The chill dawn, the pilgrims on their way (most pilgrims would finish their pilgrimage by January 14th, when the sun begins its "uttarAyanam" or northward path, and the festival of Sankranti or Pongal, the harvest festival, happens), and the little lighted shrine in the gloaming, made me feel peaceful...
The road ahead of us was not too long in terms of distance, but would take longer than one thought,
Because of all the hairpin bends, on which one has to go very carefully:
Here's the half-way point:
But the spectacular scenery kept us absorbed throughout (thankfully, the driver kept his eyes on the road!)
We stopped at Monkey Falls on the way, to do some very productive birding; the falls are so beautiful....
But there was also this place, which was actually called ...
We had "Water Fall East" and "Water Fall West", too!
Here I am, carefully documenting myself documenting the trip:
At Valparai, we stayed at the Treat Hotel:
It's very centrally located in the market, but the word "treat" was so small, we had to hunt for the hotel!
I strongly recommend everyone...NOT to stay there...the roaches, the dirty sheets, the hair in clumps on the floor....I have stayed in simple accomodation before, but never something as dirty as this! Ranjeet, of course, was quite pragmatic, and said, "What do you expect?" ...but service was also pretty lousy and I had a strong suspicion that "lousy" might be actually the right word for the beds...sleeping was well-nigh impossible during the night that we stayed at Hotel (Ill)Treat! Of course, through a large hole in the wall, a cable snaked through across the tiny rooms to the TV, where we could watch soap operas or Animal Planet!
One great tip we got from kalyan was to eat at what he called M3....the Mary Matha Mess, run by a Malayali...
The food was so good, hot and plentiful, served smilingly on plantain leaves, that all of us ate a little more than we should have.
The Mess had a nice poster listing the tourist attractions of Valparai:
Right opposite M3 is the quaint little Police Station:
The Church of South India (CSI) Church in Valparai is an unusual structure:
Just a few doors away from our Ill-Treat Hotel, I found this tea-seller; he sprinkled a little of a beverage called "Boost" on my cuppa and gave it to me; the taste was unusual, and nice!
I also found this repairer of locks and umbrellas:
Valparai is full of tea estates, and in the middle of these are fragments of the original forest. Luckily for naturalists, these forests harbour many endemic animals and therefore the tea companies are not allowed to cut them down to farm more tea. Here is one area, Puthuthottam (New Garden, obviously referring to the "new" tea gardens that took the place of the forests), which shelters the Lion-Tailed Macaque, the Malabar Giant Squirrel, the Malabar Whistling Thrush, and many other flora and fauna besides....
Here's Garima holding that basic formula for tea-picking, "Two Leaves And A Bud":
Some of the flowers and fruit we saw, too, looked very nice, sometimes deceptively so. Ranjeet, for example, was much taken by the appearance of these fruits:
But apparently they are poisonous!
There was this snapdragonish flower:
And the flowers of the SILK-COTTON TREE (Bombax malabaricum, there's the "malabar" again!)are nectar centres for the birds:
I recognized the CONVOLVULUS (Morning Glory) but not the sunflowery blooms:
Even the leaf patterns with the backlight looked lovely:
A small wildflower showed its delicate pastel hues....
These red flowers sheltered sunbirds, leafbirds, and plenty of others!
On the road to Chalakkudy the next day, the sun scudded through the clouds:
The Solayar dam smiled in the sunshine:
We passed this delightful little temple nestled in the greenery:
Jainy also went to pray, briefly, at this church (the original is in Velankanni near MAyavaram):
I saw how children can amuse themselves without malls and TV; here's one youngster, spinning a top!
Everywhere I went, I noticed that the tea plants, as providers of livelihoods, are worshipped with sindoor (vermilion) and vibhuti (holy ash):
The lovely trip ended with this beautiful sunset:
Then came the largest full moon (also the first full moon) of 2009:
Valparai is beautiful (even if Hotel Treat is not)...do visit when you can!
I am off to Daroji Bear Sanctuary in an hour or two...everyone, don't be good, until I get back!