THE GATE­WAY TO THE NILGIRIS

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Set in the foothills of the Nilgiris, Coim­bat­ore is a pop­u­lar stag­ing post for many hill des­ti­na­tions like Ooty, Coonoor, Val­parai and Mun­nar. It also makes an ideal base for those want­ing to ex­plore the wildlife re­serves of the Nilgiris Bio­sphere Re­serve and the Peri­yar Tiger Re­serve. We de­cided to spend a cou­ple of days ex­plor­ing this city be­fore tak­ing off for the green hills of Val­parai. For most tourists, the city is lit­tle more than a jump­ing off point for hill sta­tions and wildlife re­serves but we had an ed­u­ca­tional and en­joy­able time with our chil­dren in this city of mu­se­ums. Its var­i­ous tem­ples, rivers and the beauty of the sur­round­ing Western Ghats make it one of the top tourist des­ti­na­tions in In­dia.

Coim­bat­ore, also known as Ko­vai, is a ma­jor city in the In­dian state of Tamil Nadu. Lo­cated on the banks of the Noyyal River sur­rounded by the Western Ghats, it is the sec­ond largest city in the state af­ter Chen­nai and 16th largest ur­ban ag­glom­er­a­tion in In­dia. It is the largest city in the Kongu­nadu re­gion. It is ad­min­is­tered by the Coim­bat­ore Mu­nic­i­pal Cor­po­ra­tion and is the ad­min­is­tra­tive cap­i­tal of Coim­bat­ore district. The city has gained fame for its de­vel­op­ment – health­care and ed­u­ca­tion stan­dards are pretty good in Coim­bat­ore. It is one of the fastest grow­ing tier-ii cities in In­dia and a ma­jor hub for tex­tiles, in­dus­tries, com­merce, and man­u­fac­tur­ing in Tamil Nadu and it is also now an in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy cen­tre.. The city of Coim­bat­ore is best known for its huge pro­duc­tion base of tex­tiles, spe­cially the fa­mous South Cot­ton and hand­loom wo­ven Ko­vai Kora cot­ton sa­rees– an in­dus­try that has earned it the nick­name, Manch­ester of South In­dia. It is also a cen­tre for other in­dus­tries like engi­neer­ing, earn­ing fame for its Coim­bat­ore Wet Grinders, used in the food grains in­dus­try, auto com­po­nents in­dus­tries, ma­chines and pumps. In fact, it is also called the Pump City of In­dia!

The city is one of the largest ex­porters of jew­ellery, wet grinders, poul­try and

auto com­po­nents, with “Coim­bat­ore Wet Grinder” and “Ko­vai Cora Cot­ton” recog­nised as Ge­o­graph­i­cal In­di­ca­tions by the Govern­ment of In­dia.

Coim­bat­ore was part of Kongu Nadu dur­ing the Sangam pe­riod be­tween 1st and the 4th cen­turies CE and was ruled by the Cheras, as it served as the eastern en­trance to the Palakkad Gap, the prin­ci­pal trade route be­tween the west coast and Tamil Nadu. Coim­bat­ore was lo­cated along the an­cient Ro­man trade route that ex­tended from Muziris to Arikamedu in South In­dia. The me­dieval Cho­las con­quered the Kongu Nadu in the 10th cen­tury CE. The re­gion was ruled by Vi­jayana­gara Em­pire in the 15th cen­tury fol­lowed by the Nayaks who in­tro­duced the Palayakkarar sys­tem un­der which Kongu Nadu re­gion was di­vided into 24 Palayams. In the later part of the 18th cen­tury, the Coim­bat­ore re­gion came un­der the King­dom of Mysore and fol­low­ing the de­feat of Tipu Sultan in the An­glo-mysore Wars, the Bri­tish East In­dia Com­pany an­nexed Coim­bat­ore to the Madras Pres­i­dency in 1799. In 1804, Coim­bat­ore was es­tab­lished as the cap­i­tal of the newly formed Coim­bat­ore district and in 1866 it was ac­corded mu­nic­i­pal­ity sta­tus with Robert Stanes as its Chair­man. The city ex­pe­ri­enced a tex­tile boom in the early 19th cen­tury due to the de­cline of the cot­ton in­dus­try in Mum­bai. Post in­de­pen­dence, Coim­bat­ore has seen rapid growth due to in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion. Coim­bat­ore was ranked the best emerg­ing city in In­dia by In­dia To­day in the 2014 an­nual In­dian city sur­vey. The city was ranked fourth among In­dian cities in

