Forming the junction of the Western Ghats and the Eastern Ghats, the Nilgiris- the `Blue Mountains’- are amongst India’s oldest mountain ranges. The hills, a part of the Nilgiri District of Tamilnadu, stretch across the borders of the state into the adjoining states of Kerala and Karnataka. Easier to traverse than the mighty Himalayas, the Nilgiris are often cited as being better suited for novice trekkers. The gentle slopes and temperate climate of the region mean that even those with little or no experience won’t end up getting completely fatigued. The beauty of the Nilgiris, however, is such that even veteran hikers will enjoy themselves.
The three main towns of the Nilgiris- Udhagamandalam (better known as Ootacamund, or, more familiarly, Ooty); Kotagiri and Coonoor- are perfect bases for interesting treks into the Nilgiris. Low, gentle slopes, where dense forests of shola trees alternate with tea estates, orange groves and coffee plantations; a land where tribes like the Todas, the Kurumbhas and the Irulas still live in a way which has changed little over the past centuries. The Nilgiris are interspersed with tiny villages, with tranquil blue lakes and elegant cottages where teatime is still the hour for hot buttered crumpets, scones and strawberry jam.
A trek through the Nilgiris is a great way to see the hills- to wander through forests of rhododendron in full bloom; to visit the wildlife-rich sanctuaries of Mudumalai and Mukurthi; to walk through rolling green downs and along rippling streams… It really doesn’t get better than this.
TREKS FROM OOTY:
Ooty, once the summer capital of the British in India, as well as the place where snooker was invented by an officer called Neville Chamberlain- has a pretty, distinctly colonial charm which has managed to survive more than half a century of being totally Indian. The town itself is known for its exquisite Botanical Gardens- established in 1847- and is the base for a number of interesting treks, some long and some short, into the surrounding hills.
Ooty-Parson’s peak-Porthimund-Mukurthi National Park-Pandiar Hills-Pykara Falls-Mudumalai National Park-Ooty:
A long trek which heads north-west from Ooty, taking you through some of the prettiest and most unspoilt parts of the Nilgiris. Parson’s peak, which towers over Parson’s Valley, can be reached on foot or by bus- it’s a three hour ride. Once you reach Parson’s Valley, however, you should begin your trek: the area’s so picturesque, it deserves every bit of time you can spend wandering through it. From Parson’s Valley, trek on to Porthimund, a village lying deep in the hills. A tent can be pitched here for the night, before you go on to Mukurthi, a well-known wildlife preserve. Dominated by the Mukurthi Peak (36 km from Ooty and so named because it resembles a human nose), the Mukurthi National Park is a dense forest, inhabited by a fascinating cross-section of Indian fauna: leopards, elephants, tigers, the highly endangered Nilgiri tahr, and the more common deer, monkeys, birds, and reptiles.
Mukurthi has a forest bungalow which, though not the height of luxury, is comfortable enough and makes an excellent base for exploring the sanctuary.
From Mukurthi, head north, through the Pandiar Hills, pitching a tent along the way for the night. The next day, you can head for the lovely Pykara Falls, along the Pykara Lake, and then work your way north to the Mudumalai National Park. One of southern India’s most important wildlife sanctuaries, Mudumalai is densely forested with bamboo, teak and sandalwood and has a large population of elephants. The park’s also home to deer, monkeys, tigers, wild boars, sloth bears, gaur, and birds.
From Mudumalai, you can trek back to Ooty, or you can take a bus- there are regular buses between the park and the city.
A shorter and more manageable trek, this one gives you a glimpse- tantalising in itself- of the Nilgiris. Although you’ll see only the very fringe of the Mukurthi National Park along the way, there are plenty of pretty sights- a lovely lake, dense forests, and a quaintly-named village- to make this a rewarding trek. Head south-west from Ooty, past the Avalanche Dam, to the village of Avalanche, in the Avalanche Valley (nobody here was too imaginative when it came to choosing names!). Named after an 'avalanche’- a landslide, really- in 1823, Avalanche is a riot of shola trees, rhododendrons, orchids, magnolias and a trout stream: absolutely lovely. You can stay for the night at the local forest department guest house, and trek south the next day to Upper Bhavani. A dam on one of the prettiest lakes in the Nilgiris, Upper Bhavani’s good for a picnic, before you pass into Mukurthi National Park and head north towards Kolaribetta.
At 2,625 mt, Kolaribetta is one of the highest peaks in the Nilgiris, and a trek to the summit, while not very tiring, will reward you with an unparalleled view of the surrounding countryside. From Kolaribetta, go north-east, towards Ooty, stopping en route at the village of Emerald. Nobody seems to be very sure of why Emerald has such an unusual name- but nobody’s complaining. It’s a pretty place, and perfect for a picnic by the side of the lake. There are buses to Ooty from Emerald, so you have the option of completing the trip by bus.
