There’s something about rain in a tropical evergreen rainforest that brings out one’s untamed side. The earth is wet and the skies are forever shrouded in dark clouds veiling the sun. Borders blur as my journey takes me on a wilderness trail through verdant hills, encountering diverse wildlife and soaking in waterfalls as I drive along.
For me, the journey is more important than the destination. I let the winding roads take over my life, letting the road decide whether I should cross a creek or take a detour instead.
My first stop is at Kokkre Bellur, a small village en-route to Mysore, where painted storks have forged a bond with the villages. This isn’t just a breeding ground for these birds, it is their home.
The road from Bangalore to Mysore has something for every kind of traveller — from wildlife and birds to spiritual retreats and heritage sites, from arts and crafts to a Bollywood trail revisiting the locales of Sholay in Ramnagara. Bird watchers would like to stop at Ramnagara and the Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, while heritage enthusiasts would prefer Srirangapatna and Mysore. I continue driving beyond Mysore.
The forests spread themselves the moment I leave the temple town of Nanjangud and enter Gundulpet. On a whim, I follow the mist and drive uphill to Gopalswamy Betta, where a charming Krishna temple stands at the summit. I stop for a while, hoping to catch a glimpse of a leopard, but the mist blocks my view, so I continue my journey across Bandipur tiger sanctuary and enter Tamilnadu into Mudhumalai. A lone tusker creates a distraction as I slow down to watch a greater flameback, a species of woodpecker, knocking away at the bark of a tree.
The Nilgiris beckon. Navigating 30 hair pin bends, I enter Ooty and refresh myself with a cup of tea and some homemade chocolates. I’m tempted to travel on the mountain railway too, but I leave those tracks for another journey and continue on to Coimbatore and Pollachi.
This drive takes me through the three states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. I am now spoilt for choice. I am tempted to cross into Kerala and go to Silent Valley. Instead, I settle for a quick detour to Perambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala before continuing on to Valparai in Tamil Nadu.
The clouds let loose the moment I see the Anaimalai Hills. There are patches of tropical evergreen forests and then there are rolling tea estates. Forty-odd hairpin bends later, I reach a pristine spot, virtually untouched by man. Valparai is not just a hill station or a plantation town. It is one of India’s largest biodiversity hotspots, and a lot of endemic and endangered species find their home here. I encounter one such species at the intersection of a hairpin bend. Nodding its head vigorously over the thickets, the Nilgiri tahr makes its appearance. A herd soon gathers and I gaze at them quietly for a while before continuing up the hill.
Reservoirs follow me around, often giving way to the roar of a waterfall. I look at the rich canopy displaying fifty shades of green, expecting a great Indian hornbill to fly past the mountains gracefully, but I only see them much later. I do, however, get a glimpse of the endangered lion-tailed macaques amidst the plantations, busy exercising their limbs and completely oblivious to my attempts to capture them on camera.
I take another detour into an misty, marshy land of ferns and orchids where the rains lash the trees. As I look on at the cascading waterfalls at Athirampally and Vazhachal, I finally let go and let myself get drenched in the rain.
The forests merge into one another and you don’t even realise that you are crossing borders. Before I know it, I’m back in Valparai in Tamil Nadu, where I park my car and check into a colonial tea bungalow, all the while dreaming of an endless carpet of green.