December 2018 - Be On The Road | Live your Travel Dream!

Friday, December 07, 2018

Mukurthi National Park: A Treasure Trove of Nature near Ooty

Bhavani Amman Temple - the source of the Bhavani River inside Mukurthi National Park

The birthplace of our peninsular rivers, the Western Ghats is made up of many national parks and wildlife sanctuaries to preserve this sensitive ecosystem. One of the lesser explored national parks in this belt is Mukurthi National Park. Bordering Kerala and part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reseve, Mukurthi National Park covers a good section of the shola grassland and forests, pine forests and shrublands in the Western Ghat mountain range of Tamil Nadu. It is sandwiched between Tamil Nadu’s Mudumalai Tiger Reserve and the ancient rainforests of Silent Valley National Park in Kerala.

Bonnet Macaque near Upper Bhavani backwaters in Mukurthi National Park, Tamil Nadu

Part of the UNESCO world heritage site ecosystem, Mukurthi National Park with its many lake systems, backwaters, tiny streams and rivers and dense shola forests is a treat to the eyes. Add to it the Asian elephants, the Royal Bengal TIger, the Lion Tailed Macaque, Nilgiri Langur, Indian Gaur, Nilgiri Tahr, Leopard, Civet, Wild Dog and many other exotic species of animals, birds, butterflies and flowers and you have a sensational home for biodiversity.

Indian Gaur inside Mukurthi National Park

The best part about this national park is that one can experience all of this at very close quarters during a trek deep in the jungle. Unlike the other national parks that allow jeep safaris, Mukurthi National Park allows only jungle trekking and that too in the company of armed forest guides and naturalists. And while you are on your birdwatching trek or wildlife walks, you can stop and take notice of some of the highest peaks (8000 feet plus) of the Western Ghats, which fall in this national Park.

Valley of flowers like effect seen at Mukurthi National Park, Tamil Nadu

These peaks and the valleys below it are the starting point of the Billithadahalla, Pykara, Kundah, the Mukurthi and the Bhavani rivers. A lot of streams that join Silent Valley’s Bhavani Puzha also originate here. This fragile ecosystem is also home to some of the most colorful butterflies found in the Western Ghats, such as the Blue Admiral, the Indian Red admiral, Indian Cabbage white, Hedge blues, Rainbow trouts and Indian fritialliary. If you are a butterfly lover, you are bound to love this place.

The specialty of this national park lies in the fact that its flora and fauna share a lot of endemism and similarities with that the Himalayan varieties. And the different treks inside this national park will show you that from very close quarters. So if you are a trekker and love mother nature, you will be at home here.

At the Upper Bhavani backwaters in Mukurthi National Park

The sad part is that not a lot of people know about this national park and there is hardly any good reference point on the internet. In a way, it is good for the wildlife as the get to live an undisturbed life and on the other, we get to miss out on a treasure trove of nature.

Cauliflower Shola Forests inside Mukurthi National Park, Tamil Nadu

Tamil Nadu Forest department does offer day trips to the Upper Bhavani backwaters and which give you a fleeting glimpse of the beautiful jungle, but the best way to experience this national park and its rich ecosystem is to stay inside at one of their forest rest houses for a few days and go on daily treks into different parts of this biodiversity hotspot. While this might work out to be a bit on the expensive side, it certainly gives you an unparalleled jungle experience and this is something that is worth every bit of the money that you spend.

There are many trekking options available, but the most famous trekking route is the 52 km and 4 day trip from Bangitapal via Sispara, Pocchiparai and Silent Valley National Park. I have done this route 12 years ago and I have to say that it is simply out of the world. The 18 km trekking trail from the trekking shed to Nadugani via Kengerkundi comes a close second.

Nilgiri Tahr at Mukurthi National Park, Tamil Nadu

If you want a rich experience of Western Ghat’s biodiversity and if you have the time and money to share, book a place inside the Mukurthi National Park,do small treks to prepare your body and then attempt the long downhill trek to Silent Valley National Park for a once in a lifetime kind of experience. The lush greenery and the richness of fauna and flora will certainly bowl you over! And do make sure to take your best photography gear with you as the birds of paradise, the exotic butterflies and the colorful reptiles and amphibians will keep you trigger happy.

Lion Tailed Macaque seen inside Mukurthi National Park, Tamil Nadu

For Bookings:
Reach out to the office of the wildlife warden at Ooty or any of your nearest District Forest offices for guidance.

Wild flowers blooming inside Mukurthi National Park

Nearest Airport:
Coimbatore, about 140 kms away.

