On the trail of Nilgiri TAHR

I wanted to see and photograph the elusive mountain goat known as Nilgiri Tahr for some time, and grabbed the opportunity three years ago when I traveled to Kerala with my brother. It was a long flight from Canada, via London and Dubai and landed in Cochin. After a brief rest we went to Kottayam, some 45 miles south and from there drove four hours east to Munnar, a hill station famous for its tea plantations. It was late September and the climate was perfect. Surrounded by huge mountains and lush forest interlaced with streams, this area is ideal for wildlife habitat.

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Misty Mountains in the morning and late afternoons. A photographer’s delight.

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Munnar- side roads to accommodations

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A majestic waterfalls on Kottayam- Kumili Road, close to Munnar

The Kottayam-Munnar road wasn’t perfect and some parts were under repair. But as we approached the hill station, we felt the temperature changing from a steamy 34 degrees in the plains below to a cool 20 degrees C. A stop at the famous Kallar waterfalls was a welcome relief. Here the lorries stopped and fetched water for their over heated radiators. Nearly all the tourists stops here to take photographs. After a heavy rainfall, one could hear the thunderous sound of the falls from a distance. The fresh water coming down from the mountain streams is drinkable according to the local inhabitants(see picture below). From here to Munnar, the terrain becomes rocky and the roads steep as you zig-zag to the higher altitude.

Once arrived in Munnar, we checked into an assigned hotel overlooking a huge tea plantation. The biggest name here is the Kannan Devan Tea, which I believe has been recently acquired by Tata company. Armed with cameras and fresh water bottles, we set off to the Eravikulam National Park, a wildlife habitat exclusively for the preservation of the rare Nilgiri Tahr, through well maintained tea plantations. Here, at the end of the winding narrow road, you park the vehicle, buy tickets and start walking up a steep road. The air was cool, so one doesn’t have to worry about sweating. After climbing to yet another higher altitude, we arrived at a long flat ground surrounded by  misty mountains, and there they were, the Nilgiri Tahr, a large number of them scattered throughout in search of fresh greens.

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The Elusive Nilgiri Tahr

These animals appeared to be tame and were not afraid of humans. Once abundant in southern Indian hilly area, now they are confined to Park here away from the hands of poachers who slaughtered many for their meat and skins. The flora in these hills are remarkable, especially a rare flowering plant called Neelakurinji which comes to bloom only once in twelve years. The hills are loaded with long elephant grass and wild flowers, a feast for your eyes at 6000 feet above sea level.

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The Elusive Nilgiri Tahr

Apart from man, the only enemy for the Tahr is the leopard which is abundant in this area. In the early 1960s leopards were killing the livestock in the adjacent areas, and a tea planter named J.B. Soutor had tracked and killed several of them. Tiger sightings are extremely rare in this part. Nevertheless, the area is guarded by several Forest officials to protect the Tahr from any over ambitious tourists who annoys the animals by approaching them too close. We took several photographs during the day, and after descending to the entrance of the park, we stopped at the small museum where there were several photographs and skulls of leopard and bison on display. Outside the museum there is an area where the exotic and rare Neelakurinji plants are cultivated.

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The flora of Munnar

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The flora of Munnar

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The flora of Munnar

We returned to the hotel through narrow winding roads -modified bridle paths -carved in the midst of miles and miles of lush green tea plantations. The town itself has a number of shops, restaurants and hotels including well stocked bookshops.

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Nilgiri Tahr feeding on the mountain ridge. Bring a camera with zoom lens with you.

How To Get There? If you go, the nearest airport is Kochi (formerly Cochin). From here you can take a bus to Munnar, or better still, hire a taxi – but negotiate the fare first. There are several hotels in Munnar to suit every one’s pocket. Book your hotel via online in advance. I think the best time to see these animals are September, October and November. Avoid trips during May, June and July as the monsoon rains are rather heavy in this area during that period. Kerala is famous for its mouth watering cousine. Try their famous idli and dosai with sambar for breakfast, a mutton biriyani for lunch, various vadai , samosas or plantain chips for snacks, and enjoy a dinner consists of fried karimeen (a fresh water fish available only in Kerala), steamed rice, thoran (fried vegetables with shreaded coconut and curry leaves). Vegetarian dishes are also available. No one leave Kerala hungry, as there are all kinds of eateries to attend your taste.

Once arrive in Munnar, visit the Kerala State Tourist Bureau right in town to obtain guide books, maps, accommodation details and a recommended list of sights to see in and around “Munnar” which means Three rivers in local Malayalam language. Make sure to pack a woolen sweater, as hill stations can get cooler during the evenings.

  • This post reminded me of my trip to scenic Munnar in the monsoons. The lush green plantations are a sight to behold, isn’t it? The Nilgiri Tahr looks like a peculiar kind of mountain goat. What other wildlife did you find?

  • Not much other wildlife at the Eravikulam National Park in Munnar besides the Nilgiri Tahr. So from there we went to Periyar Tiger Reserve in Thekkady where during a boat trip we saw herds of elephants, a number of Indian Bison (Gaur), Wild boar, Sambhar deer, Spotted deer or Chital, Langurs, common monkey (Bonnet macaque), a Giant Malabar Squirrel, and a variety of birds including parrots, hornbills, myna, trogopan, racket tailed drongo, woodpecker, kingfisher and ducks. (For more birdlife in this area, please refer to Salim Ali’s Birds of Kerala). The forests here are lively with the chattering of birds and occasionally crashing of langurs when they leap from branch to branch. No doubt, Kerala a fabulous place for a wildlife lover

  • Indeed. Thank you for the information.

  • Manish Khamesra

    Jerry,

    I think that you are among those very rare people who can claim that they wanted to see and photograph Nilgiri Tahr. I too clicked it but never feel that previleged :-)
    In-fact, one of my friend told me how disaapointed he was when he visited Eravikulam National park and saw Niligiri Tahr, the mountain goat, that looked so similar to an ordinary goat.

    Very informative information about the leopards, Niligiri Tahr and the conflict among the locals. Are there still some Leopards in the region ?

  • Manish,

    The Nilgiri Tahr or ibex, is indeed a wild goat capable of feeding and traveling on high cliffs with ease. They are born wild and the population has declined drastically in recent years due to habitat loss and heavy poaching. Once a sought after trophy by sportsmen from around the world, less than 1500 survive in the Western Ghats today in 3 National parks – Anamalai, Parambikulam and Eravikulam . Of course they look like ordinary goat. I am sorry to hear that your friend was disappointed to see the Nilgiri Tahr looked like an ordinary goat. I hear many visitors being disappointed for not being able to see one.

    Seeing an elephant in the wild is also very exciting, despite it looks like a domesticated elephant that one sees during temple processions or in forest camps. But when you come across a wild tusker in the jungle, you will sure feel the adrenaline kicking in. Wild ‘Water Buffaloes’ that roams in the Australian and south east Asian bush looks similar to the domestic buffaloes in India. A Timber Wolf may looks much like a German Shepherd..

    There are plenty of leopards in the area, but their impact on the Tahr is minimal comparing to their habitat loss and disease caused by overgrazing of domestic stock.
    Best,
    Jerry