Spice and all that’s nice
PHOTOS: SOMA BASU
Reminds you of monkeys? Yes, but this place is more about spices, says SOMA BASU
TREES AND TRAILS A trekking route
Sometimes the least known places throw up the most fascinating surprises. Kurangani in Tamil Nadu is one such place. Despite having travelled on the Madurai-Munnar route several times, I never knew that a diversion from Bodinayakkanur, would transpor
t me to this green zone, which is on its way to finding a place on the tourist map.
Yes, Kurangani is one of the four villages in India, and one of the two in Tamil Nadu, to be selected as a “Spice Village” under the Endogenous Spices Tourism Circuit, a project supported by the UNDP and the Government of India. It is also one of 36 Heritage Village projects.
A friend had suggested that Kurangani (120 km from Madurai) was ideal for trekkers. Kurangani’s location at an altitude of 6,500 feet on the southern flank of the Western Ghats in Theni District excited me. The drive was scenic and cool. Acres of tall arecanut palms with their silvery bark glistened in the sun. The road abruptly ended in a village that comprised a few tea kiosks, grocery shops and houses. In the backdrop, I could see the mist covered peak of a verdant hill. I had arrived at Kurangani. But, what next?
lush arecanut plantation
Then I spotted a man dressed in crisp white dhoti and shirt at a tea shop. To my luck, he turned out to be K. Piniappan, Director of the Green Project in Kurangani. Not only was he a mine of information, his good English was also a bonus.
He had just seen off a Swedish tourist who had disappeared into the forests behind for bird watching the yellow throated bulbul.
Later in the evening, he was expecting a jeep full of foreigners coming for night camping in the forest. That left him the time in between to squeeze in a trek in the wilderness but only after a brief visit to his makeshift office, where he displayed with pride scores of photographs of all the eco-friendly work done by the villagers.
He told me Top Station was 12 kms from there. “The postman climbs up and down daily in flat three hours. I normally do one way in three hours, may be you will take five hours.” Notwithstanding the back-handed compliment, I aim at breaking the postman’s record.
A rickety wooden bridge across a narrow stream led me to a heavily pebbled track lined with a fascinating variety of spice trees. I was determined to walk, hop, jump, climb, leap, run, swing or whatever with the flair of the locals. But I realized the “spice gallery” – filled with — cardamom, cinnamon, fennel, fenugreek, aniseed, mustard, saffron, vanilla, bay leaf, nutmeg, asafoetida, oregano, thyme, mace, basil, clove, rosemary and juniper berry – is a pleasant distraction.
“Learning while walking” is a great experience and I reached the first landmark after two km, a mini water fall called the Sambar falls. It doesn’t really come crashing down but cascades gently over the rocks The sight and sound of the water was rejuvenating. From here perched high up on the hills, Top Station was visible, a white building appearing like a speck encircled by grey puffs of clouds.
How to get there
There are four trekking routes in Kurangani. One, to Top Station (12 km); and the second, a slight diversion to Mel Muttam (14 km).
The attraction here is the ropeway rendered defunct in 1972 but whose abandoned pillars still stand majestically on the mountains and is now a sought after site for film shooting.
The third route is Pulikuthi, a 20-km trek suitable for bird-watchers, and, the fourth is a precipitous ledge atop Kurangani called Kolukkumalai, considered one of the highest tea estates in the world at a height of 8,782 feet.
Whichever way you choose, you are bound to walk through lush plantations of teak, eucalyptus, arecanut, silk cotton, jujube, acacia, bamboo, coffee, banana, mango, sapota, plum, orange, cauliflower, broccoli, parsley, pomegranate, carrot, tapioca and cashew nut. It was not a very arduous trek, but Mr.Piniappan proved right.
By the time I reached Top Station the sun had disappeared behind the hills. All I came across on my trek was the group of monkeys which have lent their name to this beautiful place.
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