The Wild Side of Coonoor
Rolling hills. Sprawling tea estates. The aroma of Nilgiri oil. A piping hot cuppa while overlooking the lush greens of tea leaves. Life away from urban chaos. This lesser-known tea-haven is known to provide the perfect nature getaway for urban dwellers. And so, it was high up on my list of holiday destinations for my next travels. Little did I know that this 3-day outing would serve to appease the wildlife lover in me, that too, in an unexpectedly pleasant manner! Thus, what was planned to be some family-time dramatically turned into yet another sighting-spree, amidst the luscious Nilgiris!
A poky affair!
As is with every trip, our tete-a-tete with the homestay owner started with our usual question- “What kind of wildlife do you frequently see around here?” Vague answers of “Indian bison” and some “small kind of deer” and the occasional big cat got our curiosity perked up, especially because many of the sightings were reported to happen right within the tea estates! We excitedly planned to run on a schedule of early morning and late evening, somewhat akin to the safari schedules we were used to. As the sun rose the next day, so did we, armed with binoculars, embarked on a walking safari, so to say. The sun greeted us a good morning, while we with our binoculars and camera bazookas went on a search expedition for our bovine friends, for they were known to go on a feeding rampage in the wee hours of dawn. Alas, the might beast failed to make an appearance this first morning. Yet, unperturbed we were, being core wildlife lovers. Persistence and patience would pay off, so after a relaxing tryst with the touristy Coonoor highlights, we were back at the wildlife sighting game in the late evening. The coolness of the Nilgiri air caressed my cheeks, as I saw the sky turn a golden-pink hue typical of mountain sunsets. I found my way through the narrow tea-alleys, lush green happiness all around! Binoculars set on the distant hills, eyes scanning the muddy trails that led deeper and deeper into the tea estates, our evening walk unfolded. And lo! I jumped in joy the very next moment! Amongst the browns and greens of nurturing nature, lay a single spiky specimen right on the side of the path! A porcupine quill. As it glistened in the late evening rays, my joy knew no bounds. We had witnessed here what we had failed to spot even in the densest of India’s jungles, and that too right in the midst of human habitation. Exciting evidence of how man and animal co-exist, indeed!
Indian bison | Photo credit: Teabox.com
Greeting the Gaur
But we were not the kinds to be satisfied with some piece of animal armour. We wanted the real deal- real wildlife. I hurriedly scurried further in hope of catching more glimpses of wild beauty. What met my eyes at the next bend was almost unbelievable- a pair of wild gaurs grazing away lazily. Two handsome hunks had found their evening meal in some shrubbery and were making themselves feel at home! A nonchalant glance at us, and they resumed their diligent “pet puja”. In a bid to get some great shots we edged nearer making sure to keep a safe distance. After all, these were wild beasts. However much accustomed to the ways of humans, they would have an unpredictable streak about them. And with the brains and brawn of the largest bovine, there was simply no taking chances! But elated as we were, it was impossible not to admire and scamper around to get some up, close and personal photographs. Maybe one of the males sensed our interests, and let out a loud bellow, the loud voice ringing across the valley. Such was the greeting that we got from the gaur, right within the tea estate. It was natural that we retired to a content and peaceful sleep!
Indirect Signs Telling Tales!
In the midst of a deep slumber, somewhere in the middle of the night, a scuttle was heard. Urban chaos gave way to nature’s chaos, as some screeching and scurrying around could be heard just a few metres away from our room. Surely, something was amiss, and we could only imagine what encounters had ensued in the pitch darkness. Curiosity got the better of us, and at the crack of dawn we set out once again. The path was fresh with dew, and our minds even fresher! Torch in hand, we turned investigators with an eye for clues of what had gone by the night before. And as is most of the times, Mother Nature did not disappoint. Pellets, fresh and moist on the trails. What was it, maybe a barking deer, maybe a palm civet? Maybe a big cat? After all, the homestay owner had told us stories of spotted cats and even striped beasts that sometimes roamed the surrounding jungles. Was it possible that one of these had paid us a visit last night? Rare, but not impossible. For if one thing I had to learn to be close to nature- nothing is impossible. Every day presents new happenings, new opportunities. And with this thought, we settled down to enjoy our morning cuppa of chai as anticipation runs through our veins!
Nilgiri Pipit | Photographed by Arvind Rao (Saevus Gallery Member)
Bedazzled by Birds
Such was the experience right within the tea estates, that we decided to up the experience a notch by visiting the real forests. The Nilgiris are a birding biosphere, and our visit to Dolphin Nose viewpoint was to be a birding bash. As we traversed the dense woods, our ears perked up at the slightest birdsong. I was particularly in search of the Nilgiri wood pigeon and the Nilgiri Laughing Thrush. While these two did make their presence felt, the real highlight was the dash of orange that flew by- the Black and Orange Flycatcher. Coonoor is birder’s paradise, and one need not even venture into dense forests for watching breath-taking birds. Another round of birding happened the next day at the beautiful Sim’s Park, with its rich foliage and serene grassy grounds.
Coonoor may be fast turning into Tamil Nadu’s next best touristy place, aka the modern version of Ooty. But what sets it apart is the harmonious coexistence of humans and wildlife, and a chance to view amazing wildlife up, close and personal. Sometimes this very wildlife may be a nuisance for the locals, the wild gaur is known to destroy the tea plantations, rendering economic and livelihood losses for the locals. The solution is to look for alternatives to such losses, for example propagating the wild side of Coonoor, encouraging wildlife tourism to attract real wildlife and nature lovers. We left the tea country with a taste of all things refreshing and rejuvenating. And so, I hope, would many a wildlife lover.
Cover Pic: Forest Canopy (Dolphin Nose) Photographed by Rhucha Kulkarni
Read also: A summer escape to watch the mysterious bird
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