Where in God’s name is this place located and how did I ever get here??
The answer to the first bit I gathered over the internet but I am far from figuring the latter part of the question. Nonetheless I am really glad that I did take this road less travelled!!
During the preliminary planning for my backpacking trip to Tamil Nadu, I came upon the name of Mundanthurai tiger reserve. Considering the one month trip and my chief focus on the coastal town and cultural/temple cities, I did not want to venture deep into the Nilgiris or the Western ghats (Ooty and nearby places) to save on travel time. This reserve being about 35 kms from Trinulveli (a major road junction) which is a further 85 kms from Kanyakumari fitted the bill perfectly. And to add to the attraction was the fact that this place was completely off the common travel/backpacking circuit.
A bit of research and a telephone call followed by an email to the deputy director and wild life warden, Ambasamudram was all it took to book a room in the government forest guest house.
Boarded the bus from Kanyakumari at 8:00 am (Rs. 55/-)(Ask for bus leaving for Ambasamudram). Reached Ambasamudram at 11:15 am. Hired a rickshaw (Rs. 30/-) for the Deputy director of Forest’s office which is located about 1 km from bus stand. The staff was very friendly and immediately gave me a print out of my email and a booking confirmation letter with the DD’s signature (Same to be presented at the check posts).
I hired the same rickshaw all the way to the rest house. The other alternative would have been to take the rickshaw to Pappanasam (the first forest check post about 10 kms from town) (Rs. 100/-) and the wait for a bus going towards Kariyar dam. He charged me Rs. 500/- and enroute we also made a detour for the famous Agasthiyar falls, which is also a religious centre.
After Pappanasam check post the entire journey is uphill and very scenic. Mundanthurai rest house is about 10 kms from the first check post.
The rest house is a one storeyed structure on the bank of the river. The rooms are very basic with attached bathrooms (Hot water arranged in buckets by the caretaker). This place is surrounded by monkeys during the day so the main door has to be kept closed at all times.
Met the forest range officer, Mr. Selvan Lal in the evening to get a better idea on the activities available and places to be visited. This reserve being spread out over a large area, and having more than one entry points, the possibilities for trekking activities are confined to the nearby environs only.
Mr. Selvan was most helpful and accommodating. Despite having had a long day on the field, he spent more than an hour sharing information and explaining the inner workings of the range office. Later he offered me his jeep for a night safari and not only that, the next day, he even took me with him in the field as he went about setting up all activities. Later when was off to the office, he placed a jeep and some of his anti-poaching watchers at my disposal. A more generous and kind soul I have yet to meet and I must admit that without his help it would have been quite difficult for me to get around.
In the jeep we first went to Kariyar dam. There is a boat service (Rs.30/- per person) which ferries people across to the stupendous Banatheertam falls. Later we went to one of the view towers (3 kms from the rest house). This is the only place in the entire area where you can get cellular signal.
We then headed back to the rest house for a brief halt, got our lunch packed and headed towards Servalar dam. The views from this dam are absolutely exquisite and breath taking. The plan was to head towards Kodamady, the last check point on this route, which also has a guest house, a drive through rough tracks leading into one of the most pristine and least visited sections of the forest.
However due to the incessant rainfall a portion of this stretch was blocked due to a heavy deluge crossing the track. Nonetheless, we parked the jeep in this area and headed on foot. Did not get all the way to Kodamady but did visit one of the machaans on the way. The experience of walking through such pristine jungle was for me simply magical and I couldn’t even begin to explain the sheer bliss I felt despite the constant downpour.
1) Language is a major barrier as almost all sign boards are in Tamil and most of the park officials do not understand English or Hindi. However the flip side is that this place seldom has visitors from outside of the state and hence extend a cordial welcome and are very co-operative and helpful.
2) Carry travel essentials (Soaps, towel, mosquito repellent, flashlight etc.). See relevant post regarding travel essentials in this blog.
3) There is no cellular connectivity within the reserve except in a few select locations.
4) DO NOT venture anyplace without informing the Range officer or his subordinates first.
5) Collect information pamphlets from the Ambasamudram office.
FACTS AND TRIVIA
1) KMTR falls within the designated areas in one of the 18 hot spots of the world treasuring some of the least disturbed forests in the state. Hosting India’s unique and rich bio diversity, the KMTR reserve is located in the southern end of the western ghats in the district of Tirunelveli and Kanya kumara. Covering an area of 895 sq. kms. And having an undulating topography with forests beginning at an elevation of 40 meters above MSL and reaching up to over 1800 meters at various places. There are seven major dams and reservoirs in the reserve.
2) The Reserve is home to a wide variety of animals and plants. The animals found in the Reserve include Tiger, Elephant and Lion tailed Macaque. A large number of fresh water fish can be spotted in the Tamirabarani river which flows through the Reserve. Birds and insects are the other major inhabitants of the Reserve.
3) Major waterfalls inside the Reserve are Agasthiyar falls, Banatheerthum falls and Manimuthar falls. Forest Department have identified trekking routes and provides guided trekking thorugh the Tiger Reserve for which one needs to contact in advance(Ph:0462-2552663).
GO THERE FOR : The experience of staying in one of the least disturbed forests in the country. It is completely off the beaten track and is a welcome change for anyone who would like to escape the urban jungle.
Best time to visit Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve is during September to January.
HOW TO GET THERE :
Nearest Railway station :
Cheranmahadevi – 20 Kms
Ambasamudram – 15 Kms
Approach by road:
Ambasamudram to Mundanthurai – 17 kms. (See details above as to how I got there).
Kalakad to Thalayanai (For entry from Kalakad side) – 5 Kms.
Forest rest houses and dormitories are at Mundanthurai and Thalayanai. (Rs 520/- for non A/C double bed room in upper Annexure). Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org for reservations. Call DD(Deputy Director Office) -04634250594
LOCAL GUIDE : Will be arranged by the Range officer.
GETTING AROUND :
It is best to have your own transport when staying within the reserve as most of the places are far flung. I was very fortunate to be offered the jeep by Mr. Selvan.
Even if driving in your own vehicle, consult the range officer for any restrictions. Some places can only be approached with the forest guards acting as guides.
EATING AND SHOPPING :
1) Make sure you have stocked up before departing from Ambasamudram (the last major town). There are no shops within the forest perimeter except for some small general stores selling basic stuff.
2) Apart from the meals served by the caretaker, there is also a canteen close by which offers basic meals.
NOTE (BACKPACKING TAMIL NADU 15.NOV.11 TO 12.DEC.11):
This post is one in a series of posts which relate to my Back packing experience in Tamil
Nadu (from 15th Nov – 12th Dec) and any information provided should be read in that
context. Please refer to subsequent posts for my entire backpacker experience.
Following is the planned sequence of travel :
Chennai-Mamallapuram-Chennai-Kanyakumari-KMTR (Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger reserve)
The basic budget I have targeted is in the mid range segment (about Rs. 1500/- per day).