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Old 29th October 2015, 12:49   #1
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Default A thrilling weekend at the Manampalli Forest

I had the privilege to visit the Valparai belt again within few weeks. But this time with a larger group who demanded an entirely different ambience to stay. Two friends along with their family signed up along with my family for this trip and all of them were very clear what they really wanted. A unique memorable trip!

Travel schedule was fixed matching everyone’s vacation calendar. September 25th till 27th 2015 which was then a long weekend. Having visited Valparai just few weeks before, Parambikulam was a destination of choice but unfortunately bookings were full well in advance being a long weekend. Island package was the only available option which is not well fit for family with small kids. While thinking about other options, recollected Akkamalai and Manampalli which are serene getaways around Valparai but not open to public. During my Valparai trip, I gathered some information from the local folks as well on these destinations.

Akkamalai which is more popularly known as Grass Hills is actually a trekkers paradise but no proper accommodation possible on the hill. This location is actually connecting Anamalais with Eravikulam wildlife sanctuary and the trail involves higher amount risks due to wild animal encounters, lack of medical support etc. Ruled out for a family group with small kids. And looks like its very difficult to get permissions for trekking these days.

Manampalli is known for its thick shola forest and the rich fauna being geographically bordered to Top slip and Parambikulam. This place is actually between Sholayar and Valparai but 8KMs inside the forest. This place has some human presence (very less) in the form of Sholayar Power House where some people work and thereby lives in the government provided accommodation facility. But the only public transportation available is the bus which goes to Valparai in the morning and returns by evening. There is a guest house maintained by Tamil Nadu Forest department and not part of the power house project. Not something which we can locate on Google Maps. It shows Manamboli forest on the wrong direction near Idamalayar.
There are few blogs found on the Internet on Manampalli.

We decided to try Manampalli this time and did the possible homework to gather as much as information possible to avoid surprises while with family. Accommodation in the Forest guest house is not something similar to a resort or any well-appointed place of stay. It is in the middle of the forest with no electricity (Solar powered). Guests have to carry everything from Salt for cooking food. There is a cook-caretaker available for help. Please hold on till I complete to decide if this destination will suit you or not. It is certainly not for People who are used only to the comfy resorts and hassle free travels.

After many tries through the contacts available through the Government websites, I decided to rely on a tour operator in Pollachi who can get the permissions and accommodation bookings done on my behalf. (Contact details can be shared upon request).

I suppose this is the first thread in Team BHP to talk about Manampalli. This time being a family trip, not sure if I can do justice to the serenity of this place through the limited photographs. I shall try my best.

Day 1 : Friday, 25th September 2015

Tusker(Xylo) took command this time since kids are there and comfort took precedence. We started from Kakkanad, Kochi by 8:00AM. My friend Ullas, his wife and their 2 year old on their Fiesta joined us from Kalamassery around 8:15AM. Another friend Sineesh who was coming from Palakkad, chose to join me on Tusker than taking their car. He agreed to park his car in a friend's place in Athirappally route and be ready after his breakfast. We stopped in Saravana Bhavan, Angamaly, had a lavish breakfast and proceeded to Chalakkudy. Thankfully not much of traffic in NH47 and we exited to Athirappally route from Chalakkudy by 9:30AM.

Tanked up Tusker and checked the air pressure from a fuel station in Chalakkudy so that no worry for next 600KMs roughly. We picked up Sineesh on the way. Tusker comfortably seated all four adults in its captain seats while kids decided to conquer the third row bench seats. We utilized Fiesta's large boot space for accommodating the luggage comfortably than squeezing inside the Tusker. Full house by 10:15AM and drove towards Athirappally which was crowded by then being a holiday. Proceeded to Vazhachaal just after slowing down on road itself for a quick glance of the Athirappally falls which was then in full glory.

There was a queue of about 6 vehicles by the time we reached Vazhachaal check post and had to wait for about 10-15minutes for making the entry pass to the Forest. We slowed down a bit to let the convoy loosen so that we could enjoy the empty tarmac and not many vehicles behind us. We stopped at the Poringalkuthu dam catchment for a quick break.

