Chamundi Hill Reserve Forest
Mysore city, a heritage city, known for its cultural ambience, has many attractive places around it which no visitor to this city would want to miss. Apart from the famous Maharaja’s Palace, Brindavan Gardens, Sri Chamarajendra Zoological Gardens, and Jaganmohana Palace, Chamundi Hill is the one place that attracts thousands of tourists. It is a small hill situated on the south eastern part of Mysore covered with lush green vegetation.
It is a holy place with a lovely temple of Goddess Chamundeswari, one of the forms assumed by Maha Kali, and according to legend, she is said to have vanquished Mahishasura, a demon in bison form who was a great menace to the people of the area. The Goddess is also the family deity of the erstwhile rulers of Mysore state - The Wodeyars. The hill is thus a place of pilgrimage drawing thousands of devotees. But, it is also a fine place with a very rich assemblage of plants and animals which makes it an interesting spot of biodiversity. It has been a good locality for botanizing and also a repository of medicinal herbs quite popular with practitioners of Indian Medicine.
Before going into further details, it may not be out of place to know its history and importance as a place of pilgrimage.
Fig. 1 : Mahanandi Temple complex, down the footsteps.
Fig. 3: Temple town complex
Fig. 2: Temple complex, first temple of God Mahabala
Fig. 4: Temple complex, Chamundi diety
Historically, Chamundi hill was earlier known as Marbbala Betta (Thirtha) or Maabala Betta because of an earlier temple situated on the hill next to the Chamundeswari Temple. The temple is dedicated to God Mahabala (one of the forms of God Shiva) and the hill was already a holy place even as early as 10th century. It is said that the Hoysala king Vishnuvardhana had given funds for the maintenance of the temple and for the worship of the God. However later, when Mysore became a capital of the then Mysore state under Wodeyar rulers, the Chamundi temple started gaining importance. It is said that Chamaraja Wodeyar IV one of the Kings who was in power was once struck by lightning when he visited the hill. Miraculously he survived, but lost his hair completely and became known as Bola Chamaraja Wodeyar (Chamaraja Wodeyar – the Bald). He was convinced that his life was saved by the grace of the Goddess and so the ruler adopted the Goddess as the family deity and so he and later his successors started improving the temple and thus the hill became known as Chamundi Hill.
Later the King Dodda Devaraja (1659-1673) got one thousand steps constructed (1664) for the benefit of pilgrims and these are being still used. He also got the monolithic statue of the Bull God (Nandi) carved midway and this has become quite a popular tourist attraction. Of course, there is also another path of steps from the southern side of the hill (known as Uttanahalli road) which not many people use.
Though not much is known about the original temple the present Chamundi Temple is built in Dravidian style and is fairly large. Periodical improvements have been made from time to time by the later rulers of Mysore. The present seven-storied tower (Gopura) at the main entrance was got constructed by Krishnaraja Wodeyar III who ruled the Mysore from 1799-1831. There is also an equally ancient holy pond called Devikere, very close to the temple. This not only provides water for the worship of the Goddess but also caters to the needs of the local people. Situated at a higher elevation very close to the temple is a majestic palace called Rajendra Vilas, which was used exclusively by the Maharajas and was converted into a grand hotel for a brief period.
On the eastern edge of the hill, on the motorable road is a small side-hill called Lalitadri which also houses a small palace, now under private holding.
Fig. 5: Plains as viewed from hill top
Fig. 6: Mahabaladri
Fig. 7: Another slope view
Fig. 8: Summer view
Topography & Geology
Chamundi hill is situated in the direction of southeast, abutting Mysore city, Karnataka. The isolated hillock is spread over 12º 15’ 34” - 12° 17´ 5” N and 76º 39’ 63”- 76° 42´ 02” E. The hill has periphery of c. 11 Km and surface area of c.17 Km2. The study area is dotted with seven hillocks ranging from 861- 944 m, asl surrounding peak plateau of 1024-1057 m.
Geologically, the rocks are pink and gray granite depending on various elements present in it. These youngest igneous rocks are due to recent volcanic activity (0.8 billion years old) compared to the nearby peninsular Gneissic rocks of sargur-kabbal durga (2.3 billion years old). Red gravelly soil with rich silica content, rocky surface and scanty rainfall7 (762 mm) supports the tropical deciduous thorn-scrub type of vegetation in Chamundi reserve forests. Rainy season is as in the introduction of Mysore area (Gazetteer, 1988).
