Wednesday 1 December 2010

A hike in the wild at Parambikulam

A hike in the wild at Parambikulam

Andy was visiting Chennai and informed that he would be in Chennai over a weekend and asked if some trekking is possible. So I considered the options and decided that we go for a trek in Parambikulam. This is a Tiger reserve on the Tamil Nadu Kerala border and approachable from Tamil Nadu. A well maintained and preserved place with lots to see. I checked with the Parambikulam website and found that the forest department organizes treks / trips in Parambikulam based on what people want.
I called up the Parambikulam information centre and checked with them what options they have for trekking. To my surprise, they have quite a few packages ideal to go as a family or for the hard trekkers who would not mind the surrounding and can survive in any place. There was one such package which really intrigued me. That was the Cochin Tramway trail trek.
There had been a tramway in the olden days (in the 1930s) used for transporting teak wood from this place. This place had a natural growth of teak wood, all of which has been cut off now. But has a planted teak wood now. Though the tram lines does not exist now, the trail remains and it a good 25km trek. This trail is not a difficult one. It is a plain walk in uneven surface. It does not involve any steep climbing. So even people without any trekking experience can walk though (but one still need to have good stamina to walk).
The package was for 5 people and would cost Rs.6000 which would include guide charges, food and accommodation. Now do not be cheap minded and think of 5 star or 3 star accommodations, you silly. This is a multi-star accommodation. You just will have to look up and you will see numerous stars (disclaimer: only on cloudless nights).
Apart from me and Andy, I floated this idea in office to a few people and a couple young enthusiasts grabbed up the opportunity immediately. So Andy, Malay, Jeetesh, Shibaji and me were the team. Senthil initially planned to join, but had to drop out (He missed it!). We booked the tickets for Friday night, so we can reach there on Saturday morning and start the trek. We had planned to hire a taxi from Coimbatore and drive up to Parambikulam. Since this is the time of year when there will be huge number pilgrims to Sabarimalai, we were unable to get taxis booked till the last minute. Finally stuck a fair deal with a travel company through a known contact in Coimbatore and finalized the taxi just 10 minutes before leaving for the railway station.
We started from office on Friday evening and reached the railway station a good 40 minutes ahead. The train was scheduled to depart to Coimbatore at 9:00pm and it started from the station right on time. It was scheduled to reach Coimbatore at 4:50am the next morning which would give us enough time to keep Andy’s luggage in the hotel he had booked for Sunday night’s stay and then proceed to Parambikulam. The train reached there 10 minutes ahead of schedule and the taxi driver arrived at the station exactly at 5:00am on Saturday morning as promised. Now I was getting a bit paranoid since everything was going on time.
The distance between Coimbatore to Parambikulam was about 76km. We kept Andy’s luggage at the hotel and started by around 5:30am. We reached Pollachi around 6:00am and had our breakfast. We resumed the journey from Pollachi around 6:45 and reached the Tamil Nadu check post of Top Slip by around 7:30. Soon after we entered the ghat roads we found that the climate is getting a lot cooler. After driving up for a few minutes we were literally into the clouds. The altitude would have been only just over 1500 ft, but due to the rainy season, the clouds had already engulfed us and there are no words to explain the beauty of this place! Certain things can only be enjoyed and not be explained. The windshield of the car was covered with mist. For sometime we could not say if it was the precipitation from the clouds of it was drizzling. Actually there were both.
The forest officer there informed us that we can go only till the Parambikulam Information Centre and after that we will be taken in the forest departments van to venture into the place. They had two vans one with 13 seat capacity and the other with 22 seat capacity. So he said we will have to wait till the seats get filled. I informed him that we have come for the trek and that the information centre people informed me that they will take us from the information centre. But the officer informed that irrespective of what it is, we need to wait for the seat to get filled. Now I knew why things were happing on time! Other option is to pay for all the 13 seats or 22 seats and proceed.
Since I did not want to leave anything to uncertainties I thought checking with another group of 12 people who were also going to Parambikulam for a Safari, if they are fine to join us so we can pay the money for the remaining seats. They were a bit hesitant for a moment, but finally agreed to join. We paid the entrance fee here and we were informed that we can pay for the van in the information centre itself. Finally we started from the place a little later than 9:00am. Once we reached the information centre the people there told us that the van the officer was mentioning was only for the safari and for the tramway trek, we can use our own vehicle till the starting point of the trek. Whew!, a great relief from confusing procedures.
The team at information centre then starting preparing for the trek. There was quite a delay and by the time we started it was well past 10. We had to drive another 20km approximately to reach the starting point of this tram way. We were joined by the forest guards from the information centre. The road from here was quite narrow, but was well laid except for the occasional potholes and breaks in the road in very few places. The guards showed us the Thoonakadavu dam and the Parambikulam dam through which the river flows to form the Aliyar falls. We were also informed that our trek path will be along this river.
There was again a stop in the Parambikulam village to buy rice and vegetable for our lunch and dinner. Finally when we started from here after getting everything it was around noon. When we reached the starting point of the trek it was already 12:15pm. The guards suggested that we have breakfast and then start the trek as it was already late. Did we have any other option? No we didn’t, except that we will have to trek starving, which not a great idea.
So we waited AGAIN in the small bird information centre setup in remembrance of Dr. Salim Ali – the father of ornithology in India, while the lunch was getting prepared. There were a few people living in that calm and cut-off area who had earlier worked in the tramway (yes back in the 1930s, they just settled here). One of these people – an old man of about 70 – was preparing the lunch for us. It was really a fabulous lunch. It was a very simple one – rice with Sambar and Rasam and Papad and vegetables for side dish – but excellent one. Every one of us enjoyed it and we were ready for the trek.
FINALLY, we started trekking around 2:30pm and had walk in a good pace to reach the destination before it gets dark. We were lead by the guards and a local tribal accompanied us. We started trekking along the river as mentioned before and the guards were showing us the pug marks of deer, leopards, bison and tigers along the way. We did spot a few Sambar deers and spotted deers on the way, not to mention about being bitten by leeches. We spotted a huge crocodile in the river lazily sleeping on a work in the river. We also saw and heard numerous birds chirping all along the way. The guards were well informed about some of the trees, birds, animals, butterflies and there behavior. They did give us some good information about the birds there.
At one point one of the guards informed us that he is able to smell elephants and we waited to there to see if we can catch a glimpse of the elephants. We did spot the huge one in some distance behind the cover of huge trees. Of course they too had sensed us and did not explore out. I don’t know why these big ones are afraid of me. I am just a friend of them. Finally we reached our destination, a small place with 3 small concrete cottages which is used by the forest officer and his guards who are in charge of the place.
The cottages had two rooms with few cots and nothing else, not even electricity. We dumped our bags there and had a good lengthy chat with the forest officer. He was a very friendly person and was very happy to converse with us. He does not get to talk much to people. Even the occasional trekkers confine to themselves. So the officer was really happy that we came out to have a chat with him.
Dinner was prepared there by the tribal who accompanied us. Again very simple chappathi and vegetables, but just excellent and really tasty! We chatted for sometime after dinner along with the forest officer and hit the bed. The plan was to start at 6:00am in the morning after having tea. Andy was the first one to get up and gave a loud waking up shout which woke all of us. We climbed down to the river, which was just outside the compound to brush and wash our face. We did see some fresh pug marks there indicating that some deers and leopards have been there either early in the morning or in the night. We also saw the mark of an elephant, but the forest officer informed us that it was from the previous day.
We started our trek back to the Dr. Salim Ali bird information centre by around 7:00am. Again the guards did a good job of showing us lots of birds. I felt very bad that we did not have enough time to sit and observe the birds and take some photographs. Since it was thick jungle spotting the birds itself was quite difficult so photographing those while trekking was just out of the question as we had to reach back on time. We reached there at around 10:30am. The rain which had stopped till then had resumed again. Briefly there was good downpour, but got reduced to a drizzle soon. Malay and Shibaji got the river and had a very good refreshing bath there. Me and Andy joined them some time later to just wash our faces and by that time the lunch was ready. The old man had already prepared a good lunch for us once again. We had lunch at about noon and proceed to visit the Thoonakadavu dam and the Kannimara Team. These places were simply beautiful and once again I have to mention that one has to see these places to enjoy and cannot be explained.
We started back to Coimbatore around 3:00pm and reached Coimbatore by 6:00pm itself. We dropped off Andy at the hotel and went on to check if our return tickets are confirmed. Since the train tickets were not confirmed, we got a bus and headed back to Chennai. It was really wonderful to spend 2 days in the forest without mobiles, laptops, facebook or twitter or even electricity. We were literally in the medival period for 2 wonderful days!
So overall a thoroughly enjoyable experience and another addition to the never decreasing “TO BE VISITED AGAIN” list of mine.

