Mukurthi : The Crown of Nilgiris
Mukurthi is one of the best trekking places in Nilgiris near Ooty. Since it is an ecologically sensitive area, known for endangered Nilgiri Thar a mountain goat. Entry is restricted to the national park and special permission must be taken from the forest department. Mukurthi is known as the crown of the Nilgiris - Blue Mountains.
Having spent his childhood days in Ootacamund, popularly known as Ooty my friend Akhilesh Magal used to speak incessantly about this paradise and its ethereal beauty during any conversation about Nilgiris. He used to mention offbeat places like Glenmorgan, Loverdale, Kodanadu, Rangaswamy Pillar, and other scenic spots less known beyond Ooty. The places were really captivating and beyond words. During one such discussion, in 2008 we like-minded friends unanimously decided to trek to the Mukurthi Peak 2554 mts, which is known as the Crown of the Nilgiris in Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. The area is restricted to tourists. Those desiring to visit require special permission.
No sooner we decided, Akhilesh applied for a permit, through his Uncle who was a life member of NBR in Ooty. After eagerly waiting for a few days we got confrimation. After an overnight journey from Bangalore, we landed in Ooty on one Friday morning and approached the NBR office. After Collecting the permits, we visited the local market for purchasing some essential commodities. Permits were granted for a 1-night stay for 4 members at Fishing Hut and Hiking to Mukurti Peak. We felt that we were fortunate to get a permission letter, as it is an ecologically sensitive area. All thanked officials from the bottom of the heart.
We hit the road and our destination was fishing hut which was 40 km away. Soon we could witness the beauty of Nilgiris. We passed through Parsons Valley, stopped at Avalanche Lake after 1 hour for a break. The place was serene, with no tantrum, we walked on the fringes of the lake. The invigorating smell of Nilgiris was lingering in the air and was pleasant to our nostrils.
We walked inside the Fir trees and bushes, it was a great feeling, being lost in the abode of nature. We could spot numerous birds including Flamebacks, Kingfishers, and Hornbills. We were not in a mood to start early, as everyone was moved by the place. I could spot a colorful mushroom growing profusely under the canopy. It was glowing in the light. reddish-pink in color.
Avalance lake which is 25 km from Ooty is a pristine, freshwater lake surrounded by blue mountains. The lake is set amidst a captivating landscape that is filled with lovely flowers. The perennial waterfalls that fall down the nearby mountains further added to the beauty of the place. It is believed that Avalanche Lake derives its name from the landslide that occurred in the year 1823 in the area, as a result of which the lake was naturally formed. This name is, however, a misnomer as is evident in the fact that the lake was created as a result of a landslide, and not an avalanche.
After spending some time beside the aquamarine lake and being awestruck by its sheer simplicity, elegance, and grace. We continued our journey. The scenic landscape was so alluring, we were just 15 km short of our destination. Our driver Armugam stopped, at Porthimund for tea a break. Sipping piping hot Ooty tea in such cold weather was really warm and refreshing, Suddenly I noticed a bunch of bright Red flowers in bloom swaying, on the slopes. I went near, to my dismay, it was Rhodendron Flower, I had seen the same flowers in the Himalayas. I wondered and was curious to know how this flower blooms here. Rhododendron Arboreum popularly known as Buransh is a winter flower that blooms at High altitude regions of Himalayas. It is the state flower of Uttarakhand too.
Nilgiri Rhododendron is an interesting species of Rhododendron endemic to the Western Ghats. It is a tree up to 10 m tall with bark brownish, fissured, and pinkish blaze. Crimson red bell-shaped flowers are borne in fascicles or pseudocorymbs at branch ends. Nilgiri Rhododendron is endemic to the Western Ghats, common in Nilgiris, Anamalai, and Palani Hills and rarely found in Varushanad Hills. In the local language, Tamil in Nilgiris its often referred to as puvarasu The leaves are thick, dark green in color to withstand cold. Right across the subcontinent, the Himalayas are home to 9 varieties of Rhododendron, in different colors, whereas Western ghats are home to 1 different subspecies.
We had spent enough time in exchanging information and chatting with locals, exchanging topics.
After traveling for 30 minutes we reached our destination, by afternoon. With no soul around, the place looked wild. The first sight of the fishing hut was all that was needed to send our excitement shooting our spirits sky-high. The green-colored guest house is popularly known as a Fishing hut in the midst of the Jungle in Mukurti National Park. We met the affable caretaker James and guide for us for the next 2 days. We thanked the driver for being courteous with us. We collected our backpacks and luggage and checked in to the hut.
The guest house is a simple structure, with partition rooms and with cot and beds. It had a simple kitchen, No Electricity.!. The hut surrounded by a wire mesh, as a barricade for safety and a trench around, to protect inmates from wild animals trespassing into the hut. What else we can ask for ?. We felt it as a Paradise in disguise !. We later realized why we were told to carry all essentials including candles, torch, and provisions by officials because of its sheer remoteness.
There is a huge water body adjoining to the hut. Though it's known as a fishing hut, NO FISHING HERE SERIOUSLY The hut is named after Richard Radcliffe, a Britisher, a famous hunter turned conservationist, he led the association in the creation of Mukurthi National Park. There is a memorial built, next to the hut and can be seen even today.
We assisted each other, in preparing dinner for the night. In the evening we left, to explore the lake and surroundings.
