While considering Ooty to Bangalore distance, the Ooty is one of the favourite haunts for Bangaloreans, along with the people from nearby cities like Mysore, Coimbatore, Chennai etc. Popular for its well-groomed tea estates, the pleasant Ooty weather although the year has earned it the title of ‘Queen of Hills’. We were nine friends in two cars on this monsoon weekend trip to explore Ooty district. But this trip was planned by skipping all the tourist places of Ooty and exploring the lesser known corners of the district. We started from Bangalore on a Friday night at 2.00.a.m. hoping to reach Bandipur by 6.00.a.m. That’s when the forest check-post opens, and we hoped that could spot some wild animals along our way. But, due to frequent pit-stops, we made it to the check-post only by 7.00.a.m. Nevertheless, we spotted a good number of elephants, peafowls, fox, deer, sambars, wild boars etc. With so many sightings, it was quite a good start for a trip, I must say! The itinerary for our weekend is as given below.
Day 0: Leave from Bangalore by night
Day 1: Explore Avalanche forest reserve, explore Ooty, stay at Masinagudi
Day 2: Trekking and other activities at Masinagudi, Wildlife safari at mudumulai forest or Bandipur range, drive back to Bangalore through Bandipur. (Visit Himavad Gopala Swamy temple, if time permits)
Part 1: Avalanche and Ooty
First in the visit list was the Avalanche, a steep & breathtaking climb of 35 hairpin bends with deep valley covered by thick white snowy clouds on one side led us to Udhagamandalam a.k.a. Ootacamund a.k.a. Ooty. Without wasting much time amidst the maddening crowd of tourists there, we drove down another set of 34 hairpin curves- 25 kms further from Ooty to reach the forest check post of Avalanche. Thick rainforests on either side, bumpy waterlogged potholes and scenic view of the Emerald dam backwaters at every turn, accompanied us all the way till the start point of the eco-tour. Once there, we hired the forest jeep for a 24 kms drive through the Shola forests- A place that was BEAUTIFUL.
On a clear day, one can see the dam from this place. If one is lucky, he could spot a leopard or an elephant on the way, we were told. Since we were there during monsoon, the thick fog made the visibility poor adding onto the adventure of our jeep ride. On this eco-tour, we visited a century old Bhavani temple, innumerous waterfalls and ended at a beautiful spot called as ‘Lakdi spot’. It had a small stream cascading down in full fury and then running through the shola grasslands surrounded all around. After spending some time there and getting all drenched, we realized that we were all wet till the bones and chattering with cold. Thus, decided to head back to our cars at the entrance.
From Avalanche, we commenced our drive towards our next and the main destination of the trip: “Masinagudi. Masinagudi is a part of the Mudumulai forest range, the extension of Bandipur National park (in Karnataka) towards the state of Tamil Nadu. Since Ooty is the only and the last town before heading towards the forest area, we decided to take a short break there. We filled our cars with fuel, withdrew cash from the ATM and bought some Ooty chocolates along with other essentials before heading towards the cottage we had booked for our stay. Our stay was in a private estate adjoining the forest fringes or rather say it was located within the reserve forest itself. It was late evening (already dark) by the time we reached our cottage. (NOTE: The forest check-post closes by 06.p.m)
Part 2: Masinagudi
We parked our cars at the Singara check post, beyond which the roads are drivable only with a 4WD/SUVs to reach the cottages. Two Mahindra Jeeps were arranged by the cottage guys itself. This 3 km ride from the Singara check post to our cottage was a GRAND welcome in itself: Our road was blocked by herds of elephants, bison and deer. These encounters took our excitement to a soaring high…!!
After a quick round of dinner, we all got ready for the highlight of the trip- The night safari: at 00.00 hrs. in the night, who can believe if we say we drove in an open jeep into the heart of the national park in search of a tiger that was feasting on its latest kill..?? Our safari guide and his clients had been lucky to get this rare sighting on the previous night. And once we were there in the middle of the forest, the screeching engines of our jeep halted, lights were switched off. It was a new-moon day. So, there was no moonlight even, only the open sky with the twinkling stars guided us through. The only 2 sounds we could hear were that of the orchestra of the cicadas and the pounding of our anxious hearts. What we all discovered right there, in the middle of nowhere was “ETERNAL BLISS”. Even after a thorough search through the remotest corners of the grassland, we could not find the tiger until 2.00.a.m. Although we spotted a few other animals, we were definitely sad about the fact. But the bumpy ride to the forest and back was an experience in itself that was all worth it!
Next morning, we were greeted by the excellent view of the Blue mountains (Nilgiris hills) through the window glasses. We all jumped up for the guided walk along the stream, lining the boundary of the reserve area. We captured some rare fauna like the Nilgiri langurs, Malabar grey hornbill, Malabar giant squirrel, peafowl etc. in our machine-gun-sized cameras. The climb to the tree top house is also worth a mention that gave us a good view of the forest around. It was afternoon already by then and we had to pack up for our return journey towards Bangalore.
Contrary to the normal boring return journeys when all are usually exhausted and silent, all the 9 of us were jumping off our seats every now and then, until we crossed Bandipur: We encountered at least 24 elephants including a herd with a new born, at least 20 peacocks all set to open up their feathers as it had started to drizzle, sounder of wild boars etc.
For someone who finds peace in nature, this was a magical trip! This is that ONE trip that I would love to do all over again and that time, it would be for a longer stay here… in the cradle of mother nature.