Grasslands frequented by tigers and leopards

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Vandiperiyar: The spot where the stampede broke out leaving over 100 dead has been a traditional forest trekking path used mostly by devotees from Tamil Nadu to reach the hill shrine of Lord Ayyaappa.

The area is known as `Pulmedu` as it is a large stretch of grassland in Periyar Wildlife Reserve in the Western Ghats.

The trekking route is a short-cut for pilgrims from places like Cumbon, Theni and Madurai in Tamil Nadu to reach and return from Sabarimala.

In the past, pilgrims used to trek through the route only in groups as the grasslands are the habitat of tigers.

The pilgrims would never camp in the area as there had been several instances of attack on pilgrims by tigers.

Interestingly, Ayyappa is depicted as riding a tiger in the myths concerning the Lord.

The accident spot is located 24 km from Vandiperiyar, a small plantation town on Tamil Nadu borders.

According to Aneesh, a local rescuer, yesterday an unusually large number of people had converged in the area as it was one of the best spots to witness the `makar jyoti`, considered as a divine light that flickers across the eastern horizon after the `arti` at the Lord Ayyappa temple.

The `Makara Jyoti` is the finale of the two-month-long pilgrimage during which over 30 million devotees visit and worship the temple.

One of world`s most famous forest temples, there are three routes for devotees to reach the shrine– Kottayam to Pampa, Erumeli-Pampa and Vandiperiyar to Sannidhanam. Though vast majority of devotees prefer the first two routes, people from south central Tamil Nadu take the Vandiperiyar route.

According to eye witnesses, one to 2 lakh people were returning through the grassland route yesterday.

The first resting place on the route from the temple is still known as "Pandithavalam", referring to people from the county of Pandian kings.

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