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  • Writer's pictureKarthik Nagappan

Kalakad , Tirunelveli: Nature's abode in Tamil Nadu"

Located in the district of Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu, Kalakad is a hidden gem that offers travelers a glimpse of unspoiled natural beauty and a serene retreat that will help unwind and rejuvenate oneself over a weekend. In this blog, we'll take you on a journey through the tranquil landscapes of Kalakad, uncovering its lush green forests, rocky cliffs & hills, the Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve and the much sought after Thalayanai falls. Discover the best time to visit, accommodations, and what makes this destination so captivating.

A streaming water way in kalakad Tirunelveli
A streaming water way in kalakad Tirunelveli

Kalakad - A true Nature's bounty

Kalakad, situated in Tirunelveli district, is home to the Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve, a pristine forest area teeming with biodiversity. The reserve is part of the Western Ghats, a UNESCO World Heritage site, making it a must-visit for nature enthusiasts and wildlife lovers.

Best Season to Visit Kalakad: The best time to visit Kalakad is during the post-monsoon and winter months, from September to January. The weather is pleasant, and you can enjoy wildlife sightings, birdwatching, and trekking.

The Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve

A personal Experience

The alluring melody of a Malabar whistling thrush resonates through the air as i step onto the One Mile Corridor, an infrequently traversed trail that extends from the streamside field station into the core of the lush evergreen expanse of the Kalakad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu. The forest stirs gently, and my footsteps create a soft squelch on the moist earth.

The entrance arch of Kalakad Mudanthurai Tiger Reserve
The entrance arch of Kalakad Mudanthurai Tiger Reserve

The serpentine path is adorned with a scattering of fallen leaves. Balancing myself against robust tree trunks, I move through the landscape, resembling an overgrown terrestrial creature, allowing my feet to locate the most stable ground. The raucous sounds of my companions gradually fade as I ascend the incline, replaced by the soothing murmur of the Manimuthar River enveloping my senses.

The whistling thrush repeats its melody, a few ethereal notes echoing, and in the distance, I catch the distinctive call of a lion-tailed macaque, one of the five primate species inhabiting these woods. This elusive creature, inclined to dwell deep within the damp, evergreen forest, far from human presence, remains hidden. I strain my neck, earnestly searching for the elusive black primate, but it remains elusive.

The Kalakad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve (KMTR) conceals a vibrant array of life, much of which remains concealed from casual observation. Nestled within the Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve, spanning the borders of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, KMTR stands as a sanctuary of biodiversity.

A segment of moist evergreen woodlands situated in the elevated regions of the reserve. Kalakad Mudanthurai Tiger reserve boasts diverse vegetation
A segment of moist evergreen woodlands situated in the elevated regions of the reserve. Kalakad Mudanthurai Tiger reserve boasts diverse vegetation

The Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve (KMTR) is a significant wildlife sanctuary located in the southern Western Ghats of Tamil Nadu, India. It was established in 1988 and spans across an area of approximately 895 square kilometers. Our guide enlightens us with the revelation that this reserve is among the five hotspots of biodiversity and endemism in India. This designation signifies that the species thriving here are exclusive to this particular region, with some confined solely to these ancient forest enclaves, even within the broader Indian context. Our entry into KMTR commences from Manimuthar town, near the imposing Manimuthar Dam. The prospect of encountering the wilderness stirs excitement as we traverse the park. The dam, sealed off due to diminished water levels in the Manimuthar Reservoir, forms a vast water expanse fed by four rivers. The meandering Tamiraparani, a pivotal river in Tirunelveli District and one of the state's primary watercourses, originates in the heart of KMTR and charts a lengthy course to the coastline.

A prominent signboard featuring a regal Bengal tiger greets us, its Tamil inscription cautioning visitors against littering and taking selfies with wildlife. Navigating our way through the park's core in a private minibus, we encounter diverse vegetation along the precarious route. Initially traversing dry deciduous and mixed teak forests, the landscape transforms into tall grasses and Lantana shrubs. Waterfalls punctuate the green expanse, some gracefully descending right beside the road. During our journey, we chance upon a troupe of Nilgiri langurs, prompting a pause for photography. Observing langurs is a delight; their wise, wrinkled faces exhibit human-like expressions as they leap from branch to branch, their captivating hooting cries echoing like a seductive serenade.

