May 23, 2017
Traversing along the Mettupalayam-Kotagiri road the splendid beauty of the Nilgris is a breathtaking feeling. The majestic mountains draped in lush green forests with the super confident well built trees having reached their heights and fighting for their rights amid the dense vegetation truly inspire even the weakest to achieve.
Just 3 km off Kotagiri town is the Longwood Shola or The Dodda Shola as it is colloquially named in Badugu because of the vast area covering 116 hectares. In spite of being the only major pocket shola in the vicinity for tourists hitting the Nilgris, the pristine woods are still afresh. Thanks to the forest department and the Longwood Shola watchdog committee for reviving and preserving, sans the toxicity of the plastics and garbage.
The shola reviving, though once under the threat of extinction, by itself is an inspiration with its trees like rhododendron, cedar, wild champak, jamun, luxuriant ferns laying dense green carpets, gigantic creepers, shrubs, reeds, age old grandeur trees, thick undergrowth, star moss and fungus all dressed up uniformly in lush green with the tall Indian willows complimenting them.
Sunlight struggles its way down, adding to the romantic ambience. The home of the endemic flying fox and Indian giant squirrel, gaur barking deer, Nilgiri Marten, bonnet macaque, whistling thrush, and many more fauna, this shola is a yet another paradise of Nilgris,
When people complain of the shortcomings in their jobs, it is here in the core forests that we come across the really strong-willed stout-hearted people earning their living amid the wilderness of the dreaded forests. Having witnessed the challenges faced by the forest staff since the past 17 years as a forest officer’s wife, I have personally seen the hardships the job calls for, beyond time limits.
Apart from being inspirations of indomitability and tough grind, the forest staffs are epitomes of willpower and dauntlessness. One Balakrishnan, an anti poaching watcher, from Kotagiri forest division became a true inspiration to me. After the second fracture and ligament rupture a year ago in my ankle, regular walks had become a real challenge. But I couldn’t believe that this man nearing his retirement had a compound fracture in his leg. He guides tourists, bird watchers, wildlifers and trekkers across the shola. The only weapon he had was a stick that I took over during the trek.
His family situation had called upon him to resume work within just a couple of months after the accident. A grandfather of three children and the sole breadwinner of his entire family, with a mentally challenged son, the old man brims with enthusiasm. He came out with many interesting facts and stories of the shola he had been traversing since 33 years.
Thanks to the season, we were free from leeches. Though the trek route we took was not challenging, I found it difficult with my broken ankle. It was then that the old man came out with his difficulties and offered me the stick. My pains of the multiple fractures and herniated disc appeared miniscule compared to his compound fracture that had made his tibialis break into two tearing out its way through the flesh. But neither his body language nor walking patterns revealed the disability. There is no starting and winding up time for these brave souls for protecting the flora and the fauna.
Traversing just around 3 km, we encountered a huge gaur that emerged out suddenly from amidst the bushes. But for me and my children, none panicked. The guard raised his voice as anyone would to drive away a street dog. The huge beast of around 2 tonnes just receded to the woods.
It was not just the sight of the huge beast that frightened us but the stories of gaur attacks we had heard that suddenly gushed into our memory made us panic. The staff said they come across him almost every day and he never attacks them as he knows that they would never harm him. It was really exhilarating to have sighted the beast in close quarters revealing his gigantic majesty. More astounding was his demeanor towards the forest staff almost like abiding by their words. It was a kind of co-habitance inside the woods.
It was then, to be on the safer side, we wound up the trek before we encountered yet another wild animal having trampled upon fresh bear scat. Though a short trip, it was an inspiring one, for it strengthened my confidence and willpower, to recoup with my ailments, after witnessing a much older person dread the adventurous forests with ease everyday despite severe health ailments worse than mine. Remember an inspiration needn’t necessarily be a VIP or a celebrity always.
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own.
(The author of the column is Uma Ram, freelance writer from Coimbatore)