Shades of green

PROTECTED FORESTS

Shades  of green

BIODIVERSITY HOTSPOT: The Kudremukh National Park area harbours several rare and endemic species of flora and fauna. Photos by the author

Few names have evoked as much curiosity in the state as Kudremukh, a hill range in Chikmagalur district, known for its coffee plantations and rolling hills. In Kannada, ‘kudre’ means horse and ‘mukha’ means face. A certain perspective of the hill resembles the face of a horse and hence the name. I remember peering out of the window looking for the horse-faced hill, the first time I travelled to Kudremukh many years ago. During my recent visit, I sat glued to my seat by the window yet again. Frames in vivid shades of green whizzed past. Twirls of mist peppered the undulating landscape. Numerous rivers and streams had sprung to life following the incessant rains.

Our first extended stopover was at the spectacular Hanumagundi Falls that leaps over a hundred feet. We carefully made our way down a flight of spiralling steps. The dense canopy was rain drenched and so were we.

Egged on by the breeze and the kiss of the rain, we clambered down to the base of the majestic waterfall. The Hanumagundi Falls is a well-maintained spot popular amongst tourists. Breathtaking vistas of the hills and vales appeared as the shroud of mist cleared. The Kadambi waterfalls by the roadside is another awe-inspiring display of nature’s acrobatics.

The Western Ghats are recognised as one of the 25 biodiversity hotspots of the world and the Kudremukh National Park is a stunning jewel in its tiara. Even the British were aware of the natural wealth that lay hidden in the folds of these hills. They declared Kudremukh and the adjoining areas as a reserved forest in 1916.

Following the studies of renowned environmentalist Ullas Karanth, Kudremukh was conferred the status of a national park in 1987. Karanth undertook a survey of Lion Tailed Macaques of Karnataka in 1983-84. He observed that the rainforest habitat of Kudremukh was ideal for their survival. The Karnataka State Wildlife Advisory Board then proposed the protection of the natural habitat that harbours several rare and endemic species of flora and fauna.

Located at the tri-junction of the Udupi, Chikmagalur and Dakshina Kannada districts of Karnataka, the Kudremukh National Park is currently the largest protected wildlife reserve of the shola type forest in the Western Ghats. It is the home of the gaur. Herds of gaur can be spotted on the grasslands flanking the shola forests. The park also supports a healthy population of animals like sambar deer, spotted deer, barking deer, sloth bears, wild boars, porcupines and pangolins. Big cats roam freely in this area although sighting them is a rarity. Predators thriving in the park include tigers, leopards, wild dogs, jungle cats and jackals. Over 400 species of birds have been recorded within the park. On a lucky day one can even spot the Great Indian Hornbill. Several species of palms, mosses, ferns,orchids and lichens can be found in the rainforests. The forest department organises bird watching tours and guided treks on stipulated routes through the forest.

Highest peak in the park

The Hanumagundi Falls. The average elevation of the Kudremukh National Park is about 600m above sea level. Valikunja, Narasimha Parvata, Kyathanamakki, Gangrikal and Kudremukh are some important peaks of the looming hill ranges.  At a height of 1892 meters, Kudremukh is the highest peak in the national park and is a trekker’s paradise. There are many well kept secrets safely tucked away in these hills. Tunga, Bhadra and Netravathi, three important rivers of Karnataka originate at Gangamoola that lies within the boundaries of the park. Gangamoola, the principal catchment area for these life-giving rivers is in the Aroli-Gangrikal range of the Western Ghats.

The southern and western slopes of the Kudremukh National Park are covered by moist evergreen forests. The other parts are interspersed with lush grasslands and dark green shola forests.

The Kudremukh National Park is flanked by coffee and tea estates on the north and east. On the west, the land slopes down to the Arabian Sea. In the north-west is a forest corridor that connects the National Park with the adjoining Someshwara Wildlife Sanctuary.

The hills of Kudremukh are also rich in iron ore deposits. The mineral rich soil of Kudremukh and its proximity to the Arabian Sea has meant that it is an ideal location for setting up an open-cast mining and pelletisation complex.

Mining operations carried out by Kudremukh Iron Ore Company Limited (KIOCL), a government of India undertaking began in the early 1980s. Less than a decade ago, the scenic hills of Kudremukh had India’s largest iron ore mine.

The Kudremukh township that was developed for KIOCL employees was bustling with activity.

The 100-ft-high Lakya Dam was constructed across the River Lakya, a tributary of River Bhadra to prevent pollution of the river. Despite the precautionary measures, mining and associated activities caused sedimentation in the Bhadra River that posed a threat to the wildlife of the Kudremukh National Park and Bhadra Tiger Reserve.

Environmentalists and activists fought a tough legal battle to stop the mining operations in Kudremukh.  The implementation of the Supreme Court order in 2005, finally dropped the curtains on KIOCL’s large scale mining operations that had damaged the frail ecosystem. Today, the remnants of the Kudremukh township resembles a ghost town with a drastically reduced population.

The luxuriant landscape and the life within makes Kudremukh a mecca for nature lovers. It is a picture perfect getaway for day trippers and bikers.

Being endowed with the status of a National Park status has provided cover against mindless commercial activities. Apart from the Bhagavathi Nature Camp run by the Forest Department, there aren't too many options for overnight halts within the Kudremukh National Park.

Getting there

Kudremukh is about 95 km from Chikmagalur, 170 km from Mangalore and 350 km from Bangalore. Kadur, the nearest railhead is about 40 km from Kudremukh. The nearest airport is the Bajpe Airport on the outskirts of Mangalore.

Season: October to February is the best time for sighting wildlife. Trekkers have to obtain permission from the Range Forest Officer before venturing into the forest. The Kudremukh National Park receives torrential rainfall during the monsoon months from July to September. 

Accommodation: The Bhagavathi Nature Camp run by the Forest Department provides accommodation at nominal rates. There are many options for accommodation at Karkala, Sringeri, Dharmasthala and Mangalore.

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