The Nilgiri often referred to as the Nilgiri Hills, are a range of mountains with at least 24 peaks above 2,000 metres (6,600 ft), in the westernmost part of Tamil Nadu state at the junction of Karnataka and Kerala states in Southern India. They are part of the larger Western Ghats mountain chain making up the south-western edge of the Deccan Plateau. 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. With elevations greater than the general level of the plateau, the range possesses some peaks close to the height of Doddabetta. So today, let us have a look at the Mukurthi National Park in Tamil Nadu.
Mukurthi National Park 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 Western Ghats mountain range of South India. The park was created to protect its Keystone species, the Nilgiri Tahr.
The park is characterised by montane grasslands and scrublands 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. 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.
The entire area of Mukurthi National Park was declared as a Reserve forest in 1886. 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).
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. There are also Leopard, Bonnet macaque, Sambar deer, Barking deer, Mouse Deer, Otter, Jungle cat, Small Indian Civet, Wild dog, Jackal, Black-napped 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, and Nilgiri Pipit. The predatory Black-winged 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 Shieldtails of which Perrotet s Shieldtail 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 Orchids Eria abliflora, Oberonia santapaui, Aerides ringens, Aerides crispa and Coelogyne odoratissima are found on the high west edge of the park. Among the grasslands are a plethora of Brachycorithis iantha, Satyrium nepalense, Habenaria cephalotes, Seidenfia densiflora, Spiranthes sinensis and Liparis atropurpurea.
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.
Beginning in November 2007, the Forest Department has organised trekking programmes inside forest areas of Mukurthi Park with the objective to familiarise the public with their conservation efforts. The places covered by treks are Mudimund, Mukurthi Peak, Western Catchment, Bangitapal, Moyar, Anaikatti, Morganbetta, Avalanchi, Kolleribetta, 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.
This is in short about the Mukurthi National Park. So the next time you are in Tamil Nadu, and you are looking for a cool place to hike to, you know where to head.