Wednesday 1 September 2010

A Trip to Bushkill Falls

Bushkill Falls – Niagara of Pennsylvania

Click for rest of my photos

While I am here in the US for a longer period this time, I thought of visiting some place during the weekend. I caught with long time friends whom I have not met much after they moved to US, but have been in touch regularly over the net. Ravi and Raghu have been my friends for more than 10 years and are now settled in the US. We decided to plan a one day trip to some place, since both had to be in work on Saturday.

After some digging in the net and checking with friends by everyone, we decided that we will visit Bushkill Falls in PA, which is about 80 miles from North Brunswick. All of us came to Ravi’s place on Saturday evening and decided to start from here the next morning. We had plans to ride in Ravi's new mini van which he had bought only last week. Since both Ravi and Raghu have kids of age 2.5 and 1.5, it is not going to be easy to start early. So the plan was to start from home by around 10:00am on Sunday morning and reach Bushkill falls by around 12:00 noon. Explore the place, do some trekking (this was given in the information page of Bushkill falls) and return back. As per the information in the site there was also kid’s play area. So we had planned to leave the kid’s with their (poor) mother’s and we 3 had thought of exploring the place.

The next morning when we started it was about 10:30 am (not bad at all, considering getting the kid’s ready). The weather was just perfect. Sunny and no signs of any rain. We drove up to the Burger King in Morristown near Brunswick had a late breakfast and proceeded on to Bushkill falls. Though we started a bit later than the scheduled time, we caught up pace owing to the very minimal traffic and reached Bushkill Falls by around 12:00 noon.

Once there were got a map from the information centre there and came to know that there were 4 different routes one can explore depending on the fitness level of the person. The Green route was the easiest which takes you to the main falls. One can get a good view of the falls here and return back. The Red route was the most difficult and covered about 2.5 miles. There were warning information in the maps and throughout the entire area that only fit and regular hikers should take this route, since the route is quite steep and goes across lots of boulders and streams.

Since the kids were quite very enthusiastic and energetic, we realized that the two kids cannot be taken care alone by their moms and decided that Ravi would stay back with them for a while, take them to the kid’s play area and once they are comfortable playing there with just their moms, he would return back to join me and Raghu. Having decided that, I and Raghu started walking in the route marked as Red, hoping to get a good trek or hike. It was already about 1:00pm when we started the walk.

The map showed 4 streams and small falls – the Pennell Falls, Bride’s Veil Falls, Bride’s Maid Falls and finally over to the Main Falls (this Main Falls also can be accessed through the short Green Route). There also was a sign that except the Main Falls the others may not have water during draught period. Since this was no draught and we had good rains for 3 days last week, we thought we were going to have a visual treat all along.

The first falls we encountered was the Pennell Falls in the Red Trail. There was some water, in the falls, though not gushing in full force, it did have decent amount of water to call it a falls. I took some photographs there and proceeded on the Trail.

There was a point called the Peter’s Corner. From here we can proceed straight in the trail or take a deviation to the other falls. We took the deviation and decided to check the falls. The next ones were the Bridedmaid’s Falls and the Bride’s Veil Falls which were dry and did not a trickle of water. This was a huge disappointment for me. The place was quite scenic and would have given a wonderful view had there been some water.

We proceeded went back to Peter’s corner and proceeded on to the Main Falls. This one had good amount of water, more than what was there in the Pennell Falls, but still nothing to my liking or nothing like what I have seen in South India. Took some photographs here as well and proceeded and reached the top of Main Falls. There weren’t any good views here so proceeded on further in the trail and reached the exit.

While were reached the exit, Raghu’s wife and Ravi’s wife were in the snacks centre getting some drinks for the kid’s. They were surprised to see us back within one hour as the map had indicated at least 2.5 hours. We explained that the route was not even half difficult as what was mentioned and there was some amount of water only in the Main Falls. They too had returned from the play area and had visited the Main Falls from the top of it and had returned back. Ravi in the meantime had come in the Red Trail thinking he can catch up with us somewhere on the way. We waited in the picnic area for about 30 minutes for Ravi to return.

Once he was back, we once again went to the kid’s play area let the kids play for sometime and headed back home. On the way we ordered and packed some Indian food and had our dinner at Ravi’s place. That was the end of the day.

