Loosen your purse strings until your purse sags earthwards, hire a helicopter, fasten your seatbelts, take off into the blue yonder and savour the hypnotising sights of the forest-clad Nilgiri mountains down below. Or, simply visit Silver Stones Estate at Bellikkal. Complete isolation at 5,500 ft, just 16 km from Ooty en route to the Kalhatti Ghats, whose curves can give the world’s best belly dancer a run for her money. The estate is perched like a lofty eagle adjoining the villages of Akuni and Hulhatti on the northern fringe of the smoky Nilgiri Hills. The 50 acres of absolute wilderness culminate at a point from where you can see nerve-tingling vistas.
The forests of Mudumalai and Bandipur, two of the famous national parks in India, spread out down below, with their trees resembling the knotted wool of a million sheep grazing together in the distance. The Moyar River that slithers its way through a deep chasm leaves behind a trail of dense shrubbery along its wake that appears like closely worked embroidery. The dam across it looks much like a toy meant for the amusement of the gods! From that height, the Sigur Plateau unwraps itself like a fantabulous leaf stretching out in the open. And towards evening, the light and shade effect brought about by the setting sun makes for a show that is purely in the realm of the divine.
Bellikkal is the place for long ambles along the ghats, or a quiet afternoon by Bellikkal Lake. This is not the place to which you carry your tuxedo. Pack some outdoorsy clothes that’ll blend in with the surroundings and some good walking shoes. This is an unseen and relatively unexplored section of the over-exploited Nilgiris. Go into the wilds here and you’ll literally have a different view of nature. Walk down to Bison Valley, which takes its name from the innumerable gaur (Indian bison) that roam around the Sigur area. If you have binocular vision to assist you, you’ll delight in the sight of herds of gaur moving around languorously, feeding in the lush undergrowth. The Kalhatti Falls shimmer and glint as they cascade down a valley. And from this height and range, the waters seem to come down dreamily in slow motion. The Nilgiri peaks at Bellikkal beckon the intrepid trekker. And if you climb one of them through a series of thin trails passing through the foliage, you’ll be astounded by the splendour of the vast and varied landscape. Don’t be surprised if you feel on top of the world.
Bellikkal’s other attraction is the kurinji bush, covered with purplish blue flowers of delicate beauty. When in full bloom, they lend a bluish haze to the area. But these bushes bloom only once in 12 years. To be in Bellikkal during the monsoon is a truly romantic experience, one that will remain etched in memory. For when it rains, the whole area takes on a hazy magnificence. With umbrella in hand, make your way to the vantage point at the end of the estate and just gasp, gawk and drool at the sight in front of you. The mountains that gently wrap the verdant valleys in green gossamer look like they are being showered with a billion tiny, speckled diamonds. And somewhere in the distance, up on a delicate branch, a babbler ruffles itself into a cute, brown ball and shakes itself dry. Such dazzling sights of nature are not the only things here. The wildlife enthusiast will have no complaints. Imagine seeing a herd of elephants or gaur or sambar or cheetal grazing in such complete solitude within the folds of the valleys below that they almost look unreal, as if lodged like terracotta figures on a cardboard model of a forest painted green! Sloth bears and panthers abound too; their droppings at numerous spots around the estate grounds point to their nocturnal perambulations. And then there are the birds….!
Up on the estate, cocooned within the foliage, is Bellikkal Lake. And as you part the leaves of a small tree near it, you’ll see ducks waddling around in the waters. Diving under the surface every now and then, in search of food, they look a picture of quietude. The birdsong in the trees envelopes your being with the same effect as the soothing musical strains created by a cultured assemblage of musicians. Control your angling instincts here. There’s no fishing at Bellikkal Lake.
State: Tamil Nadu
Location: Bellikkal is a Nilgiri village on the edge of the Sigur Plateau, 16 km north of Ooty
Distance: 255 km SW of Bengaluru; journey time: by road: 6 hrs, by rail: 12 hrs; by air
When to go: The only time of the year that’s not good for Bellikkal is the rains in October and November. At this time, the curves on the Kalhatti Ghat Road become dangerously slippery. The rest of the year is always a great time.
By Sunaad Raghuram
About the author: Sunaad Raghuram’s claim to fame is a bandit’s biography which was a national best-seller.