The forest is presently protected as reserve forest by the Karnataka state forest department since 2001.
Karnataka state Gazetteer, Mysore District, Government press, Bangalore,1988
Chamundi hillock is formed due to recent volcanic activity (0.8 billion years old). Hill is mostly of igneous rocks of pink and gray granite, and is considered young when compared to the 2.3 billion years old peninsular Gneissic rocks of neighbouring Sargur–Kabbal durga. Gravelly red soil, rich in silica content, a rocky surface and, scanty precipitation of 762 mm (Kamath, 1988) supports a tropical deciduous thorn-scrub type of vegetation in Chamundi Hills Reserve Forest. Being an overpowering geographical feature of the landscape, Chamundi Hill’s influence on the ecology of the region plays a crucial role in the microclimate of Mysore. The Karnataka state forest department protects the reserve forest (Misra et al., 2007). The trees here are armed with thorns, stunted and slow-growing. Vast areas are covered with bushes of Pterolobium hexapetalum, Toddalia asiatica, Rhus mysorensis, and Ziziphus oenoplia forming impenetrable undergrowth.
Nine different micro-climatic regions of floristic importance with some species specificity are recorded here. These include plants of the plains (Syzygium cumini, Tamarindus indica), foothills (Cochlospermum religiosum, Boswellia glabra, Commiphora caudata), slopes (Shorea talura, Garuga pinnata), plateau (Gmelina arborea, Pterocarpus marsupium, Santalum album), valleys (Mangifera indica, S. talura), hill-tops (Diospyros montana, Holarrhena pubescens), ponds or pools (Hygrophila schulli, Limnophila indica), tanks (Aponogeton natans, Centella asiatica, Eclipta alba, Bacopa monnieri, Utricularia spp.) and significant evergreen scrub at higher elevations (Canthium dicoccum, Plecospermum spinosum) ( Rao and Razi, 1981).
Tripping point: 33% of land area under forest is regarded as the minimum required for maintaining the ecological balance in India. Inclusive of 5 taluks Mysore District has 15.6% considering National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries, whereas Mysore Taluk alone has just 7% forest cover which is very minimal and needs 5 fold increment.
Fig. 9: Banded Blue Pierrot
Fig. 10: Spotted Small Flat
Fig. 11: Small Grass Yellow
Study over a period of a decade has resulted in observation of 153 species representing all the six families. Varied vegetation is supporting healthy population of butterflies here. Some of the butterfly species commonly encountered in this habitat is Plain Tiger Danaus chrysippus, Common Indian Crow Euploea core, Common Emigrant Catopsialla pomona, Lemon Pansy Junonia lemonias, Yellow Pansy Junonia hierta, Crimson Rose Pachliopta hector, Common Four Ring Ypthima huebneri, and Common Grass Yellow Eurema hecabe.
The habitat supports more butterflies during Southwest, Northeast monsoon, and post -monsoon. Rarely Spotted Royal Tajuria maculata, Banded Blue Pierrot Discolampa ethion, Peacock Royal Tajuria cippus, Suffused Snowflat Tagiades gana, Large Oakblue Arhopala amantes, and Common Guavablue Deudorix isocrates. A butterfly of evergreen forests, Red Helen Papilio helenua was sighted thrice, but want of photograph to prove its presence, it is not included in the checklist.
Monoculture plantation patches of Eucalyptus spp, Acacaia auriculiformis, Casurina equisetifolia and Gliricidia sepium are thriving well here. Of these Gliricidia sepium is one of the nectar plants for Blue Tiger Tirumala limniace, Dark Blue Tiger Tirumala septentriois, Common Indian Crow Euploea core and Common Jezbel Delias eucharis. In spring, fallen flowers of Gliricidia attract good number of Pea Blue Lampides boeticus and Common Four Ring Ypthima huebneri.