Though the place was nice for a day’s getaway, the way it has been marketed seemed too much exaggerated, from my point of view. Out of the 4 falls, I would have expected at least one falls to have had real gushing water to call it a falls. The next disappointed was the hiking or trekking part. The trail certainly did not live up to the hype it has been given. Even for a very moderate trekker like me, it was just a walk in the park and by no means would I call it a trekking or hiking! Thirdly the place had nothing to be called “Niagara of Pennsylvania. If one is lead to believe this something like Niagara, I am sure most visitors from other countries would either lose any love for the wonderful Niagara or never recommend Bushkill as a tourism place. My expectations may have been higher by what I used to see back in India as a falls, or by the information that have been given in the websites, but I would suggest anyone who wishes to go there, to go with the expectation of a weekend getaway and not to see a replica of Niagara!

Wednesday 28 July 2010

Trip to Venkatagiri and Talakona

Trip to Venkatagiri and Talakona
We had a sudden plan of driving to Venkatagiri hills, do some minor trekking, if possible, spend the night camping there and return back the next day.
My friend Shrinidhi had booked a Ford Endeavour for rent and was interested in testing the machine in various conditions. We were just hoping that it should not turn out to be like the Tata Indica that we took for Horsley Hills! Thankfully the car was in excellent condition and had been driven only for about 40000 km. A perfect  vehicle to drive on.
Early on the 24th July morning, four of us, Shrinidhi, Bharat, Dharani and me set out for Venkatagiri. At 4:00am in the morning, the NH5 that connects Chennai and Kolkata was the idea road to test the machine. Shrinidhi took to the wheels and our adventure started just ten minutes later when he tried to overtake a lorry. Another lorry which suddenly moved into the road from a side lane without any signal and was right in front of us as if blocking our way. Though he stepped on the brakes wildly, it was not going to help. Without any other option we had to move further right squeezing the car between the lorry and the divider, partly jumping over the divider, but not fully ramming against it.
It was indeed a close shave! Shrinidhi being the more experienced driver was really able to manage it. Even after that we were still testing the capacity of the car and within minutes we touched 150km/h. The drive was just smooth beyond this point. We drove for about 30 minutes and stopped by after crossing the junction to Tada. We checked if there was any damage to the vehicle and were extremely surprised to see that there was absolutely no damage, not even a scratch that you would notice. We were quite happy that the car has escaped without even a scratch. Less did we know what was in store for us later on!
We had planned to reach the base of Venkatagiri and had planned to off-road the powerful SUV into the terrain and see how far we can get so our hike to the temple at the base of the hills does not take too much of time. We were well ahead of schedule and by around 7:00am we reached the Venkatagiri town and stopped just outside the railway station to quick breakfast.
About 15 minutes later we were back on our way heading to the foot hills. After a drive for another 1 hour or so in the village road, we came to a place from where we can either drive through a very narrow cement road that will some distance into the forest and from there we can walk to the temple and the falls behind. There was another track which cannot be used by normal vehicles. Only tractors were used on this trail by the villagers to collect twigs and other crops. Shrinidhi decided to take this trail as he really wanted to test the power of the vehicle in such a terrain. We took the direction from a villager who was going on this way to another settlement somewhere in the periphery of the forest. He informed us that only tractors used to go in this trail and cars usually cannot take that route and suggested it would be better to take the cement road. But since Shrinidhi was confident that he could take the SUV in the trail, we decided to proceed further. We were told that we can drive up around 6km and from there we will have to walk about 4km to reach the temple. The villager also offered to accompany us so he can show the path. It was really not any difficult to follow a single trail, but occasionally there were some similar branches that could mislead a stranger to that place.
Once we took the vehicle into the trail all we could do was to travel at a speed of 20km/h due to the very rough and narrow trail. There was thick growth of bushes on either side that kept scratching the vehicle. We had to slow down further considerable as we were not even able to maintain the speed of 20 km/h. We had to get down in turns of clear off boulders, push away bushes that were too thick for the vehicle etc. There were also a few other people who were walking to the forest along with their cows and bulls to graze it and collect twigs. They too helped us clear the bushes by cutting of some bushes with their sickles.
We did not notice the time until we came to a spot where Shrinidhi decided that he cannot take the car any further. The villager did inform us that it is possible to take it further, but Shrinidhi was extremely upset that the shiny new car had become a scratchy old vehicle. So he decided that we stop the car in a small clearing among the bushes and walk from there. He also decided to stay with the car and suggested that we return back after exploring the place so we can decide on some other place to go. He was really upset by the condition of the car now and did not want to stay there for the night as we had originally planned.
I, Bharat and Dharani started to walk from that point and villager showed us the way. He came with us for about five minutes and showed us the way to continue. He had to take a detour to the right to go to the village where he was originally headed to. Another village that was apparently going to the forest for collection twigs showed us the way to some extent but he could not keep up with us due to his disability. He just showed us the path and asked us to proceed straight in the trail. The path we took was stream which dries up during summer and gets water during the monsoon. Since the monsoon has still not completely set in, we only had dry pebbles to negotiate with. Occasionally there were some boulders and rocks.
After walking for about 10 minutes the trail divided into 2 and we were just wondering which one to take. There was absolutely no one to ask for. Then 2 young fellows came to our rescue. They showed us the path and lead us in the correct trail which would lead us to the temple. They were young, energetic and very eager to help. They did not communicate much but it was quite obvious from their looks that they are very friendly and helpful. We walked along following them in the trail, stopping every now and then to take photographs. Of course there was nothing for landscape photography as the trail was completely covered with thick bushes and trees. But I was able to do quite a lot of macro photography with my Sigma 105mm f2.8 macro lens – my mission accomplished.
The guides were thorough professionals and knew the place in and out. Probably this is where they were born and brought up (or being brought up). They would lead well ahead of us and wait for us to join. If we do not catch up with them for any reason (mainly due to photographing), one would return for us to ensure we are on track and safe and wait upon us. They would also take turns to disappear into the bushes to look and listen for any possible intruders and join back in the trail ahead of us. We walked like this for about 1.5 hours to reach the temple. When we came to temple our new friends just sat under a big peepal tree and waited for us to explore.
The temple was a small, old one which looked abandoned though there were traces of worship being done very occasionally. We spent a few minutes there and decided to check out the falls a few feet behind the temple. The guides accompanied us there too. The falls was nothing but a trickle now but we know that it can turn into a very big one during the monsoon. There were every traces of a overflow during the rains. I just recollected what happened, last monsoon, to a small stream when it rained for a few hours!
We were there only for a few minutes and the time was already about 11:45am. We decided to head back to the car. With our new friends guiding us all the way just like they lead us here, we walked a bit fast this time to make sure we do not waste too much of time. I felt that we owed a great deal to these young friends of ours. They had lead us all the way to the temple and back to where we took part with the villager. We came to the place where the first villager departed and the guides also headed in the direction the villager went. We had to take the other diversion to reach our cars. It was about 1:00pm when were reached this spot and I thought our friends would also be hungry just as we were.
Just to break the suspense here, our guides were 2 dogs from the village and it was they who lead us all the way to the temple and back safely! I just saw there was a stream just ahead in the direction the dogs went and they were playing there while a couple of people were cooking something on the other side of the shallow stream. So I asked Bharat to go to the car and bring some biscuits so we can feed them. I and Dharani waited there for Bharat to return with biscuits that we had in the car and fed them. They were extremely happy and did not want us to depart, but we had to leave…
From there we proceed on to the Venkatagiri town, had lunch and proceeded to Chandragiri Fort which was in our agenda last time but could not make it. This is an old fort, just before Tirupathi, dating back about 500 to 600 years. By the time we reached there it was about 4:30pm and the visitor’s time to the museum there ends by 5:00pm. We took a quick tour of the museum which had ancient articles, documents, armors etc. We also spent sometime in the lawns of the fort taking some photographs. I used this opportunity to further test the Sigma lens.
We then were a bit stuck on what to do next, whether to return back to Chennai or spend the night somewhere, go to some other place in the morning and return back the next evening. We decided that we would further explore.
We headed to Tirupathi to look for some accommodation, but we lost the way somehow due to misdirection from people and maddening traffic in a tiny town. We went just outside Tirupathi and found a very small hotel, but a tidy one. We decided to stay there for the night. It was already about 7 and there is not much that we are anyway going to do there. We had dinner there itself and stayed there for the night.
The next morning we got ready by 8:30am, had breakfast and proceeded to Talakona. This is another falls which is further 58 km from Tirupathi. Once again there was not much of water in the falls as the monsoon has really not set in. There were more tourists than the water. So we know what the state of the water would be. So deciding against getting into the water, we proceeded further up the falls trekking all the way to the top of that hill. I wish I get a chance to come to this place during monsoon or immediately after. Though it was only about 1000ft, the climb was quite steep and difficult in my standards. It took about 1 hour to reach the top with 2 breaks in between to catch our breath. Once we reached the top, there was a trail which could possibly reach directly to the top of the water falls. We followed that path, but found there were quite a few diversions and were completely overgrown by bushes and trees. So we decided not to risk getting lost without a guide and traced back.
We had lunch in the AP tourism and forest guest house near the falls. They had put a canopy (a hanging bridge of a few meters) which is supposed to give a view of the forest, but I got a feeling that it is just a show piece as nothing significant is viewed by walking in that. We spend a few minutes there and started back to Chennai by around 2:30pm. The return back was without any interesting or ‘adventurous’ incidents. We just stopped once in between to have some snack and reached Chennai by around 7:00pm in the evening.