We could hear the calls of some carnivore, some animal movement in the bushes. A photo frame on one of the walls with a streak of 5 tigers, below the Mukurti peak taken by one of the officials, was really mesmerizing. We reached the banks of the lake, walking down the hill. We found a Carcass of a Gaur beside the water body. The sun was going down, we could spot a herd of Indian gaur - Bison walking down probably to quench their thirst in the lake.
Backlit by the golden rays of setting sun, and play of light, clouds pattern seemed eternal. Mukurthi Peak rising high in the valley and glowing in the setting sun. The water of the lake shimmering, ripples produced and sound of water lashing the bank was soothing for the soul. It was perfect Silhoutee indeed !. The calmness was disturbed by the chirping of birds and cicadas in the wild. James holding a torch in his hand cautioned, about the wildlife movement after dark and told to reach the back hut immediately.
It was getting cold, we were forced to wear a jacket to keep ourselves warm. After reaching the enclosure, we started hearing wild stories from James, under a stunning starry sky. He staying alone in the hut, his wild encounters, and many more A little later, we finished hot dinner and decided to call it a night as we had an early morning waiting for us. We slid into the warm blankets. The night was very cold. I felt the wind chill, of Himalayas. 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.
The next day morning, we woke up early and after sipping a cup of hot tea with Varkey - Known as Ooty Varkey is a type of biscuit food, made out of wheat flour, Rava, rice, semolina, water, ghee, sugar, and salt normally baked. It is considered a local colonial-era re-interpretation of the French puff pastry
Not before dawn, but early nevertheless, we were off on the trek armed with pack lunch and water. James briefed us about the trek, even told that it would take us about 4 hours to get to the peak. He led the group armed with a machete, he would help clear the route as and when there was a blockade. At one point we need to squat and traverse in the bush. The entire first hour of the trek was on a trail through the dense Shola forest with creepers entangled in branches and in fact that without his help we couldn't have moved further. 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, with no trace of sunlight.
After successfully coming out of bushes, the trail opened into grasslands and we 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 crown of Nilgiris dominating the landscape looking high in a distance. The name ‘Mukurthi’ - Pointed nose now seemed apt .!. The azure blue water was glittering in the sunlight and was a perfect contrast with Mountains peaks. We were at the fire line point, the trail seemed to go down in the valley.
On the other side, the clouds rising above seemed like making furious attempts to rise above the peaks in the valley. The play of light and shadow was a sight to behold!. Our guide reminded us to move fast, as the trail ahead was steep and will take more time.
Walking became easier as we entered the grasslands. The views of the mountains on the other side of the valley forced us to take shorts breaks again and again.
We had comfortably completed the first half of the trek in good time and had now reached the waterfalls that were cascading, on the rock face in the valley. Quenching our thirst, we unanimously decided to spend more 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 scree - A mixture of mud and loose pebbles, every step seemed to grant us a grander view of the park and summit of the peak seemed at hands reach James motivated us, and added " just a few more steps more left. sir " We felt, tougher the climb, the better the view from the top. Wading through the golden grass, we climbed on.
What probably was the most exciting part of the uphill climb for the 4 of us was the sudden sighting of Sambar deer who seemed to have been surprised by our presence deep inside their territory. It was unexpected to see these animals jump out of what seemed like a small clump of bushes on the adjacent hill. One of them just turned back and gave a look at me what might have been a beautiful frame on a camera. Once the Sambar had bolted and disappeared in the wink of the eye as they had appeared, we moved on, now craving for more sightings. James, made some gestures to keep quiet for the rest of the climb, I felt that we may be fortunate to see the extremely elusive but majestic Nilgiri Tahr - Nilgiritragus hylocrius varayadu the state animal of Tamil Nadu.
We continued and climbed slowly to top nonstop. The 360-degree view from the summit 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 though looked steep, we did not feel it, because of a cool breeze. We congratulated each other. We were at 2554 meters, at the tip of Mukurthi peak, the fourth highest summit in the Nilgiris!
The views were mindblowing, with the help of the map we identified the peaks around. James reconfirmed it, We could see Silent valley National Park, Sispara, Bangitappal, Niligiri Peak, and Shola forests.
Rolling Hills for Company
We slowly started the descent, in the other direction. The rolling hills of the Nilgiris Mountain range sprawled below us. We stopped inadvertently to take pictures, chasing butterflies, and wild fruits growing profusely in the bushes. We stopped for lunch, next to the stream, and relaxed for a while. We picked our backpack, leaving no trace, and resumed our trek back to the fishing camp. After chucking fresh lime juice prepared from stream water and walked downstream in the valley. Managing to reach the fishing camp by 3:30 pm. We had successfully managed to finish the trek to the Mukurti peak and back in about 8 hours.
After sipping a cup of hot tea, we repacked our backpacks. It was time to thank and bid goodbye to James who stood and supported us and made the Mukurthi trek memorable. We had just finished the trek but it wouldn’t be wrong if we all of us promised and had already started dreaming of our next trip to yet another peak beautiful and untouched part of the Western Ghats. We boarded the Jeep, with a heavy heart left the place. To our dismay, we were stopped by a herd of Indian Gaur and Sambar deer sporting antlers on the crossroads. We felt that poor creatures were waiting to greet and bid farewell to us!
By then the light in the western sky was diminishing. We could see a red ball of fire. A perfect silhouette to cherish for a lifetime. We simply felt that we're blessed to witness such a grand sight.