The forests in the Mudumalai area were once in the care of the Trimalapad religious sect of the Nilambar temple who leased them to merchants with a lust for the forests' rich timber. In 1862, a 99-year lease was awarded to the Tamil Nadu state government at a yearly charge of Rs. 3,500. Mudumalai was conceded to the government on sole ownership basis in 1914. In 1927, it became a reserve forest. A 23 sq. km. patch was recognised as a wildlife sanctuary in 1940. During World War II, the interiors of the forest were used as a camp to train soldiers to be sent to Burma. It was as late as 1977 before an area of 321 sq. km. including Mudumalai and some parts of the Sigur hills fell within the purview of the sanctuary.
The Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve encompasses Bandipur, Nagarahole and Wynaad in the bordering states of Karnataka and Kerala respectively, besides the Mudumalai Sanctuary. Mudumalai became a region of conflict with each of the three states-Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu - claiming the area within their respective geographical boundaries.
In 2008, it was declared as a tiger reserve.
Mudumalai is located at the foot of the Nilgiri hills or Blue Mountains, in Tamil Nadu. The Bandipur National Park in the North and the Wynaad Wildlife Sanctuary in the West adjoin Mudumalai, which lies at lower elevations ranging from 350-1,250 m. Its varied terrain consists of hills, valleys, ravines, flats and swampland. The highest point is at Markundarai Betta 1,266 m. above sea level. Mudumalai receives more rain than Bandipur and many small streams drain the park. Thick forests are found here with heavy undergrowth. The Moyar river, which is perennial, and also the most important water source runs north to south across the area while its tributaries flow in the east; and the Bennehole flows in the west.
A gradient in rainfall leads to a varied distribution of flora. Grasslands, semi-evergreen forests, moist and dry deciduous forests and dry thorn forests are some of the types of vegetation that exist here. Wet bamboo along the shady region and riverside forests lend great character and diversity to the area's botanical inheritance.
Terminalia crenulata and Shorea roxburgi predominate in the North while the southern tip boasts of the strong Tectona grandis. The flame of the forest, the Indian silk cotton tree and the Indian coral tree add a dash of orange, yellow and red to the green tones of the forest. Terminalia bellerica flowers gift honey-like odours to the wind. Near the Sigur range, short straggly trees like the Ziziphus and Acaciasp. are found. Acacia sundra denotes the interception of deciduous and thorn forests.
Different grass species flourish demonstrating secondary succession after forest fires. Along the waterways, Mangifera indica, Terminalia arjuna, Syzygium cumuni, Dalbergia latifolia and Bambusa arundinacea are observed. Schleichera oleosa with bright red leaves, Ficus and Pongamia galabra also prefer the periphery of waterbodies. One of the most interesting features of the vegetation in Mudumalai is its phenology, the infallible recurrence of its natural composition with cyclic changes in climate. Flowering (look out for the bamboo flowering) predominantly occurs in the summer, combined with the shedding of leaves to avoid excessive water loss. Sprouting of fresh, tender leaves and fruiting may begin during the monsoons.
Excessive cattle grazing has resulted in the growth of weeds like lantana that hinder the natural regeneration process of the forests.
The sanctuary is mainly an elephant preserve, with over 600 pachyderms found here, the largest concentration of elephants in India. Local migrations do occur but about 400 individuals exist in the reserve at any given time. They can be found near the river in summer and during the rains are distributed throughout the sanctuary.
Leopards are more predominant than tigers among the carnivores and jackals too can be seen on the hunt for smaller animals. Packs of dholes or wild dogs are also operational in Mudumalai, largely preying on deer. The sloth bear is drawn to fruit, honey and termites, while the small mouse deer or the Indian chevrotain seek hideouts in the grasses or small bushes. Chital, sambar, gaur, and wild pig are the other animals seen. The reticent gaur is a survivor that has successfully overcome the 1968 rinderpest epidemic. Calves can be seen in large clusters in the summer.
Mangalapatti, the thorny eastern end of Mudumalai, is populated with the blackbuck but in the heart of the forest there are only isolated sightings. Areas with thick vegetation cover in the moist deciduous regions host a profusion of barking deer or muntjac. The chausingha or the four-horned antelope is seen in dry lands between the deciduous forests and the areas serrated with profuse growth of scrub. Jungle cats, porcupine, mongoose and civet are other residents.
Snakes and lizards camouflage themselves well in the scrub and the common monitor is often seen on the roads. Bonnet macaques help disperse fruit seeds and can be seen on frivolous excursions along the riverside and near fruiting trees. The giant squirrel can be spotted on tall trees in the forested areas. Otters and marsh crocodiles, both of which hunt fish, populate the Moyar River. Frog sounds are part of the jungle chorus during the monsoons.
Over 300 bird species of birds have been recorded in Mudumalai. Woodland species predominate as in the nearby Bandipur Sanctuary. Large impressive birds like the Malabar Grey Hornbill and the White-bellied Woodpecker with its striking crimson chest are common sights. The loud drumming of the woodpecker as it hammers out insects from tree barks is often heard. The Racket-tailed Drongo, White-bellied Drongo and the Grey Drongo are the morning songbirds.