Vast stretches of Shola forest inside Mukurthi National Park, Tamil Nadu

Nearest Railhead:
Ooty via the Nilgiri Mountain railway (the Nilgiri toy train) network.

Nearest city: Ooty

Best time of the year:
All months except the rainy season.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Gravityville: A Fairytale Home in the Queen of Hills ‘Ooty’

Straight out of a fairytale - Gravityville, Ooty

One of the best perks of living in Bangalore is its proximity to the rich bio diversity of the Western Ghats. A couple of decades earlier and I would have said fabulous weather and a laidback lifestyle, but we know Bangalore has moved on from there a long time back. Hence, we have to make do with our proximity to the Western Ghats for fabulous weather, lush forests and for a relaxed atmosphere.

The beautiful dining room of Gravityville, Ooty

About 5 to 6 hours (give or take an hour or two for traffic) and we are in the lap of one of the world’s hottest bio diversity hotspots. The hill station of Ooty is one such gorgeous destination in the Western Ghats. The drive through the sunflower fields of Gundlupet, the forests of Bandipur and Mudumalai, the steep 36 hairpin bends and finally the mist covered pine forests is the perfect excuse for a weekend getaway or a road trip from Bangalore. I would certainly take that open road to Ooty in a heartbeat. And that is precisely what I did when I needed a break from the rising pollution levels in Bangalore right after Diwali.

The view from the bedroom at Gravityville, Ooty

My destination at the end of my road trip and my home for 3 days in Ooty was a 1936 colonial home that looked like it had appeared straight out of a fairy tale. The property looked pretty cool and certainly very affordable when I booked it on Airbnb, but boy did it take me by surprise when I actually experienced staying there. I was certainly bowled over by the entire place and would definitely recommend it to families and friends who are looking for a cosy heritage home in Ooty for a relaxed mountain holiday.

Sullivan's Oak bedroom - Gravityville, Ooty

Here is why I think this place is truly special:

1936 quirky British heritage house tastefully designed with modern luxuries

Gravityville property at night

Built in 1936 as an English home on a one acre plot, Gravityville will mesmerize you right from the time you cross the main gate. It is that kind of place that oozes cuteness. Be its lovely manicured garden, its ancient wooden staircase, its tastefully designed rooms with defunct fireplaces and big large windows that overlook the property, its super cute bunk bed style room for kids or its warm lounge and dining area, Gravityville will hold everyone’s attention for the entire duration of the day.

The yellow themed bedroom of Gravityville that is called Sullivan's Oak

Even though the structure of the building is original 1936, new design elements have been recently added. Elements such as color themes, retro styled furniture and quirky signs and sayings make this place truly magical.

The super colorful and bright kid's bedroom at Gravityville, Ooty

The rooms in the Gravityville house are large and come with a Queen sized bed, massive windows, a huge wardrobe, a small lounge area and an attached bathroom. Each room is themed differently. I stayed in a purple themed room called Neelakurinji after the flower that blooms once every 12 years and my friend stayed in a yellow themed room called Sullivan’s Oak. Just the warm colors and the bright sunshine makes you feel relaxed. Modern day luxuries such as a plush bed and pillows, hot showers and room heaters are made available.

Sumptuous food

The purple themed Neelakurinji bedroom of Gravityville, Ooty

A holiday isn’t complete without delicious food. And if you know me, I am a stickler for good local traditional food. And I think I struck gold at Gravityville. Their cook dishes out simple, yet supremely delicious traditional snacks and meals that go perfectly well with relaxed family holidays or a fantastic accompaniment for those long reading sessions in the garden. And since you are in tea country, you are spoilt for choice if you happen to be a tea drinker. In simple words, with the bright sunshine, the pure air, good food and a relaxed atmosphere, it is what I call ‘good life’.

Quiet location with plenty of green space

The lampshade and the green view

Gravityville is not located in the middle of Ooty, but it is not too far away too. It is tucked in a quiet corner close to the Ooty golf grounds. Only a few houses are located close by. Otherwise, there are just forests and views. And in the one acre plot, there is a manicured lawn, a whole lot of flowering plants, a banana passion fruit climber, many flowering hedge plants and two massive eucalyptus trees. So basically, lots of nature and greenery.

Great cost price

Dining room with the sunny view at Gravityville, Ooty

One of the best features of staying at this Gravityville property is its extremely affordable price point. One can book the entire property with its 2 large bedrooms, one small bedroom, one kids room, dining room, lounge and garden all for INR 7000 per night on Gravityville’s Airbnb listing page. This includes all the taxes, though all food and beverages is charged extra. What this means is that a group of 10 to 12 people with family and kids can spend a holiday here for as low an amount as INR 7000 per night, which I think is an absolute steal.

