When mountain goats wane numb from the drudgery of life in the plains, they look out for an escape! No matter what, they follow their call. Manjolai is calling if you’d like to go ‘Un-Plugged.’
The Hills - home to the chill breeze, century old giant trees, British era plantation bungalows, shallow mountain brooks and the engulfing stream of endless mist, in the midst of Lion tailed monkeys, monitor lizards, and elephants – you needn’t travel too far from Nagercoil town, as long as destinations don’t have to be called Ooty or Kodaikanal.
If you’d like to experience the forests on the hills in all original, untouched beauty and splendor, 119 km from Nagercoil, just below Manimuthar range are the hills of Manjolai at a height of 2,300 to 4,200 feet above sea level – a magical place you shouldn’t miss, which untouched in the midst of all this madness, still exists.
Go Unplugged – Unwired and One with Nature
Manjolai is made of three tea estates that are nestled in the midst of a lush green rainforest. The forest themselves stand untouched and pristine and is completely isolated from the rest of the world by the towering hill ranges that have been made accessible only in the recent past. No other human habitation (except that of the tea plantation/factory workers) or industries exist in the area for many hundred miles around.
The lowest lying estate of the three is Manjolai, which translates to ‘mango grove’ in Tamil. The next estate is 10 kilometers away and 1,500 feet higher and is called Manimuttar or the River of Pearls, named after the river that flows through it. The third one, close to Manimuttar, is Oothu, which means ‘Spring of Water’ in Tamil. The three estates cover 804 hectares of tea. The Oothu Organic Tea Estate is an ISO 9002:2000 Certified unit which produces one of the best organic tea blends in South India made possible through its isolation from external contamination and the favorable chilly climate.
As Manjolai is still far away from the usual tour routes, it is still untouched by commerce and has a very low human footprint. If you are counting on star-like comforts in the middle of a wild reserve forest range, read no further – this isn’t one for you. This is a wild, bare basic and survival-istic trip if you have the heart to chase that wild forest experience.
To put it more plainly, beyond a day’s sightseeing experience in Manjolai, if you were to stay in the Forest Rest House at Kuthiraivetti, (the only accommodation available on top!) you will be cut off from the rest of the world – there are no telephone towers, no hotels or restaurants, no place to check-in for the night – so exciting that you could totally unplug yourself mentally and physically from the rest of the world till you find the need again to.
The deep rain forest, which sits bang in the middle of the Kalakad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve, is the real reason behind making a trip worth the while. Unlike the cultured and civilized attraction of Ooty & Kodai Hill stations, the forests offer just the opposite – a wild, true display of character, where, to expect the unexpected becomes the norm. Manjolai & the attractions around is comparatively 80% wilder where you have to be self sufficient with the food, accommodation and other comforts for as long as your stay.
Covered in clusters of gigantic wild trees, teeming with a hundred varieties of birds, animals and creepy crawlers, the wildness of the deep forested hills is the main draw beyond the tea plantations of Manjolai.
Manjolai Forest Range - The Way to Wildness
If you are ready to be really cut-off from the rest of the world for a few days, in search of an escape from mid-town madness, first you need to get a pass from the Forest Department in advance for the gates of Manimuthar dam to open for you. At the entrance of to the dam there is a check point where all disposable plastic will be seized by two edgy forest guards. So avoid plastic ware and polythene carry bags if you have set sights on Manjolai. On the way up to Manjolai, you pass Manimuthar waterfalls where you can shed the heat of the plains as well before you make the climb.
The Forest Experience
Beyond the gate, lies the real forest, where birds and animals become common sighting and could delay your trip by a few hours if you are intent on enjoying the sights and sounds on the way, which I think is inescapable. It could take anywhere from 2.5 to 5 hours or more to make the 26 km from Manimuthar Dam gate to Kuthiraivetti, the tallest spot in the Manjolai range. The roads are not too bad either except for a few short stretches of 2nd gear climbs and also has a few hairpin bends that add to the thrill. On the way do not miss out on the viewpoints most of which are located around the hairpin bends.
Few miles into the forest, first thing you notice is that you are not sweating anymore. The forest is cool by a few degrees as you begin to settle down to take in more, soak out the chill in the air after hundred kilometer drive in the plains. So, you won’t find it difficult to forget the plains now – you will naturally, in the sights and the sounds that unfold through the windscreen.
The forest surrounding Manjolai estates teems with wild life. Elephants, Tigers, Leopards, Hyenas, Wild Dogs, Jungle cats, Jungle fowls, Red Squirrels, Lion Tailed Macque , peacocks and many others living in their original habitat is the main attraction of the Manjolai range.
En route to Kudiraivetti you will pass through small plantation villages with names like Naalumukku, Kakkachee & Oothu. From Naalumukku a road leads to Kodayar upper dam. The lower Kodayar dam is in Kanyakumari dist. The water catchment areas of Manimuthar dam & Karayar dam are visible from Kuthiraivetti watch tower.
Sitting there on the benches near the watch tower as the evening sun disappears behind the tall peaks and as darkness spread its might over the plains, the lights come on one by one, decorating the plains. A sight so engaging that you become one with the ebb and flow of that time.
And over all that, the forests are really wild, with a very low human footprint and also you get to enjoy the pure thrill of heights from where you can look down on the madness of the plains below and still smile. From that height, you know, the Gods couldn’t be too far away!
(Call 7530092806 to know more about/reserve a stay at Manjolai for a day or two.)
Manjolai was once under the Singampatti Zamin, a tragic legend whose stories still waft in the air. The Singampatti Zamin Bungalow is an attraction for those passing through the small town. The Manjolai Estates are now being run by the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation (BBTC), a lessee for 99 years from February 12, 1929. Almost at the end of the lease period, they have filed a petition to exclude 3,388 hectares of land (in the core habitat of KMTR) from the limits of the proposed Reserve Forests. The lease ends in 2028.