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Published: October 27th 2017
Deviating from the yearly ritual of bursting crackers, we decided to celebrate Deepavali in a different fashion this year, in a forest with nature.
Our admiration to the Indian wildlife gradually became an expensive and unavoidable addiction. More we experience it, the urge to return once again increases. This time we decided to spend Deepavali vacation at Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, Tamil Nadu.
A brief about Madhumalai Tiger Reserve
Mudumalai (Tamil Nadu) – Bandipur (Karnataka) –Nagarhole (Karnataka) -Wayanad (Kerala) taken together is the largest forest complex in India. Although located in three Indian states, they are part of the same forest and connected with each other. Leave alone other species of wild life, this area boasts the highest no. of tiger population in the world (around 550 tigers).
Mudumalai Tiger Reserve was around 270 Kms from Bangalore, 90 Kms from Mysore on the way to the Ooty, the famous tourist destination of South India. Ooty was around 40 kms from here. Occupying an area of 321 Sq. Kms, Mudumalai Tiger Reserve is the abode of around fifty tigers.
Around a decade back Mudumalai became famous for Virappan, the famous and dreaded brigand. Staying in Forest Guest (Rest) House
There were large no of Forest Rest Houses (named Forest Guest House in Karnataka) managed by Mudumalai Tiger Reserve Authorities and they could be booked online thru their website. But it was a late decision. Searching the net we could observe that all accommodations had been booked already due to Deepavali rush except very few. We selected the Masinagudi Forest Rest House III (Room tariff Rs. 2900 for 3 heads) at random.
For visiting a forest, staying in a Forest Guest House owned and managed by the state administration is an option for many tourists like us. Compared to various expensive resorts, hotels outside the forest area, the unique advantage of Forest Guest House is their location, mostly within the forest boundary providing an opportunity to stay, in many occasions, at the heart of nature. But facilities provided therein are basic, not suitable for cozy or luxurious enjoyment.
In Karnataka the biggest disadvantage was the booking procedure requiring lot of patience, mostly due to the ancient method of writing letters, making number of calls etc. Only exception was for the Bandipur National Park, where online booking facility is available.
Of course there is a different school of thought which advocates against opening the floodgate of tourism in those areas which would otherwise adversely affect the wildlife. This may be one of the reasons contributing to the thriving tiger population in South Indian tiger habitats, compared to other places. 18th October, 2017, Wednesday
We thought of starting before dawn, but became late (6.30 AM) as usual. Un-expectedly the Mysore Road was comparatively less crowded, possibly due to weekdays or thin presence of IT folk already enjoying their weeklong Deepavali holidays outside Bangalore. We noticed no. of cracks developed in Mysore Road particularly after Ramanagar, possibly due to heavy onslaught of monsoon throughout this region. Before Mysore we had to take left turn to reach NH 766 (Kollegal-Mysore Kozhikode Road) thru Outer Ring Road. This road was broadened upto Nanjangud to Four Lane Express Highway (it was two lane previously). Road was well maintained and spacious even after that. At Gundulpet this expressway turned right towards Kerala while we had to drive straight taking NH 181. This road stretched towards Ooty thru Bandipur and then Mudumalai National Park after crossing Karnataka-Tamil Nadu Boundary. A magnificent drive inside the Bandipur - Mudumalai Forest area
At around 11.30 AM we entered Bandipur national Park area. Last winter when we visited here, the forest was dry and rough, with a dull brownish hue, trees shedding their leaves, as if the entire environment was begging for raindrops. Above all, road work was in progress. This time I noticed a totally different scenario. After the end of monsoon, the forest was in rejoicing mood with all varieties of colour. Dense forest, huge trees, newly grown leaves coloring the area a vivid green. Most interesting sight was the colourful flowers, yellow in particular. I was fascinated to see innumerable yellow flowers in blossom, so bright and fresh. Nature has unleashed its spectacular beauty everywhere. Entire forest looked to be smiling and was expressing its happiness, possibly with their living habitants also.
Driving thru the forest area upto Mudumalai was a splendid experience. Also the entire drive was of immense pleasure due to vast improvement in road condition over the last few years. Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, Theppakadu.
At around 12.30 PM we reached the reception centre, Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, Theppakadu. People at
the counter were friendly and courteous. We came to know that our destination (i.e. Masinagudi Guest House) was around 7 Kms from here. Masinagudi
Masinagudi was a small halt on the way to Ooty. It was also a favourite spot for many tourists, particularly for those who preferred to avoid noise and pollution, inherent in a popular tourist-spot. This was our third visit to Masinagudi, although first time stay in a Forest Rest House.