Perfect for small family or friend get togethers and events

Gravityville, a 1936 colonial house in Ooty, Tamil Nadu

This place has the perfect size and location for a cosy and warm family get together or friend birthday party or some of those small gatherings of family and friend. Everything works in its favor – cost dynamics, location, property, food, ease of access from Bangalore and local sightseeing opportunities. Even pets are allowed, but they are not allowed into the main house and you will have to carry your travel kennel.

Great host who is always eager to help

Bright green views from every window at Gravityville, Ooty

Last, but not the least, I definitely have to say a few words about the host Karthik and the property manager Prem. Both of them are extremely hospitable and go out of their way to ensure that you have a swell holiday. I wanted to enter Mukurthi National Park and Karthik guided me in the right direction. I wish I could have taken up on Prem’s offer of visiting Toda villages nearby, but I guess I can keep it for my next trip.

The blue wooden staircase of Gravityville, Ooty

If you are looking for a cosy and relaxed mountain holiday from Bangalore, Ooty’s Gravityville certainly fits all the criteria. I would certainly recommend going there this winter to enjoy a steaming hot cup of coffee in the cold winter mornings while basking in the sun in their garden. For its price point, it is a steal for family and friend groups looking for weekend getaways. I don’t know how long the price point will remain this low, but till it does make merry and enjoy a much deserved vacation in the lap of nature and away from the chaos of the urban concretized jungle that Bangalore is fast turning into!

The very adorable Gravityville colonial property at Ooty, Tamil Nadu

To know more about Gravityville and if you wish to make an online booking, look up their listing on Airbnb either on the web or in the Airbnb app.

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Monday, December 03, 2018

Cauliflower Shola Forests from Mukurthi National Park, Tamil Nadu

Cauliflower Shola Forests inside Mukurthi National Park, Tamil Nadu

In one of my earlier posts, I had spoken about Shola forests and why they are essential for our survival. You should definitely give that article a read if you do not already know about these iconic rainforests of South India. On my recent motorcycling holiday to Ooty, I got the opportunity to explore and experience the remote interiors of the gorgeous Mukurthi National Park. This national park located in the Western Ghats of Tamil Nadu is where the Bhavani and other river systems originate and is made up of pristine forests. And yes, this is also the belt of the famous shola forests.

Vast stretches of Shola forest inside Mukurthi National Park, Tamil Nadu

And not any shola forest, but Cauliflower shola forests at that. You might ask why Cauliflower? Well, because, the top of these forests resemble the vegetables ‘Cauliflower’ and ‘Broccoli’ and hence the name. These Cauliflower rainforests are an absolute treat to the senses.

Cauliflower shola forests inside Mukurthi National Park

If you look at them from far away, you can see the Cauliflower tops and be mesmerized by its sheer density and its lush green vegetation. If you happen to trek inside, you will see a whole new ecosystem that comprises of ferns, moss, grass, shrubs, parasites, climbers and more. It is montane rainforests at its very best. And when you spend significant time next to these forests, you will see tiny stream systems originating at their roots. These tiny stream systems happen to be the humble beginning of the rivers of Peninsular India.

And when you are near the Shola forest ecosystem, you are far away from the chaos of the urban world and the pollution of our cities. Here, you are one with nature. Pure air, the sounds of nature and the most pleasing and refreshing of sights keep you company. You can visit these Cauliflower shola forests either during a jeep drive to Bhavani Amman temple and/or Bhavani Sagar backwaters or you can get real close to them while staying at the super remote forest properties located deep inside the Mukurthi National Park.

This offbeat forest trail will definitely invigorate your senses!

About Mukurthi National Park:
Mukurthi National Park is blessed with a large section of these dense rainforests. And because the national park covers a large area, its shola forests also cover a significant amount of land and that’s what makes this national park even more special. Unlike the other national parks, the Mukurthi National Park is not well promoted by the Tamil Nadu forest department and hence a lot of information is not available online. But, if you somehow make the time and effort and meet the officials at the Deputy Director of Forests office or the office of the wildlife warden in Ooty, you will get a whole bunch of information. The nearest access from Ooty is Avalanche Lake, which comes right after the beautiful Emerald lake. There is a forest check post here who will handle all your ticketing and safari requirements. There are a few other entry points too. For booking forest accommodation, do reach out to the forest office in Ooty. For more information, look up Tamil Nadu forest department page on Mukurthi National Park.

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