Being part of Mysore area, Chamundi hill also experiences, pre & post monsoon danaids butterfly migration (located in the plains between eastern and western ghat, where migration is documented). A well-grown thicket laden with good moisture provides roosting habitat to these migratory butterflies along with Lalithadri vegetation. Other such roosting habitat like Ele thota, Karanji have degraded and disappeared from Mysore area.
a. Endemic species recorded here;
Fig. 12: Indian Bushlark
Fig. 14: Eurasian Wryneck
Fig.13: Jerdons Lark
Fig.15: Yellow-eyed Babbler Juvenile
The diversity in Chamundi hills, a tropical deciduous thon scrub forest is reflected in wide diversity of the bird species. The species ranges from the typical plain resident species like Ashy Prinia Prinia socialis to winter visitor Black-naped Oriole Oriolus chinensis.
During the 30 year observation, 193 species of birds belonging to 44 families were recorded from the reserved forest. Comparing the total species of 546 recorded (Praveen et al. 2020) in the entire Karnataka, study area of c.17 Km2 accommodating 193species is noteworthy. Bird diversity in early succession forest is usually lower than in mature forest and correlates positively with vegetation complexity and food availability (Terborgh, 1969).
Out of 193 of bird species recorded, 134 are residents and 72 species breed here. Of the breeding population three parasitic species, Pied crested Cuckoo Clamator jacobinus, Common Hawk Cuckoo Hierococcyx varius and Gray-bellied Cuckoo Cacomantis passerinus have been recorded during summer and rainy months in the study area..
The hills form a vantage point to observe migratory, roosting and breeding birds that fly to lakes like Kukkarahalli, Lingambudhi, Karanji, Dalavay and Shettihalli even though they are 2-6 km away. Darters, Pelicans, Painted Storks and Ducks occasionally docks in the foothill waterbodies abutting the hillock. Few migratory rare birds recorded here are not found any where else (very rarely sometimes) in the Mysore Taluk. They are - Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata, Blue-throated Flycatcher Cyornis rubeculoides, Indian Blue Robin Larvivora brunnea, Pied Thrush Zoothera wardii, Grey necked Bunting Emberiza buchanani, Malabar Whistling thrush Myiophonus horsfieldii (Praveen, 2006) , Eurasian Blackbird Turdus merula and Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla . Come winter, one can witness rare migrants here.
Globally threatened, critically endangered, Indian White-backed Vulture Gyps bengalensis was sighted only once in the last decade. Two to three of them were used to accompany many endangered Egyptian vultures Neophron percnopterus during garbage feeding dumped by Mysore City Corporation in the foothills of Chamundi hills is a past history now. First generation Mysore birders ( Sadananda KB and Dani NP) have observed them breeding in the hill.
Globally threatened, vulnerable, and endemic to southern peninsular India, Yellow-throated Bulbul Pycnonotus xantholaemus (Thejaswi, 2004a), used to be active in valleys and slopes mostly in boulder-strewn vegetation is altogether missing since August 2003. A common resident in the forested patches - Gray Junglefowl Gallus sonneratii was completely absent during the study period, probably hunted to local extinct. The ray of hope is endemic Red Spurfowl Galloperdix spadicea, and Painted Spurfowl Galloperdix lunulata that were altogether absent all these years have appeared indicating the conducive habitat restored. So, all the possibility exists that Yellow-throated Bulbul might make comeback but habitat -sparse scrub jungle with trees among stony hillocks, should be intact to accommodate them to accommodate them.
Globally threatened, vulnerable, Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni is a rare winter visitor, sighted in the very low gradient slopes of the foothills joining main land where vast grass fields are present. Though, presence of Harrier roosts (Thejaswi et al., 2004b) and occurrence of Amur Falcon Falco amurensis and Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni recorded (Thejaswi et al., 2004c) within 2-3 Km (aerial distance) from Chamundi hill, only Lesser Kestrel frequents the Chamundi hill slope zone.
Near threatened Oriental White Ibis, wide spread and locally common in lowlands of dry zone is a commoner in the water holes of hill range.
Other IUCN listed birds found here other than mentioned above are - Endangered: Steppe Eagle Aquila nipalensis; Near threatened: Pallid Harrier Circus macrourus, Rufous-bellied Eagle Lophotriorchis kienerii, Painted Stork Mycteria leucocephala, Oriental Darter Anhinga melanogaster, and Spot-billed Pelican Pelecanus philippensis. Few of the hill adjoining waterbodies supporting threatened Painted Stork, Oriental Darter and Spot-billed Pelican are in very bad condition.
