Explore the Nilgiris
South India is among the exciting wildlife destinations of the world, with well protected forests that are rich in megafauna and a number of smaller, endemic mammals. The foothill forests of the Western Ghats of south India, a biodiverse are possibly the best locations to observe and photograph Asian Elephants in wild. These forests also hold healthy populations of two globally endangered big cats – the Tiger and Leopard and of the Indian Wild Dog, another significant peninsular predator. Gaur, among the largest of bovids, are also found in these forests along with several species of deer and antelope making up an impressive list of large mammals that are found within this ecoregion.
Day 1 & 2, Munnar: We depart from Cochin after breakfast and drive through a scenic ghat road to Munnar. We reach Munnar in the afternoon on Day 1 and spend the next two days exploring the high altitude habitats around Munnar for its mammalian specialities
Munnar is a small hill station town (1500m) nestled among tea plantations and wet montane forests (sholas) in of the Western Ghats of Kerala. Significantly, a short drive from Munnar will take us to Rajamalai (2000m), within the scenic, high altitude Eravikulam National Park, where the Nilgiri Tahr, an endemic mountain goat, are regularly sighted. Rajamalai is an excellent place to observe and photograph these normally shy animals. We will also visit a beautiful montane elfin forest within the Pampadam Shola National Park (1900m) for the extremely rare Nilgiri Marten – an endemic Mustelid, typically restricted to higher moist forests of the Western Ghats. While the sightings of the elusive marten is far from assured, we can expect to see Malabar Giant Squirrel, Gaur and Nilgiri Langur, in this scenic location. A visit to Chinnar WLS in the rainshadow of the hills is excellent for the Grizzled Giant Squirrel and other peninsular wildlife around the river.
Munnar and surroundings are also excellent for high altitude bird specialities of south India and the bird list includes several endemics – Black and Orange Flycatcher, White-bellied Shortwing, Broad-tailed Grassbird, Nilgiri Flycatcher, Kerala Laughingthrush – and other specialities among winter migrants (warblers, thrushes), and rarities such as Yellow-throated Bulbul and Painted Bushquail. The unique montane forests and grasslands in the upper reaches around Munnar are floristically interesting. Accommodation: Talayar Bungalow or Deshadun Resort
Day 3 & 4, Top Slip: An early morning departure with packed breakfast, we leave Munnar on a scenic ghat road downhill through the dry/riverine forests of Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary, towards Top Slip. A short trek here in an effort to find the Giant Grizzled Squirrel – an endangered animal with a highly restricted distribution in the Western Ghats. Potential for Elephant, Gaur and other smaller mammals as we pass through the sanctuary. We reach Top Slip by the evening on Day 3. We spend the next day in and around Top Slip exploring the tropical moist forests for mammalian specialities of the Western Ghats.
Top Slip is a scenically located tourism zone within the Indira Gandhi Tiger Reserve – a major protected area within Anamalai Hills of Tamil Nadu. The Anamalais are among the the most interesting natural history locations in south India for their biodiversity rich, extensive mid-elevation and montane evergreen forests. Here we will make a special effort to look for endemic primates including the Nilgiri Langur and Lion-tailed Macaque (the latter subject to permits) and could come across other typically elusive mammals including the Brown Palm Civet and Brown Mongoose, that are restricted to the moist forests of the Western Ghats. Megafauna such as Elephant and Gaur are regularly sighted around Top Slip and less frequently, Tiger and Leopard.
