FREE FALLING IN THE BLUE MOUNTAINS
States Bandipur falls in Karnataka, Mudumalai in Tamil Nadu
Location On the Karnataka-Tamil Nadu border, along the Mysore-Ooty Highway, within the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. Mudumalai is contiguous to Bandipur, separated only by the Moyar River from Karnataka. To the north-west of Bandipur is the Kabini River, beyond which lies the Nagarahole NP. The Wayan ad WLS lies to its south-west Bandipur distances 220 km SW of Bangalore, 80 km S of Mysore, 80 km N of Ooty, 164 km NW of Coimbatore; Mudumalai is 11 km S of Bandipur
Route from Bangalore to Bandipur SH17 to Mysore via Maddur; NH212 to Gundlupet via Nanjangud and Begur; state highway to Bandipur Route from Bandipur to Mudumalai Tamil Nadu State Highway to Mudumalai Route from Coimbatore to Mudumalai Ooty Highway to Gudalur; Mysore Highway to Theppakadu, Mudumalai's main forest base
When to go Anytime between Apr and Jan is a good time to visit, but it's best from Sep to Dec. Though both parks are open throughout the year, they could be closed during Feb-Apr on account of heavy forest fires
Go there for Tigers, elephants, gaur
Wildlife/ Forest Dept offices
• Deputy Conservator of Forests Bandipur. Tel: 08229-236043, 236021
• Reception Range Office, Theppakadu Mudumalai. Tel: 0423-2526235
• Wildlife Warden, Mount Stuart Hill Udhgamandalam (Ooty)-643001 Tel: 0423-244098
• Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) Aranya Bhavan, 18th Cross, Malleswaram Bangalore-560003. Tel: 080-23341993
STD codes Bandipur 08229 Mudumalai 0423
The forest is alive! A few hours, a few days spent here are far too less to imbibe its essence. But the city drill beckons and, with a heavy heart, I head back to my cottage to pack my bags. I know I will return, soon.
About Bandipur Mudumalai
Along the Mysore-Ooty Highway, at the foothills of the Nilgiris, lies some of India's best elephant country. Administered separately, the Bandipur National Park (Karnataka) and the Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary (Tamil Nadu) are but components of a single spectacular ecological continuum that also includes Nagarhole (in Karnataka) and Wayanad (in Kerala). Bandipur and Mudumalai are located in the lower reaches of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, which is part of the Western Ghats biodiversity hotspot. This area was once the hunting ground of the Wodeyar royals.
In 1931, Bandipur was established as a hunting reserve by the maharaja of Mysore. The reserve was expanded (874 sq km) in 1973 to become the Bandipur National Park and Tiger Reserve; poaching of elephants for ivory has been a major problem here (no thanks to the late brigand Veerappan). A vital elephant corridor in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve has also been destroyed because of development projects. The Mudumalai Sanctuary was set up in 1940, which gives it the distinction of being the first sanctuary in Southern India. Covering a stretch of 60 sq km initially, the sanctuary was expanded to 295 sq km by 1956 and thereafter to its present size of 321 sq km. Today, both Bandipur and Mudumalai. Villages located around these protected areas add to the pressure on the forests.
This area receives two monsoons: the south-west (Jun-Sep) and the north-east (Oct-Nov). A brief, cool dry season (Dee- Jan) is followed by summer (Feb-May). This region has a moderate climate all year round and can be visited in any sea- son. Wildlife sightings are fewer in summer compared to other seasons. Unlike temperate forests, these tropical deciduous forests are leafless in summer.
