A relaxing 6-day trek in the Nilgiris
A typical forest trail through Nilgiris crosses emerald blue lakes, milky waterfalls, massive reservoirs, huge dams, rich green grassy meadows, tea plantations and gigantic eucalyptus trees. This is one such trail. Rarely used by humans, it is often crossed by wild animals like Nilgiri langoors, the lion-tailed macaque, tigers, bison, etc. If lucky and quiet, you can see them too. This is the exquisiteness of Nilgiri Hills trek; since it requires permission, it is seldom trekked and has all the piquancy of hiking that one could wish for.
This long expedition trail begins and ends in Ooty. It covers Parson’s peak, Porthimund, Mukurthi National Park, Pandiar Hills, Pykara Falls and Madumalai National Park.
Each of these untainted expanses has it’s own story to tell. Parsons Valley is the famous Western Catchment and flaunts huge reservoirs and green valleys. It consists of the Parson Dam, Porthimund Dam and Porthimund village embedded deep in the hills. Mukurthi, a well-known wildlife preserve, is dominated by the Mukurthi Peak (36 km from Ooty). It got its name because it resembles a human nose. The Mukurthi National Park is a dense forest, inhabited by lion-tailed macaques, leopards, elephants, tigers, the highly endangered Nilgiri tahr, and the more common deer, monkeys, birds, and reptiles. Pandiar Hill atop the highest point of the trek showcases the Nilgiri mountain range with a view of Mukurthi dam below. Trekking in the Nilgiris is a spectacular experience for trekkers, naturalists and wildlife enthusiasts. Also, being close to the Queen of Hills, Ooty, the whole range is easily accessible.
How to do the trek
Day 1: Ooty Bus stand to Parson’s Valley
- Altitude: 2,240 m to 2,250 m
- Time taken: 4-5 hours, 12 km
Reach the base of the trek near Ooty golf course by bus or a private vehicle. The start point of the trek is very close to the south-east end of Sandynulla reservoir. It is around 6 km from Ooty bus stand and it takes around half an hour to reach here.
As you get down, spot a broad cart route that goes towards the reservoir. The path eventually passes through a eucalyptus grove. Within a minute, you’ll come across a green signboard (in the local language) put up by the Tamil Nadu forest department that asks you to save forests. After hiking on the mud track for 15 minutes, you’ll see the cart route joins a tar road. Continue walking on the tar road till you come across a bridge with a small stream flowing underneath. It takes around 30 minutes to reach here. Cross stream and continue on the trail, with the stream on your right.
The trail now narrows down and passes through thickets. In a few minutes, it joins the cart route again. Along with eucalyptus trees, you’ll also see a lot of pine trees on this stretch. The stream peeks at the trail from the right side every now and then. In a couple of minutes, look for a corner of the Sandynulla reservoir, a huge green water catchment, along with vast green pastures. You can see cattle lazily grazing around the greenery.
With the reservoir on the left, the trail alternates through thickets and meadows for around an hour. Soon, enter a huge grassland, where you can rest for a while. If the weather is cool, the trek is a thousand times more wonderful! After a while, spot electric lines that roll out in straight lines and follow them. After a minute, the trail enters into thickets once again leaving the electric poles to your right.
Here, the trails gradually plunges and climbs right back up. After a couple of minutes, the trail enters the forest and you come across fencing on your left. Cross the fence and continue on the trail that gradually climbs down. You will see the edge of the Sandynulla reservoir on your right. It takes around 2 hours to reach this point.
The trail from here follows the edge of the lake till you reach the end of the lake so that you can move to the other side. You can still see the electric poles and a small village at a distance. After 15 minutes, you reach the end of the lake. You need to cross and move to the other side. Be careful as this area is marshy. Cross the lake and take a U – turn and continue walking on the left bank of the lake.
The mud trail climbs up the hill and goes left. After a couple of minutes, you can see the electric poles again. Continue walking in the direction of the poles till you hit the road head. You can take lunch break here. It takes around 2.5 – 3 hours to reach this point.