in­vest­ment cli­mate by Con­fed­er­a­tion of In­dian In­dus­try and 17th among the top global out­sourc­ing cities by Tholons. Coim­bat­ore has been se­lected as one of the hun­dred In­dian cities to be de­vel­oped as a smart city un­der Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s flag­ship Smart Cities Mis­sion.

As we left the air­port and drove out on Av­inashi Road, in a few min­utes we reached the Kasthuri Sreeni­vasan Trust Art Gallery & Tex­tile Mu­seum, loom­ing up on the side of the road. This tex­tile mu­seum show­cases var­i­ous as­pects of the tex­tile in­dus­try from its his­tory to the pro­cesses of tex­tile pro­duc­tion. The ground floor room is ded­i­cated to the his­tory of tex­tiles, start­ing with the whorl wheels of the Egyp­tian Nile Val­ley Civil­i­sa­tion and the spin­ning wheels of his­tor­i­cal In­dia, through the growth and de­vel­op­ment of spin­ning and weav­ing un­til the in­dus­trial rev­o­lu­tion. Among the ex­hibits are the Sax­ony Wheel, in­tro­duced in Europe at the be­gin­ning of the 16th cen­tury and ac­tu­ated by a foot trea­dle, thus free­ing both of the op­er­a­tor’s hands, tex­tiles pre­served in African caves, and the Mule which is an au­to­mated ver­sion of the tra­di­tional spin­ning wheel. A room has an­tique tex­tiles, in­clud­ing sa­rees and crafts. Vi­su­als show the cos­tumes from the an­cient In­dus civ­i­liza­tion to the Bri­tish colo­nial pe­riod. Var­i­ous tex­tile pro­duc­tion tech­niques like weav­ing, knit­ting, cro­chet­ing, lace mak­ing, etc are also ex­hib­ited. Hand­looms in­clude those us­ing banana fi­bre, pineap­ple fi­bre, screw pine and ramie.. A rare ex­hibit in the sec­tion is a piece of ul­tra-fine Muslin. A Ja­panese wed­ding dress and other fab­rics dis­play a range of creativity and skill.

Equally in­ter­est­ing is the Art Gallery which show­cases his­tor­i­cal In­dian art, Euro­pean art, pieces from dif­fer­ent parts of the world, and mod­ern art. Es­tab­lished by the late Kas­turi Srini­vasan, a Padmab­hushan awardee, the cul­ture cen­tre has an au­di­to­rium and fa­cil­i­ties for tem­po­rary ex­hi­bi­tions.

Con­tin­u­ing on the Av­inashi Road, we came to the sci­ence and in­dus­trial mu­seum en­dowed by the fam­ily of the late G. D. Naidu, an In­dian in­ven­tor and en­gi­neer who is also re­ferred to as the Edi­son of In­dia – In 1937, he made the first mo­tor to be pro­duced in In­dia, His other cre­ations in­cluded su­per-thin shav­ing blades, a dis­tance ad­juster for film cam­eras, a fruit juice ex­trac­tor, a tam­per-proof vote-record­ing ma­chine and a kerosene-run fan. Apart from ma­chines, he also took an in­ter­est in agri­cul­ture. Keep­ing with the spirit of G.D. Naidu, the mu­seum of­fers an in­sight into the work­ing of elec­tri­cal, elec­tronic and other de­vices, ad­vances in sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy, and his­tor­i­cal film cam­eras, pro­jec­tion TV’S, ball point pens, floppy disks, cal­cu­la­tors, type writ­ers, PA sys­tems and print­ers, and the de­sign and tech­nol­ogy be­hind daily use items like boxes and shavers, and ex­hibits from the in­dus­tries of G.D. Naidu. My chil­dren were fas­ci­nated by the sci­ence be­hind some magic tricks, sci­en­tific facts and in­for­ma­tive dis­plays.