Bandipur NP: The Mysore-Ooty Road via Gundlupet, which cuts through the park, accesses the entry point to Bandipur NP where its Headquarters and Range Office (Tel: 08229-236043, 236021) are located. The complex has an excellent Interpretation Centre. Just outside the park boundary, in Melukamanahalli Village, lies the Bandipur Safari Lodge, run by Jungle Lodges of Karnataka Tourism. It is in close proximity to the Bandipur NP HQ & RO. About 4 km from the park headquarters, in Mangla Village, is Tusker Trails Resort. Both resorts are licensed to operate private jeep safaris in the park. To the north-west of the Bandipur Safari Lodge is Bandipur's highest elevation, Gopala- swamy Betta (hill), atop which is the Venugopalaswamy Temple. The spectacular Moyar Gorge acts as the southern boundary between Mudumalai NP and Bandipur NP. Mini-bus safaris and elephant safaris begin from the Range office. Trekking in Bandipur NP has been recently discontinued.
Park entry fee Indians Rs 25, foreigners Rs 150 Cameras Still free, video Rs 200 Park timings 6.30-9 am, 3.30-5.30 pm Mudumalai WLS: The Reception Range Forest Office at Theppakadu (Tel: 0423-2526235), the entry point into Mudumalai WLS, has an Information Centre. No trekking is permitted in Mudumalai too; nor does the department offer any jeep safaris. Private vehicles are also prohibited from entering the park. Instead, the Forest Department arranges mini-bus safaris into the park, which can be booked at the Theppakadu Reception Range Office. Several Forest Rest Houses are scattered across the park. Tour operators in nearby Masinagudi, can arrange birdwatching and treks in the reserve forest.
Cameras Still Rs 25, video Rs 500
THINGS TO SEE AND DO
Both Bandipur and Mudumalai are oriented towards tourism; the Forest Department has trekking routes inside the parks, and organizes safaris as well. done in this area. Mudumalai too boas of a well-planned information centre. which is located close to the Fore Office at Theppakadu. The Forest Office in Bandipur also has a few informatio booklets on sale.
Rides into the parks on specially laid-on dirt roads called 'game roads', which usually pass close to grazing areas, salt licks and water holes, offer excellent views of wildlife. Most of the common wildlife (deer, gaur, elephant and langur) can be seen at close range. At Mudumalai and Bandipur, the respective Forest Departments offer hour-long mini-bus safaris inside the park. Though they get crowded during peak holiday seasons, these mini-buses offer ample opportunities to view wildlife.
At Bandipur, private jeep safaris are now only permitted by two operators, Tusker Trails and Jungle Lodges (see Wildlife Agents Listings on page 649), located near the reserve. They hold licences to take people into the park. These safaris last 2- 3 hrs and are ideal for wildlife enthusiasts and photographers. Confirm schedules and rates when planning your tour.
Bandipur mini-bus safari fee Rs 75 per head (45 mins) Open jeep safari fee Rs 1,750 (1 ½ hrs) Timings 6.30-9 am, 3.30-5.30 pm
Mudumalai mini-bus safari fee Rs 35 per head Timings 7- 9am, 3-6.30 pm
Short jungle rides (20 mins) on elephant back are available at Bandipur in the morning and evening. But these have been discontinued in Mudumalai. However, Mudumalai has the Theppakadu Elephant Camp, which is one of the biggest elephant camps in South India. As many as 25 elephants are housed here. The camp has elephants that work in the forest, log timber and do other forest activities. The evening feeding shows at this camp are crowd pullers. Camp viewings may be closed for short periods for the public. How- ever, enquiries can be made at the Forest Office in Theppakadu to check the status during your visit.