Monday 28 June 2010

Kolli Hills - A Total Recall - Part 3

Kolli Hills - A Total Recall - Part III

June 17, 2002 – Day 3 – The Day of Arapaleeswarer Temple and the Huge Falls

The third morning started a bit early. We started by around 7:30, so could catch the bus to the temple on time. While traveling in the bus Saravanan got the shock of his life once again. Actually he had many such shocks during that trips, but I am mentioning only a few. As I had mentioned in the beginning of the blog, the roads were pretty narrow and bends have to be negotiated very tactfully. Saravanan was standing somewhere in the middle of the bus while me and Prabhu were seated. Ravi was standing in the front near the driver and was staring outside. He called Saravanan and asked him to see the view. When Saravanan moved to front all he could see was a complete white blanket just inches ahead of the bus. There was a turn and the valley ahead was completely covered with mist! The driver was negotiating the turn and when Saravanan turned to face the driver, that was when he almost yelled, but somehow managed to suppress the fear and the temptation to yell. What he saw was really weird and even I would not have accepted such a thing.

In the driver’s seat was seated an elder man of about 50, who obviously is the driver. In the space for gear box, sat a boy of about 18 or 19 who was actually handling the steering wheel and the driver was negotiating with the pedals with his feet. What a coordination between the master and the student! Bear in mind that these buses do not have power steering and the wheel will have to be wound several times to take such sharp turns. The elder driver is actually coaching the boy to take such difficult turns! But at whose cost? What would have happened had the boy was unable to turn the wheel? What safety measures have been taken? Nothing at all! This is the way these people learn driving! OH MY GOD!!!!

Thankfully we reached the temple uneventfully at about 8:15 or 8:30 am. It was a beautiful and peaceful temple. There was not much of crowd and the few people who come there are the locals and they do not make much noise. They worship silently, some people meditate at a particular place and they leave the place. We worshipped there for a while and I also did a few minutes of meditation in the place where everyone did. This place was just outside the sanctorum of the Goddess. When I checked with the priest about what is so special about that particular place, he showed us the “Sri Chakra” that was sculpted right above the place where I was sitting for meditating. It is believed that the vibes from the Chakra will enhance the concentration power! A good experience it was. I thought it was mainly due to the atmosphere as well. There were absolutely no motor noise of any form, no air pollution and only the songs of the birds. Once again I would like to mention that the place may not retain the same as there are far too many visitors to this temple nowadays.

After spending over an hour here, we decided to climb down to the falls which was behind the temple. There is a small stream behind the temple which flows just past the temple before taking a very deep fall of about 350ft or so. Could be more but certainly not less. Quite a big one. There are steps neatly laid out to get to the falls. These steps too, like the roads, have quite a few turns and sometimes quite steep as well. We had to climb down over 500 steps to reach the falls. At the base of the falls, there was a large pool created by the falls. One needs to swim for over 100ft to reach the falls actually. There is no other way to reach it. Even if there was, it was completely rocky and very slippery. The water in the falls was not too much since it was summer. So it was not all that thick.

All the warnings that were given to us on the day one till today came to our mind. The moment we reached Salem and asked for directions to Kolli, people were warning us against swimming in the pool or going near the falls. We stood there for a minute hesitating. Then we saw 2 people sitting on a rock right under the falls and having a bath. We yelled across asking if the water is too deep. They said it is only till the chest level. They also said that they held each other and waded across to the falls and they do not know swimming. So it was no risk crossing over to the falls. Since I do not know swimming and had wheezing, I decided to stay back and take care of our belongings, which was not much, apart from the cameras we had brought. Ravi and Prabhu immediately swam across slowly ensuring there was no danger and reached the falls. Once they felt safe, they asked Saravanan to join them.