After lunch, continue where you left off and you’ll reach a narrow trail climbing up the ridge. The tarred road goes right. After ascending for a few minutes, you come across a few huts and terrace fields on the right.
After around 15 minutes, you’ll reach the tarred road again. Take a right turn and continue to walk on tar road. As you walk you will see a signboard put up by Tamil Nadu forest department on your left. After around 45 minutes, you reach the Parsons Valley check post, where you need to show your permission. Take a left from the check post, where you can see some houses on the right side of the road. Within a few minutes, the road forks and you see the Parsons valley trekking shed signboard on the right. Follow the signboard. In a few minutes, you’ll reach the trekking shed, a small place with a few dormitories and a huge camping ground at around 2,250 m.
Day 2: Parsons Valley to Porthimund Lake/Parsons Dam to Mukurthi Dam
- Altitude: 2,250 m to 2,130 m
- Time taken: 5 hours, 10 km
The trail today is very relaxing so you can enjoy your breakfast slowly. You can visit the Parsons Dam in the morning. It is around 1 km from the trekking shed. It takes around 45 minutes to visit the dam and come back.
Trek to Parsons Dam and back
You can consider this a stroll to the dam and back. March towards the main road from the trekking shed. From here, take a left; you will see a signboard indicating the direction of the dam.
The ravishing beauty of the dam will leave you spellbound. Reflections of the forest in the clear blue waters are so clear and untouched. After spending time here, proceed towards the trekking shed.
Trek to Mukurthi Dam
Fill your water bottles and head to the Parsons Valley check post. Spot a narrow trail running up the hill on the left, just before the huts and temple appear. The trail takes you to open grasslands, from where a muddy trail climbs down the hill through thickets. The patch can be slippery during monsoon. After 15 – 20 minutes, the trail opens up and reaches a cart route. Take a right on the mud track and continue for 20 minutes till you hit a bridge. You will see a stream running underneath. Take the path that climbs down towards the stream on the right of the bridge. Keep the stream to your left and continue to walk parallel to the stream.
The trail gradually climbs up the hill and passes through splendid shola forests with the stream below. In a few minutes, the trail opens up in huge grassland. Continue on the trail walking towards the right of the stream. After around 10 – 15 minutes, note that the stream moves left and joins another stream, forming a T-junction. Cross the stream where it is shallow.
The trail from here gradually climbs up the ridge and reaches a bridge in around 15 – 20 minutes. This is a good place to have lunch and refill your water bottles. It takes around 1.5 hrs to reach this place.
After having lunch, cross the bridge and move to the other side, leaving the stream behind. You will see that the trail passes through open area and then enters the thickets again. Unlike the rest of the forest, where you see a lot of eucalyptus trees, this area is dominated by pine trees. You can see huge pine trees with lush green grass like leaves hanging at very low heights. Continue straight on the trail for 10 – 15 minutes through thickets and shrubs till you hit the bank of a Mukurthi lake.
Be very careful as the narrow path through the thickets directly ends at the lake and the bank is not easily visible. Continue on the trail walking on the right side of the lake. Another 10 – 15 minutes of hike along the bank of the lake and you hit the fence. Cross the fence and climb up the ridge. In a couple of minutes, the trail enters thickets once again. In another 5 – 10 minutes, the trail opens up and continues through undulating meadows. You’ll soon hit the tar road. This tar road directly leads to the camping site nearing Mukurthi dam.
As you walk on the tar road, you can see the dam wall and thin stream of water flowing through the dam gates as it collects in the huge reservoir below. You will also come see the pump room and a small bridge on the reservoir in the left below. It takes around 3.5 hours to reach this place. You will find mobile network here at some specific points near the dam.
Day 3: Mukurthi Dam to Pandiar Hills
- Altitude: 2,130 m to 2,300 m
- Time taken: 6 hours, 12 km
The area near Mukurthi dam is very beautiful. You can explore the area in the morning after breakfast, before heading out for the day’s trek.