+Bandipur elephant ride timings 10-11 am Fee Rs 50 per head +Mudumalai camp visit timings 5.30-6 am
Air Nearest airports (for Bandipur): Bangalore (220 km/ 5 hrs). Taxi fare to Bandipur ranges from Rs 1,200-2,000 approx (depending on the choice of vehicle), for a drop. For Mudumalai: Coimbatore Airport (152 km/ 3 ½ hrs). Taxi fare to Mudumalai is Rs 800-900 approx
Rail Nearest railhead: Nanjangud (65 km/ 1 ½ hrs). Taxi fare Rs 325 approx; a major railhead is Mysore (80 km/ 2 hrs). Taxi from here is Rs 400
Bandipur and Mudumalai (12 km apart) are located on the Mysore-Ooty Highway. The forest rest houses and offices are by the side of the highway. To reach these places, just hop onto one of the many buses plying on this highway and ask them to stop at Bandipurl
Theppakadu (Mudumalai). Most resorts pick up their guests from these two places if informed in advance about approximate arrival time. State transport bus services are also available from Bangalore, Mysore, Ooty and Coimba- tore to these parks. KSTDC luxury buses are available both from Bangalore and Mysore. Bus services are frequent: moreover, centralized bookings can be done through any of the KSRTC counters in Karnataka or even through the Internet (Website: ksrtc.org)
On the Bandipur side, the Moyar Gorge or 'Mysore Ditch' can only be reached by jeep safari/ trekking, but on the Mudumalai side, even bus safaris (upon request) can take you to see the gorge. At Mudumalai, a watchtower offers a spectacular view of the gorge and the Moyar Falls.
The Sigur Plateau, on the Tamil Nadu side, harbours extensive scrub and bam- boo forests. With the Nilgiris looming right above this plateau, there are some incredible views to be had at the Bison Valley Viewpoint on the Mysore-Ooty Road and the Moyar Falls in Mudumalai. There are plenty of accommodation options here with a number of resorts located in and around Masinagudi Town It is excellent birding and walking country, though a guide would be required to keep a watch for elephants. The 32-kIn long forest road to Ooty starts from here. Jeeps can be hired from Masinagudi (7 km from Theppakadu and 26 km from Bandipur) for Rs 700 plus a day plus diesel.
Masinagudi tour operators such as Jungle Retreat and Nature Safari Tours and Treks offer customised packages (both for Mudumalai and Bandipur) for trips around the Reserve Forest, which include transport and the services of a naturalist. You can also contact agents such as Aires Travel and Tours in Mysore and Aloha Travels in Coimbatore.
WHERE TO STAY AND EAT
As huge number of tourists visit both Bandipur and Mudumalai, there is a range of stay options to suit all budgets at both the places. Tourists can buy tea, vadas and biscuits at the stalls around Bandipur and Mudumalai.
The Forest Department has five cottages here (Tel: 08229-236043; Tariff: Indians Rs 300-450, foreigners Rs 500- 800) and two dormitories (Rs 50 per bed) with 10 and 20 beds, respectively. Nothing can match staying inside the park - huge herds of cheetal come right to the doorstep of the cottages. Elephants and leopards are also frequently sighted around the cottages both at Bandipur and Mudumalai. The cottages are equipped with basic amenities and are comfortable (a few luxury suites are also available). Food is made on order and a 2- to 3-hr notice is required. The food is light and largely South Indian. Bookings have to be made at least 2-3 weeks in advance. Contact the office of the Deputy Conservator of Forests, Bandipur or the Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), Bangalore.
In private options, there is Tusker Trails (Tel: 08229-236055; Tariff: Indians Rs 2,000-2,350, foreigners US$ 75-90), which has tastefully done cottages that merge well with the surrounding landscape. The spacious lounge filled with photographs and artifacts from the days of the Mysore maharajas gives a historical context to the location. Bandipur was originally a hunting pre- serve of the Mysore royal family and Tusker Trails is run by a daughter of the last maharaja. The staff is attentive and the buffet meals are excellent. There are endless opportunities to watch birds around the resort.
Bandipur Safari Lodge (Tel: 233001; Tariff: Rs 1,750 per person), run by Karnataka Tourism's Jungle Lodges, has well-furnished rooms. MC Resort (Tel: 08229- 233044-45; Tariff: Rs 600) in Melkamanahalli Village, adjacent to the sanctuary, is a cheaper option, arranges taxis and serves South and North Indian meals.
