Continued from part I –
So we were off onto a broken dirt track that supposedly led (in the wrong direction) towards Kempakerai and supposedly would return to blacktop within a few hundred meters. The latter was true and soon we found ourselves climbing a mountainside, deeper and deeper into the jungle. Within a couple of kilometers, we climbed to a ridgeline and came to a fork in the road. There was a stone sign, presumingly giving directions and distances. Unfortunately it was in Tamil and nobody in the car could read the Tamil script, so it was no help. Both directions seemed equally jungly and we were certainly not where we planned to go, so we randomly went left. Within a few minutes, we came to a bridge over a dry riverbed. We parked the car and started exploring up the riverbed.
It was easy walking and we could look for animal tracks if any were to be found. They were to be found in abundance, but were all cows and goats. There might possibly have been deer among them. I find the tracks difficult to discern, but there were at least three types of spoor in the river bed. There were the usual cow patties, the tiny balls usually associated with goats and deer and a third kind. It consisted of small, elongated cylinders, about one centimeter in diameter and three centimeters long. These were in turn woven into logs. I’d seen them before while hiking in the Western Ghats and there were no goats of cows in that area. Might they have been sambar or chital?
Eventually, we stopped and had a lunch of bread and hard boiled eggs brought from home. We were at a bend in the riverbed, just below a peak. As we ate lunch, we watched a small jungle fire slowly spread. We photographed it, listened to its crackle and eventually decided to clear out of that area lest we get caught in a spreading forest fire. That was the first of several such jungle fires we saw. None of them seemed to be in any hurry to start a conflagration the way fires in the Pine Barrens do. We need not have been concerned.
So we went back to the car and made our way back to the work in the road, so that we would not be caught on the wrong side of the ridge if the fire reached there. As the fire was far from the fork, we quickly forgot about it and went to explore the other way. We wound our way down switchbacks with spectacular views of a large valley between two rocky ridge lines. Eventually the way came down to the valley floor and as we drove along, passing tribals collecting sacks and sacks of tamarind. We also started seeing elephant dung. We reached a washed out bridge over a dry river bed (the same creek as before, only downstream) and rather than risking getting the Innova caught in the sand, we stopped there and started exploring the riverbed and the trails in the area. We found the usual signs of domestic animals as well as old, dried up elephant spoor and what appeared to by a deep footprint left when the earth on the riverbank was last soft.
Taking a break back at the car after one of the exploratory forays, we shared our cookes with some villagers heading home after collecting tamarind. They were delighted to have our cookies and the eldest man among them divided them up very carefully, ensuring that every man and woman received the same number of cookies. After they finished, rather than simply tossing the bag aside, they took it with them. Can I infer that tribals don’t litter? If so, I’m delighted. Wrenzo informed us that they had told him that we should not be around after dark as elephants regularly came through there and you never knew what mood they might be in.
We still had time though, so we set out to use our last hour before we had to leave. We followed a trail uphill through the scrub jungle. Sammy was loudly announcing that we were in the scrub jungle and that there were elephants and leopards around; ensuring that there would in fact be no leopards or elephants within a one kilometer radius. Near the top, we saw a group of large, dark, rounded shapes? Elephants or boulders? If they were elephants, they would likely bolt if we approached. If they felt that the young had to be protected, it could turn ugly, so I held the kids at a safe distance while Hanna and the Daniela’s sisters cautiously approached. I brought the kids up when it was determined that they were boulders. We did find lots of dried up spoor in the area of the boulders. There were no recent signs or tracks however, leading me to believe that the pachyderms have moved to wetter areas –possibly to the banks of the Cauvery – for the dry season.
We also found large, ground based spider webs everywhere. Notably, they seemed strewn and clumped among the rocks of the riverbed as well; seemingly washed there. Given that the riverbed has been dry for weeks or months, this is a testament to the durability of the spiders’ work.
When we got back to the car, Wrenzo informed us that some of the jungle dwellers had told him that there was one lone elephant in the area with an injury. It was ill tempered and had overturned a vehicle a couple of days earlier. I’m not certain about the authenticity to embellishment ratio of the story was (especially given that the signs of elephant activity were old), but I’m certainly glad that we did not see any lone, irritable elephants.
Reluctantly, we returned to Bangalore. This is exactly the kind of place that I had been looking for this past year and I’ve already started formulating plans for the next trip. Interestingly, during the trip, I recorded our various places in my GPS. It is a Garmin Forerunner and not really intended for navigation, but rather as an advanced training device. It is a useful tool for marking locations and recording paths. After arriving home, I put them into Google Earth to see just how far off we were and what landmarks we should keep an eye out for next time. I now believe that we were actually in “spider valley”.
Astonishingly, we ate lunch a mere mile downstream from Kempakerai. Had we continued up the river bed, instead of turning back due to the jungle fire, we’d have shortly reached Kempakerai. Had we driven another few minutes instead of stopping at the bridge, we’d have reached the same by road. The directions had been correct; despite not mentioning the fork in the road. We had thought that we were north of where we were, on the main Anchetti-Pennagaram road, when in fact we were south of that on a road that was not on the map. Where we parked the car the second time was about 4km from the banks of the Chinar river and a mere 12km from Hogenakal Falls as the crow flies. The other option for spider valley has a road running through it. The valley we were in has a paved road, but it is only a single lane track; not a proper road and it seems to fit Anderson’s description quite well..
In any case, I plan to return.