Top slip has fantastic birdlife and a good proportion of south Indian and sub-continental endemics and its forests are excellent habitat for nesting populations of Great Pied Hornbill among other species that require large tracts of mature forest. Sri Lanka Frogmouth are regularly sighted here, and other endemics include White-bellied Blue Flycatcher, Malabar Grey Hornbill, Rufous Babbler, Malabar Parakeet and Wynaad Laughing Thrush among others. The moist forests here typically engross naturalists with their fascinating diversity of herpetofauna, invertebrates, flora and forest scape. Accommodation: Banyan
Day 5, 6 & 7 Bandipur: We leave Top Slip after breakfast and drive through the Palghat Gap towards the Nilgiris – another large, distinct hill range of the Western Ghats. We climb the southern slopes of the Nilgiris, towards Ooty, passing through progressively montane habitat and descend the northern slopes towards the wildlife rich Masinagudi Plateau and Bandipur National Park & Tiger Reserve. As we descend, we drive through the scrub habitat of the hill slopes and the plateau with good chance of sighting Gaur and Elephant and several dry habitat birds. The habitat becomes progressively wetter and deciduous as we drive towards Bandipur. We reach Bandipur by evening on Day 5 and spend the next two days exploring the deciduous and scrub forests of Bandipur for a variety of large mammal specialities of south India.
The wildlife in Bandipur is largely similar to that found in Kabini (please see below). However Bandipur’s hillier terrain, and adjacent scrub habitats not only provide a contrasting setting for wildlife, but also enhances chances of sighting species such as the shy four-horned antelope and striped hyena, which are very difficult in Kabini. The panoramic mountainscape of the Nilgiri hills, visible from Bandipur, adds to the charming scenery of the location. Accommodation: Dhole’s Den Farm Stay
Day 8, 9, 10: We leave Bandipur after breakfast and drive to Kabini through charming countryside of rolling hills and farmland. We reach Kabini in the afternoon on day 8 and spend three days exploring the lowland deciduous, Bamboo and riverine forests here primarily for a variety of large mammal specialities of south India.
Named after the Kabini river, the area forms the eastern fringes of the Nagarhole National Park. The Kabini river, which forms a reservoir here, defines the eastern boundary of Nagarhole with Bandipur National Park, two of south India’s finest wildlife destinations and contiguous with several other protected areas of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve (NBR). Kabini is especially interesting within this large protected area network of the NBR, when hundreds of Asian elephants and other wildlife, congregate around the reservoir during the dry season. Kabini’s flat terrain and the relatively open deciduous forests are very good for wildlife viewing and photography and megafauna, including Asian Elephant, Tiger, Leopard and Gaur are regularly sighted, all year round. Other notable wildlife that are often seen in Kabini include the pack hunting Indian Wild Dog, Sloth Bear and several species of deer, primates and small mammals.
Both Bandipur and Kabini are excellent for birds with over 250 species recorded from deciduous, riverine and scrub forests of these location. Some of the bird specialities from these locations include the White-bellied Minivet, Jerdon’s Bush Lark, Malabar Lark, White-bellied Woodpecker, Sirkeer Malkoha and a few south Indian endemics that we might have missed earlier on the tour. Mugger crocodiles are regularly sighted basking on the banks of the Kabini reservoir and otters are occasionally seen in the river. Accommodation: JLR, Kabini
Day 11, Ranganathitoo/Bangalore: After some early morning activity and breakfast, we head towards Bangalore, a major city well connected by road, air and rail networks. En-route we stop at the Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary – a famous heronry on islands in the Cauvery River. The sanctuary is excellent for close views, especially of Eurasian Spoonbills and Night Herons among species of terns, cormorants, herons and storks. We reach Bangalore in the evening, from where you can transfer to onward destinations.
The moist forests of the Western Ghats, globally recognized for their unique assemblages of flora and fauna, are home to their share of mammals that are found nowhere else in the world. Notably, the list includes two primates – the Nilgiri Langur and the Lion-tailed Macaque; the Nilgiri Tahr, an endemic mountain goat; and rarities like the Brown Palm Civet, Brown Mongoose and Nilgiri Marten, among several species of squirrels, bats and rodents.
We traverse through some of south India’s best wildlife destinations on this guided tour. These locations are also fascinating for their birds – with potential sightings of over 300 species and most south Indian endemics – smaller animals, floristic diversity and scenic beauty. In addition, south India’s vibrant and historic culture and friendly people will be a charming addition to your overall travel experience. This tour is ideal for those who want to explore the best of south India’s wildlife, within a limited time-frame and in a safe, comfortable and friendly environment.