The bus was full, and we looked forward to our jaunt into the Nilgiris. The driver was ready too, but it looked like we were waiting for someone else. Finally, the guide arrived, armed with a scythe in one hand and a jute sack in the other. My 10-year-old son voiced aloud, the thought that was in most people’s minds: “What does he need the scythe for?”
We were at Avalanche near Ooty, all set to be taken into the jungle by the forest authorities, to see the vast Shola forests and grasslands that are a special feature of this region, but threatened by rampant deforestation, poaching, and industrialization. It is this threat, and the attempt to safeguard the forest and its resources, which has led to the eco-tourism initiatives at Avalanche. Visitors’ vehicles are only allowed till the forest guest house, and we had arrived early in the morning, ready to find a place in the first bus to take us deeper into the forest.
Barely a few minutes’ drive later, it was quite clear why the guide needed a scythe. It had been raining heavily all night, and the path was strewn with fallen branches. A few old trees had succumbed too, and they had to be cut through before we could pass on. A little further, we came across a truck collecting all the dead wood – authorized logging efforts, to keep the forest safe.
The drive took us along winding paths, giving us a glimpse of the dense Shola (evergreen) forest. The bright green cauliflower-like canopy was a welcome sight, though faded brown patches reminded us that these were indeed in danger, mostly from human factors.
The Bhavani River flows from these forests, her tiny trickle growing to a lush river, which has two dams constructed over her path, in these forests alone. The backwaters of the Upper Bhavani dam were a picturesque sight, though she was just a shadow of her usual self.
It was as we were turning back, having clicked photographs to our hearts’ content, that we realized what our guide’s jute sack was for. While we had been admiring the beautiful landscape, he had been busy – collecting the wrappers and assorted plastic items strewn around, mostly by tourists just like us.
The bag was almost half full, which came as a big surprise, considering that this was an eco-tourism zone, where, presumably, those who came, knew not to throw wrappers and the like! While the adults simply watched, the kids, I was glad to see, lent him a hand, eagerly looking for wrappers, discarded bags of chips, and cigarette butts to add to the fast filling sack! Stunned by this sight, to me, more beautiful than the natural beauty around, I chipped in too, unfortunately forgetting in the moment to click a photograph!
As we made our way back in the bus, we stopped often, not for hacking away at the foliage this time, but for our guide to continue filling his sack. By the time we got back to the guest house, needless to say, it was full.
Eco tourism initiatives like at Avalanche are a great effort to preserve our natural habitats. However, it is people like these who are the need of the hour! I wasn’t able to talk to him, since, by the time we had alighted; he had disappeared, probably to continue his work. However, along with the beautiful sights we saw that day, it is him I shall remember, always, silently doing his bit to keep these forests intact!
- Avalanche is located about 25 Km from Ooty. The name comes from an avalanche which occurred here in the 1800s.
- Avalanche Lake is the main tourist attraction here, and there are boards directing us to both, the lake, as well as the forest rest house.
- It is easiest to hire a vehicle from Ooty, and use the entire day for sightseeing in and around the area. Apart from the lake, there is also a Tribal Museum nearby, and also some beautiful stretches of tea estates.
- There are three jaunts into the jungle – at 10:30 AM, 12:00 Noon, and 3:00 PM. There are 2 buses and one jeep available for tourists, and overall, about 25 to 30 visitors are accommodated in one trip. It is therefore best to arrive early and get the tickets, especially during peak season and holidays.
- Check the website http://www.ootyavalanche.com for further details. There is also a full day tour you can try.
- Please co-operate with the forest authorities and help them preserve the environment. Carrying plastic is prohibited, as is littering, and disturbing the peace.