Topslip is located in the Anaimalai Forest Range bordering Tamilnadu and Kerala. The erstwhile Anaimalai Wildlife Santucary is now known as IGWS – Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary. A Forest Preserve, this range houses a variety of wildlife and birdlife. Wild elephant and bison sightings are quite common. Quoting from an article in The Hindu, “The IGWS and National Park harbours over 250 species of birds of 49 families and is enormously rich in other biodiversity. According to the latest reports India is home to nearly 1,300 bird species in the diverse habitats.” The neighboring Parambikulam Sanctuary is to the West of Topslip in Kerala.
The closest big town is Coimbatore which is around 80kms away. One has to head to Pollachi (40 kms), then to Anaimalai (another 15 kms), onwards to Sethumadai (10kms), to TopSlip (15kms). A Ticket is required to pass through the Forest checkpost in Sethumadai before a 15 km journey to reach 800Ft above sea level in Topslip. Being totally non-commercial, the only means of staying overnight is in Forest Guesthouses which have to be booked well in advance.
The Drive To Topslip
Reaching the Anaimalais, greenery abounds in every direction. Shady tree lined State Highways surrounded by Coconut Plantations on either side makes the drive up to Sethumadai.
Climbing up the short twisty ghats lined with Bamboo trees, one faces a number of hair pin bends. One cannot help but start admiring the scenic green drive.
On Reaching Topslip
One needs to be careful of Monkeys as they are looking for a quick bite always. Troops of Nilgiri Langurs can be seen traversing through tall trees – a fascinating sight of acrobatics. Forest Guesthouses beckon vistors staying overnight. Visitors on day trips can avail a Forest Guide and drive around and/or can book an Elephant Safari.
One starts breathing easier in this pristine forest environment. I presume it must be all the greenery creating a natural Greenhouse effect. Same day visitors can buy tickets for an Elephant Safari. If lucky, one can see Wildlife – Bisons, Wild Boars, Spotted Deer etc.. Really lucky ones can spot leopards! Tickets cost Rs. 400 per Elephant Ride.
The TopSlip Forest has 22 elephants for it’s forest work in the Kozhikkamuthy Elephant camp. Six to eight of these elephants are used for the elephant Safari. After loading on to an elephant – up to 3 to each side, one takes off into the dense forest for a bumpy but exciting ride.
The ride typically last for up to one hour. Lucky visitors get to see wildlife – bisons, spotted deers, boars, wild hens etc..
We rode on a 33 year old Male Tusker named Surya. Surya has been domesticated now for 8 years. Surya was different than the other tuskers in that his tusks were off center and not symmetric. Surya rested it’s trunk on it’s right tusk a lot of times – signs of old age?
The Safari takes one through fairly dense forests. Apparently there were a lot of Gaur (Indian Bison) sightings the previous day but we were not that lucky. We caught a brief glimpse of a spotted deer behind the bushes and that was it. In this Jurassic Park like atmosphere, one almost expects to see plant eating dinosaurs peek through the tall trees.
Visitors can drive up to the Kerala border where the checkpost to the Parambikulam Sanctuary exists. The drive is both scenic and refreshing. Private vehicles are not allowed after this checkpost but one can avail Forest vehicles to head into the Parambikulam Sanctuary.
Pongal or Sankaranti – the Harvest Festival is celebrated all over India around mid January every year. This is followed by Mattu-Pongal – a celebration of the Harvest Festival for cows as they are so critical for agriculture in India.
While everyone knows about Pongal, most are not familiar with another ritual – Gaja Pooja or Elephant-Pongal – held every year in Topslip in the Anamalai Mountain Ranges to celebrate the usefulness of elephants to the Forests. While Elephant Safaris can be had round the year, the Gaja Poojai is a special once a year affair that lucky visitors have a chance to witness usually in the third week of January.
The Forest Elephants are lined up on this day, and sandalwood paste is applied to their foreheads to decorate them. This is one chance to see elephants of all sizes lined up next to each other on this special day – the young cub drawing the most attention with the children.
While the daily feed to the elephants is only 10kg of Raagi (Finger Millet) – the rest coming from the forests, Gaja Pooja is a special day for the elephants as they are fed delicacies to satisfy Lord Ganesha! The end of the Pooja is marked by a Salute to all the visitors by the assembled elephants. A sight to behold.
Entry Fomalities for TopSlip
If you are visiting the park for the day you can go directly to Top Slip (Entry INR 50). The Sethumadai checkpost is the entry point to TopSlip.
In case you plan to stay at Top Slip, accommodation must be booked in advance at the:Wildlife Warden Office, 178 Meenkarai Rd, in Pollachi. Open Monday to Friday between 9 am to 5 pm. Tel: 04259 238360. Park entry time is between 6.30 am and 6 pm.
TopSlip is a fabulous getaway – serene, calm, unpolluted and totally uncommercial. Wildlife, birdlife are available in plenty and it also offers trekkers great options. Gaja Pooja offers a great opportunity to see tens of elephants at the same time if one can time their visit on that day. While the guesthouse accommodations can be rather basic, TopSlip offers a fabulous gateway into the wilderness – a true nature lover’s paradise!