Puthuthottam Estate: The Hidden Gem of Anaimalai Tiger Reserve - Be On The Road | Live your Travel Dream!

Monday, July 04, 2022

Puthuthottam Estate: The Hidden Gem of Anaimalai Tiger Reserve

Lion Tailed Macaque in its favourite habitat at Puduthotham Estate, Valparai

It is a 3000 acre estate comprising of tea gardens, coffee plants and native trees that is located just a few kilometres before Valparai, the unsung hill station of India. It is surrounded by the forests of the Anaimalai tiger reserve on all sides and it itself falls in the buffer zone of the Anaimalai Tiger Reserve. It is a great destination to spot diverse wildlife and birdlife and this specifically holds true for the lion tailed macaque, a primate species endemic to this part of the Western Ghats. I am talking about Puthuthottam Estate, the hidden gem of Anaimalai Tiger Reserve.

A Wild Indian Gaur stares just 50 feet from me at Puduthotham Estate, Valparai

Puthuthottam wakes up to its usual jungle music every morning. The Malabar whistling thrush whistles in all its glory. The black rumped flameback woodpecker’s drilling sound reverberates in the woods. And some times, you can even hear the gruff guttural calls of the Great hornbill and may be hear its iconic wing beat and see it as its flies overhead. As you excitedly wake up to these gorgeous sounds and step out of your wildlife bungalow, you can catch sight of the greater racket tailed drongo dancing from tree to tree with its long tail and head crest shining in the golden morning light. Bulbuls, quails and babblers can be seen amongst the coffee plant thicket. And you can spot grey hornbills, barbets, myna, oriental magpie robin and flycatchers if you look a bit higher into the trees.

Black Rumped Flameback woodpecker at Puduthotham Estate, Valparai

As you get ready and go on your morning walk, you can spot even more birds like the beautiful scarlet minivet or the regal crested serpent eagle. As you continue walking amidst the mesmerizing sounds of the jungle, your tea garden trail opens into a panoramic view with mountains in the yonder and dense jungle below. If you opt for the narrow jungle trails, you can come across the wild Indian gaurs grazing in front of you or the Lion tailed macaque, Bonnet macaque or Nilgiri langur dancing from tree to tree, socializing or digging into their favourite food. I did not get to see any wild elephants on any of my wildlife walks, but my forest guide told me that wild elephant sightings are very common between the months of October to December as Puthuthottam falls on their annual migratory route.

As you finish your breakfast, the lion tailed macaques (the special citizens of Puthuthottam) make their appearance. They have just made their way from the forest to Puthuthottam. They will forage for food, socialize and rest in and around Puthuthottam before returning to the forest somewhere between 3 and 4 pm. Puthuthottam is one of the few places in the Western Ghats where the lion tailed macaques have left their pure arboreal existence and can be seen quite frequently on the ground. This is because of the trust that they have built with the people of Puthuthottam. This human-macaque happy co-existence ensures that you see the lion tailed macaque at very close quarters at Puthuthottam. This also means that it is one of the best places to photograph the lion tailed macaque in the wild.

The Alpha Lion Tailed Macaque keeping a keen eye out for threats

When I was staying at Puthuthottam Annexe, I saw lion tailed macaques right in front of my bungalow. I saw them at Woodhouse Mansion, during one of my wildlife walks in the forest and next to the Puthuthottam tea factory as these primates were making their way back to the lion tailed macaque bridge to cross into the forest for the night. Me and my friends tracked a group of 30 plus macaques on multiple occasions and on multiple days. It was a great experience to see their behaviour at such close quarters.

As with other wildlife destinations, the wildlife of Puthuthottam start getting active as the sun starts setting. This is the best time to spot wild Indian gaurs, sambar deer and barking deer. We were extremely lucky to spot a large herd of wild Indian gaurs (about 50 plus gaurs including an alpha male, young males, females and calves). Not only did we see them at a distance of about 50 to 100 feet from us, we were also able to move with them for close to a kilometre before we gave up due to the lack of natural light.

Crested Serpent Eagle at Anaimalai Tiger Reserve, Valparai, Tamil Nadu

We even spotted a slow loris in the tree while returning from our dinner at Woodhouse Mansion. It was our powerful flashlight that reflected its eyes from the dark and upon a closer look, we noticed its revolving head and slow movements.

It doesn’t matter whether you are sitting at your wildlife bungalow, going on a wildlife walk, having breakfast or returning to your bungalow post dinner, you are never too far away from wildlife at Puthuthottam.

Wildlife and Birding Sightings - Puduthotham Estate, Valparai - Page 1

Most visitors go to Puthuthottam to photograph the lion tailed macaque or to see the gaurs and elephants at close quarters. But, there is so much more to Puthuthottam than sighting these three animals. Staying amidst pristine plantations and forests, waking up to the call of the Malabar whistling thrush, feeling super excited at the helicopter rotor whirring sound of the Great Hornbill flapping its wings, experiencing the behaviour of the lion tailed macaque at close quarters, walking along some surreal views, feeling the raw thrill upon seeing a 2500 kilogram gaur at no more than 50 feet from you and when you are on foot and having the entire forest to yourself are some of the reasons why I love Puthuthottam estate, located in the buffer zone of Anaimalai tiger reserve. This hidden gem of Anaimalai holds many surprises. I have visited it three times and each time, I have absolutely loved my time there. And I can’t wait to return in November to see more hornbills and track wild elephants on foot.