Since Saravanan was not a confident swimmer then, he was a bit hesitating. But he too wanted to join them desperately. So Ravi came back after sometime of having a good drench. He had spotted a route across the rocks to reach the falls. He guided Saravanan till a distance and asked him to cross over another couple of rocks to reach the falls. Saravanan was about to hold a rock to cross over when he saw that the rock was moving slightly. Initially he thought it was a loose rock, but was too terrified when he realized that it was actually a BLACK SCORPION!!! Yet another bout of shiver, yell and a moment of shock for our big friend. Thanking his stars and the Lord that the scorpion actually decided to move away instead of stinging, he took some careful steps and reached the falls. Prabhu and Saravanan were really enjoying the drench in the falls. Though the water wasn’t too thick it was coming down from a great high and was really slapping very hard against the rocks. When these guys went in-between those rocks and the falls, they felt the wrath of the falls. After they came out, they realized that their skins have become red because of the slapping. Though they felt the pain, they were really enjoying it then, but now realized how hard it has come down on them. I still remember Saravanan commenting that he had never had such severe slaps from his parents or teachers in school.

Once everyone were out, I too had a dip in the pool, without going to falls. I did not want to risk aggravating the wheezing. Now was the task of climbing up. It is not all that a difficult task usually, but since I had wheezing, it was always going to be a herculean task for me. Especially so in some places where the steps were quite steep. Ravi decided to stay with me and accompanied me, while Prabhu and Saravanan kept moving in their own pace. I managed to climb 10 or 15 steps at a time and took break for about 5 minutes to slow down the breathing. Though it was a tedious job, I gained the confidence that I could make it.

In evening I felt much better and we had planned to walk down to the sunset point. The place is called “Seekuparai”. We walked from our resort to the point enquiring with the locals on how to get there. We were a bit surprised that we had to pass through normal roads, terrain, banana plantations, a village, fields of paddy and other crops, rocky surface and barren land. All within a stretch of about 4 km or so. As we went along we stopped now and then to enquire if we are on the right track. In one village that we came across, a boy named Chinnadurai volunteered to show us the place. We reached the place with his help. It provided a wonderful view of the surrounding place. We spent some time there clicking some photographs with our high tech 1MP digital camera and then returned back to the resort. That was the last of our stay in the mysterious Kolli.

The next day’s return back to Salem and then to Chennai in the evening train was quite uneventful. We only had the mysterious experiences and the memories that we munched all along the way. We started early morning the next day, since we did not want to miss the bus in the morning and get delayed for the evening train. We had lunch in Salem, watched a movie, as we had quite some time to kill. Spend some time in roaming about Salem and in the evening boarded the bus and returned back to Chennai on the 19th morning.

Thursday 24 June 2010

Kolli Hills - A Total Recall - Part 2

Kolli Hills - A Total Recall
Part II

June 16, 2002 – Day 2 – The Day of Kongalai Amman

We got up on time, surprisingly of course, and we were ready by 08:00am. Our new friends were also ready by then and we started a little after 08:00am. We did not go directly to the temple as no one is sure of the way to reach there. We need to take some local guide if we have to reach the place. So we went to meet a person by the name Varadarajan. A very unassuming but interesting person he was. He knows quite a lot about most of the herbs in those hills and claims to be able to prepare medicine for any known ailment to human! Amazing and interesting as well. Even our new friends acknowledged the fact and they too have taken medicines from this village doctor. He does not charge anything specific for the medicines and he is not a commercial doctor. He takes whatever we give him. If one needs medicine, we will have to inform him well in advance as it is important that the medicines be prepared only during certain periods. It varies from herb to herb. Since I know nothing about these, I am not venturing into this subject any further.

When we reached his place, we were greeted warmly and given some short introduction about the way they do this practice and also about some common illness and the cures for those. I do not recall those at the moment as I was not too interested in that. We spent some time in his house (a small hut) and once he was ready, we took him along and left for the temple. He acted as our local guide. Still he too had to ask for directions once in a while as we proceeded along the forest route. Soon we were out of normal route and were driving in the terrain. After about 30 minutes of drive in the terrain we reached a small hamlet. From here we have to walk up to temple.

We inquired the local people on how to reach the temple. We were told that the temple is closed now and would not be open for the next one month or so. They do some rituals on the last day of the first Tamil Month, Chithirai. (The Tamil New Years starts in mid April. The first month of the Tamil Calendar is Chithirai which ends in mid May). It seems that once the temple is closed on the last day of the first month, it will then be opened only of the 4th month which is Aadi. That too the temple is open only on Mondays and Fridays. We asked them if we will be allowed to just visit the temple without having to open the temple for worship. We were relieved to know that it is not a problem and we were taken up to the temple by the caretaker of the temple.

We had to trek up about 300ft or so to reach the temple. Before starting the climb, I took a photograph of the temple. We were able to see the back of the temple from where we stood and took a photograph with the hotshot film camera we had. Just before reaching the temple, at a point, the caretaker stopped and asked us to remove our footwear. He also informed us if we had consumed alcohol or meat, in the morning, will have to stop there and proceed no further. Since we did not have anything in the morning, we decided to go up further leaving the footwear behind.

The temple was a small one with only a few square feet in area, but a very scenic and beautiful one. We were just taking in the place and the care taker informed us that we can pray, even though the temple is closed, and the Goddess is very powerful that our wishes will be granted. When I was looking around the temple, I saw the picture of the Goddess drawn outside, on the temple wall. The Goddess was depicted as sitting on a large banana leaf. Since the art looked very good, I inquired with the care taker about what stone was used to carve the Goddess. To my astonishment, he answered that it is not carved, but the Goddess actually came and sat there. Now I was questioning myself whether I am true believer or if I should ask for an explanation. I again told him, that I could see from the drawing that the Goddess is seated, but wanted to know what stone has been used to carve the actual architecture inside. He again clearly explained that the Goddess is not just a stone and is not carved. He said I have to believe that the Goddess actually came down and sat there.

Does he mean that she is still in flesh and blood? I do not know the answer for this till now. Even more intriguing was the ingredients used in worship of the Goddess. She is worshiped with "Black Banana and Black Paddy Grains". It is believed that the Goddess appears in the dream of the priest before the day of some festival and tells him where these plants grow. The priest will go there, collect them and bring back for offering. We tried our best to find out about this when we returned back to the Semmedu town, but no one had seen it before.We all wanted to visit the temple again when it would be open, but we have still not got an opportunity.