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It was already 11ish and we were at least an hour behind schedule since plan was to have lunch from Valparai. The tour operator has agreed to meet us at Valparai and take us to Manampalli since there were some formalities in forest check post. Driving sedately through the forest, everyone were carefully peeping through the large windows for spotting wildlife.

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No wildlife spotting and we reached Malakkapara check post by 12:30. After returning the forest pass, we proceeded to Sholayar dam city and then towards Valparai. We reached Green Hills, Valaparai after 1:30PM and the place was really crowded unlike our earlier visit. Had a tough time parking the cars but food was decent as it used to be, so no complaints. We sourced some groceries, vegetables, egg and chicken for cooking dinner and next day's breakfast. And anyways I was carrying many ready to eat, and heat and eat food items along with milk and juices in tetra pack etc. List was quite long but for a team of 6 adults and 4 kids.

Our tour operator Ramesh was waiting on his white Safari Dicor while we drove back from Valparai town. Manampally being between Sholayar and Valparai, we drove back till Urulickal forest checkpost (pictured below).

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Not sure if travelers would have noticed this sign-board during the drive. I noticed it for the first time though noticed the checkpost earlier. Manampalli is 9KMs from main road while Sholayar is 8KMs and Valparai is 15KMs from the checkpost.

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I tried incorporating Manampalli & Urulickal Checkpost in Google map of Valparai.

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Ramesh cleared the formalities at the Checkpost, guards had a very quick check of the vehicles to count people and the gates were opened. Narrow but good roads greeted us with a soothing green scenery. Route was full of curves and slopes as we started. But later turned into hairpin bends with uphill and downhill. Narrow stretches along the thick green forest. We could smell fresh bamboo and elephant dung all along. Tusker literally enjoyed the ambience.

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It took about 20 minutes to tackle the 9KM stretch and we reached Sholayar Power Station in Manampalli where we could find human presence. There was a temple and few private bungalow properties on the way but couldn't find anyone or vehicles on road. From the power station, we drove further inside through the small buildings including a post office, medical dispensary etc to reach another unmanned checkpost. Ramesh honked for sometime and a guy came running from nowhere to open the gates for us. After the gate, there is no road and just two concreted narrow lanes where the wheels are to be maneuvered through. Both sides were filled with tall trees and insects were breaking the silence as we drove in. Forest guest house is just about 500meters from the unmanned checkpost. It was almost 4PM.

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A true wild ambience welcomed us!

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The guest house is safeguarded from animals by a deep canal surrounding the place. We need to drive in over a metal bridge with sharp ridges which makes it difficult for animals to walk. But nothing a big cat can't jump to cross

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Frontage is the most beautiful part of the stay, a lovely river. And its quite shallow near the guest house.

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After parking our cars comfortably, Ramesh introduced us to the Cook-cum-caretaker and left as it was getting late. There were actually two buildings in about 20 feet distance and both had two large rooms with attached toilets. One room in the main old building was occupied by a group of IT guys from Bangalore.

Both rooms in the other building was for us and it has a large covered frontage for kids to play around and for doing barbeque. All rooms were large and had sufficient beds to accommodate 4 adults each. Luckily none of us were honeymooning and we decided to stay together in one building than choosing the third room. Remember those college tours, Girls in one dormitory and boys in another

Handed over the groceries and stuff to the kitchen. Gave directions for tea, dinner and breakfast. And for immediately marinating the chicken for barbeque. After keeping the luggage in our rooms and having a hot tea, we took a quick spin two of us went for the shower. Rains have stopped by then but the place overall appeared dark.

Everyone gathered in the verandah after shower. Luckily no mosquitoes even though it was dark and 6:30PM. Climate was awesome, may be around 20 degrees. Kids were active and playing around enjoying the freedom. While ladies engaged in endless talks, boys (we!) started with the barbeque. It was really fun in the cool weather. By the time everyone had the starters (barbeque chicken) and juices, dinner was served to us. Chappathi and chicken curry, homely and tasty!