Waterfalls in full steam at the Kalakad Mudanthurai Tiger reserve
Waterfalls in full steam at the Kalakad Mudanthurai Tiger reserve

Ascending further up the mountain, the temperature takes a noticeable plunge. Scientific studies affirm that forests play a pivotal role in reducing air temperatures and combating climate change, and this is vividly demonstrated in the Kalakad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve (KMTR). As I layer on my sweater, relishing the contrast between the chilly air within KMTR and the dry heat of the nearby Kalladaikurichi town, the resonant call of a coucal reverberates impressively.

The landscape of the forest undergoes constant transformation. Transitioning from scrublands and imposing rocky formations, we enter a moist deciduous forest resonating with the melodies of chirping birds and the fragrance of sweet-smelling flowers. Sunbirds, paradise flycatchers, black-rumped flameback woodpeckers, and white-cheeked barbets flit and flutter among the branches, showcasing a vibrant palette of green, cheerful reds, whites, yellows, and purples. Observing us with curiosity, adult bonnet macaques watch while their playful offspring scamper up the nearest tree upon the approach of our bus. The journey continues into a semi-evergreen expanse, revealing a sprawling tea plantation.

A red whiskered bubul spotted at Kalakad Mudanthurai Tiger reserve
A red whiskered bubul spotted at Kalakad Mudanthurai Tiger reserve

The Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation holds 33.88 sq km of land within the heart of the reserve under a lease set to expire in 2028. Amidst our collective confusion about the presence of a tea plantation in the midst of a native forest, our guide elaborated on the distinctive ecosystem fostered by tea gardens within a forest. They emphasize how these patches often witness human-wildlife interactions, serving as corridors for large-bodied mammals like elephants, gaur, tigers, and hiding spots for leopards.

Tea plantation amidst forest at the Kalakad Mudanthurai Tiger Reserve in Tirunelveli
Tea plantation amidst forest at the Kalakad Mudanthurai Tiger Reserve in Tirunelveli

Exiting the tea plantations, we step into the ultimate stretch of the forest — the thick, humid, evergreen woodlands for which the reserve is renowned. Disembarking from the bus, we hastily don raincoats and secure our shoelaces. The ambiance is filled with the sounds of creaking branches, accompanied by the gentle cooing of an Asian emerald dove, an aesthetically pleasing member of the pigeon family. The forest envelops us in darkness, and cool water droplets rhythmically descend from leaves, creating a soothing plop-plop-plop; I shudder as droplets trace down the back of my neck.

A tiger resting post a great hunt at the Kalakad mudanthurai Tiger reserve in Tirunelveli
A tiger resting post a great hunt at the Kalakad mudanthurai Tiger reserve in Tirunelveli

This realm is the habitat of the elusive Nilgiri marten, a small mammal with a personality that belies its size. We catch snippets of its chittering calls and come across signs indicating the presence of Asian elephants. Gaur, the formidable wild cattle, are also frequently encountered in the tea plantations within this tiger reserve.

To visit the Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve, it's recommended to make advance reservations for guided tours, safaris, or accommodations if available. The reserve offers a unique opportunity to connect with nature, explore pristine landscapes, and witness the diverse wildlife that thrives in this remarkable natural habitat.