In the same build­ing, the GEDEE Car Mu­seum cel­e­brates Naidu’s pas­sion for au­to­mo­biles, show­cas­ing the his­tory of au­to­mo­biles from 1885 to present times which was also very ed­u­ca­tional for my chil­dren. It has given spe­cial pride of place to in­for­ma­tion about car de­sign­ers. The cars in the mu­seum in­cludes a1925 His­pano Suiza from Mysore, a 1938 DKW, 1937 Hansa, 1939 Hanomag and 1957 Gog­gomo­bil and a

1949 Mercedes-benz 170 S, and they have also dis­played fully work­ing repli­cas of the 1886 Benz Pa­tent-mo­tor­wa­ge­nand the 1896 Ford Quadri­cy­cle. The mu­seum also has a restora­tion work­shop at­tached. The mu­seum cam­pus has an in­sti­tute of the Coim­bat­ore Indo-ger­man Cul­tural As­so­ci­a­tion, where we bought some in­ter­est­ing ed­u­ca­tional prod­ucts.

Be­ing a bustling busi­ness city, Coim­bat­ore has many branded ho­tels. A short drive from the mu­seum brought us to Vi­vanta by Taj Surya where we tucked into a meal com­pris­ing of re­gional fare, in­clud­ing the earthy dishes of the Bada­gas and other com­mu­ni­ties of the Nilgiris.

Coim­bat­ore’s old­est mu­seum, the Gass For­est Mu­seum, was es­tab­lished by Con­ser­va­tor of Forests, Ho­race Arichibald Gass, in 1902. The mu­seum was closed and the build­ings used as shel­ters for World War II evac­uees from Malta and Greece in the 1940s. It be­came part of a for­est col­lege af­ter in­de­pen­dence, and was ren­o­vated and re­opened in 2015. Apart from the stuffed an­i­mals, plant spec­i­mens and other nat­u­ral his­tory ex­hi­bi­tions, there are for­est engi­neer­ing mod­els, and sam­ples of rock, soil and min­er­als for­ma­tion.

Do visit the Eacha­nari Vi­naya­gar Tem­ple, con­sid­ered to be con­se­crated in 1500 AD. It is fa­mous for its mas­sive 6 foot tall idol of lord Gane­sha, one of the big­gest idols of the de­ity in south In­dia. The best time to visit the tem­ple is dur­ing the Hindu fes­ti­val of Ganesh Chaturthi. Among the prom­i­nent tem­ples in Coim­bat­ore is the Maru­damalai Tem­ple, ded­i­cated to the Hindu de­ity Lord Mu­ru­gan or Kar­tikeya, sit­u­ated atop a hill of the same name. The hills are a part of the Western Ghats and are home to var­i­ous types of medic­i­nal herbs. The sur­round­ings are pic­turesque to look at. The Tem­ple com­plex is built in a unique Dra­vid­ian style and is 1200 years old. The city’s fa­mous Perur Pa­teeswarar Tem­ple by

the Noyyal River is ded­i­cated to the Hindu de­ity Lord Shiva and was built by the Cho­las and is con­sid­ered to be thou­sands of years old. The stone carv­ings in­side the tem­ple and its pil­lars are breath­tak­ing and are few of the finest spec­i­mens of the art. The tem­ple is said to be lo­cated at the spot where Lord Shiva him­self per­formed the ‘Tan­dav’ dance. The golden statue of Lord Na­traja (Shiva) is also one of the ma­jor attractions here. Anub­havi Subra­ma­niar Tem­ple is sit­u­ated on the out­skirts of Coim­bat­ore and again is on top of a hill. The tem­ple’s location is one of the city’s best view­points and pro­vides panoramic views of the Western Ghats. One must climb a thou­sand steep steps to reach the tem­ple. The tem­ple also has a nat­u­ral wa­ter spring that spouts wa­ter through­out the year.

