The Mukurthi National Park covers an area of about 80 sq kms and is located in the state of Tamil Nadu. Created to protect the keystone species, Nilgiri Tahr, the park remains under the strict surveillance of the forest department and is probably one of the best maintained parks in the region.
Last year in June, we managed to get permission to trek to the Mukurthi Peak (2554 mts) and as expected, the trek was nothing short of a fantastic experience. The group of 8 boarded the Airavat Volvo bus at the Shantinagar Bus Station in Bangalore at around 11 pm and reached Ooty at the break of dawn the next morning after a comfortable 6 hour bus journey. The morning at the Ooty bus stand was a relief in more senses than one. We had finally gotten away from the unbearable heat of Bangalore city and the weather in the hills was beautiful. The piping hot cups of tea we had while waiting for our guide shook the sleepiness out of the group and we were all set to get on with our journey to the national park. As if on cue, Sarvanan, our guide for the next two days emerged out of the mist with the jeeps that were going to take us further. The distance from the Ooty bus stand to the fishing hut inside the national park was about 30 kms through some uneven rocky mountain routes.
The first sight of the fishing hut was all that was needed to send our excitement shooting sky high. The green coloured hut, nestled cozily within the Shola forests looked beautiful and welcoming. Meeting James, the affable caretaker and cook at the fishing hut only made the feeling better. After spending some time exploring the immediate surroundings of the fishing hut, we were treated to a simple but delicious dinner by James and his team. We had dinner around the camp fire and spent some time chatting under the stunning starry sky. A little later, we decided to call it a night as we had an early morning waiting for us. We planned to start the trek to the peak before sunrise so that we could beat some of the late morning heat during the trek up.
Early next morning, not before dawn, but early nevertheless, we were off on the trek. Sarvanan, our guide informed us that it would take us about 4 hours to get to the peak. James joined us for the initial part of the trek armed with a machete, he would help clear the route as and when there was a blockade. The entire first hour of the trek was on a trail through the dense Shola forest with short stretches riddled with low hanging tangled branches and if James hadn’t been clearing the way with his machete, we wouldn’t have been able to make our way through. The walk on this trail was not that difficult though as the low slung branches and the decently thick canopy directly above us created a shaded path. After the initial part, the trail opened into grasslands and then moved into a small patch of fir-tree forest. This stretch of the trek was made interesting by the fact that now we could see the mountains and the Mukurthi peak. The name ‘Mukurthi’ now seemed apt! The trail kept weaving in and out of the Shola forest patches that were now peppering the trail which predominantly went through grasslands.
We had comfortably completed the first half of the trek in good time and had now reached the stream that eased through the valley between the mountains. Deciding to spend some time at the stream on our way back, we chugged along, onto the slightly tougher uphill climb that would cover most of the remaining trek to the peak. Though slightly more difficult as the trail now consisted of slippery mud and loose stones, every step seemed to grant us a grander view of the park. The tougher the climb, the better the view from the top.
What probably was the most exciting part of the uphill climb for the three of us who were leading the group was the sudden sighting of three Sambar deer who seemed to have been surprised by our presence deep inside their territory. On a normal day, the sight of these commonly seen deer wouldn’t have surprised us but we hadn’t expected to see these three large animals jump out of what seemed like a small clump of bushes on the adjacent hill. And we had been quiet enough (or so we thought) to make sure that we did not disturb the inhabitants of this beautiful region. The sighting was so sudden and unexpected that we couldn’t gather our wits and capture what might have been a beautiful frame on a camera. Once the Sambar had bolted and disappeared as quickly as they had appeared, we moved on, now craving for more sightings. The three of us kept exceptionally quiet for the rest of the climb secretly hoping to see the extremely elusive but majestic Nilgiri Tahr which called these mountains home.
A tiny shaded stream with an idol of Ganesha next to it , midway through to the peak, came as a lifeline giving us that slight nudge that helped us move on. We continued to a point about a couple of hundred feet short of the peak where Sarvanan decided to let us take a short 10 minute break. Even though we weren’t at the peak yet, the view from this high pit stop was breathtaking. The valley and the path that we had taken to get here were now like thin lines on a map well below us. The final stretch of the trek to the peak looked steep but Sarvanan led the group this time by climbing this without too much of a fuss. We followed and after a little struggle, the entire group had made it to the top! We were at 2554 metres, at the Mukurti peak, the fourth highest summit in the Nilgiris!
Once on the top, no one uttered a word. The silence was forced by the stunning panoramic views that the point afforded. We could see the valley and the Shola forests on one side and the deep and dense Silent Valley National Park on the other. Clouds floated in and out between the hills before completely engulfing all but the adjacent peaks. This was what dreams were made of. We spent a good 45 minutes at the peak breathing in the strangely fragrant mountain air and knowing well that we had just made it in time to watch the spontaneous but amazingly graceful performance of the clouds below us.
We were then coerced by Sarvanan to start our trek back to the fishing camp as there was a possibility of the rain coming down in a few hours time. The trek down to the fishing camp was uneventful for the most but we did manage to keep the promise we had made to ourselves and spent about 15 minutes soaking our feet in the cool water of the stream down in the valley. Managing to reach the fishing camp just about five minutes after it began to drizzle, we had successfully managed to finish the trek to the Mukurti peak and back in about 10 hours.
We had just finished the trek but it wouldn’t be wrong if I said that most of us had already started dreaming of our next trip to this beautiful untouched part of the Western Ghats.
All photos courtesy: Reena Chengappa, Jyotirmoy Talukdar and Gayatri Hazarika