Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary - Ooty

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Land of the ancients, 'old hills' is what Mudumalai literally translates into. It is one of the first wildlife sanctuaries in the country and ranks among the top in the visual beauty of its changing seasons. In summer, the deciduous trees shed their green leaves and adorn a floral garb. With the arrival of the monsoons, fruits and tender greens take their place. Mudumalai is actually made up of a number of old forest shooting blocks for big game namely Kargudi, Theppakkadu and Masinagudi. Today they are a safe refuge for the largest land mammal on earth, the elephant. Gaur are also found in large numbers. Both cross over to and from Bandipur and large herds are easily seen. Splendid specimens of chital and sambar complete the picture of paradise in which the tiger also roams.

History:

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.

Habitant:

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.

Vegetation/Flora

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.

Place to See:

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!

Best season

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.

Mudumalai is organized with well-planned paths and is best explored by jeep or open vans. Several trails skirt waterholes where exciting animal activity can be watched.