Long distance migratory birds - Amur Falcon Falco amurensis, Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus, and Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata cross over to African continent through Indian peninsula have been recorded here in Chamundi hill and abutting surrounding plateau.
The hillock also supports the endemic Mottled Wood Owl, White-cheeked Barbet (both are residents) and Malabar Whistling Thrush, Crimson-backed Sunbird(both local migrants), these are in addition to already mentioned Yellow-throated Bulbul (locally extinct), and recently recorded Red Spurfowl and Painted Spurfowl.
Isolated Chamundi hill forest in recent years as Mysore City is growing on all the sides is the last refuge and has become an Island. The hillock is supporting two near threatened and one vulnerable mammal.
Bonnet macaque Macaque radiata - Least concern
Common Leopard Panthera pardus - Near threatened
Rusty spotted Cat Prionailurus rubiginosa - Vulnerable
Small Indian Civet Viverricula indica - Least concern
Common palm civet Paradoxurus hermophroditus - Least concern
Common/Grey Mongoose Herpestes edwardsi - Least concern
Golden Jacakal Canis aureus - Least concern
Pangolin Manis crassicaudata - Near threatened
Black-naped Hare Lepus nigricollis - Least concern
Northern Plains Langur Semnopithecus entellus - An escapee appeared probably through the transport lorries crisscrossing India to APMC adjoining the hillock
Tips for Nature Trial
There are two vehicle routes to hills, regular one where city buses ply and the other from Mysore-Nanjanagudu road deviation. One can climb the hill taking thousand-step route from nearby JSS College, situated on Mysore-Nanjanagudu road. Another climbing route from Uttanahalli is closed due to all round border fencing. These vehicle routes as well as climbing routes could be tried for nature trail. Starting points of vehicle route and steps are well within 4-5 Km from city bus stand. A small walk around three watch towers (for guarding again forest-fire) located at three different strategic location on hill top is also useful. A walk from Mahadeshwara temple to hilltop and also to rocky slopes, horseshow valley, Uttanahalli steps from hill road are few interesting strips are more productive. Mahadeshwara temple is situated on hill, besides hill-Uttanahalli vehicle road.
In winter months early morning and late evening trips are quite exciting throughout the year. Days with clear and sunny sky, right after rains will enrich ones butterfly knowledge. The forest will offer you some surprise. But don’t venture alone, have at least 3-4 members in group. Avoid step climbing on holidays. Other than holidays, leisurely enjoying the nature activity and gradually climbing would be lifetime experience. Some time one needs to answer reasonable queries from patrolling police and forest officials, if you are not on vehicular or public track.
Praveen J. 2010. http://groups.yahoo.com/group/bngbirds/files /Karnataka_Checklist/Annotated Checklist of Karnataka_21C_Ras_V3_4
Praveen J. 2006. Post monsoon dispersal of Malabar Whistling Thrush. Zoos’ Print Journal 21(9):2411
Terborgh,J., and J.S.Weske. 1969. Colonization of secondary habitats by Peruvian birds. Ecology. 54:765-782
Thejaswi,S. 2004a. New sites for the globally threatened Yellow-throated Bulbul in Karnataka, Kerala and Tamilnadu, Southern India. J.Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 101(3):458-460
Thejaswi.S, Shivaprakash.A, & Mohankumar. 2004b. A note on Harrier roosts in the Mysore area. J.Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 101(3):450-451
Thejaswi.S, Srihari Sastry, Shivaprakash.A, & Mohankumar. 2004c. Occurrence of Amur Falcon and Lesser Kestrel in Mysore, Karnataka. J.Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 101(3):451-452
Kumara, H.N., Sapthagirish, M.K., Sadananda, K.B. and Shivaprakash, A. (2010). Preparation of biodiversity conservation plan for Mysore Forest Division. Technical report submitted to Karnataka Forest Department, Mysore Forest Division, Mysore, Karnataka, India.
Well known Mysore nature photographers, S/s Kulashekara CS, Ravinarayan CS, Rajesh MS, Vishwnath MK, Das S, Vinay S and Sadat Ali Khan, frequent visits to Chamundi hill are instrumental in enlarging checklist of Avifauna.