Day 1: It took us about 10 hours to reach Top Slip, but it was well worth the long journey.
A beautiful and verdant place, Top Slip is basically the place you need to head to if you want to explore the Annamalai forest range and Indira Gandhi wildlife sanctuary. It is about 40 kms from the town of Pollachi (which is another 40 kms from Coimbatore).
Old jungle saying: Take good binoculars. You can’t trust only your eyes in the forest.
The name Top Slip was given by the British Raj, when in those times, harvested timber used to be slipped down a narrow canal to the plains. The sanctuary is a birder’s paradise. And we missed having an experienced birder with us as there were so many we could not identify or even see for that matter. The thick foliage made it all the more harder. Sometimes, we would just stand at a spot and listen to more than half a dozen bird calls from different parts of the forest.
The journey is relatively pleasant and except for one stretch, the roads are not too bad either. Besides, Tamil Nadu definitely seems to have better roads than our very own Karnataka. The route we took was Bangalore : Salem : Coimbatore : Pollachi : Top Slip. It’s a relatively low key destination and thankfully so. Except for some buses with visitors who would appear and then promptly disappear again, it wasn’t too crowded.
Old jungle saying: Take a good guide, preferably one called Baby!
For forest treks, you need to be accompanied by a guide. We got hold of a good guide thanks to Shankar who had been there before. He went by the name Baby. When I asked him his full name he replied, â€˜D Baby’. And he was really â€˜the’ Baby who knew the forest like the back of his hand! He took us on three forest treks (all off the beaten track) – one in the evening, one in the afternoon and one in the early morning.
Old jungle saying: Don’t snore at night if you don’t want to scare away all the animals
On the first night Baby led us to the Ambuli watchtower which affored a beautiful 360 degree view of the forest. He stayed with us for the night and said all of us snored so much that it was no wonder that even the wild bisons, which he had spotted that evening, were scared off!
Besides walking around, we also landed up eating a lot! The canteen in Top Slip is not worth mentioning but thankfully Baby helped us find another cook at a nearby guest house called Ambuli, who prepared a few meals for us.
The first night we stayed in the watchtower in the forest, Baby picked up our dinner from the Ambuli guest house and got it back for us. All of us made ourselves comfortable on the top of the watchtower. After watching a glorious sunset, we had a delicious meal of chapattis, omlettes and veg korma. It’s amazing what fresh air does to one’s appetite (and not that I’ve ever needed any encouragement when it comes to food!).
Day 2: The night passed rather uneventfully. The highlight was Baby’s complaint that he was kicked twice in the night and we found the culprit was none other than our six footer : Sathish VJ.
Old jungle saying: exercise daily if you don’t want to be out of breath when escaping a bear chasing you!
The next morning we were up early to watch the sunrise (partially covered by a hill) and sight wildlife. We managed to catch sight of a few birds including the Malabar hornbill and the Indian Treepie and Baby spotted a Malabar squirrel for us. I spent some time walking around the area and looking at birds and spotted the minivet, bee eaters, swallows, parakeets and barbets do their early morning dance.
During all the walks I also realised why it’s important to exercise daily! Especially, going up sloped, which left me pretty breathless… Baby, for some reason would keep coming up to me and telling me, “7 more kilometres, 3 uphill!” in a rather threatening tone. I am not sure what thrill he got out of the whole exercise.
Somewhere along the way we spotted fresh excrement of a pack of wild dogs and Baby surmised that they had killed a sambar in the morning. It’s good we just missed them. After about 2 hours, we made our way back to Top Slip again to get some rest and more importantly – breakfast!
After another afternoon trek, we headed off to the elephant camp at Kozhikamuthi around half an hour away by vehicle. Private vehicles are not allowed so we had to go by the rather noisy official van. Unfortunately, it had become dark by then. There was a cute baby elephant prancing around. He would advance mischievously towards visitors and then coyly walk back when his master shouted a reprimand, just like a kid!
Day 3: On the third day, we headed for an early morning trek at around 6.30 am : Shankar playing big daddy and making sure everyone was up on time and Baby reaching on the dot.
He led us into the forest again and about an hour later we reached a beautiful valley. Lovely wild flowers and thick shrubs dotted our path as we made our way down. Another hour later, we were back at Ambuli guest house where we had a filling breakfast, thanks again to the cook there.
After breakfast, we bundled back into our vehicle and began our 10 hour journey back home to Bangalore.
Journey: Bangalore – Top Slip is 10 hours one way with a few breaks. You can also take the bus to Coimbatore and another one to Pollachi.
Acco: Minimum fuss accommodation including dormitories. Has to be booked well in advance through the office of the Wildlife Warden, Pollachi, Tamil Nadu. You can stay at the Ambuli guest house, but it might need some special request.
Treks: You can take a safari or trek inside the forest. You need permissions and also a guide along with you.
Sights around: The Elephant Farm and Parambikulam Dam.
Tips: Do take a pair of binoculars. It will be of great help!