To know more about Kalakad Mudanthurai Tiger reserve Click the link

To reserve your accommodation Click the link

key highlights of the Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve

Flora and Fauna: KMTR is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna. It houses several endangered and rare species, including the Bengal tiger, Indian elephant, lion-tailed macaque, Nilgiri tahr, and Indian bison. The diverse ecosystems within the reserve, such as tropical evergreen forests and grasslands, support this remarkable biodiversity. Tigers and Other Wildlife: The reserve is known for its tiger population, making it a crucial tiger conservation area. In addition to tigers, the park is home to leopards, Indian elephants, wild boars, and numerous bird species, making it a paradise for wildlife enthusiasts and birdwatchers. Landscape: The varied terrain of the reserve includes dense forests, rolling hills, rivers, and grasslands, providing diverse habitats for its wildlife. The scenic landscapes and lush greenery offer fantastic opportunities for trekking, bird watching, and nature photography. Biodiversity Hotspot: The Western Ghats, where KMTR is located, is recognized as one of the world's biodiversity hotspots. The reserve is a part of this ecologically significant region and plays a vital role in conserving the endemic and endangered species that call this area home. Tourism and Conservation: Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve is open to tourists, but the number of visitors is regulated to ensure minimal disruption to the environment and wildlife. The reserve offers guided treks, nature walks, and wildlife safaris, allowing visitors to explore and appreciate its natural beauty. Conservation Efforts: The reserve is actively involved in various conservation and research activities to protect the flora and fauna of the region. It also plays a significant role in the Project Tiger initiative, aimed at conserving and increasing the tiger population in India.

Hotels Retreats, and Resorts in Kalakad

While there aren't many large hotels and resorts in Kalakad due to its relatively offbeat and nature-focused environment, there are some options for accommodations, including smaller hotels, resorts, and eco-retreats. Here are a few places where you can stay in and around Kalakad

Forest Rest House (PWD): The Tamil Nadu Forest Department manages the Forest Rest House in the vicinity of the Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve. These accommodations are basic but provide a unique opportunity to stay within the reserve (24 hours Check-in and Check-out at 10am). Options available are Chital cottage (Rs.1600), Horn Bill Cottage AC (Rs.2600), TAHR House AC (Rs.2600), Dormitory at Mudanthurai and Thalayanai (Rs.400 /adult) and Wood House Kalakad (Rs.1600)

To reserve your accommodation Click the link

Hotels in Tirunelveli, Tenkasi and Courtellam: If you're willing to stay a bit further away from Kalakad, Tirunelveli, Tenkasi and Courtellam has a wider range of accommodations, including hotels, guesthouses, and budget options. You can easily access Kalakad from these places for day trips.

For accommodation options click the link

Please note that Kalakad's charm lies in its natural beauty and proximity to the tiger reserve, so accommodations tend to be in harmony with the environment and may not offer luxury amenities. It's advisable to book your stay in advance, especially during the peak tourist season.

Thalayanai Falls - An exquisite natural wonder

Curled up amidst the Western Ghats in Tamil Nadu, Thalayanai Falls is an exquisite natural wonder intricately woven into the fabric of the Kalakad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve (KMTR). The falls, named after the Tamil words "Thalai" (head) and "Anai" (elephant), embody the grandeur and serenity of the surrounding landscape.

This cascading marvel is more than a visual spectacle; it serves as a vital link in the ecological chain of the Kalakad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve. The falls contribute significantly to the region's hydrological balance, playing a crucial role in supporting the diverse flora and fauna that thrive within the reserve.

Thalayanai falls in Kalakad in peak season
Thalayanai falls in Kalakad in peak season

Embarking on the journey to Thalayanai Falls involves a trek through the diverse terrains of KMTR, revealing its unique vegetation, ranging from dry thorn forests to deciduous woodlands. The falls emerge as a refreshing oasis, inviting nature enthusiasts and explorers to witness the harmonious connection between the cascading waters and the thriving ecosystems of the tiger reserve.

Thalayanai Falls stands not only as a symbol of natural beauty but also as a testament to the intricate relationship between landscapes and their ecological significance within the heart of Kalakad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve, offering a captivating glimpse into the biodiversity of the Western Ghats.

An offbeat destination nature lovers should not miss in Tamil Nadu

To sum it up Kalakad is a nature lover's paradise, offering unspoiled landscapes and a chance to explore the region's unique culture and cuisine. With the Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve as the crown jewel plus other attractions like Manjolai and Thalayanai waterfalls, you'll encounter an array of wildlife and lush greenery. The best time to visit is during the post-monsoon and winter months when the weather is ideal for outdoor activities. Whether you choose a hotel, resort, or eco-retreat, your stay will be marked by the natural beauty of Kalakad and the warm hospitality of its residents. Immerse yourself in the splendors of this hidden gem in Tamil Nadu.

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