Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Ooty - Places of Interest - VI

Mukurthi National Park
Mukurthi National Park

Mukurthi National Park
12 December 2001
 • Total
78.46 km2 (30.29 sq mi)
2,629 m (8,625 ft)
 • Official
Nearest city
Keystone species
Nilgiri Tahr
the Tamil Nadu state animal
6,330 millimeters (249 in)
Best Time
February to May and September to November
9:00 am to 5:30 pm (Tuesday closed)
Avg. summer temperature
35 °C (95 °F)
Avg. winter temperature
0 °C (32 °F)

Mukurthi National Park (MNP) is a 78.46 km² protected area located in the western corner of the Nilgiris Plateau west of Ootacamund hill station in the northwest corner of Tamil Nadu state in the Ghats mountain range of South India. The park was created to protect its Keystone species, the Nilgiri Tahr.
The park is characterized by montane grasslands and shrub lands interspersed with sholas in a high altitude area of high rainfall, near-freezing temperatures and high winds. It is home to an array of endangered wildlife, including Royal Bengal Tiger and Asian Elephant, but its main mammal attraction is the Nilgiri Tahr. The park was previously known as Nilgiri Tahr National Park.

The park is a part of Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, India's first International Biosphere Reserve. As part of the Western Ghats, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1 July 2012.
Mukurthi National Park is a 78.46 km² protected area located in the south-eastern corner of the Nilgiris Plateau west of Ooty.
A fascinating feature of the Mukkurthi National Park is its endemism and relationship with the Himalayan flora and fauna. The entire tract included in the National Park bears natural vegetation typical of higher altitudes of South India, comprising of rolling grassy downs, interspersed with temperate shoals occupying depressions and valleys. The landscape is extremely picturesque and should be zealously protected and preserved to maintain the primeval beauty and grandeur of the tract.

The natural vegetation consists of vast stretches of grasslands interspersed with numerous isolated, compact sharply defined and small woodland “Shoals’. Only two storeys of tree layers are seen. Lianas are quite common, Epiphytes are abundant and consists mostly of lichens, ferns, bryophytes and various orchids. Several plants native to Nilgiris plateau have their nearest relatives in the Himalayas. The Rhododendrons, Black berries, Raspberries etc. are not found anywhere in peninsular India, between the Nilgiris and the Himalayas. The average elevation is around 2400 mt. Above MSL. Kollaribetta is the highest point (2630 mt.). Other major peaks are Mukkurthi (2556 mt.) and Nilgiris (2477 mt.) The general slope of the area is towards the east and the south. The area is drained by innumerable beautiful and perennial little streams. The vast majority of the streams eventually fall into the Bhavani Puzha. The Kundha Range of hills forms the western edge of the Nilgiris Plateau which rises steeply from Silent valley, the Nilambur valley and the Ouchterlony valley and continues as an unbroken wall.
Native hill tribe communities including the Toda people have harvested firewood from the sholas and grazed their animals including the Hill Buffalo for centuries.
Indiscriminate felling of the sholas started with the establishment of British settlements in Ootacamund, Coonoor and Wellington in the early 19th century.
Beginning in 1841 authorities issued contracts to bidders to fell wood from specific sholas in a 'timber conservancy' program. In 1868 James Breeds, Commissioner of the Hills wrote: "...unless conservancy is taken in hand and organized under some efficient system under the control of an experienced officer, the destruction of the sholas is but a question of time."
Bangitappal (Cannabis tableland), at the southwest end of the park at the confluence of two streams at the head of the Sispara Pass, used to be a halting place on the old Sispara ghat road from Kozhikode to Ooty, constructed in 1832. This pass provided a short land route for postal runners from Ooty to the West Coast in the 19th century and was used for smuggling of cannabis, tobacco and later salt. A forest rest house and a trekkers shed built there in 1930 are now used by park staff and visiting researchers.

Between 1840 and 1856 plantations of several non-native tree species were introduced to the area to satisfy the fuel-wood demand. These included 4 Wattle species (Black Wattle, Silver Wattle, Green Wattle and Blackwood), Eucalyptus, Cyprus, Indian Long leaf Pine and Thorny Gorse. Eucalyptus became the preferred plantation tree.
Unlike the others, the wattles spread by root suckers to quickly cover large areas of native grasslands, including the Mukurthi Hills, and was declared a pest "useful for covering wastelands." Some Black Wattle plantations were maintained for the leather industry, as their bark yielded tannin.

