The Mudumalai and Bandipur Tiger Reserves, with their thickly-wooded hills, lush plateaus, deep valleys, steep waterfalls and dense marshes, harbour a rich biodiversity of wildlife and offer fabulous sightings of the big cat, pachyderms and other fascinating residents of the Western Ghats
For a weekend getaway and to unwind oneself amidst nature, the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve is an ideal spot. It sprawls over an area of 325 sq km in the Nilgiri biosphere. Realising the crucial role of tigers in the forest eco-system, Mudumalai, the oldest sanctuary in Tamil Nadu, has been declared a tiger reserve along with Mundanthurai-Kalakad and the Anaimalai recently, and each one of them is manned by a Field Director in the rank of Chief Conservator of Forests.
Best time to visit Mudumalai Tiger Reserve
Of the three reserves, Mudumalai stands on a different pedestal so far as the visibility of the terrain, availability of rest houses and chefs to provide good food are concerned. Its geographical location, flanked by the Bandipur Tiger Reserve of Karnataka on the north and the Wayanad sanctuary of Kerala on the west, draws visitors right through the year, barring rainy months. Though the month of July is always associated with rains and gusty wind in the Nilgiri belt, news of rains having tailed off warmed me up to seek reservation in the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve in July last year for my wife, me, son and his family from the US, who gave prior notice of their penchant to visit a sanctuary during their stay in India.
Stay at Sylvan lodge
We pitched upon Sylvan Lodge of Teppakadu for our stay since its scenic beauty is captivating with the Teppakadu river flowing in close proximity. Since our itinerary included a visit to the Bandipur Tiger Reserve also (located at a distance of 12 km from Mudumalai), we travelled by car to Mudumalai so that we would be there at the right time before safari trips began at Bandipur. As we breezed in our automobile from Masinagudi to Teppakadu, we were left speechless by the lush green vegetation wherever we turned. Though the months of June-July are decried for a visit to Mudumalai and Bandipur, the unusual weather changes did turn in our favour and brighten the prospects of sighting wildlife.
It was around 12 noon when we checked in Sylvan Lodge after exchanging pleasantries with Ms Baby at the Reception Centre whom I knew for the last 25 years since my days in the Forest Service. Vadivelu, the care-taker of Sylvan Lodge told us to have lunch at the log house which is in good mettle. After a sumptuous lunch and a brief rest, we headed to the reception centre at 3.30 pm for the evening ride. The safari fee per individual was Rs 35. We drove into the Sand road segment to sight wildlife. We moved on visiting various blocks. Excepting for a pair or two of chital deer, we drew blank during this visit that lasted an hour.
The next morning dawned with hopes of sighting some carnivores. The sunshine was bright and awakened the activity of the forest floor. We booked for the elephant ride at 8.30 am. Though the duration of the elephant ride has been slashed down to half an hour, ironically the cost of the ride has been raised to Rs 115 from Rs 25 per head in the previous years. Four persons could be accommodated in the ambari. Since children would have a different feel on elephant’s back as they breezed through the jungle, we plumped for this trip. The elephant’s back ride did not result in sighting any wildlife! However, for our evening ride, we switched on to Bandipur with the fond hope of sighting some carnivores.
Bandipur Tiger Reserve
The terrain at Bandipur provides much better visibility than Mudumalai, and it is at the foot of the hills of Mudumalai with less rainfall. Hence, it is most suited for making good pictures of wildlife and may be called ‘wildlife photographers’ paradise.’ But what threw cold water on wildlife enthusiasts and photographers were the exorbitant room rent (Rs 1,000 per day), safari van ride (Rs 300 per head) and car parking fee of Rs 40 for the occupants of rest houses.
Despite our venturing a safari trip into Bandipur at huge cost, I could get only beautiful shots of White-eyed Buzzard perched on a dry branch of a dead tree, and a peacock strutting about majestically in the green milieu. But both the onward and return trips to and from Bandipur were rewarding aesthetically and photographically. In the onward trip we saw a number of common langur to the left of the Teppakadu-Bandipur road frolicking and bouncing with kids on their belly from branch to branch. In this horde of common langur, the behaviour and attitude of one were most striking. It was majestically posing to the camera stretching itself between two trees of Terminalia tomentosa (Kari mardu in Tamil) as if seated in an easy chair.
After the safari trip and sipping a cup of tea, we were slowly motoring towards Teppakadu. Just at the outskirts of the sanctuary, a huge muscular gaur shining in the brilliant sunlight was busily grazing on the luxuriant shrubs without lifting its head towards us and unmindful of our presence. I could get only one frame of it stooping low though it was slightly over-exposed. Any amount of our wait did not enable us to shoot its majestic size. Perhaps it was too hungry to care for us, and went inside the bushy growth for satiating its hunger.
Later, we moved on scouring the sides of the road that fell within the Tamil Nadu boundary. On the left side of the road we saw a number of pachyderms moving in groups of three amidst the plants and trees. In one such group, two females were cuddling the grown-up calf from their sides so that no predator could dare to approach it. We followed them closely, and they lent themselves to our picturing them at vantage angles from the car.
The morning of the last day did not bring forth much activity on the forest floor except for a small but impressive herd of spotted deer comprising does and a well-grown stag. It made an excellent picture post-card. The three zones to which tourists are taken for sighting wildlife are the Sand road, the lower Kargudi and the Moyar waterfalls segment.
Previously, Manradiar Avenue was also included where chances of sighting carnivores are more. The reason advanced for this is that the roads inside Manradiar Avenue are in need of repair and are covered with weeds. But this is not an insurmountable problem. Ombetta and Bennai where one could sight a tiger or leopard, lie in the core area which is, unfortunately, a forbidden zone for tourists. We packed off after breakfast, bidding adieu to Mudumalai.
By air: The nearest airport is at Coimbatore, 125 km away on the Coimbatore-Ootacamund highway to Teppakadu of Mudumalai.
By rail: Coimbatore (90 km) is the nearest railhead to Ootacamund and it is well-connected to Teppakadu by road via Kalatti or Gudalur.
By road: Buses ply at regular intervals from Coimbatore to Ooty and from Ooty to Teppakadu.
Where to stay
Sylvan Lodge, Log House, Abhayaranyam Rest House, Kargudi Rest House, Pea-cock and Teppakadu dormitories and Masinangudi Rest House. To reach Masinangudi and Kargudi, you need a vehicle. For reservation, contact Deputy Conservator of Forests/Range Officer at 0423 2445971.
By Vartika Kaushal
About the Author
Vartika Kaushal loves to travel and pick up new cooking recipes on the way. She is an inveterate shopaholic and loves collecting souvenirs from her travel.