We decided to get up early and drive out before the bus starts so that we could spot some animals on the way. Being frequented by elephants, we checked if someone could guide us. In fact two local guys who came to help our cook were planning to catch the morning bus to reach Valparai and travel to their native. They agreed to join us till Valparai. No phones or mediums for communicating. Infact BSNL has signal in Manampalli but none of us have BSNL connections. We asked them to be ready in the inner checkpost by 6:15AM the next day.

Our chit chat continued till about 10PM before everyone decided to retire from the day with satisfied minds.

Disclaimer : Photographs of the guest house and surroundings are borrowed from next morning's clicks to keep continuity for readers. It was very dark and drizzling while we checked-in.

(to be continued...)

Last edited by jacs : 4th November 2015 at 14:00.
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Old 10th November 2015, 06:17   #2
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Day 2 : Saturday, 26th September 2015

Alarm set for 5:30AM woke us up and reminded our plan of morning safari. Sleep was tight, thanks to the good weather and luckily no mosquitos to buzz around in the night. Boys went and woke up the ladies too. We quickly freshened up and got in the rides. All were eager to glance of the wild. While we reached the check post by 6:20, found nobody! But a short honk and could see both of them ascending to the check post from the colony nearby.

We started off. Tusker on front and Fiesta followed. We found fresh dungs as soon as we crossed the power house with other evidences of very recent elephant movement in the form of bamboos pulled out to road. We waded carefully through the narrow roads. Found dungs till there was a path towards the forest near the hair pin bend. The mammoth would have gone inside the forest. The guy who accompanied us requested me to watch out the road carefully as elephants would not be visible easily as it was still dark inside the forest and it had rained the night before. He mentioned "Elephants are very intelligent animals. They can sense human presence very easily and make quick decisions on weather to run away or attack."

He continued with a real incident "Once I missed the last bus from Valparai and had to depend on other transportation to reach Urulickal checkpost. Then had to walk all the way till Manampalli. Walked safely through the roads till the Estate bungalow area and climbed the main bend to smell elephant. I moved fast to get out of that zone but to my bad luck, a lone tusker was there on road." We could see the agony from his facial expressions "I had to run inside the forest but the tusker followed my path. I had to throw away my white shirt to camouflage inside the dense forest and escape." Utter silence in the car when he stopped. I asked the troopers "Would you want to spot elephants?". "No!" was the chorus response I received. And so was my inside voice.

We spotted some barking deers on the road followed by a bison who escaped to the forest as we approached. Not posting the clicks due to proper lighting and quality. Tusker could not meet his relatives and we reached Urulickal check post. It was a bright day and we drove further to Valparai enjoying the scenic beauty of the tea estates. We spotted a sambar deer crossing the roads that too near to Old Valparai town. We dropped our guide in the bus station and continued towards puthuthottam after whishing him a safe journey. We headed straight to Selva's tea shop and waved hands. He was so happy to see returning customers, that too from far away places. We had our bed coffee from there, in fact tea, the special brew as highlighted in the main travelogue (A rejuvenating long weekend at Valparai – The young green hill station). As usual the trees surrounding Selva's tea shop were active with Lion Tailed Macaques.

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We decided to take a spin around the estate roads to check if Bisons are there. Selva also joined us after appointing his dad to take care of the shop. No! there weren't any and he suggested to return in the evening so that we could locate them and guide us for sure spotting. Troopers inside the car were bit disappointed while I dropped Selva back in the tea shop. While we were just about to roll-off, Selva's dad clapped and asked us to wait. Yes! there was one lone Bison making its way through the thick tea grove nearby. We jumped out of the car and ran towards the area pointed out by him. It was a hunk!

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It was less than 100 feet from us. We quickly walked further towards the direction to which the behemoth was heading up. And we got this portrait.
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All were so excited and satisfied. They never thought of spotting one so close. And that too in no hurry but tracking its trails through the tea plantations. We returned after thanking Selva and his dad. They assured a better feast in the eve. Those who read my earlier travelogues (Wilderness (Three days in "The Wilderness" - My best Wildlife trip so far), BR Hills (K.Gudi & B.R. Hills - A serene getaway from Bangalore) etc) would know my wife has a flair in spotting wildlife. This time also, she proved her ability by spotting this herd of bisons grazing in a tea garden near Urulickal while driving back from Valparai. They were a valley away from us and this click is in 300mm on a crop sensor camera.