Wildlife and Birding Sightings - Puduthotham Estate, Valparai - Page 2

Key things to remember while you are visiting Puthuthottam Estate:

1) Wear sturdy shoes as you will be required to walk long distances

2) Carry sunglasses and a cap/hat to protect you from the mountain sun

3) Carry rain wear or an umbrella with you in case you are visiting during the wet season

4) Leeches are quite common during the wet season. So be prepared for them accordingly

5) Most of the time, it is safe to be with children on these trails. However, do exercise caution for self and others, if there happens to be wild gaurs or elephants in the vicinity

6) Try to stay quiet to get best sightings in wild habitat. If you make a lot of sound, the animals might go to some other place or at worst case, they can chase you

7) Carry some trail mix, energy bars and water with you when going on these trails

8) Carry a flashlight with you if you like early morning or late evening walks

Best season to visit:

Puthuthottam estate is open all year round and each season will allow you to see the forest and its wildlife in a new light.

October to December is excellent for spotting wild elephants and for great hornbills.

Puduthotham's lion tailed macaques stare into my camera lens

How to reach there:

The nearest airport would be Coimbatore international airport. It is located about 111 kms from Puthuthottam estate and it should take you close to 3 and a half hours to reach here.

The nearest railway station would be Pollachi Junction. It is located about 63 kms or 2 hours away.

The nearest bus station would be Valparai. If your bus happens to be coming from Pollachi or Coimbatore, you can get down at Puthuthottam Estate located just before Valparai. If you are traveling from Kerala, you can get down at Valparai and take a cab or bus to reach Puthuthottam, about 5 kms away.

Where to stay:

Only the guests of Briar tea bungalows are allowed into Puthuthottam Estate as it happens to be a private property owned by the Woodbriar Group.

If you want the best wildlife experience, I would recommend that you stay at the 100 year old Puthuthottam Annexe bungalow that is located right in the middle of the Puthuthottam estate and is regularly visited by birds and wild citizens.

If Puthuthottam Annexe is not your kind of property, you can stay at any of the other properties belonging to Briar Tea Bungalows and plan morning walks here.

An early morning walk through the lush green Puduthotham Estate near Valparai

Where to eat:

If you are staying at Puthuthottam Annexe, your meals would be at the Woodhouse Mansion. The menu and meal times would be mutually agreed upon in advance based on the timings of your wildlife walks and your food preferences.

If you are staying at any of the other properties of Briar Tea Bungalows, you might have hot or cold beverages at Woodhouse Mansion, but your meals would be at your place of stay.

Attractions in Puthuthottam Estate:

1) Tea Estates: The main attraction of Puthuthottam is its sprawling tea gardens, its plantation walks and its many panoramic view points.

2) Coffee Estates: In addition to tea garden, Puthuthottam is also home to coffee estates, though it is on a much smaller scale when compared to the tea gardens.

3) Forest Stretches: In between its tea and coffee estates, Puthuthottam has many stretches of native forest that attract the wild visitors.

4) Birdwatching: Great hornbill, grey hornbill, black rumped flameback woodpecker, crested serpent eagle, malabar whistling thrush, scarlet minivet, jungle babbler, hill myna, bulbul, barbet and many other species of birds can be spotted here.

5) Wildlife: Lion tailed macaques, elephants, gaurs, Malabar giant squirrels, sambar deer, barking deer, Nilgiri langurs, Bonnet macaques and many other wildlife can be seen here.

6) 184 year old Woodhouse Mansion: One of the earliest bungalows in Valparai, time stands still at Woodhouse Mansion. Lion Tailed Macaques also drop in here every day.

7) 100 year old Puthuthottam Annexe: It used to be the tea manager’s bungalows in its hey days. Today, it is the only place to stay at Puthuthottam Estate for tourists. It is home to 2 bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen and a balcony. And it is located right in the middle of tea gardens, coffee estates and tropical forests.

A Large herd of Wild Indian gaur just a few 100 feet away from Puduthotham Annexe property, Valparai

Other nearby tourist attractions:

1) Nallamudi Poonjolai: A fabulous view point tucked within the Valparai hills and inside the Anaimalai Tiger Reserve

2) Sholayar Dam: Asia’s 2nd deepest dam nestled in the pristine Anaimalai hills of Tamil Nadu

3) Athirapally Falls: The Niagara falls of Kerala

4) Vazhachal Falls: A tropical forest waterfall located near Athirapally falls

5) Vazhachal Forest: A fresh lease of oxygen in Kerala

6) Hike to Nadumalai River: A pristine picnic spot surrounded by tea estates and nature

7) Tea Estates of Valparai: For a rich tea estate and factory experience along with surreal views

8) Poringalkuthu Reservoir: A remote water body nestled in the tropical rainforests of Vazhachal, Kerala

9) Aliyar Dam: A large dam just before the climb to Valparai begins from Pollachi

10) Monkey Falls: A beautiful waterfall located on the ghat road from Pollachi to Valparai

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