In Search of Spider Valley – Part I

I’ve been reading a lot of Kenneth Anderson lately. He was originally a big game hunter who worked in the middle decades of the 20th century in South India. He made his name hunting down numerous maneaters (both leopards and tigers), as well as the odd rogue elephant and people-killing bear. In his later years, he became a writer and a conservationist. He had a slightly earlier and better known counterpart who followed a similar track; a man Jim Corbett, who now has a tiger reserve named after him at the foot of the Himalayas. Corbett concentrated on North India and Anderson concentrated on the south; mostly places within a 200 mile radius of his home in Bangalore. Anderson serves as an inspiration to South Indian nature lovers and conservationists. In fact, there is a local conservation group named after him; which reminds me that I’ve had a sealed envelope with my membership application sitting on my desk for a month and need to call the courier service.

A considerable part of his writing involves an area of Northeastern Tamil Nadu, north of the Cauvery River and especially an area he calls Spider Valley. Hanna mentioned that she’d like to do a bit more hiking before heading back to Germany. As I’d already been scouring maps, Google Earth, finding it on wikimapia.org and going through a blog post about a recent hike there, I suggested that we try to find this place. I say “try to find” as Anderson wrote forty years ago about events a decade or two prior to that. In addition, he was often coy about describing exact locations for fear of them being stampeded.

So we set out from Bangalore yesterday morning with the objective of finding either the village Kempakerai or Kodekerai, both of which are repeatedly mentioned in Anderson’swritings. The general idea was to find one of the villages, find a local willing to work as a guide and then hike a bit; or just wander off into the woods as we saw fit.

Within an hour and a half, we had reached Denkanikotta. After that, we entered the hill country and it became very jungly. Along the way, we were lucky and spotted a crested hawk eagle sitting in her nest near the roadside. Things looked promising.

Nested Hawk Eagle

Nested Hawk Eagle

After subjecting the poor raptor to the paparazzi treatment (though we used a telephoto lens so that we could keep our distance), we continued on our merry way. Getting as far as Anchetti was easy enough after that, the directions from the villagers became vague; often with half the men in a hamlet turning out to debate the proper way to go. Eventually, at one hamlet, we were told to turn onto a dirt track and that Kempakerai would be a few kilometers up the track. We were also informed that the rough dirt track would turn into clean blacktop soon after leaving the village. The only catch was that it led to the left. If we were following the road from Anchetti towards Pennagaram, these two villages should have been on our right. Such is finding your way in India.

Foreigners are not allowed to have Survey of India topographical maps, so we have to rely on Google and asking for directions. This is a pity as that region has not changed much in the past half century and I have excellent orienteering skills with a map and compass. Given our past experiences with “I don’t actually know the way, but I don’t want to say so. So I’ll just give directions based on my best guess”, I resigned myself to not finding spider valley that trip. I presumed the track to lead off towards the North side of the Anchetti-Pennagaram road and thought that in any case, we’d find a nice place to do some hiking and with a little luck, we might even come across the forest department’s Aiyur rest house; where we might be able to find more reliable information.

So we followed the track.

To be continued.

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