Today’s trek will take you to Pandiar hills, the highest point of the trek. Start walking on the tar road in the direction of the pump house. After a few minutes, a narrow muddy path enters the woods in the left. It gradually descends for a few minutes till it meets the tar road again. Continue on the tar road and after a minute you come across a bridge on the stream formed by the water released from Mukurthi dam. From here, you get mesmerizing views of the dam. Cross the bridge and continue on the road going right.
The road winds around the hills and after 5-10 minutes, you will come across a mud path climbing up the hill in front of Mukurthi dam. The trail passes through green grasslands and tall pine trees. Continue to climb up till you come across electric transmission lines on your right. It takes around 30-40 minutes to reach here. Move towards left and follow the electric lines. The trail enters a thick forest again.
If you are lucky, you can spot wild animals or a few pug-marks perhaps. After 20 minutes, enter a grassland, where you can take a short break. From here, the trail alternates between open grasslands and forests, until you reach a spot from where you can see Mukurthi lake below.
From here, find a pathway on the left. It passes through shrubs and gradually climbs up the hill. In around an hour, you’ll again reach the cart route. Take a right and hike on the cart route till you come across a stream. You can take a lunch break here.
Cross the stream and move left, the trail gradually climbs up. After ascending for 5–10 minutes, spot a few old broken mansions. Keep these constructions to your left and march on till you reach the ridge from where you can see a tea estate below. You might also spot some cattle grazing here. On the other side of the ridge, make note of a road passing through the tea estate and some beautiful cottages nestled against the hillside. Walk at your own pace as you have enough time today.
Continue on a descending trail through the terrace estate. After a few minutes, you will see a mud trail going left while the road continues on the right. Follow the mud trail. After a few minutes, it joins the cart road again. Continue on the cart road for a couple of minutes till you come across the forest rest house in the left. It takes around 4 hours to reach here. Camp here for the night.
Day 4: Pandiar Hills to Pykara Falls
- Altitude: 2,300 m to 2,140 m
- Time taken: 10 hours, 16 km
Today’s is going to be the longest trek, so you need to start a little early.
Start by taking a left from the rest house following the same route you took yesterday. After hiking for 10 minutes, spot a narrow trail on the left. It enters a tea estate and gradually descends. The trail swerves right and connects with a broader pathway. Suddenly, you can see tea gardens for as far as your eyes can see.
Since the trail changes path so often, you require an experienced guide here. There are two landmarks you need to keep in mind. First, a small hut. Just before the hut, a small wooden bridge. It takes around 30 minutes to reach this point. Cross over and move ahead till you come across the gate of a beautiful old cottage. From here, the trail gradually climbs up and goes past the cottage.
Soon, you can see a huge mountain range in the far left and several small mud paths snaking through the tea garden below. Also, a gigantic waterfall can be seen in the left. Continue on the mud trail for 15 minutes till you see a small village on the right called as The Terrace Estate. You can buy good tea here. It takes around 45 minutes to reach here.
After a short break in the village, continue on the mud trail. You can even choose to bypass the village. After hiking for around 20 minutes on the mud trail, you come to a point where the trail joins the tar road. You will also see a signboard that reads ‘Terrace Estate.’ Take a right on the tar road. In a few minutes you come across yet another signboard in the left that reads ‘United plantation limited terrace estate.’ You will see a path on the left, going down to the estate office of UPL factory.
March straight until you spot a small temple on the right, with a trident and a red stone covered with garlands. As you trudge along, you’ll approach some villages. At an elevation of around 2,200 m, your track might be covered in wisps of clouds. It’s very heartening, especially in monsoon.
Just before the village, spot a small trail that gradually climbs up the hill. As you follow the trail, you’ll soon come across the village temple. It takes around 2.5 hours to reach this point. There is a tap near the temple where you can fill water. Continue hiking on the tar road on the other side of the temple. In 5 – 10 minutes, spot a muddy trail on the right and follow it. It climbs up the ridge and passes through shrubs and trees. You can also see terrace fields and villages to the right.
In half an hour, you’ll reach a spot with huts on the right. You can have lunch here.