The Forest Department lodges predictably have the best location. The Theppakadu Log House (Tariff: Rs 330- 560) near the Moyar River has two double-bedded and one four-bedded suite. Sylvan Lodge (Tariff: Rs 330), also by the Moyar River, just 4 km from Theppakadu, has four double rooms. These two are the best options but there are others, all offering food and hot water. At Abhayaranyan, 3 km from Theppakadu, is another FRH (Tel: 0423-2444098; Tariff: Rs 330), which has 2 rooms with attached baths. The caretaker can arrange food. The FRH Annexe here has 2 rooms and costs Rs 180 a night. At Kargudi, nearby, is the Peacock Dormitory, run by the Forest Department. It has 3 dorms (2 with 20 beds each and one with 10 beds) and you pay Rs 35 per bed per night here. The Cuckoo FRH here has 1 room and costs Rs 180 a night. There are a couple more dorm options at Theppakadu. Bookings for all these can be made at the Wildlife Warden's Office in Ooty (see Fast Facts on page 485). You will, however, have to confirm reservations through a personal visit.
Private resorts cluster around Masinagudi Town, about 12 km from Mudumalai. Options here include Jungle Retreat (Tel: 0423-2526430/ 69-70; Tariff: Rs 1,500-3,500) in Bokkapuram Village, 11 km from the park, which has deluxe and regular cottages, a dorm with 30 beds (Rs 400 per bed) and a swimming pool. Their Continental and Indian buffets are popular. The Mathais, who own the resort, also arrange camping, trekking and birdwatching trips in the Reserve Forest (outside the park) with the services of a naturalist. Jungle Hut (Tel: 2526340; Tariff: Rs 2,000), run by another member of the Mathai farnly, also offers similar services. The resort, also in Bokkapuram Village, has 12 rooms and a swimming pool. The Monarch Safari Park (Tel: 2526250/ 343; Tariff: Rs 1,400) has a restaurant with a multicuisine menu. The Bamboo Banks Farm homestay (Tel: 2526211; Tariff: Rs 1,125-2,125) offers safaris and treks, and accepts credit cards. Mountania Rest House (Tel: 2526267/ 337; Tariff: Rs 500-2,000), which arranges birdwatching, and Green Park Resort (Tel: 2526351/486; Tariff: Rs 400-1,200), which arranges treks, are other options.
No matter where you plan to stay, be sure to pack mineral water, torches, candles and tissue rolls as electricity and water supply are erratic
• Cheetal, langur, gaur and elephant are frequently sighted within the parks. The wild dog is the more visible predator. Though sightings of tiger and leopards are not frequent, evidence of their presence (pugmarks, droppings) is common
• Over 250 species of birds, including the Malabar pied horn bill, heart-spotted woodpecker and trogon
Himad Gopalaswamy Betta
About 15 km from Bandipur (an hour's drive) is this forested mountain of Himad (mist-covered) Gopalswamy Betta (Lord Krishna's hill). There's a temple dedicated to Lord Krishna on the top. The hill- top is generally covered in a dense layer of mist. The drive takes you through some spectacular forests, and it is not uncommon to run into an elephant just around a hairpin bend. There are buses from Hangala Village (just outside Bandipur, in the Bandipur-Gundlupet direction) to the temple, but these are not too frequent. It can get very chilly and windy on the hilltop, and it's best to pack some sweaters and windcheaters if you are planning a trip there.
Ooty and Coonoor
With misty forests, tall exotic eucalyptus, tea gardens and hill station bazaars, these erstwhile British hill stations draw thou- sands of tourists every year. Several buses operate along the highway, and it takes about two hours to reach Ooty from Mudurnalai, and an hour from there to Coonoor. One can opt for a ride aboard the unique 'Toy Train' till Coonoor. Ooty's Botanical Gardens are famous, as are the several viewpoints around the town. Coonoor is less crowded than Ooty and is famous for its herbs and spices.
Mukurthi National Park
The Mukurthi Peak is about 40 km from Ooty and the Mukurthi NP is located on the south-eastern corner of the Nilgiris. Murkurthi, with its extensive shola forests, is excellent country for the Nilgiri tahr. Mukurthi is part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve and permission to visit/ trek/ stay can be obtained from the Wildlife Warden's office at Ooty.