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Mudumalai meaning ancient hill, is one of the better known wildlife santuaries in the country. Its location has given it certain advantage. Although located in Tamilnadu, it is situated at a point where the state boundary meets Kerala and Karnatka States. Together with Bandipur Tiger Reserve and Nagarhole National Park on the Karnataka side and Wynaad National Park in Kerala and adjoining forest reserves it is one of the largest protected forest tracts in the country. Another importtant locational factor is the fact that the Eastern and Western ghats mountain chains meet in the region thus enabling it to combine the distinctive characters of both.
The sanctuary is spread over a 1,000m high plateau that nestles cosily on the breast of Nilgiri mountain. The elevation in combination with the "Nilgiri air" has a moderating influence on its climate which can be best described as mild. In the matter of rainfall, while the western section receives the South West monsoon, the eastern parts are influenced by the North East monsoon. If one is set, the other is likely to be dry.
The best time to visit the sanctuary is between Febrauary and April when the days are bright and visibility is good the deciduous plants having shed their leaves. But colour islacking.The Ooty season, between mid April and mid June which is best avoided by serious wildlifers as services are strained to breaking point and accomadation is a problem. Since monsoons are erratic it is difficult to forecast the weather. As the sanctuary can be visited even in wet conditions, weather is no bar.
Most decidous forests on the West and dry deciduous or scrub jungle towards the east are the two main forest type. Besides these, other types of forests occur in pockets thus accounting for the region's botanical bounty which in turn is able to support a wide variety of animal life. The overall picture of the Mudumalai setting is one of long grass amongst teak.
As in the case of most better preserved sanctuaries, Mudumalai also started as a game preserve where hunting was regulated by the Nilgiri Game Association. This body under a different name is now actively involved in preserving the Nilgiri environment. The Mudumalai sanctuary was formed in 1940 covering an area of 62 sq. kms. Now it extends over an area of 330 sq. kms.
The terrain is even with a few hillocks scattered about. An idea of the Mudumalai country can be gained from the 'View Point on Kargudi hill located behind the Kargudi guest house. The most striking physical feature is the Moyar gorge which is approached via the Circular road. Here the Moyar river which is the main water source, after meandering through the sanctuary, leaps into a 300 meter deep gorge, an impressive sight during rainy season. This wild and turbulent river which had through brute forced had carved out the gorge has been tamed and harnessed, and its flow diverted to produce electricity at the Singara and Moyar power houses on the sanctuary's periphery. During severe summers the river stops flowing all together and water collects in stagnant pools causing acute shortage of fresh water. During this stress period which is around April, it sometimes become necessary to close the sanctuary to visitors until the crisis passes.
What to See
Gaur or Indian bison is the symbol of Mudumalai. This largest representative of wild oxen is at its best in the Mudumalai setting which is their home. It is difficult to believe that the population was all but wiped out in the 1968 rinderpest epidemic. They have now re-established themselves in theid old home. Old bulls prefer to retire from herd life and lead secluded lives. A solidary bull is truly a magnificient sight. Wild elephants comes next to bison in the order of importance. Though given to seasonal migrations some remain and it is possible to meet some at all times. Like solitary bull bison there are solitary bull elephants. They tend to be temperamental and aggressive and best given a wide berth.
Tigers, of course, are the piece-de-resistance. As they are elusive and nocturnal, only the lucky few among visitors manage to get a glimpse of this magnificent cat. Another reason being that despite official claims tiger population is small and compatible with other considerations such as availability of prey species etc. But leopards are greater in number and are often seen by the road side at dusk. In spite of the presence of tigers and leopards the role of the pricipalpredator falls on the dholes or wild dogs. The 'red dog' resembles the village dog except that it is uniformly brick red in colour and has a bushy black tail. They are very efficient pack hunters and the most visible of all predators. A pack on a hunt is most an unusual sight.
The odd ones out are bears and hyenas. Sloth bears being nocturnal are seldom met with during the day except during the honey season in April-May and when it is cool and cloudy. Hyenas are more elusive and inhabit the drier parts towards the east.
There is a variety of small animals which merit attention, but do not -civets, mongooses, jungle cats, others, porcupine, giant squirrel possibly the most handsome member of the species in the world, flying squirrel, blacnaped hare and jackals.
