Friday, March 29, 2019

Arittapatti - Part 1: Getting there

It seems the OCD that has taken possession of me is rather strong and I've not been able to get out of its clutches despite best efforts. This post reflects that, and it's about birds again but with a twist. Maybe this is my chance to wriggle out of this situation!

Summer has been unforgiving this year. The daytime temperatures have been hitting the forties recently and stepping out, especially after 10 AM, is a test of my body's resilience.  When the opportunity to travel to Madurai landed, I was thinking I'd get out of this furnace, if only for a little more than a day. However, the birder in me was gearing up for further adventures with the feathered kind. As is usual these days, before every trip, I search for potential birding spots around the place I am to visit and try to squeeze in a little time to say hello to the feathered locals. 

Then, one of my birding buddies and fellow professional, told me about a place called Arittapatti. It is a small village off the beaten track and, as I realized, barely known outside of the area that is demarcated by the bordering highways. In fact, my friend from Madurai, whose son's wedding reception I was going to attend, had never heard of the place! So also, the chap in the hotel reception where I was staying, also gave me a blank look when I asked him how I could reach this village. 

Nothing was going to dissuade me in pursuing my quest so on 24th, March 2019, I set off from my hotel at 6.30 am. My first stop was at Vandiyur lake near the hotel. Unfortunately, the restaurant wouldn't open before 7 am and I wasn't going into an expedition alone on an empty stomach. I thought I would hang around the lake, while waiting for the cooks to awaken and whip up my breakfast. After half an hour at the lake, I decided to see if I could appease my now growling stomach. As I got onto the highway I found a small restaurant open and stepped in. While wolfing down the steaming idlis and crisp vadas I asked the waiter if he knew about a village called Arittapatti. He not only knew the place but also proceeded to tell me how to get there! I was well and truly impressed. My expedition was on the roll.

Getting there

Arittapatti is about half an hour's drive from Madurai Integrated Bus Terminus. It takes less than that once you get on the four lane highway, unless you are staying somewhere inside the Madurai city.  Google Maps will show the shortest route through the Melur main road, which is quite congested.

In fact, if you get on the Airport bypass road and then get onto NH38 (Madurai - Trichy highway), you can progress faster even though the route is very slightly longer. (See the second route option below and LINK IS HERE)

After you get on the four lane highway, it is a straight drive for the next 13 to 15 kilometers depending on your point of origin. Once you cross the TVS Srichakra tyres factory that comes on your left, look for the exit. About a kilometer after that is the Narasingampatti bus stop where the service lane starts. Get off the highway onto this exit and you will see the Arittapatti direction board. Take the left turn and drive for about 4 kilometers. It is a straight stretch of recently laid road passing through some lovely scrub forest. Since, this was only an exploratory trip I didn't stop there, and proceeded to Arittpatti. 

Once you reach the village square, a small open area with a tree under which few friendly village folks sit and make conversation while waiting for the next bus to arrive, you have to turn left and go a further one kilometer towards the hillocks which holds some startling secrets! Ask for the 'malai kovil' (hill temple) or Kudavarai Sivan Kovil.

The road winds around the edge of  a large pond, the Anaikondan, which itself seems to have been the part of what once would have been a larger body of water. It was almost dry when I reached there. You can park your vehicle near the hamlet on a low hillock abutting the edge of the pond. 

The children frolicking in the water or the folks going about their daily chores outside the houses will gladly point the way to the 'malai kovil'. You have to walk across the Anaikondan pond where there is every possibility of encountering some of the famed avians of Arittapatti. Then after climbing up the first hillock you descend through some rough stone cut steps into the small valley where all the action is. 
The first view of the Arittapatti valley
 The Arattipatti hillocks lie on the outer edges of the eastern ghats. The hillocks are arranged in a north-east to south-west direction and have many water bodies around them. The major ones were dry but the smaller ones were filled with water and covered with lotuses and water lilies. The paddy fields had already been harvested so the greenery was more of dry yellow.

This was to be an exploratory trip before a detailed expedition could be charted so I turned right and walked along the edge of the southern slopes. Here too was a large pond, completely dry, opposite to the Kudavarai Sivan Kovil. They was removing the mud or clay from the bottom. It appeared that they were desilting the pond.

As you walk further into the small valley there is another hillock between the main ones, the walls of which are quite steep. Ideal location for large raptors and owls to nest.

At the north-eastern end the valley opens up and you can go around the hillocks to reach the edge of open country. There are a few perennial pools covered with water lilies at this place.

Lily ponds

By the time I reached the end of the valley, I had already walked for nearly an hour. The sun was beating down mercilessly and the sweating was dehydrating me. Me being alone I decided that it was time to back track. Discretion is the better part of valour, and I wasn't about to push the limits without help within reaching distance. Arittapatti lived up to its reputation as a birders paradise. On my walk I had already encountered a sizable number of species A more comprehensive exploration with a group would probably yield more. 

The birds of Arittapatti have already left their mark on me and I will  upload details in a subsequent post to follow. However. you may have to wait a bit because the next one will be about the other visitors to Arittapatti, ALIENS!!

Watch for the Alien update soon!