The typical summer sounds are of barbets and grackles (Hill Mynas), parakeets and cuckoos as they excitedly savour the fruit of the gulmavu. The pretty Malabar Trogon is also seen around in the heavily wooded area. Dry terrain and an open canopy is the preferred dwelling of the Changeable Hawk Eagle. The Crested Serpent Eagle can be seen atop tall bare trees surveying the area for prey. Vultures and owls also roam these skies. The small Collared Scops Owl generally remains well camouflaged amidst deadwood and rotten boughs, although its characteristic call may be heard loud and clear.
Elephants can be seen on any of their migratory routes, for example, the stretch between Masinagudi and Singara.
Most animals quench their thirst at the Moyar river and can be seen either solitary or in large numbers.
The highway from Udhagamandalam to Mysore runs parallel to the Moyar for a while. Crocodiles, otters and amphibians are found in the waters or basking on the banks. Blackbuck can be sighted in Mangalapatti, the eastern end of the sanctuary.
Machans and saltlicks overlooking waterholes are good spots to station oneself at and view wildlife unobserved. The Moyar Falls are breathtaking. From an observation post you can see water gushing down from a height of more than 150 m. There are two additional waterfalls on the Sigur range to the east.
Theppakadu Elephant Camp is an artificial enclosure where elephants are reared in captivity and trained to carry logs etc. This camp is believed to be the largest such endeavour in the country. Quite a contrast from the wild pachyderms in the sanctuary!
You can combine a visit to Mudumalai with trips to neighbouring Bandipur, Nagarahole and Wynaad.
Regard the tusker with respect and not fear. And remember that you are a guest in its home. Behave like one. Do not throw garbage around or disturb the peace.
Special clothing would not be necessary but you could carry some light woollens along if you visit in winter.
Enquiries regarding accommodation and bookings can be made at the Wildlife Warden's office in Ooty.
Wildlife Warden, Mudumalai Sanctuary,Coonoor Road, Ooty,Tamil Nadu. Tel.: 0423-44098.
Field Research Station, Indian Institute of Science,Masinagudi, Nilgiri – 643 223.
The area records equable climes with summer temperatures at a moderate 290C and reasonable winters at 100C lower. The rainfall averages around 700 mm. per year. The southwestern winds bring an abundance of rain lasting from April to June. October and November also receive some rain. December to June is the ideal season to be at Mudumalai. In the summers, the sanctuary is closed. Early mornings and the afternoons, when official tours are usually arranged, ensure diverse sightings.
Sylvan Lodge: Beautiful bungalows are available on the banks of the Moyar river in Theppakadu. Meals are an affordable Rs.25. Bookings can be made at the Wildlife Warden's Office in Ooty. The maximum period of stay allowed is one night. However, it is possible to get permission to stay longer during off-season.
Hotel Tamil Nadu: This is a convenient option since it is located within the park itself and offers large, clean, spartan rooms with beds for a family of four and also has dormitory facilities. There is a restaurant inside, but alcohol is not served. Advance bookings can be made at the TTDC office in Ooty. One can book for a week's stay. Tel.: 0423-56249.
Bamboo Banks: One of the oldest private lodges, it is about 1.5 km. from Masinagudi. Advance booking is required. Two rooms and four cottages are on offer. Single rooms are not available. The food is delicious and is served outdoors. Tel.: 0423-56222.
Forest Hills Guesthouse: Large, clean rooms are offered with a homely touch. It is advisable to make reservations in advance. Meals cost extra. Tel.: 0423-56216.
Monarch Safari Park, Bokkapuram, Masinagudi: This is a rustic, luxury option with fourteen rooms on offer. The cottages are on stilts or in machans. The open-air restaurant is also designed on stilts. Safari trips, riding, cycling, trekking, golf, indoor games and a meditation centre are some of the facilities offered. Tel.: 0423-56250/56343/56326.
Chital Walk (Jungle Trail Lodge): Set deep in the forest, the rooms have an old-world charm about them. An ecologically conscious establishment, it is an ideal place to stay in, if it suits your budget. Advance reservations are advisable. Tel.: 0423-56256.
By Air: Coimbatore, 160 km. away is the closest airport.
By Rail: Udhagamandalam or Ooty at a distance of 64 km. is the nearest railhead.
By Road: Gudalur, 16 km. away from the reserve, is the nearest town. Small government minibuses choose the short route along the Sighur Ghat road and negotiate the steep climbs and treacherous bends in one and a half hours flat. Larger vehicles prefer the route from Gudalur to the reserve, which takes an hour longer. Private buses or Cheran Transport buses can be taken from Ooty to Masinagudi. Buses from Ooty to Hassan, Mysore or Bangalore, with a stop at Theppakadu, can be easily flagged down. Masinagudi is seven kilometres away from Theppakkadu. Buses run every couple of hours between the two points. Jeeps can also be shared or hired.
Within the reserve: Private vehicles and tramping on foot are both disallowed in the sanctuary. The sanctuary organises its own jeeps and buses that follow pre-chartered courses. The trips escort you about 15 km. into the forest. These tours leave twice a day, in the mornings and in the afternoons.
Elephant rides are another exciting possibility. The elephants can be reserved at the Wildlife Warden's office or at the Reception Centre at Theppakadu.