It was a long awaited break, and I was sure that I was in for the outstation photography workshop organized by the pixetra club and Aspinwall tours to Anamalais. The work shop was about wild life photography and our accommodation was at the Sinna Dorai Estate bungalow in Valparai. We altogether made up a gang of nine students and our master Sethu Sethuraman started off in the morning to Valparari, through the winding zig zag roads enroute the Athirapally waterfalls, a ride through the hardcore Shola rainforests. We got chance to spot lot of birds, since I am not a keen bird watcher, for me it was some new information which exited every moment.
We reached the Anamalis by noon and the tea estate bungalow was all set to receive us. It was a warm welcome and all were directed to the lunch table. A fixed menu lunch all prepared by local people staffed at the bungalow, and you wouldn’t believe how awesome it was. Next in the agenda were post noon classes on photography at the conference hall.
By evening Murugan of the estate bungalow noticed a herd of Elephants in the tea plantation across the hills of Sinna Dorai. So we all decided to shoot the elephants with our cameras and all got ready to go. We were reaching close by when Men in a Gypsy from the conservation society of India came and cautioned not to go close to the Elephants as the herd has two babies with them. We reached slow and steady approaching somewhere close where we could see the herd. It was all fun out there, baby elephants were just enjoying their time rubbing, running, playing with their sibling. We stayed there until sunset where we all got some of the best sunset shots of the Elephants and silver oak trees and the tea plantations. Back to the bungalow and during dinner we planned for a birding escapade next day early morning.
Next day we were all ready on time for birding and were heading through the winding calm cool tea plantations roads. It was all of a sudden that Murugan our guide locates a herd of Indian Gaurs in the plantations. We stopped by and got a chance see the Guar in close proximity with the zoom lenses. The herd with two calves was in a protective mode.
We left the place soon heading to Velonie Estate road were a lot of birds have been spotted, en route we got chance to sight a pair of serpant Eagles. It was an interesting experience as we had two birding enthusiast with us explaining about the bird. The birding program was very short as it was already late morning and had to be back to Sinna Dorai bungalow for our late breakfast.
Post lunch we headed to headed to a place where less than a hundred Lion tailed macaques pass by during the day, we were lucky enough to be there on time to see the Macaques. It was mostly like a line where one follows the other on a specific route. You don’t know how time moves when you are into something that is of very interest to you. It was dusk and night came soon and there was bonfire for us before dinner.
Much early in the morning we were all set for the birding expedition with a strong desire to sight the Great Hornbill. On route we stopped by to photograph a bird – that was when we saw a juvenile Great hornbill on flight to the woods. It was a moment with raised eyebrows and excitement seeing the graceful royal flight of the hornbill.
Like most hill stations, we could spot monkeys everywhere at Valparai. We headed to Velonie estate where we spotted a lot of birds, the birders in our team were kind of explaining about every distinct bird that we saw. A birder in me was almost gaining shape, never knew that birding was such a big excitement. We spotted the different varieties of parakeets, wood peckers, bul buls, doves, eagles, Drongos, Robins and many more.
We were back to Sinnna Dorai for the Brunch, got ready, and post noon we left the place back to Kochi. The most eventful moment was just awaiting us after the Tamil Nadu state border from Valaprai. It was again the Zig Zag roads, half asleep, passing by dams, reservoirs, and rapids through dense shola forests towards Athirapally. Suddenly from nowhere, “WOW Stop, look, it’s a Hornbill” yes, it was 2 Great Hornbills atop the big tree. I have seen a Hornbill only in pictures and never knew that it was such a big bird. Everyone out of the van with the cameras hopping to shoot the bird, it was a pair moving from one branch to the other flapping the wings with the woof woof sound which could be heard from a distance. The size, colors, shape and the sounds makes the Hornbill distinct and great among the birds. Unfortunately I did not get any good clicks of the Hornbill.
With a great sighting and with the feeling of successful expedition we were back. With lots of interesting moments, tea plantations, wildlife, birds, and photography, we were back in Cochin by evening.
Written by Benjamin John