Short one-day treks to Ooty’s nearest tourist attractions are also possible; these include the thickly forested area of Glenmorgan, 17 km from town and rich in eucalyptus, wattle and rhododendron plantations; and Dodabetta, the second highest peak in the Western Ghats. Dodabetta, 2,638 mt tall, towers over the surrounding hills and lies about 10 km from Ooty. The hike to the top isn’t much of a challenge, and will earn you a splendid view, as far as Coimbatore and even the Mysore plateau.
TREKS FROM KOTAGIRI:
Kotagiri-Kodanad ViewPoint-Catherine Falls-Elk Falls: Kotagiri- deep in the heart of the Nilgiris- is Kota territory, the home of one of the region’s most important tribes. Kodanad View Point, about 20 km from Kotagiri, lies on the eastern edge of the Nilgiris and offers a fantastic view of the area for miles around. Picturesque tea estates and the Moyar River are among the attractions in the area. From Kodanad ViewPoint, on the way back to Kotagiri, you can stop at two of the best-known waterfalls in the region: Catherine Falls and Elk Falls. Both are within eight km of Kotagiri, and are popular with picnickers.
TREKS FROM COONOOR:
Coonoor-Lamb’s Rock- Lady Canning’s Seat-Dolphin’s Nose-Law’s Falls-The Droog-Coonoor:
A trek which takes you through nearly all the tourist attractions which lie within reach of Coonoor. Start by trekking up to Lamb’s Rock, nine km from Coonoor. The rock, on a high precipice, overlooks the Coimbatore plains and offers excellent views of the tea and coffee estates in the area. Further along the road from Coonoor, past Lamb’s Rock, lies Lady Canning’s Seat, named for the wife of the viceroy. Like Lamb’s Rock, Lady Canning’s Seat offers a spectacular view of the Nilgiris.
Trek on from Lady Canning’s Seat to the towering rock known as Dolphin’s
Nose. About 12 km from Coonoor, Dolphin’s Nose is shaped much like the snout of a rising dolphin; it is, like Lamb’s Rock and Lady Canning’s Seat, great for taking photographs of the countryside- you can even see, nearby, the beautiful Catherine Falls. On the trek back towards Coonoor, do a detour to Law’s Falls, about five km from Coonoor, along the road to Mettupalayam. The falls, near the junction of the Coonoor and Katteri rivers, are a popular tourist attraction.
From Law’s Falls, head for the Droog, about 13 km from Coonoor. Also known
as Pakkasuran Kottai, The Droog, or Shankari Droog, is the site of a ruined 16th century fort which is believed to have been used by the legendary ruler of Mysore, Tipu Sultan, in his battles against the British. The fort, which is situated at a height of about 750 mt, has a number of medicinal springs in the vicinity, of which the most famous is the Maan Sunai ('Deer Spring’), which is never touched by the rays of the sun.
When heading back to Coonoor, if you’re feeling lazy, there’s a bus which goes to the town; it, however, doesn’t go to the summit of the peak, so you’ll have to get to the foot of the hill- a trek of about 3 kms.
Precautions and Essentials:
As compared to the Himalayas, the Nilgiris are easier trekking, not just because they’ve gentler slopes and more equable climate, but also because there are fewer restrictions on moving around. No entry permits need to be collected from district officials, and it isn’t essential to book a trekking guide, although you might like to hire one to help you out.
As far as clothing and other `essentials’ are concerned, remember that nights in the Nilgiris can get chilly, even during the summer, so take along light woollens for summer treks. During the winter, heavier woollens are necessary packing. On all treks, take along insect repellent, sun glasses, and a floppy hat. Bottled water and food is generally available all over the Nilgiris, so unless you’re heading deep into tribal territory, you needn’t stock up on either.
The Nilgiris Trekking Association, 31 D, Bank Road, Ooty, and the Nilgiri Wildlife and Environment Association (the NWLEA) at Mount Stewart Hills are among the best organisations from whom information on trekking in the Nilgiris can be obtained. Other options include the Tourist Information Office at Charing Cross, Ooty, and the Wildlife Warden at N Mahalingam & Co. Building, Coonoor Road, Ooty.
Although no permits are actually required to trek through the Nilgiris, it’s advisable to inform the District Forest Officer once your trek is planned- especially if you’re going on a long trek through the forests. Keeping the DFOs informed of your route helps you get some much-needed help and co-operation at forest bungalows and from forest rangers.