Two country roads proceeded in opposite direction from the Masinagudi Bus stop. Road on the right (from Mysore towards Ooty) concluded in a place named Singara below the huge mountain ranges of Nilgiris. Coffee Estates and a powerhouse (operated by Irrigation Deptt. and not open for public thoroughfare) were the important spots in that location. Another one on the left moved towards Moyar Dam (around 10 Kms). There were many Resorts and Hotels, mostly in the road towards Singara.
We love this place for no of reasons. With blue mountains of Ooty in the horizon, we could witness different species of birds, butterflies and of course wild life in our earlier visits. Our sighting of wild animals like sloth-bear, elephants,
etc. previously was on the open country roads and not in official safari. Forest Rest House Masinagudi
We were disappointed at the first look of the Rest House. It was built by the side of the country road along with other rest houses. Forest area was no-where near the Rest House. Location-wise it was not comparable to the Forest Guest House of Bandipur or Nagarhole which were located in the midst of nature. Room tariff was quite high compared to their counterpart in Karnataka. It was virtually similar to other hotels/resorts in the nearby area. Moreover there was continuous bursting of crackers from the moment we reached there. That was not the reason for which we were excited to reach there.
Room allotted to us was one of three in a cottage. It was located inside, having limited view of outside nature.
But the interior arrangement was quite good with all required facilities. Room and adjacent toilets were well-maintained and clean. Most of the items were new. This was a bonus for us compared to our experience in Bandipur or Nagarhole, where we won’t expect any room service. In fact, whenever we visited those
Guest Houses we carried most of the essential requirements on our own like Mosquito Coil, Dettol for spreading in Toilet, Bed sheets etc.
Most remarkable experience worth mentioning was the excellent hospitality of the Rest-House in Charge and his assistants which I depicted below. Lunch and elephant bath
Having limited time to spare, we decided to drive towards Moyar Dam. In our previous visit we spotted wild elephants here on the way. This time there was no luck. My god, we noticed bursting of crackers there also.
Our next destination was to satisfy our craving stomach. We selected a restaurant near the Bus stand. Lunch was finished with Rice, Dal fry, Sabji, Fish and Egg Bhurji. It was ok.
We thought of going back to the reception centre at Thekkapadu to take a safari ride. A narrow bridge (enough to accommodate only a single vehicle) on Moyar river was to be crossed just before Thekkapadu. An elephant was coming towards the river with his mahout. Gradually the elephant lied down the river with his head above the water and mahout was cleaning his body with immense care. I could spot only top of
his trunk floating into the water. Gradually one more arrived with his boss. Those were the habitats of the “Elephant Camp” located at the other side of the road. We visited the camp next day and it was a must visit in Mudumalai.
Staying option at rest houses of Mudumalai Tiger Reserve :
Unlike in Bandipur or Nagarhole (where we stayed earlier) the Forest Rest Houses in Mudumalai were scattered in various places like Masinagudi, Theppakadu, Godallur etc. Distance between each location varies between seven to fifteen kms. Also there were better options to choose (if available) which we could realize only after reaching Mudumalai.
There were multiple options to book rest house online thru the websites of Mudumalai Tiger Reserve. Some of them are as follows :
1. Abhyaranyam Rest House/Annex
– Those places of abode were situated at Godallur (around 15 Kms further from the Reception Centre at Theppakadu on the way to Ooty). Surrounded by jungle and in a secluded place we liked them at first sight and decided to experience it in our next visit.
2. “Sylvan Log-huts” /Theppakadu Dormitory
– Situated at the bank of Moyar
river and very near to the Reception Centre. A restaurant named Banyan was located at the same place. Convenient for entry to the forest and safari.
3. Masinaguri Rest House / Log House
– We stayed here (around 7 Kms from the Reception point) and did not like the location which was described above. Safari arrangements from the Reception Centre : Following are the options :
1. Bus safari –
This one hour safari was the cheapest option thru Mazda mid-sized buses. Tariff was Rs 136 per seat.
2. Gypsy Safari –
A better option to enjoy the forest but needed a deeper pocket. Gypsy Carrying capacity was for 10 visitors. Tariff for each safari was Rs. 3000/- plus Rs. 115 per person
as Eco preservation Charges and Entrance Fee. Safari duration one hour.
3. Geep Safari
4. Elephant Safari –
Tariff Rs 860/- for 4 persons. Duration was half an hour. Safari timings
– As mentioned in the Notice Board, 6 AM to 10 AM in the morning and 2 PM to 6 PM. However we noticed Safari continuing through-out the day.
experience of Bus Safari
We opted for the Bus Safari in the afternoon and also next day early morning , since the Gypsy was already booked in both the occasions. This safari usually covers around 15 Kms territory inside the forest area, quite insignificant compared to the huge magnitude of this Tiger Reserve.