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Also found this peacock who was drying its feathers after the previous night's rain. There were couple of more in the area but woods were obstructing the view.

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Everyone were hungry and we drove back to Manampalli. No tuskers but couple of bisons who ran away as the Xylo Tusker approached. Almost 9AM by the time we reached back the guest house and breakfast was ready to be served. Had idly, sambar, chapathi, chicken curry, bread & Jam, coffee/tea. Happy! We decided to checkout the place in detail as it was a sunny day with lot of energy among us. It was really eye soothing green woods as we walked through the concrete paved road towards the unmanned check-post. Once could hear the breeze and feel the fresh air. So serene and calm. There were some birds chirping from the tree tops and we could hear some animal sounds once in a while from the forest on the other side of the river. Small reptiles, butterflies and other insects kept kids busy.

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Skink Lizard
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After the peaceful walk, we settled in the bamboo hut in front of the rest house overlooking the river. The river was so welcoming that we moved to explore the river banks. Cook came running to us shouting "Do not venture in water please". We were surprised as water was very shallow and clear. "Crocodiles are there!" he told calmly as he reached near us. I turned back to realize I am all alone, rest all are already back in the hut.

He explained this river is connected with Parambikulam reservoir and there fore crocodiles are often seen. Nothing like the huge ones found in movies and discovery channel but roughly 4 feet long according to him. One of his helpers in kitchen had showed us a stitch mark on this right calf which was bitten off by a crocodile while trying to cross the river. These crocodiles used to climb on the small rocks for sun basking but to our bad luck, none was seen on that day. I spent some time in photography, trying to capture things around.

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A damselfly
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Love birds (Citrine Wagtails). Definitely not a birding quality but what my 300mm could reach in handheld mode.
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White Throated Kingfisher
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We explored the surroundings and appreciated the serenity of the place before deciding to drive for a late lunch. Drive was still thrilling and all prayed not to see elephants on road. Being a Saturday, Green Hills was really crowded with couple of Tempo traveler and many cars. Had to again struggle for a safe parking while other ordered food. It took little more than expected for serving. We finished a grand non veg lunch and did some quick shopping for dinner and next day breakfast. And its 3:30PM already.

My friend's car had reported loss of air pressure on front left tyre. We decided to get it checked as already spotted the head of a screw while checking out carefully. Tyre shop guy pulled out a large but short screw and sealed the puncture quickly. We called Selva to check if they have identified the area where Indian Guars were grazing that day in Puthuthottam. He told they know where is the herd that day and asked us to come by 5PM. We decided to proceed to Puthuthottam rather than waiting for another hour. Had some hot tea from Selva's shop to kill time while kids enjoyed watching the Lion Tailed Macaques playing around the trees.

It was cloudy and we decided to check out since chances of rain was high. Selva sent his dad to guide us this time. We had to drive inside the estate for around 4KMs before he checked whether our vehicles can go little bit of offroad. Before I could take a decision, the fiesta took a bold venture to the grass carpeted narrow road inside the tea plantations. We drove slowly to find the first spotting of a young Indian Guar popping its head amidst the tea garden.

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While we were clicking this Indian Guar, our guide invited our attention to the curve ahead of our path. Speechless. A large herd is blocking our way

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It was a terrific wildlife spotting no doubt. We enjoyed watching them for quite sometime. Some of us including kids were spotting a Guar in wild for the first time. Once we declared we are happy and can move on, Selva's dad had to shoo them away for making way for the cars to drive by. (Disclaimer : No Animals Were Harmed)

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On realizing the herd being shooed away, The captain of the herd came rushing up from the tea valley below. A massive muscular bull, he covered the herd in defense. Goosebumps! Everyone remained silent as fear has filled us in no time. Selva's dad also backed out quickly and remained patiently till the captain gave up on us.