In 1882 Inspector General of Forests, Dietrich Brandis "recommended bringing the present 1,200 acres (4.9 km2) of plantation up to 5,000 acres (20 km2) to create enormous forest blocks "...which would make any remaining sholas redundant forest resources." The entire area of MNP was declared as a Reserve forest in 1886.
In 1920 it was suggested that 10 – 15 acre plots in the Kundah Hills including the present park area, "be planted up each year in places where sholas have almost or quite disappeared, the most suitable species probably being Acacia dealbata (Silver Wattle)", thus replacing highly diverse endemic and stable ecosystems with an exotic monoculture supporting little animal diversity.

The area was declared as a wildlife sanctuary on 3 August 1982 and upgraded to a National Park on 15 October 1990 in order to protect the Nilgiri Tahr.
The park has a harsh environment with annual rainfall varying from 2010 mm to 6330 mm (79–249 inches), night temperature sometimes below freezing in the winter and wind speeds ranging up to 120 km/h (75 mph).  
Mukurthi National Park has an elongated crescent shape facing to the west between 11°10' to 11°22' N and 76°26' to 76°34' E. It is bordered on the west by Nilambur South Forest Division in Kerala, to the northwest by Gudalur Forest Division, to the northeast, east and southeast by Nilgiri South Forest Division and to the south by Mannarghat Forest Division, Kerala. At its southwest tip the peaks of this park straddle the northeast corner of Silent Valley National Park of Kerala.

On the Nilgiri Plateau, the Kundah range of the Nilgiri hills is a ridge on the south-western side of Mukurthi National Park bordering Kerala. The Tamil Nadu/Kerala border here is 39 km long. The park generally slopes towards the east and south receiving water from the Billithadahalla, Pykara and Kundah rivers, and the Upper Bhavani and Mukurthi reservoirs which flow through the park. Also several perennial streams originate in the park, most of which drain into the Bhavani Puzha.
Park elevation varies from 1,500 m (4,900 ft) to 2,629 m (8,625 ft), with Kollaribetta 2,629 m (8,625 ft), Mukurthi 2,554 m (8,379 ft), and Nilgiri 2,476 m (8,123 ft) being the highest peaks. With elevations greater than the general level of the plateau, the range possesses some peaks close to the height of Doddabetta, just east of Ooty.

Avalanche hill of this range has twin-peaks of the Kudikkadu (height: 2,590 metres (8,497 ft)) and the Kollaribetta. Derbetta (or Bear Hill) (height: 2,531 metres (8,304 ft)) and Kolibetta (height: 2,494 metres (8,182 ft)), south of the Ouchterlony valley, are a continuation of the Kundah range.
Pichalbetta (height: 2,544 metres (8,346 ft)), Nilgiri Peak and Mukurthi Peak are the important heights of this area. Though they are not the highest hills in the Nilgiris, these 3 hills stand out in relation to the generally uniform level of this area.

Important peaks in the southwest Sispara/Bangitappal part of the park are Sispara (height: 2,206 metres (7,238 ft)) Anginda (height: 2,383 metres (7,818 ft)), Nadugani (height: 2,320 metres (7,612 ft)) and Gulkal (height: 2,468 metres (8,097 ft)).
The park has a harsh environment with annual rainfall varying from 2010 mm to 6330 mm (79–249 inches), night temperature sometimes below freezing in the winter and wind speeds ranging up to 120 km/h (75 mph).

Several threatened mammal species live here including Nilgiri Tahr, Indian elephant, Bengal tiger, Nilgiri Marten, Nilgiri langur and Bonhote's Mouse. Mukurthi is near the northern end of the range of the Nilgiri Tahr. A 3-day census in March 2007 estimated 200 Tahrs in the park including 60 young ones sighted. There are also Leopard, Bonnet macaque, Sambar deer, Barking deer, Deer, Otter, Jungle cat, Small Indian Civet, Wild dog, Jackal, Black-naped Hare, Shrew, Malabar Spiny Dormouse and Soft-furred Rat.

Avifauna consists mostly of hill birds including the threatened Laughing thrush, Whistling Thrush, Woodcock, Wood Pigeon, Black-and-orange Flycatcher, Nilgiri Flycatcher, Grey Headed Flycatcher Black Bulbul, White-eye, Nilgiri Pipit. The predatory Kite, Kestrel and Black Eagle may be seen in the grasslands.

