this time.

Beyond the tower, a little further through the forest leads one to an even more stunning landscape. The sun had already risen but was still partially concealed behind gloriously patterned sheets of clouds. Ornate and almost surreal, it was the work of a brilliant artist, the sky, the mountains, the rivers below the trees and sheer rocks. The cliffs were sheer drops of thousands of meters to more forestland.

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After spending some time taking in the splendor or the surroundings, we headed back to Conoor town. A delicious breakfast at the famous canteen in the quaint Conoor railway station. A welcome indulgence after that long walk.

Walks like these test the endurance of your leg muscles. The uphill climb definitely also tests your cardio vascular endurance. It was about ten Km and the pace was certainly not leisurely.  Improvement in fitness levels is one of the additional spin offs of these walks. The encounter with nature only adds to the experience. Including activities such as treks, walks even dancing which are more for pleasure and not specifically focused on either weight loss or improving fitness create the environment to include physical activity as a form of a “lifestyle”. It becomes something you do as an extension of ones day. You tend to then make better choices more often. You choose to walk up the stairs instead of taking the lift. You choose to go for a run on a Sunday morning instead of lying around, wide awake wondering what to eat. You choose to throw a dance party with light finger food instead of a sit down meal. It becomes more ‘natural’ to stay healthy and fit

Walkathon to Lone Weir – 18/11/12

The mist in the valley

It was 5 degrees outside when we set out on this Sunday morning. There were five of us. Four doctors and one ‘almost doctor’, her having hung out with us all this while. We drove to the outskirts of Ooty, parked near a tea-shop (which was closed at this unearthly hour), and set off towards Lone Weir. The pace was brisk, as always. There were time constraints, as always! We have to choose carefully where to linger. The objective was to test our endurance as well as take in the surroundings.

It was a gorgeous winter day. The thick mist still sulked in the valley reluctant to leave as the sun began its ascent. The grass was still wet with the frost and dew. Mostly, it has been burnt a pale brown with the frost. There were miles and miles of grassland covering the gentle undulating slopes.

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This land belongs to the Todas, a pastoral tribe in the Nilgiris. It cannot be sold or cultivated. According to an interesting paper from the Department of Anthropology, University of Berkeley, the English have seen to it that Toda pastures are not infringed upon. British motives for this thoughtfulness could have been twofold; they cherished the Todas, the ancient monuments and game preserves; secondly, the Toda pastures made excellent cover for a hunt which the English and the native Rajas maintained in the Nilgiris.  This is a blessing for us now.  Perhaps the grasslands will remain unsullied for a while yet until another reckless legal ruling comes into play. Some of this land that had originally belonged to these very tribals is said to have been bought from them by John Sullivan when he came to the hills more than a hundred and fifty years ago, for a paltry sum of Rs. 1 per acre! The British changed the ecosystem of the area when they planted exotic, water guzzling trees like Eucalyptus and Acacia in place of the ‘sholas’ and swamps which were the primary sources of the water reeds used to build the Toda houses.

We managed to negotiate the remaining swamp with some minor mishaps like getting our feet in the slush and eventually having to detour.

The remaining climb opened up to some glorious views. Distant folding hills, the sharp angles of the Mukurti Peak, the Sholas in numerous shades of green, eucalyptus glades, cypress and acacia.

We passed a Toda “Village” that consisted of precisely one house with a couple of people and some buffalos. An elderly Toda man was grazing his prized possession.

We reached what is apparently a Disaster Management tower. It was a single room built on stilts about eighty feet high with a narrow iron ladder leading up to it. With some trepidation, we climbed to the tower to be greeted by the most spectacular views. There was the Sandynella lake on one side, azure in the morning sun, the hills in the distance, vast grassland and forests under the vivid blue sky. It was awe-inspiring.

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After taking in the magnificence, we headed back to the main road, stopping for tea at a shop meant for tourists. There was a boisterous crowd of young people there already. Some young men chased a poor horse and when chastised turned around to say, “We are Malyalis. We are from Kerala. We are like that only”!!!! Now what do you say to that?

A bit exasperated after that last encounter we headed to our car and drove back to go about the rest of our day. It had been a long walk, 15 Km at least, some of it on steep inclines and at that pace had been quite exhausting. Exhausting but exhilarating at the same time.