Your mobile won’t work here nor would you want it to… amidst the sylvan surroundings of Baralikkadu.

L.N. Revathy

Surprisingly, very few, even among those who have settled in and around Coimbatore for decades, have heard of Baralikkadu in the Athikkadavu range of the Western Ghats. This emerging ‘must see’ eco-tourist spot is situated at an altitude of about 1,000 metres on the Karamadai-Pilloor dam stretch.

First-timers would actually enjoy the 70-km drive from Coimbatore to Baralikkadu, especially beyond the city limits when vehicular traffic trickles down to just maybe your car as the road begins climbing.

The climb is not steep, but those on their maiden trip are likely to be a bit lost among the curves as there are no signboards or milestones en route; no notice-board to caution a speeding vehicle about approaching animals, some of which could be spotted in the distance.

The roads could also do with an extra layer of tar which, we are informed, is part of the Electricity Board’s responsibility (thanks to the dam and powerhouse in the region).

Suddenly you find you are in the middle of nowhere and can’t be reached even on your mobile… no signal! The lush green cover on either side of the narrow road, coupled with breathtaking views of clouds passing atop the ‘blue’ ranges would keep travellers spellbound.

At Baralikkadu, one of the first sights to greet you are the parisals or coracles (circular bamboo-basket boats) resting smugly on the banks of the Bhavani river. Even before you can decide to drop your bag and run towards the bank for a boat ride, the rowers come along and help you fasten a lifejacket before getting into the coracle. The coracle whirls and drifts rhythmically as the bank slowly fades from view. Thick branches stoop low to touch the chilly water. There is a thickly overcast sky and the distant hilltops are wreathed in clouds. The view is simply exquisite.

You expect a downpour any minute, although the forester assures you that nature will be kind to its guests. There is a slight spray of rain but not heavy enough to drench you.

If you are lucky enough you can spot elephants, spotted deer and other animals that move freely in the surrounding wild. At the end of a two-hour ride, the drizzle turns a shade heavier.

But there is no resort or recreational facility in the vicinity. Standing under the trees, we savoured a simple but sumptuous meal prepared by the local women’s self-help group.

We prepared to return to city limits, and reluctantly bid goodbye to Baralikkadu. This is a place for true rejuvenation — after all, there are few places in India today where your mobile won’t ring!

Return of the native

Imagine returning to a life devoid of comforts — no electricity, medical facility or adequate transport link to the nearest town, no school, no provision store — in fact, none of the things one would come to expect, especially after spending 27 years in the city. That’s exactly the situation Nanjammal is in today. But she has no regrets.

It’s the proverbial return of the native. An adivasi belonging to the Irula tribe, Nanjammal returned to Baralikkadu in the Athikkadavu range six months ago, after more than two decades in Tiruchy town. Her husband’s retirement (from the Railways) brought the couple back to Baralikkadu.

Asked how she copes in this remote hamlet, Nanjammal beams with joy. “It’s my native place. I’ve enjoyed the serene beauty of this place since childhood and am happy to be reunited with the rest of my tribe here,” she says. Though she misses the comforts of city life, she is happy to be back. Moreover, her experience of city life is proving useful in helping 15-odd families in the hamlet eke out a living.

Until recently, the womenfolk in her tribe collected forest produce and sold it to make ends meet. “Every day was a struggle,” she recalls. Things have changed for the better now. With the help of the Forest Department, they have formed the Thamarai Magalir Kuzhu, a self-help group (SHG), with 14 members. The Kuzhu bought provisions, some tables and chairs, lifejackets and coracles, and set up its eco-tourism venture.

“We offer catering service, providing meals to eco-tourists at weekends,” says Nanjammal. Sometimes the women have to travel nearly 30 km to buy provisions for the cooking.

Having learnt to prepare several dishes from a former neighbour in Tiruchy, Nanjammal helps the group prepare chappatis and kurma, tamarind rice and curd rice. “We also offer visitors some of our traditional items prepared from ragi and greens, and fruits to round off the meal.”

The buffet meal is served under a row of tall trees close to the place where the coracle rides are offered.

Recalling how it all began, Forester Krishnaswamy says a committee was formed for the 10 villages located near the Bhavani river. “The State Government had sanctioned each SHG Rs 10,000 from the Western Ghat Development Fund.”

Encouraged by the success, the women now want to widen their operations and, in the process, ensure comfortable living for their families, says Krishnaswamy.

They also want to improve the Government-run school in the area which is currently in a dilapidated state. Interestingly, despite all the hardships, not many youngsters in the hamlet seem interested in leaving or taking up a city job.

Fact file

You can either take a cab or hop into a bus from Coimbatore to Karamadai (24 km) on the road to Mettupalayam.

From Karamadai proceed via Velliankadu, Athikkadavu and Mulli. There are two bus services (1 p.m. and 5 p.m.) a day from Baralikkadu to Karamadai.

Coracle rides are available only during weekends and on public holidays. Only four persons are allowed per coracle.

For advance information, contact the District Forest Office (0422-2302925), the Karamadai Forester (94436-55663), or the Forest Ranger (94433-70311).

The coracle ride costs Rs 300 per person and includes lunch prepared by the Thamarai Magalir Kuzhu.

Trekking and swimming are the other activity options.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated October 12, 2007)
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