A special feature of the bird life is that Mudumalai is a meeting place of birds of the plains nad the hills. Thus explaining its remarkable variety. Dawn is the time of day when birds are most active and at their chirpiest best. river and stream margins are good places to listen to bird choruses. The most notable singers are Shamas, Malabar whistling thrushes, Racket tailed drongos, Grackle or Hill myans. A surprising addition to this list is spotted babblers which have a sweet bur short repertoire. Hornbills, the oddities in the bird world, except for the Gray hornbill which is resident, make brief forays during the fruiting season. Malabar trogon and the Great black woodpecker are among the rare ones.
Reptiles are also well represented. There are several species of poisnous and non-poisnous snakes, including python. Some pythons are so large that they do not hesitate to throw their coils round medium sized deer and bison calf. The Flying lizard is a rare and interesting reptile that is found in the santuary. These smallish lizards do not fly but glide like the flying squirrel with aid of membrances on either side of the body which is carried folded when they are not in "fight". A careless observer might easily mistake one for a falling leaf. The lsit includes Monitor lizards, Turtles and Tortoises and Crocodiles in the remoter parts of the Moyar river.
Animals that are commonly seen by casual visitor are spotted deer, Elephants, Common langur, an occasional Sambhur and Gaur.
Elephant grass patches and jungles tracts along stream margins are best penetrated on the back of a riding elephant. What impresses one most on a first ride is elephant's ability to judge the clearance brtween trees on its path and squeeze through with its burden without bumping into them. Ironically, the only animal that is not safe to get too close to is a solitary wild bull elephant. If the riding elephant happens to be a female the bull elephant will approach to make love, and if it happens to be a male they come forward with aggressive tension.
The main elephant camp at Teppakadu is a great draw with visitors particularly at feeding time a dusk. It is interesting and instructive to see elephants being cared fro, bathed and fed. Calves are full of pranks and are most amusing to watch. Working elephant campus lie scattered depending upon where work is in progress.
Jeep and bus rides are also arranged. It is possible to take private cars on most sanctuary roads on payment of a fee. As a wider area is covered in a shorter time as compared to the more leisurely pace of the elephant, drives are more productive.
There are three forest rest house complexes at Abhyaranyam, a couple of of kilometers from Kargudi, at Teppakadu and Masinagudi on the periphery of the sanctuary. The rest house at Kargudi is usually reserved for officials and VIPs. There are dormitories at Kargudi and Teppakadu. Besides these are some good private rest houses, which provide 2 to 4 star type of accommodation in and around Masinagudi. There are a few watch towers, from which one can observe animals. This form of wild life watching needs considerable patience and can become a bore unless the visitor has real love for nature. Trekking is dangerous because of elephants.
Mudumalai has much to offer to the wild life photographer. Animals are not unduly shy and a 35mm camera with a 200mm telephoto lens should meet most requirements. A medium range zoom lens would be an added advantage. It is better to avoid using slow films. Two interchangeable camera bodies one loaded with fast film and another with slow film is recommended.
The charges and fees levied are very reasonable and in fact cheap by international standards.
It is important that visitors observe a code of conduct. They must remember that they are there to see and be seen, to hear and not be heared. Clothing should be compatible with the jungle setting. Transistor radios, tape recorders and video players are abominations. The mental attitude of the visitor makes or mars a visit. The visitor who does not expect to see every species of animal that inhabits the sanctuary and is prepared to enjoy whatever luck brings his way will never be disappointed.
The sanctuary's headquarters is located at Teppakadu, at the junction of the two roads to Ooty - one the shortcut via the steep Sigur ghat and the other which takes an hour longer via Gudalur serves as the sanctuary's headquarters. Elephant rides bus and car drives are organized from this focal point. But bookings for accommodation at rest houses and elephant rides have to be made at the Mudumalai Wildlife Warden's Office, Mahalingam Buildings, Coonoor Road, Ooty-1. The duty Range Officer at Teppakadu can fill casual vacancies. All transactions are in cash, in Indian rupees.
During the ruling period of J.Jayalalitha as a Chief Minister of Tamilnadu, she renamed Mudumalai Santuary into JJ Santuary (J.Jayalalitha Santuary). But, when M.Karunanidhi came to power it was again renamed as Mudumalai Sanctuary.
A large part of the state being on the coastal edge of the country, the weather is tropical and sultry for most part of the year. The summer months of April, May, June are hottest where temperature ranges to 40 degrees.
December and January are the peak months for Chennai. The temp ranges from 20-22 degrees. To avoid peak rush October is better. The weather in these months is pleasant and easy to bear the humidity.