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A juvenile Indian Guar

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With satisfied minds, we drove past the place were the herd was found. Road was narrower and tough in some stretches. Fiesta had its best adventure driving real off-road but the driver was patient enough to ensure no underbelly rubs on rocks. Xylo followed the Fiesta slowly. We reached back road after taking a full circle of that hill. Better than thinking of a reverse drive! We dropped our fearless guide back in Selva's shop after thanking him for the wonderful once in life experience. After having another round of special tea, we thanked him for all the help and bid good bye.

It was already 7PM by the time we reached Urulickal Check post and the forest guard was not comfortable to let us in considering it drizzled and very dark. He cautioned that high chances of elephants on road and checked if we would like to accompany the bus which is expected to reach in next 20 minutes. We looked at each other, everyone nodded yes!

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Above click will convey the feel of the drive. No need to boast off that it was thrilling. Luckily not found any animals other than deers on the road but as usual the main bend smells elephant. It was dinner time while we reached the Guest House, we gathered in the verandah after a quick shower for food. It was fun stock taking the day in each of our perspectives before slipping to bed.

(to be continued...)

Last edited by jacs : 18th November 2015 at 07:19.
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Old 18th November 2015, 07:36   #3
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Day 3 : Sunday, 27th September 2015

No alarms! We woke up hearing sounds from the asbestos roof. Thanks to the metal doors and windows, it was pitch dark in the room and we did not realized its already 7:30AM. Sound was from the monkeys who ran over the roof. According to our cook, they are monkey thieves who cause lot of troubles and he was shooing them away.

We went straight to the bamboo hut, had our morning caffeine in-take discussing on the return drive plan. Check-out time is 11:00AM and hence we again took a leisure walk around the place by the time breakfast was made ready.

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Wife called us to the front side pointing towards a tree nearby and asked us to remain silent. Malabar Giant Squirrels. They were a group of three and one was quite near to the guest house. They were not bothered about the crowd watching them from beneath and continued their feast on small fruits from the tree. It was really fun watching them jumping from branches and so busy eating.

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We realized its getting late and we had to vacate the place since bookings are there according to the chef. All packed and ready by 11:30AM. Time for some group photos. We thanked the chef and other helpers by the time next batch of guests arrived. While we reached the bridge near the power house, we saw three Sambar deers crossing the river. And another stag surveilling the surroundings. It was quite far and had to depend on the 300mm end to capture them.

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We drove slowly but spotted the regulars only including Barking deer, Nilgiri Langur, Indian Guar etc. We stopped in Urulickal check-post to report that we are leaving so that entries are made accordingly. It started drizzling as we started from the check-post. And drizzle turned into rains as we reached Sholayar sam city. So we did not bother to stop there and proceeded to Malakkapara checkpost where a long queue of vehicles were waiting on both sides. Rather than just waiting for the car to reach check post, handed over the wheels to wife and walked to the Forest office to make entries for both vehicles. Pass were issues as usual after checking the whereabouts. Since many of the vehicles ahead of us were still waiting for pass, guards let us overtake them and proceed with our journey.

Drove peacefully through the forests and reached Vazhachaal check post before 3PM. Place was crowded with lot of vehicles and traffic jams being a holiday. Peaceful drive turned to hectic drive from there on wards. It took about 20minutes for us to cross the Vazhachaal - Athirappally stretch. All were hungry like hell and we had to stop by a fast food restaurant to have a very late lunch. Nothing great but no other choices till Chalakkudy. We reached home before 6:00PM. Kids were so excited and were competing each other to narrate the wildlife stories to their grandparents. Which continued even when I was about to hit the bed post dinner. We were so glad to know kids enjoyed every moment of the drive irrespective of the fact that it was too basic and crude. Kids of today hardly get chances to walk away from their comfort zone. I am sure these experiences will help to make them more adaptable, capable and responsible.

Let me conclude with a touching quote from shoutslogans.com. Thank you for the support encouragement. Feedbacks and queries are welcome.

"Wildlife is Mother Nature’s greatest treasure, we must take every measure to protect it." "Want to shoot?…use cameras!"

End of second trip.