One distinct disadvantage of these Mazda buses was limited visibility thru the window near the designated tourist seat. Half of the window would be covered by glass-pane, further restricting the accessibility and taking snaps. Many times the wild animals might be spotted on the other side. Hence there was no option but to have mad rush to the others window and peeping thru the shoulders of another visitor which would be disturbing. But this was nothing new since the bus safari arrangement in Bandipur/Nagarhole were also similar to Mudumalai Bus Safari. Memories of Canter Safari at Kanha NP at MP
An effective alternative to the above Bus Safari would have been travelling thru Hood (roof) open Canter Buses, which we witnessed at Kanha National Park, MP. With a carrying capacity of around 15 persons, a ride thru such open bus
provided a 180 degree view all around while remaining in the seat. Tariff was comparatively less than hiring a Gypsy with much higher cost. Arrangement of safari thru similar bus may be thought here also. Of course I am not sure about any safety issue specific to the South Indian forests. Sighting of animals during safari
Despite visiting frequently we never had the luck of sighting tiger in any of the forests of Karnataka or Kerala particularly at Safari arranged by the forest department (except in Bandhavgarh and Kanha, MP). Once we had glimpse of a leopard during a private safari in our earlier visit to Masinagudi. That was the only success we had as far as South India is concerned.
Going by our earlier experience we did not expect too much. But at jungle many a times wild life appear when we expected the least. To our surprise in our evening tour we could spot two sloth bears, large herd of Gaur (Indian Bison), peacocks, sambar deer, not to mention about Cheetal herd at various places. 19th October, 2017 - Thursday Showdown with wild elephant
Next day early morning safari was without success except having distant glimpse of a spectacular waterfall in Moyar river inside the forest. But on the way to Thekkapadu from Masinagudi, we had an un-expected surprise. A huge elephant was standing on the road. Road was blocked, although there was no traffic in the early morning. Stopping the car we were waiting at a distance. In our nervousness we could not take a snap. After restless posturing for some time, she pissed like a fountain and gradually retrieved the place. We started the drive slowly. We saw a group of elephants, with others enjoying morning breakfast in roadside bushes.
These magical moments are the reasons which haunt us to come back to the wild again and again. Clean toilet near Reception Centre
Marked difference in forest administration between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu manifested in the cleanliness of toilets near the Reception Centre. Compared to the dirty, broken toilets near Reception in Bandipur National park (almost similar situation in Nagarhole national Park also), the toilets here were very clean, well maintained, managed on payment basis. Similar cleanliness we noticed in our earlier visit to Tholpetty Wild-life Sanctuary in Kerala also. This apparently insignificant but necessary tourist arrangement creates positive impression amongst the visitors. Excellent hospitality in the Forest Rest House
Most remarkable experience worth mentioning was the hospitality of the caretaker, Mr. Krishnan and his team. Here I must mention about the food served during our stay. Usually food arrangement in Forest Houses at Karnataka was very basic. Hence when Krishnanji enquired about lunch we did not show any interest. At night we thought of having it there and now I feel we made the right decision. To feed our hungry stomachs we were served Nutty Chicken Curry, Egg Bhurji, Dal and Sabji with Rice and Fried Roti. It was very tasteful.
We had a nice chat with Krishnanji while taking dinner. He was a part of the Task-force formed to nab the famous bandit, Virappan. He was narrating his experience of forest life in broken English. A pleasant experience indeed.
Same experience we had in morning breakfast also with Idli along with itineraries, Puri-Sabji and Coffee. Altogether it was a nice arrangement at reasonable rates.
Absence of a Souvenir Shop
I could not find a souvenir shop in Mudumalai unlike in other forest entrance. I hope to see it in future. Visit to Elephant Camp
Mudumalai National Park was well-known for its elephant population. Elephant Camp was located at Theppakadu, very near to the Reception Centre. Next day morning after Bus-Safari we decided to visit the nearby Elephant Camp, initially with reluctance. But it was really a worth visit. The camp looked after number of domestic elephants in its custody. It remained open for half an hour in the morning (08.30 to 9 AM) and evening (05.30 to 6 PM) which was their feeding time. Diet was prepared with mixtures of various items like Horse Gram, Jaggeri, Coconut, Rice, Raggi, Sugar Cake etc as per the quantity and ratio mentioned in the exhibited Chart and fed to these majestic giants by the respective mahouts with lot of care and affection. Entire episode depicted the trust and relationship between human and this gigantic animal dating back to thousands of years.
Around mid-noon we commenced our return journey and reached Bangalore before dusk with lot of Memories we will cherish and god willing we will come back soon.
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