Welcome to Wayanad: a triptych view of deep, lovely woods
Forests are vistas of unending wonders. You are all ears and eyes on every trip to the unknown terrains of the forest. Ears eagerly listening to every muffled voice and eyes searching relentlessly in the far and wide, sensing something to capture. The eyes are overstraining in a newfound expectancy; on the top of the sky-kissing branches of huge trees, on the banks of the verdant rivers and in the thick undergrowth, rest for a moment when only the fuzzy leaves let a murmur out.
Nagarhole forest, surrounded by Kerala; Tamil Nadu and Karnataka states, is once again bracing up for a busy tourist season. Hordes of people, taking a momentary relaxation from the busy city life, queue up there to watch and feel the cool and enjoy the sights of the forest. The stories and sights are varied and infinite from the largest forest in the south India. You can expect anything from great hornbill to tiger. In every nook and corner, along with the sides of the interstate highways, the forests alleyways extending to the core areas of the wildlife sanctuary, anywhere it may be, there is a lot to see here. Even spotting herds of elephants marching across the forest is not at all a rare sight here. If you are a very lucky traveller, then there is very strong possibility of even spotting a tiger. Once, out of the forest and back into thick of things of daily lives, one would be taking with him the best forest memories in life, that's for sure.
The guests on the way
A rogue elephant may come stomping with the unbridled wrath still aflame, not very often but now and then. If anyone dares to play really bad with the elephants, even the normally harmless herds won’t go way unperturbed. If you want to see the herds hanging around in the shadows of thick forests, then you have to come to Wayanad. The tuskers, which stand like rocks, unmindful of the heavy outpour, just celebrate rain and snow alike. The banks of Kabani have no dearth of elephant herds. They will come and go through the elephant tracks; it is a wonderful sight.
The forests in Wayanad and surrounding areas are the largest elephant habitats in the Western Ghats. The huge habitat that spans over Nagarhole and N.Begur in Karnataka, Tholpetty, Muthanga and Bandipur in Wayanad and Mudumalai in Tamil Nadu, sustains many pachyderms. Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary is surrounded by the tiger reserves of Mudumalai, Bandipur and Nagarhole. The elephant tracks extending from the thick forests of Kokkalahandi in Karnataka to Nilambur in Kerala and from Masinagudi in Tamil Nadu to Dubare, the herds are seen crisscrossing the whole area freely. The big mammals moving through the tracks in Bennarghatta are a sight of immense beauty. The pachyderms of the Wayanad forests are also not wary of tourists; here also you could enjoy the sights of tuskers moving around freely. Even a drive from Muthanga to the Gundlupet by road through the forest is blessed with equally captivating sights of herds enjoying unspoilt freedom in their own territory. Elephants are the main attraction of Tholppetty sanctuary as well.
The call of Bandipur
In Bandipur Tiger Reserve, which spreads through the border between Kerala and Tamil Nadu, tigers are safeguarded very diligently. This is also an abode of over 3,000 elephants. The thick forest casting its shadows like spread out umbrellas along the road is, of course, the main attraction of the area. You can reach Gundlupet, by crossing the Karnataka border through the Muthanga forest in Sulthan Bathery. Take a right turn from there, and then it is Nilgiri road. Fifteen km from there, crossing the Chamaraj village, will take you to Bandipur Tiger reserve. The forest of 100 square kilometres is looked after by the Karnataka forest division and they are in charge of the tourism in the area. The whole area is under strict camera surveillance; even the deserted stretches along the road are not spared. So, it is sure that anybody who dares to disturb the wildlife or trespass the forest will be caught. But, facilities to watch the beauty of the forest and its wildlife are arranged at certain spots.
The elephant ride at Mudumalai
Mudumalai reserve is in Tamil Nadu. It is very close to Wayanad in Kerala and Bandipur in Karnataka. Hundreds of tourists come down here every day. You can enjoy the ride mounting on behemoth kumki elephant through the thick forests. The forest spreads over 321 square kilometres here. Moyar River of Tamilnadu and Nilgiri hills hem Mudumalai.
Mudumalai is on the way to Ooty. Drive just a few kilometres from Gudalur, on the left side, you can spot the entrance to Mudulamalai Wild Life Sanctuary. Even a tiger is not a rare scene while you drive through the forest road. The travellers who are heading to Coonur, Ooty, Paikkara and Kodanade viewpoint could well include Mudumalai also in their itinerary.
The tigers of Nagarhole
The Rajiv Gandhi National Park, also known as Nagarhole, is very close to Tholppetty Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala. It is an important tiger reserve in Karnataka. From Tholppetty check post it is just two hours’ drive to Kutta town. Take a left turn from there and another 3 km drive from there will take you to the entrance of the national park. You should get the permission from the check post here after furnishing your details, before proceeding ahead. Two wheelers are not allowed inside the park. Three hours travel through the dense forest will take you to Nagarhole. The facilities for a brief rest are arranged here, including seating arrangements.
This place falls in the Coorg district, famous for its sprawling coffee estates and cool climate. The national park in 644 square kilometres is a habitat of tigers. A good number of elephants also share the territory with the big cats. Private vehicles are not allowed inside the park. The forest department has arranged minibuses for forest safari. The journey that may last for over two and half hours will give you a chance to meet elephants and other animals very closely. If you are lucky, you can spot even tigers. Now some restrictions have been imposed on travellers into the park and now this safari avoids core area.
Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary
Tholpetty and Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuaries in Wayanad district are generally known as Wayanad Wild Life Sanctuary. These are the pride of Wayanad, which is otherwise blessed with an enviable natural beauty. Muthanga is 41kms away from the district headquarters Kalpetta, in the Kozhikode -Mysore National Highway. The tourists are allowed inside the sanctuaries from morning 7 to 9 and 3.30 to 5 in the evening. Visitors will be taken in an open jeep into the sanctuary. These trips can give you a one-of-a-lifetime experience.
Tholppetty Wild Life Sanctuary is in the valleys of Brahmagiri ranges. These forests are connected to Nagarhole forest in Karnataka. In summer seasons, elephants, bison and other animals will come here from the Karnataka side of the forest to escape from the rising temperatures there. With this, the sanctuary will transform into an abode of endless wonders. It is easier to reach here from Mananathavadi through Kattikkulam, Thirunelli route. If you travel 7.5 km from Thettu road through the Kutta road, then it is Tholppetty. Only, forty jeeps are allowed into the sanctuary in the morning and evening together. This is a precaution to prevent disturbance to the animals by an endless row of jeeps ferrying to and fro. If you have to enter the park, you should reach one hour in advance, and should get a ticket. These safari jeeps will come back after one and half hours’ drive through forest roads. You will see a number of wild animals during this journey than anywhere else in your lifetime.
Translated by Madhuvan Geeth