The area is home to many species of reptiles such as the Geckos Dwarf Gecko spp. and Nilgiri Salea Salea horsfieldii, the snakes Horseshoe Pit Viper, Olivaceaous Keelback, Oligodon taeniolatus, Oligodon venustus, Bronze-headed Vine Snake and several Shield tails of which Perrotet's Shield tail is most common. Some amphibians here are the Common Indian Toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus), Bufo beddomii, Bufo microtympanum and many species of Tree Frogs including Micrixalus opisthorhodus and Rana limnocharis.

Butterflies with Himalayan affinity like the Blue Admiral, Indian Red Admiral, Indian Fritillary, Indian Cabbage white and Hedge blues are seen here. Some streams had been stocked with exotic Rainbow Trout in the past.
The area is home to numerous endemic plants particularly of the scapigerous annual Impatiens plants. Alchemilla indica and Hedyotis verticillaris are found only within or on the fringes of this park.
Rhododendrons, Rhododendron arboreum the national flower of Nepal or Rhododendron nilagiricum, are seen throughout the grasslands and very large specimens are conspicuous around many sholas.

Other common shola trees and shrubs among the 58 species found here include Syzygium calophyllifolium, Daphiphyllum neilgherrense, Cinnamomum wightii, Vaccinium leschenaulti, Mahonia leschenaulti, Litsea sp., Lasianthes sp., Psychotria sp. and Michelia nilagirica.

Wild Yellow Raspberries grow on the edge of sholas and in disturbed soil along trails and roads. The Edges of most sholas are lined with the shrubs: Gaultheria fragrantissima, Rhodomyrtus tomentosa, Rubus sp., Bergeris tinctoria, Eurya nitida, Strobilanthes sp., and Helichrysum sp.

The natural habitats of the park have been much disturbed by previously easy motor vehicle access through four different entry points and extensive commercial planting and natural spreading of non-native eucalyptus and wattle (Acacia dealbata, Acacia mearnsii and other species). In addition there is one large, and several smaller hydro-electric impoundments in the area.

