Why not head to Tamil Nadu for a holiday, amid some of the most spectacular natural forests in India? Endowed with a rich ecological diversity the state is home to a large variety of flora and fauna, including rare endemics as well as threatened species. With the recent formation of the Srivilliputtur Megamalai Tiger Reserve, the state now has five tiger reserves. Interestingly, the Mudumalai and Anamalai tiger reserves were among the 14 Indian tiger reserves that were awarded the Conservation Assured | Tiger Standards (CA|TS) status for effective management of target species. One of the most interesting aspects of the tiger reserves is that they are part of some of the world’s best biosphere reserves.
Here is a look at the five tiger reserves of Tamil Nadu:
Carved out of the Anamalai hills, the tiger reserve falls within the Western Ghats, which in itself is one of the 25 Global Biodiversity Hotspots. The reserve consists of diverse habitats, including tropical forests, shola jungles, bamboo grove and vast grasslands. It is known for its many endemic species of flora and fauna. Some of the key animals found here apart from the tiger are the Gaur, sloth bear, elephants, pangolin, deer, and over 350 species of birds. Crocodiles can be spotted in the Amaravathy dam reservoir. One of the most interesting places inside the reserve is the Karianshola forest.
Coimbatore, the nearest airport, is about 75km away. Pollachi, about 35km away, is the nearest town and railway station. Topslip, one of the most scenic areas within the reserve, is the best place to visit. Topslip is about 40km from Pollachi. In 2007-2008 this Anaimalai region was declared as Tiger reserve, later it changed to Indra Gandhi wild life sanctuary. This reserve shows the presence of minimum 15 tigers and co-predators.
The forest remains open throughout the year, except during the peak monsoon. Accommodation in the form of forest rest houses, dormitories, trekking sheds, etc., is available at various points, including Topslip, Valparai, Pollachi, etc. Visitors can avail vehicle and elephant safaris from Topslip. Trekking on specific routes may also be undertaken with the permission and services of a guide.
Kalakkad – Mundanthurai
Popularly known as KMTR, this reserve was created in 1988 by combining the existing and contiguous Kalakkad and Mundanthurai wildlife sanctuaries. Kalakkad – Mundanthurai was declared as first Tiger reserve in Tamil Nadu. It occupies the southern part of the Western Ghats and consists of wet evergreen forests; it is the catchment area of 14 rivers. It is also part of the Agasthiyarmalai Biosphere Reserve, which is considered one of the five centres of plant diversity and endemism in India by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Apart from tigers, the forest is home to Sambar, spotted deer, elephants, leopards, wild dogs, etc., and a large number of bird species, reptiles, etc.
The most convenient gateway to KMTR is through Tirunelveli, nearly 50km from Mundanthurai and 45km from Kalakkad. Trekkers, with permission from the forest office and a guide, can explore the forest on specified routes. Forest rest houses are available at both Mundanthurai and Kalakad. The best time to visit is between October and March.
The most popular tiger reserve in Tamil Nadu, it stands at the state’s border with Karnataka and Kerala. Surrounded by the ancient ranges of the Western Ghat hills (the name "mudumalai" means "old mountains"), it is part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. The forest contains teak, rosewood, and other plants, apart from meadows covered with tall elephant grass. Other than the tiger, some of the key animals include elephants, Gaur, wild dogs, Sambar, several kinds of deer and the Malabar Giant Squirrel. There are more than 260 species of birds.
The reserve is about 240 km by road from Bengaluru, 90 km from Mysore, and 68 km from Ooty. The tourist entry point, Theppakadu, lies off the interstate highway that connects the state’s popular hill-station Udhagamandalam (Ooty) with Mysore (in Karnataka). As the interstate highway cuts through the forests, you may sometimes find wild elephants standing in the middle or leisurely crossing the road. Remember, animals have the right of way here and you have to wait patiently till the elephants decide to go away. The alternative route from Ooty via the Kalhatti Ghat is shorter but has 36 hair-pin bends along the way. The nearest towns are Gudalur and Masinagudi.
Forest department-managed lodging is accessible at Theppakadu, Masinagudi, and Abhayaranyam. Permits for vehicle or elephant safaris into the forest must be obtained from the Reception Range Office in Theppakadu. Between November and March is the greatest time to come.
A tiger reserve since 2013, it forms an important corridor between the Eastern and Western Ghats through the Nilgiris. According to the 2019 census, it has an 83-individual tiger population and a 111-individual leopard population. With its strategic location, the tiger reserve is contiguous with other important protected areas, including BRT, Bandipur, Mudumalai, and Nagarahole. Part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, it is home to tigers, spotted deer, Sambar, Gaur, elephants, leopards, wild pigs, and other animals, including over 200 species of birds. The vegetation ranges from dry thorn shrubs to patches of semi-evergreen forests in the upper regions. The forest is also home to several indigenous tribes, including the Irula and Soliga people.
The latest tiger reserve in the state, the Srivilliputhur-Megamalai Tiger Reserve (SMTR), was formed in February 2021 by combining the Megamalai and Srivilliputhur wildlife sanctuaries. It lies in the Western Ghats region. Srivilliputhur-Megamalai Tiger Reserve is Tamil Nadu's fifth Tiger Reserve and India's 51st Tiger Reserve. Srivilliputhur was well-known as the Grizzled Giant Squirrel Wildlife Sanctuary. Bengal tigers, elephants, gaurs, Indian giant squirrels, leopards, Nilgiri Tahrs, and other animals can be observed here.
It’s a blend of tropical evergreen and semi-evergreen forests, dry deciduous and moist mixed deciduous woods, and grassland in this area. SMTR is also adjacent to the Kalakkad Mundanthurai reserve.
The Srivilliputhur end is about 45km from Virudhunagar town.
Note: Check with your nearest Tamil Nadu Tourism information centre for the latest rules applicable for obtaining entry permits as well as details of accommodation and safari timings.
Photographs: Courtesy of Tamil Nadu Tourism, Kirubha Karan and Shafiur Rahman.