Have you ever felt the calling of the stars? Do you harbor the wish to gaze at stars, planets, and celestial objects from up close? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then, it’s time to awaken the astronomer in you. Pack the bags and head to the Vainu Bappu Observatory in Kavalur in the Javadi hills. The place is near Vaniyambadi in the Vellore district of Tamil Nadu. It is an astronomical observatory owned and operated by Indian Institute of Astrophysics. Located at a distance of 77 km from Vellore and 54 km from Yelagiri, this observatory is surrounded by a 100-acre forest. The observatory boasts of a number of optical telescopes, including currently India’s largest optical telescope, the 2.3m Vainu Bappu telescope, 1.3-meter J.C Bhattacharya telescope, 1 m Carl Zeiss Telescope, and many smaller ones
As an added bonus, apart from the telescopes, you will also get to see the Fabry-Perot Interferometer. It is being used to study airglow emissions from the Earth’s thermosphere. You will need to scale a height of 725 m to reach the observatory, but it will be a worthwhile effort. There are several varieties of flora and fauna in the campus. Do not forget to carry your camera with you as the lucky ones are able to spot wild deer, snakes and even scorpions. The place is a visual delight for birdwatchers as well with the dense forest being home to several bird species. So, you get not only your astronomy lessons but also some zoology adventure.
The story behind it
Let’s take a little peek into the history of this observatory. It is more than two decades old with its origin dating back to the year 1786, and since then the observatory has seen a fair bit of travel. It all started in 1786 when William Petrie set up a private observatory at his garden house at Egmore, Madras. It came to be known as the Madras Observatory. The observatory was shifted to Kodaikanal as the Kodaikanal Observatory in 1899. When M.K. Vainnu Bappu took over as the Directorship of the Kodaikanal Observatory in 1960, he decided to shift the observatory again. The place selected by him was a little old hamlet called Kavalur, set in the Javadu Hills. The altitude of the place combined with the scenic beauty became the perfect abode for this observatory, which was rechristened again as the Kavalur or Vainnu Bappu Observatory. The change did not stop here, as the name was changed later to Indian Institute of Astrophysics and it is now hailed as one of the best observatories of Asia.
Claim to fame
In 1988, the Schmidt telescope here was used to discover a new minor planet, now known as 4130 Ramanujam. This discovery put India at the forefront of the field of Astrophysics. One of the reasons why people flock to this observatory is the high-resolution telescope, which is powerful enough to resolve a twenty-five paise coin kept at a distance of 40,000 meters.
Best time to visit
The observatory is open to tourists on Saturdays only, between 7 PM to 10 PM. The best season for observation is from January to May, as this time of the year is marked with mostly clear skies. The winter months obstruct the observations, with fog, clouds, and rains creating a dense cover between you and the stars. You wouldn’t want to be disappointed by going all the way up to the place only to be turned around because of bad weather. So, pick up a summer Saturday evening for your tryst with the stars. The visitors are not given access to all the telescopes and they can view the sky through the 15 cm visitor telescope.
The travel itinerary
The nearest airport from the Observatory is the Bangalore International Airport and the city itself is 175 kilometres away from the observatory. You can also take a train if travelling from Bangalore and other cities like Chennai, Mumbai, and Delhi. The train will take you to either Jolarpettai or Vaniyambadi, which are the closest railway stations to the observatory. From the station, you can take the local bus or taxi for Kavalur. There is good bus connectivity between Kavalur and Hosur, Vaniyambadi, Krishnagiri and other prominent cities of Tamil Nadu. The best place to stay would be Yelagiri which is only 54 km there. You can book rooms at Sterling Yelagiri, where modern comfort blends seamlessly with the natural scenic surroundings.
Beyond the stars
There are several other attractions nearby which can be added to your list, like trekking on the Swamimalai hills, pedal boating in the Puganoor lake, Jalagamparai falls, and Sripuram golden temple, to name a few. The calm and quiet of Yelagiri will envelop you in a shroud of serenity. The spectacular combination of the natural fragrances emanating from the jungle mixed with the jackfruit and mango-scented air will take you closer to nature.
Head out to Yelagiri and spend a day under the stars but make sure to book your stay with Sterling for their impeccable hospitality.