About 30kms from the city cen­tre amid the hills, Dhyan­lingam is a tem­ple and med­i­ta­tion cen­tre con­se­crated by Sad­hguru Jaggi Va­sudev. The med­i­ta­tive space does not as­cribe to any par­tic­u­lar faith or be­lief sys­tem, with sym­bols of all the world’s re­li­gions in­scribed as a uni­ver­sal wel­come at the en­trance. A large el­lip­soidal dome de­signed by ar­chi­tect Sat­prem Maïni and the Auroville Earth In­sti­tute, and con­structed by vol­un­teers of the Isha Foun­da­tion, us­ing only coun­try fired bricks and ce­ment sta­bi­lized mud mor­tar, is the ar­chi­tec­tural high point of the space. An ethe­real blend of vo­cals, singing bowls, drums and var­i­ous other in­stru­ments am­pli­fied within the re­ver­ber­at­ing dome, trans­ports one into a time­less space. Its 112-foot Adiyogi Shiva statue was re­cently un­veiled by Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi on Maha Shivra­tri. Va­sudev plans to teach Yoga to 100 mil­lion peo­ple by next Shivra­tri.

The Coim­bat­ore Zoo­log­i­cal Park & Con­ser­va­tion Cen­tre (CZPCC) is set in the foothills of the Nilgiris, and is also worth vis­it­ing as is the Tamil Nadu Uni­ver­sity Botan­i­cal Gar­dens.

Coim­bat­ore district is filled with lakes. The Siru­vani river wa­ters are con­sid­ered ex­cel­lent for taste and pu­rity, and its wa­ter­falls are pretty but not very im­pres­sive in the sum­mer months. Sin­ganal­lur Lake is fed by canals de­rived from Noyyal river and sup­ports a rich bio-di­ver­sity of plank­ton, but­ter­flies, and mi­gra­tory birds. Sun­dakka­muthur Lake is pop­u­lar with bird­watch­ers. Thu­naka­davu lake, on the way to Param­biku­lam, has a beau­ti­ful dam. Param­bikku­lam Wildlife sanc­tu­ary is a tiger re­serve and a pro­tected habi­tat of sev­eral en­dan­gered species. The forests are home to 4 in­dige­nous tribes.

We spent the last evening in the city shop­ping for fab­rics, be­fore tuck­ing into din­ner at Sree An­napoorna, in­clud­ing some dishes typ­i­cal of Ko­vai cui­sine, end­ing with su­perb fil­ter cof­fee.

The next morn­ing, we awak­ened early for the drive to Val­parai. About an hour out of Coim­bat­ore, we came to Pol­lachi, where we took an early lunch break. Af­ter Pol­lachi, we came to the Ali­yar forests. The Ali­yar dam, in the foothills of Val­parai, of­fers some ideal di­ver­sions, in­clud­ing a park, gar­den, aquarium, play area and a mini theme-park main­tained by Tamil Nadu Fish­eries Cor­po­ra­tion. The scenery is beau­ti­ful, with moun­tains sur­round­ing three quar­ters of the reser­voir. Boat­ing is also avail­able. Af­ter this, the climb be­gan, with a se­ries of hair­pin bends. At one of the bends, we were pleas­antly sur­prised to

see a herd of Nil­giri tahr graz­ing near the road­side. This en­demic moun­tain goat is stocky, with curved horns as its strik­ing fea­ture, and is on the red list of en­dan­gered species of the world. Con­tin­u­ing to­wards Val­parai, the grass­lands be­gan to give way to tea plan­ta­tions neatly laid out on the slopes. We stopped at out­lets to buy Nil­giri tea, fresh honey and other pro­duce. Presently, we came to Stan­more Gar­den Bun­ga­low, a her­itage tea planters’ house set on a hill­top with panoramic views of plan­ta­tions on ev­ery side. Over an af­ter­noon tea in the gar­dens, we en­joyed watch­ing and lis­ten­ing to Mal­abar whistling thrushes, whose lazy and rambling calls are likened to an `idle boy whistling’! In the evening we trekked down through the es­tate to the river, for a view of the forests on the op­po­site bank – ele­phants are some­times spot­ted but we did not see any.