Only 20% of the park area has more than a 50% chance of being used by Tahr. If old commercial forests are removed and restored to their original grassland habitat, usable Tahr habitat would increase to 60%.
Mukurthi National Park is managed by the Tamil Nadu Department of Forestry with the main objective to conserve the endangered shola-grassland ecosystem and its endemic flora and fauna. The department operates an effective year round anti-poaching program with gun- and radio-equipped foot patrols operating from anti-poaching camps at Bangitappal, Nadugani, Western Catchment and Mukurthi Fishing Hut.
Prevention and control of destructive wildfire is achieved through creation of artificial firebreaks in the form of hand-dug fire lines along ridges and cleared trek paths. Local fire watchers are employed for early detection and control during the dangerous December to April fire season. Invasive imported plant species, especially wattle, Scotch broom and gorse are controlled and eliminated from the park through a phased, long-term program focused on restoration of the original biota.
Tourism is not a management objective, but the Forest Department does periodically conduct nature awareness and conservation programs for the public and some special interest groups through controlled visits to the Western Catchment and Avalanche areas of the park.
The Forest Department seeks to identify and acquire contiguous undisturbed crucial habitat areas for future inclusion in the park.
Visitor information
Casual tourism and commercial tour operation is not permitted and tourist facilities are not available in the park. Special interest groups are sometimes permitted for supervised educational programs, trekking and camping. There are forest rest houses at Bangitappal, Avalanche, Pykara and some unfurnished trekking sheds.
A mostly downhill three-, four- or five-day trek through Mukurthi and Silent Valley National Parks starts by driving 75 km from Udhagamandalam (Ooty) in 4 hours and a 1 km walk to overnight at Bangitappal. Walk 24 km through Mukurthi Park in 9 hours to overnight at Walakkad or overnight half-way at the new trekker’s bungalow at Sispara peak then continue 12 km steep downhill the next day to Walakkad. Walk 18 km in 7 hours to overnight at Poochipara. Walk 8 km in 3 hours to Sairandhiri in Silent Valley, and then take a park van out or overnight at Sairandhiri and trek 23 km to Mukkali village. A forest guide-cum-cook accompanies park visitors during all treks. In some cases the guide may instruct visitors to bend down to drink straight from a stream like a deer and prohibit bathing in a stream so the silt at the bottom is not disturbed and because human body odour might affect the animals.
Beginning in November 2007, the Forest Department has organised trekking programmes inside forest areas of Mukurthi Park with the objective to familiarize the public with their conservation efforts. The places covered by treks are Mudimund, Mukurthi Peak, Western Catchment, Bangitappal, Moyar, Anaikatti, Morganbetta, Avalanchi, Kollaribetta, Sispara and Silent Valley. Trek distances vary between 8 km. and 60 km. Each group comprises up to 20 members. Guides, instructors, cooks, porters, tents and food are provided by the department. Trekkers have to bring rucksacks and sleeping bags. Application for trekking permits can be made to the Range officer.
The nearest airport is Coimbatore (140 km away). The nearest railway station is Udhagamandalam (45 km away). The best seasons are February to May and September to November.
Mukkurthi National Park is approachable through 4 different routes.
Avalanchi is located 30 km from Ooty. From Avalanchi, Upper Bhavani is reached by road (25 km), from where the sanctuary area begins after Upper Bhavani Dam.
From Anumapuram near Pykara which is 24 kms from Ooty in the Ooty – Gudalur – Mysore Road and then reaching Porthimund Dam. 
The third entry point for Nilgiris Peak area is near T.R.Bazaar in the Ooty – Gudalur – Mysore road via Terrace estate road reaching Mudimund (40 km).
The fourth entry point is via, Parsons Valley road, which leads to Western Catchment II and III. Due to the tough terrain and difficult accessibility of the area, biotic interference is limited.
Trekking along the prescribed trek routes and vehicle drives in the existing roads are the activities permitted.
Facilities inside the park 
For adventure seekers, there are trek routes and camping facilities. Trekking is enjoyable in Parson's valley, Porthimund and Pykara as the areas have a pleasant climate and beautiful scenery. Mukurthi Lake is great for trout fishing. Permission must be acquired from the Director, Fisheries Department, Udhagai. There is a trek from the picturesque Parson's Valley to Porthimund, a village lying deep in the hills. One could pitch a tent here for the night, before proceeding to Mukurthi. There is a forest bungalow here for stay. From Mukurthi, you can trek north to the Pandiar Hills, and pitch a tent for the night. Then to the Pykara Falls, along the Pykara Lake. For trekking details contact Nilgiris Trekking Association, 31 D, Bank Road, Ooty.
The park is open on all days from 9.00 am to 5.30 pm except Tuesdays. 
Entry Fee : below five years - Free, Children above five years and below 12 years - Rs.10.00, School Children (Age 5 to 12 years) from Government and aided Schools - Rs.2.00, School Children from Private Schools (Age 5 to 12 years) - Rs.10.00. Adult : 15.00.
Still Camera: Rs.25, Handy Camera / Video Camera - Rs.150, Charges for documentary educational films using Handy camera and Video Camera - Rs.2000.
Parking vehicle charges: Heavy vehicle: No Fee, Motor car/van Rs. 15.00; Motor Cycle: Rs. 5
Trekking Routes
1.    Bangitappal – Sispara – 16 Km
2.    Bangitappal – Sispara – Poochipara – Silent Valley – 52 Km
3.    Devabetta – Mukkurthi Peak – 12 Km – Fishinghut (halt) – 8 Km
4.    Kolarikutta – Bangitappal – 20 Km (halt)
5.    Western Catchment – Bangitappal – 14 Km
6.    Trekking Shed – Kangerkundi – Nadugani – 18 Km
There are quite a few accommodation options in Mudumalai National Park. Tamil Nadu Forest Department maintains cottages in different parts of the park. Apart from that, one can also find few private guest houses and jungle resorts on the outskirts of the park. Tariffs of the private resorts include tour of the jungle. Almost all hotels, resorts and camps provide budget or mid-range stay.
Forest Rest Houses: Bangi Tapal, Upper Bhavani (EB), Mukurthi Fishing Hut
Contact Details
Wildlife Warden
Mudumalai and Mukurthi National Parks and Sanctuary,
Mount Stuart Hill, Ooty – 643001
The Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu, India 
Ph: 0423-2444098
Where to Eat
There are limited eating options in Mukurthi National Park. Caretakers of cottages maintained by forest department serve basic meal to visitors. However, it is advisable for tourists to carry food hampers and water stock along while visiting the park.

Mukurthi National Park can be visited all through the year. Best time to Visit this park will be from February to May and September to November.