Forgetting about such an explanation and thinking that he is exaggerating (of course they go by beliefs) so I did not mind too much about that or did not think bad of him as I know about the beliefs of people here. I asked him if I can take a photograph of the temple. To this, he said that people who take photographs used to face minor problems and even some media people who wanted to film the temple did so but did not get a proper image in their output for some divine reason. So he suggested against taking a photograph, but also added that he would not stop me or feel bad if we photograph. I thought this was another exaggeration, but still not wanting to hurt their feeling we all decided to not photograph anything. I hid a smile and the fact that I have already taken a photograph from the starting point. Later I, in fact we all, regretted having done so. None of the photographs that we took using the film camera exists today. We did develop and print the photos, but somehow lost it without a trace! We have searched it everywhere, in all our houses, and it is just not there!!

Just opposite the temple was a string of mountains which made a beautiful formation and the flowering trees with cloudless blue sky in the backdrop made the place look like heaven. I could not resist taking the camera out, even though I did not have much of interest in photography then. It started only later. So I asked him if I can photograph on the other side. He just smiled and said it is my wish to decide and walked away. In a double mind I turned on my friend’s digital camera (a HP digital camera that has a 1 MP resolution with 8MB internal storage I guess – first time I ever saw a camera that did not use film!) and was seeing the scene through the view finder. I somehow found that the image I was seeing was dark in the viewfinder though the place was quite bright. I asked Ravi if anything is wrong, as we knew that it was not that dark when we took photos on the way. He too saw that and got stumped. There were no clouds or shade or tree anything that would make the picture dark, yet it was dark. We were still not able to understand the reason behind this incident, but we decided not to take any photos and turned the camera off.

After spending about 30 minutes, we decided to climb back down and were on our way back to the resort. We had lunch in a place called Semmedu which is just before our resorts and went back to the resort. Our friends from Salem were returning back on the same evening. So we spent the afternoon time chatting with them and roaming around the resort and the nearby places. We also went to the so called reception and asked the manager for places that we can visit the next day. Stay tuned for the adventures of Day 3

Tuesday 15 June 2010

Kolli Hills - A Total Recall - Part 1

Kolli Hills – A Total Recall
Part I

There would be some incidents or adventures in all our lives which we will never be able to forget. More importantly remember every single detail of that adventure. This is one such incident which happened about 8 years ago on the same day. I still remember every single detail of the adventure me and my friends had in Kolli Hills. I am also sure that all of them would remember every detail to this day.

The post is going to be a bit lengthy but I will ensure that you are hooked on to throughout the article.
As far as photos are concerned, that was the first time I saw a camera that take pictures without a film. Yes, one of our friends Ravi had a brought a VGA or 1 MP (not sure) digital camera gifted to him by his sister. So do not expect too much of photos. Here is what we have got.


Four mavericks, Saravanan, Sanjeevi Prabhu, Ravishankar and Yours Truly, were thinking of some place to visit and after lot of debates and discussion decided that the destination would be Kolli Hills. It was the June of 2002. It was (to an extent still is) an untouched virgin jungle. A very few people who knew about it associate this place with lots of mysterious things like Black Magic, herbs that would heal any disease etc. These sounded perfect for us to explore given the adventurous nature of us.

I and Prabhu learnt from the tourism department that there were a couple of resorts where we can stay which may not be all that occupied given that time of the year. Nevertheless, due to very rare visits from tourists the chances of getting an accommodation were always high. We also got a brochure which had some places that we could visit.

Since all four of us were in-between jobs (read jobless) we did not have to worry about leaves. We also worked on the budget and decided what we will need for a stay of 2 days there.

June 15, 2002 – Day 1 – The Day the Adventure Started

The itinerary we had planned was to board the Coimbatore Express on the morning of June 15, reach Salem by noon, have lunch and then board a bus and reach Kolli in the evening. It would take about 3 hours from Salem to reach Kolli. There are frequent buses from here.

By the time we reached Salem bus stand after having lunch, we came to know that we have just missed the bus to Kolli, but we can get buses from Namakkal which is about 30 minutes away from Salem. The guy who gave us this information also warned us not to venture too much near the huge falls in Kolli as it might have under water swirls which can be quite dangerous.

Keeping in mind about the warning, we proceeded to Namakkal from Salem. We visited the famous Namakkal Narasimhar temple and Hanuman temple. Upon reaching the bus stand, we were again disappointed because the last bus to Kolli had already left. We were then informed that there is a place called Senthamangalam which is about 45 minutes travel from Namakkal. From there 2 private buses ply to Kolli. One at 4:30pm and the other one at 6:30pm. We had just time to reach there if we start immediately. So we took the bus to Senthamangalam and reached there by around 4:10pm. Here, we learnt that the 4:30 bus had broken down and we will have to wait until the 6:30 bus. Well, this cannot get any better!

There was very old, big temple just behind the so called bus stand (a banyan tree – so typical of the villages). We entered the temple. It was quiet and peaceful inside. We spent sometime inside and then returned back to the waiting area. While we were waiting, I suddenly remembered that we have forgotten to bring a torch. Though a couple of them wondered why we need a torch, I nevertheless, decided to get one, just incase. We all agreed that we are not the ones to sit inside the room immediately after the sun sets!

After further wait, the 6:30pm bus arrived. We boarded the bus and by the time it started, it was close to 7:00pm. Just before reaching the ghat section, the bus was stopped in a village named Karavalli for dinner. The conductor announced that we may not get dinner in Kolli and asked us to have the dinner here itself. We got down and had dinner in an eat- out. It was nothing more than a thatched hut, but the light dinner we had was not all that bad for a roadside eat-out. Once finished when we asked for bill, we were informed in the counter that the amount was Rs.20 or so. We though Rs..20 per person was decent enough but we were sweetly surprised to know that it was the total bill amount for all of us. The same amount of dinner anywhere else would have costed us nothing less than Rs.100. But I am not guaranteeing the same now. Things have changed a lot in the past 8 years.

We resumed our journey from there in the ghats. This was the most adventurous part so far. The ghat roads were very narrow with narrow hairpin bends once every 10 meter or so! The entire altitude of the place is only about 3000ft and in that we had about 75 hairpin bends! That is just incredible. In most of the bends, the driver had to take the bus millimeters near the rock and have to take a sharp turn to negotiate the bends. It really was hair rising, but I will have to commend the efficiency of these drivers. I also can guarantee that a person learning driving here can drive anywhere in the world!

We had informed the drive earlier to let us know once we reach PA resort. It was one of the resorts available in Kolli, the other being Nallathambi resort. We had come to know that this is better than the other one. Now there are a few tent resorts as well and recently got an invite from them. Well, I will park that decision for sometime. The driver did inform us when the resort came and also assured that it will not be a problem getting an accommodation there. The bus took a bend in the road past the resort and stopped and we got down. The bus then went off and took another turn and that is when we realized that we are in the middle of nowhere! Even inches apart we were unable to see each other. The jungle was that thick and there were no street lights.