We awoke early for a drive to the Puthuthot­tam Es­tate, where we were hop­ing to see lion tailed macaque, a mon­key with a sil­ver-white mane and a lion-like tufted tail. This species is en­demic to the Western Ghats ranges and listed as en­dan­gered by IUCN, there­fore we were ex­cited at the idea of see­ing the troop that fre­quents the es­tate’s bun­ga­low. When we reached the mon­keys were not vis­i­ble, much to our dis­ap­point­ment, but a 3km walk through the es­tate yielded the sight of a huge tusker, a herd of gaur or In­dian

bi­son and a minivet and fly­catch­ers. Af­ter a cup of tea in the 150-year-old bun­ga­low full of old wood fur­ni­ture and an­tiques, we walked to a patch of for­est where we fi­nally saw a Mal­abar gi­ant squirrel and a lit­tle later, a troop of about a dozen lion tailed macaque. The bun­ga­low’s man­ager pointed out fresh pug­marks of a leop­ard that had passed by this area.

Af­ter break­fast, we vis­ited the Mon­ica Bun­ga­low, which is an­other her­itage plan­ta­tion bun­ga­low. Nearby, we also vis­ited the tea fac­tory to see the var­i­ous stages of tea pro­cess­ing. An­other high­light of our tea es­tate tour was a glimpse of a troop of Nil­giri lan­gur, a Nilgiris fix­ture.

NIL­GIRI HILL STA­TION GET­AWAYS

Coonoor: About two-and-a-half hours from Coim­bat­ore Air­port, Coonoor is a pretty hill town with tea and cof­fee plan­ta­tions, Bri­tish colo­nial bun­ga­lows and scenic hills. It has also be­come known for its cheese fac­tory. The ride on the old Blue Moun­tain Train from here to Ooty is an ex­cit­ing jour­ney.

Ooty: About three hours from Coim­bat­ore, Ooty is the Queen of the Nilgiris and one of the most pop­u­lar among South In­dia’s Hill Sta­tions. Called Ud­haga­man­dalam and also Ooota­ca­mund, it is known for its botan­i­cal gar­dens and Bri­tish colo­nial ar­chi­tec­ture.

Yer­caud: Four hours from Coim­bat­ore, this hill sta­tion in the She­varoy Hills has tea estates, a scenic lake, a water­fall and Lady’s Seat with good views. Mun­nar: Five hours from Coim­bat­ore, it is an ex­cit­ing place to see birds like Nil­giri tahr, Nil­giri marten and also the Nilgiris tea plan­ta­tions.

Photo credit: Di­nesh Shukla

The hair­pin bends on the road to Val­parai

Nil­giri tea plan­ta­tions of Val­parai Lion tailed macaque at Val­parai Gaur or In­dian bi­son at Val­parai

Tea stall in Val­parai Val­parai is known for its tea estates and flo­ral riches

Maru­damalai tem­ple

Kasthuri Sreeni­vasan Trust Art Gallery The ex­cel­lent GEEDEE Car Mu­seum at Coim­bat­ore

The GD Naidu Sci­ence Mu­seum

Dhyan­lingam Adiyogi statue

Tamil Nadu Agri­cul­tural uni­ver­sity’s botan­i­cal gar­dens’ en­trance in Coim­bat­ore

Ali­yar dam reser­voir park in Coim­bat­ore

Param­biku­lam wildlife sanc­tu­ary

Sun­dakka­muthur Lake, Coim­bat­ore, is pop­u­lar with bird­watch­ers

Val­parai is known for its tea estates

Stan­more Bun­ga­low

Stan­more Bun­ga­low

Bon­net Mon­key

Mal­abar whistling thrush

Mal­abar gi­ant squirrel

The hills abound in but­ter­flies Gi­ant spi­der at Val­parai

Coim­bat­ore is the gate­way to many hill sta­tions

Tex­tile shop­ping in Coim­bat­ore is a must

Breath­tak­ing lake views en route to Val­parai

Pho­tos credit: Di­nesh Shukla

Pol­lachi

A gar­land seller

A moun­tain goat en­joys the view

Stan­more Bun­ga­low of­fers her­itage ac­com­mo­da­tion

Stan­more Bun­ga­low bed­room

Badaga cui­sine

Typ­i­cal Ko­vai cui­sine of the Nilgiris

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