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Beyond the Bhavani

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ROLLING FOLDS Madippu Malai
ROLLING FOLDS Madippu Malai

A visit to the paradise called Mukurthi

The narrow road to the Upper Bhavani Dam clings to the hills and is overshadowed by tall pines and oak.

After a check-post and a few Electricity Board buildings are the bright copper sulphate waters of the dam. Beyond it is the Mukurthi National Park. The Forest Department's main interest in the park is to protect Tamil Nadu's state animal, the endangered Nilgiri tahr.

Parts of the park, such as Avalanche, are open to the public only for conservation. And, I join the British Council's International Climate Champions, touring The Nilgiris to observe the effects of climate change.

The vegetation in Mukurthi is similar to the Himalayas, with red rhododendron flowers and clusters of wild raspberries. The evergreen sholas wear a shade of greenish-yellow in the noon sun. Wintergreen, bracken and orchids are found beside the narrow road.

Red admirals, blue admirals, chocolate pansies, cabbage whites and dozens of other butterflies hover around these plants. Burnt wattle trees, being phased out by the Forest Department, lie on the banks of the Bhavani.

A few kilometres from the dam, you finally get to see Madippu Malai, with its characteristic rolling folds of shola.

The grasslands seem infinite and untouched, with clear blue skies above. There isn't much sound, but for the wind, and, perhaps, the cry of a black eagle towering above.

Further down, there is a pine forest, its surface carpeted with fallen, golden-brown needles and acorns. Kolaribetta (2630 MSL) is the highest point in the park. Other major peaks are Mukurthi (2556 MSL) and Nilgiri (2477 MSL).

I attempt to scale one of the hills to get ahead of my group. When I'm almost at the summit, a forester yells from down below. When I come down, he tells me that if I get caught in 3 p.m. fog, I would freeze to death.

How to get there

Mukurthi is 45 km from Udhagamandalam. The Forest Department has rest houses. You need permission from the Wildlife Warden, Nilgiris, to visit.

Call 0423-2444098 for details.

PHEROZE L. VINCENT

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