Bengaluru to Masinagudi: Forest safari

This destination is home to 320 bird species and some of the wildlife comes to your doorstep


It is not uncommon to see elephants along the roads in Masinagudi. Photo: Supriya Sehgal
It is not uncommon to see elephants along the roads in Masinagudi. Photo: Supriya Sehgal

So, can you tell us what places (notorious dacoit) Veerappan is said to have visited in Masinagudi?” my husband asked the elderly gentleman who had helped us with directions to our resort in Bokkapuram in Tamil Nadu. The gentleman laughed and said wryly, “He used to pray at all the Vana devi (forest deity) temples all over Mudumalai. Bokkapuram, and actually the whole of Masinagudi, is very close to the Mudumalai forest area, so folks around here have numerous tales about him—the trick is finding out how many are true!”

Bokkapuram is a hamlet 5km off Masinagudi town, nestled in the lush Nilgiris, and we were on our way to one of the oldest resorts, Jungle Hut. We had debated between places in Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu for a weekend getaway from Bengaluru, and had decided on Masinagudi—geographically in Tamil Nadu, but cradled by all three states.

One of the five ranges of the Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park, Masinagudi is near both the Bandipur and Mudumalai Reserves. It’s, in fact, one vast reserve, known as Mudumalai on the Tamil Nadu side and Bandipur on the Karnataka side.

Mudumalai was Veerappan territory, and after he abducted more than 20 people from Bandipur in 1997, tales were spun around the dacoit and the places he supposedly visited in and around the area. Because of its proximity to the Mudumalai forest, Masinagudi also has its fair share of stories of the brigand’s visit to temples in the area. Most of these should be taken with a pinch of salt—as masala to spice up narratives for tourists.

Fascination for the brigand apart, Masinagudi has much more to offer. It’s paradise for those who love forest safaris, birdwatching or trekking—or just want to get away from the city. Resorts wedged deep in the jungles, like the one we stayed at, don’t have televisions in every room and cellphone connectivity can be patchy.

The 250km distance from Bengaluru can be covered easily in a five-and-a-half-hour drive, but we stopped to eat and to marvel at a burst of yellow—a sunflower field—en route. And given the sprawling forest reserves you drive through, almost every traveller gets to see some wildlife—in our case, spotted deer, rhesus macaques and two elephants grazing with their calves.

Because of its proximity to the forest, we were told the resort often had “jungle visitors”—occasional elephants, even a leopard and, more frequently, sloth bears attracted by the borum berries in the compound. Only the gentler jungle animals chose to visit during our trip—giant Malabar squirrels scurried among the trees, a deer grazed nonchalantly outside our room and the startlingly human-sounding Malabar Whistling Thrush woke us up each morning.

As we explored the property on the first afternoon, a porcupine looked at us sullenly, only to turn away and amble back into the thicket after sizing us up. Whispering bamboo groves, huge teak trees, rosewood and fragrant tejapatta (bay leaf) dotted the route.

“The area is home to pit vipers, kraits and even the occasional cobras,” Sidda, the naturalist at the resort, informed us enthusiastically. Not exactly what I, with my snake phobia, wanted to hear.

Masinagudi is home to more than 320 species of birds. We spotted woodpeckers, nightjars, owls, larks and starlings.

One of the advantages of being far from dusty towns and villages was that the meals were organic. Vegetables, and even some fruits, are cultivated at the resort. We sampled forest honey and tender bamboo pickles, watching a monitor lizard amble across the courtyard.

The crisp misty morning the next day saw us venturing out. A half-hour’s light trek away from the resort is a small hillock, Murugan Malai, which offers views of the forest areas of all three states—Bandipur in Karnataka, Mudumalai in Tamil Nadu and Wayanad in Kerala. The bare mound has a small temple dedicated to Murugan, and is said to have been renovated by Hindi film actor Mithun Chakraborty.

Walks and treks in the Masinagudi area are limited strictly to the forest periphery, and, even there, tourists are not allowed to venture out without a certified guide.

Only government-operated safaris venture deep into the jungle, though most Masinagudi resorts help organize these in both Mudumalai and Bandipur. We opted for one which travels along the jungle periphery, visiting animal watering holes. However, as we learnt, leopard and tiger sightings are a matter entirely of luck. Just being in the jungle, however, was cathartic.

Back at the resort, as we turned in, lulled to sleep by the wind rustling in the bamboo grove and the night concert of cicadas and frogs, we wondered how a weekend could have whizzed by so quickly.

Weekend Vacations offers suggestions on getaways that allow for short breaks from metros. The author tweets from @SupriyaUnniNair.

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