Taking pride and boasting for taking the decision to buy the torch, I took out the torch and turned it on. Only then did we know where the road was. We traced back to bend and then saw the lights in the resort. We went in and found that there were a couple of rooms available. We decided to take a single room and an extra bed, so we can stay together.

By the time we dumped our luggage and refreshed ourselves, it was past 9:30pm in the night. Though the town was completely dark, we found that the resort was well lit. We decided to take a stroll through the resort before going to bed, since 9:30 was a bit early for us to sleep. Just behind our room were other rooms in a row and beyond that was a small bridge that is built across a small stream that leads to rear of the resort. There were only trees on the other side, so the light stopped at the end of the bridge.

When we were just a couple of feet away from the bridge, an owl came from nowhere and sat on the wall of the bridge, turned towards us and hooted as if it is warning. The moment it did that, Saravanan got a bit nervous and said that it is not a good sign and it is not a good idea to proceed any further. We gave some pep talk to him and informed that it might have a nest somewhere near and that it is just trying to protect it and nothing more than that. We proceeded and before we touched the bridge, the owl flew and sat a bit further on the wall and hooted really loud this time. This was enough for our friend Saravanan to stop dead on his tracks. He said it certainly is a bad omen and that he is not proceeding further at any cost. This time he also insisted strongly that we all return. Me and Ravi were a bit adamant and said that we are going further and he can stay back if he wishes to. But Saravanan was too frightened to proceed any further and decided to stay back and Prabhu volunteered to stay back with him. We just strolled across the bridge, spent some time there getting the cool and fresh air which was completely unpolluted. We even thought of going a bit further into the woods, but decided that we will reserve that for the morning since it was too dark!

When we were turning back to the room, we saw 3 people having dinner and drinks in the space outside their room. They called us and enquired about us. After an initial introduction and getting to know each other, we came to know that they are real big business people in Salem. I am not disclosing their names here as I am not sure if I can use their names or not. Inspite of their status, they were really down to earth and extremely friendly. They were asking us if we have any specific plans in mind for the next day. Since we did not, they offered us to join them to a temple the next day. We readily agreed. The temple is Konglai Amman temple. It is a small temple in some village in the Kolli Hillock and is maintained by the local people here and is still not known to the general public. The plan was to start by 08:00am the next morning.

The adventure continues... Watch this space for more...

Saturday 5 June 2010

A Drive to Horsley Hills

Horsley Hills

A long pending plan to Horsley hills got fulfilled this weekend. A team of four hired a self rental car and drove to this serene place. Though the place is situated in Andhra, it is still very much accessible from Chennai and Bangalore easily through good state highways.

My major disappointment this time is that my Olympus E-510 is not with me. I have still not got it back from a minor service. So I had to use a friend’s P&S camera. Though it was pretty good in most of the areas, it lacked the punch of a DSLR. So I request everyone to bear with the photos. Alright I am not cribbing at the beginning itself. Let me save that for later..

The Horsley Hills is a very small place which was used as a Holiday Home by George Horsley, a Collector from British times. The place was given his name since then and the Andhra tourism has done a very good job of converting it into a good resort. There is nothing much to visit in this place. So Andhra tourism has decided to put some activities for the kids that will keep visitors occupied during the weekend.

A team of four, Shrinidhi, Rajasekar, Sathish and me were the partners in crime this time and we decided to drive down to Horsley hills on our own. The excitement was high for two reasons. One being that Horsley Hills is a place which none of us have visited before, in fact have not even heard of it much before. The other point is that except Shrinidhi non of us have driven a car in highways before, yet we just decided we will drive.

We started on Saturday early morning around 4:00am and drove along the Bangalore highway to Ranipet. From there we took the State highway from Ranipet to Horsley Hills through Chitoor, Palamaneer and Madanapalli. We also learnt that there is a not-so-famous wildlife sanctuary or park near Palamaneer – Koundinya Wildlife Sanctuary.

We reached Chitoor around 10:00am and had our breakfast and proceeded on to Palamaneer. Shrinidhi was driving so far and when I noticed that tiredness was already creeping on him, I decided to take the wheels. I was driving a bit slowly and cautiously since this was the first time I am driving. There are some lives depending on my driving you see. It would be around 11:00 by the time we reached Palamaneer and started looking for the sanctuary. Disappointingly majority of the locals did not know anything about this sanctuary. Finally, we got someone who said that he could show us the sanctuary and return back with us.

He showed us the way that leads to the sanctuary which is right on the TamilNadu-Andhra border. After driving for about 20 minutes we reached this place and were a bit disappointed. The sign board said that it is a reserve for elephants, but it looked nothing like a sanctuary. There was no one who could take us around the sanctuary and show the place. But on the positive side, the place was really good and I was able to spot lot of birds. Dedicating a day here and doing some exploration may definitely reveal some habitats there. But again we need to find the right person to take people around. We decided that we will plan to return to this place later with more resource and preparation.

We spent about half an hour there and decided to head back to Horsley hills. This time Rajesh decided to drive for sometime and did so till we crossed Madanapalli and since he has not slept the night before, he decided to go back to sleep and gave the car back to Shrinidhi. We proceed from there to Horsley hills checking with people and the scarce markings on the road. While climbing up the hills we came across a place with a small pond. This place was completely covered by eucalypus trees and was a complete forest. Though it was not so dense, the place looked like heaven. Complete serenity and all that we could hear was the whistling of winds, songs of birds and croaks of numerous frogs in the pond. We spend about 10 minutes there taking some photographs and started back to the hills. I think there are quite some places to explore in this region. Since our main agenda was to visit Horsley Hills, we marked these places for a future visit and proceeded on our way.

It was lunchtime, about 13:30, when we reached Horsley Hills and almost all of us were quite hungry. But the first challenge was to find an accommodation and refresh before having lunch. The Andhra tourism has a large resort here, but we were unable to get any accommodation there since it is summer holidays and that too a weekend. So the rooms were full. We found that there was another small lodge available just outside the resort, but to our disappointment, even that was full. The lodge keeper then noticing that all of us are friends and have not come as family asked me if we could manage in a small room. We agreed to it and when we saw the room, we were taken, for I would not call that a room but a dungeon or a godown or whatever you want to name it, but certainly not a room. It was in the basement of the building which had proper rooms and typically looked like a cave. It had 2 rooms. There was a single bed in the first room when we entered it and a double bed in a side room. All the furniture were nasty, dirty and some broken too. We were really wondering what kind people stay there and what kind of activities happen there. Since we were going to stay only for the night and will be roaming around the rest of the day, we decided to take that room, hoping that it will not fall down on us when we sleep. Another reason for taking that room is that we were sure that we are not going to get any accommodation anywhere else, as the Andhra tourism resort is the only other place.

