After reading the awful reviews about Chinnar, we had decided to give it a miss, until our trekking guide in Munnar, Jergen, persuaded us to give it a try as he thought we'd like it. When we'd finished the trek, he took us to the Forest Dept office in Munnar, which we would never have found by ourselves as it was tucked away up a side street, and up some stairs, along a passage and into the Forestry Officer's office, where we found the only person it seems who we could book this overnight stay in the Chinnar Wildlife Reserve with - the Forestry Officer. Such a long winded process to book it. He had a big ledger with the bookings in and after a while and some phone calls, he booked us into a wooden lodge the following night.
We took the local bus up there which is about a three hour journey over 70 km of hill and bends travel. when we arrived, the young girl in charge of the bookings had more big ledgers in a tiny office with no electricity that I could see, let alone a computer or telephone, and couldn't find any record of our booking. After disappearing for a while, and telling us to wait, she re appeared and said it was all ok.
A simple lunch awaited us of chapatis and sambhar for pence, and we met the other two couples who would be spending the night in two other lodges in different parts of the reserve, and our respective guides. I hope I get our guide's name right - I think it was Sonah, but apologies if the spelling is wrong. Anyway, Sonah explained we had a two km walk to our cabin so our big bags were left behind at the checkpoint office at the entrance to the reserve, and we proceeded with a small backpack and minimal stuff for the night in the cabin. As soon as we started walking along a beautiful boulder strewn river with giant tress all along, Sonah began to point birds and animals out to us. He walked silently and swiftly on flip flopped feet, as we bumbled along behind in our trekking sandals, breaking twigs and tripping over rocks. Loads of Langours playing in the trees, an eagle in the top of another,giant squirrel and more. We came to our little abode for the night, a green wooden cabin a bit like the sort of thing you might have in the garden at home.as a summerhouse, but on a steep slope so raised up with a veranda at the front overlooking the forest and river below, and with a thick stone wall enclosing the whole thing to discourage elephants barging in. No electricity and water in a tank on the roof, so had to carry enough bottles of drinking water to last the night. After we's settled in and inspected the room, which had a big double bed with bottom sheet that Sonah brought with him and tucked over the pillows. No top sheet, just a big thick cozy blanket, so bring your own sheet sleeping bag if you're bothered. Bathroom a bit primitive, but had flush western toilet and sink, shower unusable. and floor awash with water from leeking toilet cistern I think. Bathroom only good for brushing teeth and swilling face.
Then had a close encounter with a Langour monkey down by the river as I was sitting dipping my feet in to cool off. Spotted it out of the corner of ny eye, and before I could reach for the camera, it had bounded across 100m of boulders and was right next me, a big male, just staring at me about 3 feet away! Was so shocked, just said SHOO! and off it bounded, down stream.
Sonah then took us for a wonderful late afternoon/ dusk trek up into the reserve, to a few different lookout points where you could see all over the valley below. Although we didn't see anything major, it was such a treat to be walking out in the wilderness with someone who knew it intimately and who obviously loved it so much. He pointed out many tracks of animals to us including elephants and a huge snake. we finally met up with one of the other couples and their guide, on a rocky outcrop high up where the view was spectacular, then made our way back through the scrubby forest to our cabin. Sonah made a fire and made some tea, then got our dinner out of his rucksack - more chapattis and sambhar, but enough to fill us up for the night. Plus some biscuits for afters. Simple but enough. Once it was dark, we sat round the fire while Sonah kept a look out for animals with his torch, and looked up at the night sky, glittering with stars. While we slept inside the cabin, Sonah took up residence on the verandah, lying on a large piece of corrugated cardboard, in front of our door, in case of wild animals, although I don't think he carried any other weapon than a machete he'd been using to hack at the scrub we'd walked through, so I don't know what he'd have done if a rogue elephant had blundered into the compound!
After a reasonable nights sleep, we were up at dawn to repeat the trek in another direction. Again,wonderful to watch Sonah silently negotiating the rocky scrub while we tried to emulate behind him. bit more success seeing animals this morning, with Sambar deer and wild peacocks spotted. After packing up, we headed back along the river for breakfast at the checkpoint cafe with the other four guests, spotting more animals and birds along the way. Breakfast was idlis and sambhar, all very simple, but included in the price.
The great thing about this experience was the feeling that you were really out in the wilderness to some extent. Even though the road was only 2 km away, it may as well have been hundreds as there was no sound of it or sight of it and no sign of any habitation as far as the eye could see. Many sounds of elephants at night trumpeting across the valley, but no sight of them, which didn't bother me but it may bother other people. Just a great and unique experience!
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