Kudremukha, meaning ‘horse-face’ in Kannada, is a mountain range situated in the Western Ghats of Karnataka; it is also the name of the highest peak (6207 feet) in the range. Kudremukh National Park, at about 600 sq.km, is the second-largest wet-evergreen wildlife protected area of the Western Ghats. Known for mesmerising views of rolling hills, the region’s mountain-tops are largely covered in montane grasslands, while the valleys have shola forests, together forming the shola-grassland habitats that host rich biodiversity.
The drive from inland to Kudremukha traverses through scenic flatlands before slowly climbing up the Western Ghats. You can witness gradual changes in topography, culture, language, and cuisine. The winding roads are engulfed in greenery and offer a glimpse of Kudremukha peak as you near the destination.
In an age where it is almost impossible to be truly off the grid even in a national park, Jungle Lodges & Resorts’ Bhagawati Nature Camp offers a unique proposition – no internet, and nothing to do but get immersed in the natural world around. Located on the banks of River Bhadra, the camp offers well-maintained cottages and scrumptious local food. On a stroll within the camp itself, you can spot several birds, mammals, arachnids, reptiles, amphibians, odonates, butterflies and moths. Frogs and snakes can be sighted especially during monsoons; the first time I spotted a dancing frog (Micrixalus species) was during a walk in the property.
While the monsoon season in Kudremukha has its own charm, it does come with challenges – if your agenda is to experience wildlife – due to its annual average rainfall of 7000 mm. These illustrations are from my most recent visit during winter, which has more favourable weather, with clear views of the mountains, starry skies, chilly air, and no leeches!
Treks to Kudremukha and Kurinjal peaks are strongly recommended, for bird’s eye views of the magical shola grasslands; you could probably even say hi to a Zitting Cisticola along the way. Safaris are also available to try and spot mammals and birds, and if you are lucky, Lion-tailed Macaques and some more endemic species too.
Lion-tailed Macaques are an endangered species endemic to the Western Ghats, and Kudremukh National Park is home to a significant population. A pack of Dholes also crossed our path once, as we stood cold on the trail.
There are butterflies everywhere. Pictured here are some of the common ones you can spot on hikes and trails, and even within the camp. Near water sources, you can see butterflies mud-puddling. And if you get a chance to visit the KIOCL township, a walk there is great to spot butterflies.
The famous trio of the Western Ghats. From L to R: Tiger Beetle, which is a fast runner; polypore fungi aka wood-rotting fungi, which almost look like artistic coasters arranged on a log; cicadas, whose symphonies remind you that the forest is alive.
At the entrance of Bhagawati Nature Camp, you are often greeted by Grey Wagtails and Indian Peafowl.
A Malabar Grey Hornbill patiently looks for some fruits. One of the best things about staying at the nature camp is constantly hearing the loud cackling calls of these beautiful birds. Endemic to the Western Ghats, they often move around in pairs. Sighting a hornbill is always special, and the camp’s watchtower is a great spot for birders.
The Malabar Whistling Thrush can be commonly found throughout Kudremukha. It is also known as the ‘whistling schoolboy’ due to its signature whistling call, and the melody is impossible to miss.
Vernal Hanging Parrots can be seen nectaring on banana flowers. I spotted this one as we drove from Kalasa to Mudigere.
Some evenings at the camp, we enjoyed hot tea with a beautiful Orange Minivet pair for company.
An evening or night walk is the best time to spot amphibians like this Malabar Tree Toad, which I saw resting on a branch. These tree-dwelling creatures are unique and endemic to the Western Ghats.
The Malabar Bicolored Frog, endemic to the Western Ghats, is a beautiful, commonly found species.
Painted Bronzebacks are non-venomous tree snakes, and one of the several reptiles found in Kudremukha.
Pill Millipedes can be seen in the leaf litter on hikes and trails. While on foot, you can also admire varieties of ants, hammerhead worms, grasshoppers, centipedes, scorpions, and spiders. Magnificent webs of Golden Silk Orb Weaver spiders may even be decorated with dewdrops, looking as stunning as diamond-studded jewels.
I spotted numerous dragonflies and damselflies along the riverside, and was drawn to the amazing world of odonates. An Orange-tailed Marsh Dart (seen in this sketch) is always a delight to watch, along with its friends – Crimson Marsh Glider, Stream Ruby, Black-tipped Forest Glory, Blue Ground-skimmer, and many others.
Orchids are indicative of a healthy forest and I endlessly admired this Oberonia (image to the right) outside our room window. You can also spot many species of impatiens (like Impatiens Scapiflora, the image to the left) while on walks, especially where water is present.
Kudremukha National Park is abundant with plant life, and these are some of the common flora there. Cyanotis tuberosa (Sahyadri Dew Grass) and Satyrium Nepalense (a ground orchid) are usually found on mountain-tops. Bracken Ferns are found in vast swathes across the national park and are an invasive species, with their uncontrolled growth harming the ecosystem. Elaeocarpus variabilis (South Indian Marble tree) is endemic to the Western Ghats and can be spotted from the watchtower inside Bhagawati Nature Camp.
My first visit to Kudremukh National Park was about a decade ago, as a budding birder. I can never forget that trip, with the monsoon in its full glory, and the forest alive and busy. The dreamy views of cloud-kissed rolling hills, and sounds that could invoke primal instincts meant that I could write odes in praise of its natural beauty. And since my first trip, I have returned many times, in all seasons. There is something truly special and captivating about this ‘garden of creation’, as I like to call Kudremukha. I hope that my illustrations can inspire travellers to explore more of this natural wonder and appreciate nature.