Last edited by jacs : 19th November 2015 at 06:49.
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Old 20th November 2015, 12:24   #4
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Thread moved from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section) to the Travelogues Section. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 20th November 2015, 13:02   #5
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Nice travelogue with great snaps, narration was thrilling as well. Those many gaurs and the guide drove them away? I would have run in the opposite direction . Thanks for sharing
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Old 20th November 2015, 15:32   #6
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Amazing ! Great pics and well narrated. Lucky you !!

I assumed the bisons to be pretty easy with crowd/humans till I read this news from near my hometown.

: Apologies the audio is in malayalam.

I had tried valparai sometime back, but was a short one day trip. Will surely explore this place. Keep writing
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Old 20th November 2015, 16:57   #7
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Nostalgia! I can recollect the time i spent in Manampalli. My dad's brother was managing this estate at that time. Me and my cousins used to roam around these areas during daytime. Playing hide and seek among the coffee plantation

Thanks for bringing back the memories
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Old 20th November 2015, 17:00   #8
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Dear jacs,

I have rated this 5*

I have friends in Madhya Pradesh who carry guns in their cars for driving in the forest areas. Personally, I have traveled a lot in forest areas and have an aversion to weapons!

How were you prepared? Other than taking along the guys who could shoo wild animals - of course!
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Old 20th November 2015, 19:28   #9
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@jacs - Excellent trip and your account of it is excellent, great pictures there - Thanks for sharing
Had never heard about this place Manampally, and definitely don't remember seeing that signboard during our Valparai trip, though the Urulickal name sounds familiar, not sure if we passed by that checkpost.
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Old 20th November 2015, 21:31   #10
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Excellent pictures, bringing in the "green effect" to our eyes! Thank you Jacs

Noticed many takeaways in your travelogue!
Manampalli - a new location to visit (Carry all necessaries for food)
Elephants - Be careful. If possible, follow the big brother (buses) on these roads.
River - Dont urge to venture into lazy waters. An active crocodile might be waiting on the other side. Check with locals.
Bisons - Dont take chances in shooing away the herds. Captain will come down for defense. Better wait or back off!
Last but not the least
Checkpost Pass - Walking not only burns calories but also fetch the passes fast ahead of others
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Old 20th November 2015, 21:55   #11
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Originally Posted by Jacs
Let me conclude with a touching quote from shoutslogans.com. Thank you for the support encouragement. Feedbacks and queries are welcome.

End of second trip.
Such a nice presentation Jacs. I am sure that by this time you would have explored every nook and corner of Valparai. We have been through Sholayar road on day 3 of our Valparai encounter. But we couldn't notice this deviation towards Manampalli. Thanks for sharing!

Last edited by aah78 : 20th November 2015 at 22:46. Reason: Quote fixed.
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Old 21st November 2015, 01:16   #12
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Some beautiful pics! I think the last para summed up the trip well. Its extremely satisfying to know the rest of the pack enjoyed the trip equally. The greenery is to die for!
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Old 21st November 2015, 10:57   #13
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Default Re: A thrilling weekend at the Manampalli Forest

Too good, jacs, too good!! Rated 5 stars

So that's the story behind the 'crocodile' sighting, eh?

Thanks (from me and from a few others also) for introducing Manampalli. Will get in touch with you when we plan a stay.

Hope you there were no blaring music from the settlement or religious places during your stay

PS : When are the meet snaps getting posted?
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Old 21st November 2015, 11:55   #14
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Thats a wonderful write-up. Great snaps too to accompany your narration.
You had quiet a wonderful sightings of animals in their natural habitat and best part of it is you were able to experience their lifestyle and mannerisms (especially the incident where the Captain of the herd came to protect his team). That would have send shivers down your spine. But I am sure, it would have been an experience of a lifetime.

Thanks for sharing and keep writing .
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Old 21st November 2015, 12:55   #15
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Nice travelogue, Jacs! And beautiful pics too. The 1st photo of a muscular Bison is just very very cool and eye grabbing. These are the Arnold of the jungle Wonder, what proteins do they eat and what kind of weight lifting do they do
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