We dumped our bags, washed our faces and immediately went out for lunch since we really did not know how much longer we will get lunch there. We walked over to the Andhra resort and the good thing is that it is open to everyone and not just the ones staying there. The restaurant was still serving lunch and we had some good lunch there and returned back to the room to relax for sometime. Everyone were so tired that the surroundings of the room did not deter our determination to sleep. It was about 15:30 when we started sleeping. I got up at around 17:00 and decided to walk around the place.

The others too woke up the moment I got up. I walked around the place we were staying and was happy to see that there are lots and lots of birds in that place. I could easily understand this as the place is still not commercialized in spite of the resort and almost all of the natural trees and water bodies are in tact. There were Babblers, Bulbuls, Bushchats, WhiteEyes, Sunbirds etc. But unfortunately, I was unable to photograph all of them since I did not have my camera and the Point and Shoot camera, however good, lacked the speed to photograph birds.

Since it was taking time for the others to get ready, I just proceeded to the resort again and saw a sign board that read sunset point and walked up towards that place. It was a good view point from where one can view the entire surrounding. I just explored the place for some time, climbed up a rock that was some distance away from the view point, ignoring the comments from some people that it is not safe to climb up there. Soon Rajesh and Sathish also joined me there. We spent sometime sitting on top of the rock taking some photographs and enjoying the beautiful place and the cool breeze, something that we definitely do not get in the city.

We roamed around the place till it was dark. There were lots of tourists there and the place never seemed deserted. Not sure if this is how it always is, or if it is because of the holiday season. Either ways, it was a lively place. In the night we found a place to have dinner which was not all that great, but good enough to survive. We then headed back to our room, or should I say dungeon. We played cards for sometime and went to sleep.

I had plans of getting up early in the morning and doing some bird watching but that did not happen since the weather was too good to get up early and the tiredness added to it. When I finally woke up it was about 6:45. We did not have any other plans for that day because there is not much of places to visit there and any other tourist place is about 140 kms away from that place (near Tirupathi).

So we decided that we will start from there by around 10:00 or so, proceed to Madanapalli, check in the internet for some interesting places to see near there and then decided our route. We also thought of exploring a small hill that we saw from outside our rooms. Me, Shrinidhi and Rajesh left out for the hill, leaving Sathish back in the room since it was still midnight by his standards.

We detoured into the resort just checking whatever was there and proceeded leisurely to the base of the small hill. It was actually a big rock of about 300 to 400 feet high and looked quite steep. We climbed up the rock in about 10 minutes and found a small cave formed by the rocks on the top. It was quite cool inside the cave unlike what it was outside. We also spotted some foot marks of some small animals but could not spot anything there. We just sat there for a while and returned back to the room. By the time we came back, it was about 9:00 and we decided to take bath, have breakfast and proceed back as per plan.

This is when the adventure started. We vacated our dungeon and started by around 10:45. But, the car in which we had come did not start. It already had some problems the first day, but we never thought it would not start the next day. The car was rested for about 15 hours, since we reached there and failed to start the next day. We even tried pushing the car down a slope and try starting manually but nothing worked. We tried to get some help from the tourism but there were not all that helpful. We then got the number of Tata Service Centre in Madanapalli and called them to ask for help. Since it was a Sunday, they said their mechanics are not available, but they gave a number of a mechanic who can service the vehicle. After some back and forth conversation between us and the mechanic he finally understood that we have come from Chennai and are stuck in Horsley Hills without any other option other than servicing the vehicle. He said he will reach here as soon as possible. It was already about 12:00 noon and we know it would take about an hour for him to reach Horsley Hills from Madanapalli. So we decided to wait till he arrives.

Even after waiting for 2 hours there was no sign of the mechanic and no calls from him either. We tried calling him again and got a response that he is collecting the tools from somewhere and will be on his way. I wonder what he was doing all this while. These dodging kept going for quite sometime. In the meantime we called the car rental from where we took the car and informed them of the condition and also told him that we would just leave the car there and return back to Chennai if the mechanic does not show up by15:30. The owner of the rentals tried to convince us but we told him that we have work to do and cannot baby sit on a faulty car. The owner then took the phone number of the mechanic from us and spoke to him and asked him to reach here as soon as possible.

It was about 14:30 when the mechanic called us again and informed that he is on the way that the he has run out of fuel in his vehicle and would fill up and be on the way. Again I wonder how come a mechanic would not even check the fuel level in his vehicle when knows clearly that he will have to travel about 50kms and back. Another lie which we found not very convincing! We waited till 15:45 and then decided that we will just give one last try to start the vehicle and if it does not start, we will just leave it there for the owner to pick it up.

We went to the car, started it and stepped on the accelerator for over 5 minutes and the car just started! It was a great surprise and we were all relieved that we do not have to depend on the mechanic and hear his stupid excuses every time we call him. We just started from there and started on our way back. We drove for over an hour without any call from the mechanic. The first call we received from him was around 17:00, but we decided to ignore the call. We thought that would serve him well for the stupid lies he was telling all along.  We just kept ignoring his repeated calls and kept driving.

Once we reached the foothills, Rajesh decided to drive. By the time we reached Madanapalli it started raining really heavily the visibility dropped a lot. It was a very good driving experience in the rain for first timers like us. After reaching Palamaneer, I took over the driving. By it was about 18:00 and the rain has stopped. But the light has gone down and it was getting dark. Though I do not have any driving experiences I still decided to drive at least for the next 100kms even though it is dark.

The roads were good but mostly narrow State Highways. Except for one incident where I also drove into a truck, the rest of the journey was quite cautious and smooth. We reached Ranipet by around 20:00, had dinner and proceeded to Chennai from there. We reached Chennai by around 22:30 safely and in one piece.

There were quite some lessons learnt.

If you are going to Horsley Hills, do not expect an extraordinary tourist spot. It is just a resort which is away from your city.
If you are nature lover and want to spend your time in a not so famous place, then this is a good option.
There are lots of opportunity for photography and bird watching, but you need to explore a lot on your own into forest, that is not dense by any standards. You would not lose inside even if you wander quite far, is my guess.
If you are driving down, ensure your vehicle is in good condition. If not you are going to suffer. The nearest service centre available is at Madhanapalli and it would take a minimum of 1 hour to reach Horsley Hills from there, if the mechanic decides to come there.
If you are planning to stay overnight, never go there without booking in the resort in advance. If you have not done that, be prepared to sleep under the sky.
As common with most of the tourist places, be prepared to live with whatever you get for eating. Do not expect anything like what you can get in the city.