After lunch, continue on the trail until you reach a national highway, NH 67. Walk till you spot a green pond on the right a small temple on the left. You will soon see a yellow board indicating the distance to Mysore, which is 123 km from this point. It takes around 4.5 hours to reach this place. Continue on the tar road for some distance and you come across yet another stone marking painted white and yellow which reads ‘Ooty 28 km.’ It takes around 5.5 hours to reach this point. Just a few metres away, you will see some farms on the left and a mud trail that goes left, leaving the highway behind.
Follow this trail till you come across a small village temple. After a couple of minutes, the trail cuts through the NH 67 highway again and enters a mud road on the other side. Continue walking on the mud road for 15 minutes till you reach terrace farms on the right. The fields are fenced to protect themselves from wild elephants that are abundant in this area.
Continue for 15 minutes till you reach the Pykara river and a huge grass meadow. You can take a short break here. It takes around 7 hours to reach this point. After a short break, continue on the trail, keeping the river to the left. The trail passes through dense forests and has high chance that you may encounter wild life. After around 20 minutes, you come across a small concrete wall. Continue on narrow mud trail through the forest, within 10 – 15 minutes it opens into huge grassland and you can see the Pykara forest rest house on the right. It takes around 7.5 hours to reach this point.
Day 5: Pykara Falls to Madumalai National Park to Masinagudi
- Altitude: 2,140 m
- Time taken: 5 hours trek (12 km), half hour drive (6 km)
Today’s trek is rather short. So you can relax as you hike. You can visit Pykara waterfalls in the morning, which opens at around 9 am. It is just 5 minutes away from the forest rest house.
From the rest house, walk towards the huts/shops seen at a distance. As soon as you hit the tar road, take a left and you will see a signboard that takes you to Pykara waterfalls.
The alluring white cascading waterfalls is breath-taking. It easily takes around an hour to get back to the rest house after exploring the area. You can see Nilgiri langoors on the tall eucalyptus trees near the waterfall and variety of birds too. The trek goes through the famous Historical Pykara dam, for which you will need special permissions. If you do not have permissions, you can bypass the dam and start the trek from the point on NH67 highway around 2 km from the Rest house. This is the Coimbatore – Gundlupet Highway.
From the Pykara rest house, take a right on the main road. After walking for a couple of minutes, you will see the road meets the NH 67 highway. Continue on the highway for a few minutes till you see a diversion on the left that goes to Pykara dam. Enter the gate and walk towards the dam. Once you reach Pykara dam, walk over to the other side over the bridge on the dam. After crossing the bridge, you will see a narrow pathway enter the forest on the left. Follow this trail.
After hiking for a couple minutes through the thickets, you reach a spot, from where you can see some terrace farms. You will also see eucalyptus leaves spread around for drying. At some places. it is in the form of a huge heap and at some it is spread over the top and on the side walls of the hut – a hut of dry eucalyptus leaves. It takes around 45 minutes to reach this place from the Pykara rest house.As you enter the hut, you will be able to see the process through which the Nilgiri oil is extracted from dry leaves.
After crossing the hut, take a right onto a trail that enters the jungle. The trails wades in and out of forests and grasslands every now and then. After a couple of hours, the trail ascends a ridge, till you reach a hill, from where you can see a watch tower, and a few huts. You can take a lunch break here.
After lunch, continue on the trail that takes a left from the hill bypassing the huts on the right. Continur on the clear-cut trail until you reach Glenmorgan dam reservoir. From herem you can see vehicles on the road below. You can also see the village of the Toda tribes (called Munds) and their traditional huts, which are of an oval, pent-shaped construction.
It takes another 10 minutes to reach the road below. Since this is a famous tourist point, you will find many vehicles that can take you to Masinagudi, the south eastern entry of the Madumalai forest reserve. You can stay at a resort or a trekking shed at the Madumalai forest reserve.
Day 6: Masinagudi to Ooty
- Time taken: 1 hour, 30 km
You can go on the Madumalai Safari in the morning and then drive back to Ooty. It is around an hour’s drive to Ooty. You can also go an excursion to Dodabetta peak in Ooty and other nearby tourist points.