Thursday, February 10, 2005
It began as a wild goose chase ,only the goose happened to be missing.. It was wild, alright – what with elephants, monkeys, malabar squirrels , bears , boars and buffaloes providing company . And to cut to the chase, we have been camping in wildlife sanctuaries and jungle resorts over the last year - six of them in fact , all in the radius of a few hundred kilometers . In the forests of Bandipur, Nagarhole and Mudhumalai , in the camps at Masinagudi, K Gudi and Wynad. Our wild life hunt had begun
At the outset, I must confess that we are not die hard wild life enthusiasts. We would not wish to pretend to be one . A natural curiosity for wild life, a little bit of adrenalin in our veins, a desperate need to get away from the city combined
with practical possibility of getting leave only during weekends led us up the jungle trail.
Our ritual began every morning . The mist played with mountains, the dew had just settled in. It was cold and damp. And the jungle presented itself to us, a collage of greens, yellows and browns . Shivering underneath our jackets and enjoying the nippy air, we drove through the forest in an open jeep, hoping for an unusual sighting .
View video - The Safari Experience
A typical safari would read like this. It starts off as a smooth ride with a song in your heart. Add a dash of excitement and plenty of hope to the experience. Then, before you know it, the jeep will suddenly swerve into a narrow path, cutting amidst trees and tearing through the grass. Your adrenalin levels increase. The smooth roads turn into sharp curves as the jeep cuts through the vegetation . You spot an animal hide here and there, a shadow darting through the leaves, a rustle in the woods . You squint through the natural mosaic of greens and browns and imagine like Macbeth, that the woods are moving. By the end of it, however your excitement wanes , the thrill fades
View videos - The deer series-different species
"One more deer"
"Lots of deer"
In the beginning were the deer, the spotted and the sambhar variety. In great hordes , skipping, frolicking, playing .The birds and the butterflies flitted around as the peacock obliged us before darting behind bushes . Next in line were the wild buffaloes, majestic and proud, ;looking at us askance. Rustling amidst the trees are the wild boars, which even greeted us near our tents in the K Gudi Camp.
Watch videos - The boars and the bisons
We chased and were chased. Eyes, though invisible to us were tracking us. We saw pugmarks of tigers , dung of elephants and heard stories of leopards. But they eluded us. At one occasion, in Masinagudi we even smelt an elephant very close to us, almost breathing behind a bush , as we got out of our jeep and trekked. It mocked us with a cry, almost like tempting us for a game of hide and seek.
You must have heard this before . The frequent refrain at every safari tour is, “If you are lucky, then … Hope is a funny thing. You very well know that it may not be your day to catch an elusive glimpse of the giant cat or encounter a tusker, but you still persist
The roads are bumpy, you get covered with slush, your legs ache as you trek , but hope does not let you down. It is this hope that made us continue and yes, we were finally rewarded. Not with a tiger or a tusker, but a bear almost 100 metres from us, that paused in its journey and sized us up Its companion was not far away, but it soon merged with the colors of the forest.. It was the twilight hour. A hush fell. We felt a sense of awe and said a silent prayer.
View video - The bear look
Very often, its not the destination so much, but the journey which is exciting.. And so it is with jungle life and safari tours. Sighting wild life alone is not fun, it’s the chase that makes it exciting…Like the one we went atop an elephant looking for a crouching tiger up hill through the forest in B R Hills. It was not the regular trail that day, somebody shouted tiger and off our mahout went in search of the beast. It mounted to nothing, but we felt the adventure in the steep climb, the dry and rocky terrain, the thorny bushes and in the unspoken excitement and fear . And the elephant farted away..
Watch video -Atop an elephant
Another adventure was atop a tree, 40 feet above the ground where we decided to stay and look at the life of the jungle It was in Masinbagudi, near the Mudhumalai Sanctuary, in a 300 acre of land populated by just another tree house and lots of wild animals. We were awakened in the dark by chimps dancing on our roof, shrieks and cries of wild elephants that threatened to encroach on our area ..We heard them all ;they were all around us, yet we saw nothing in the morning save peacocks, deer , chimps, wild boars and some rare birds
Every forest looked the same. Only the seasons change and with it, the colours. The water fronts get dried a bit, but they are still the haunts of the wild. We continued with same hope in our hearts as we touched Bandipur and this time , we got more than what we had bargained for. We pursued invisible shadows , but didn’t realize that it was our turn to be chased.
It must have been around quarter to seven , and darkness was slowly setting in. Shadows merged with trees and we were returning from another fruitless safari tour. We were on the Bangalore - Bandipur Highway , very close to our resort when suddenly we saw three elephants hardly 10 feet from us, on the edge of the road. We paused in an attempt to take photographs. We got out of the car . My friend was adjusting his camera, my husband standing outside the car beside us. Suddenly one of the elephants took a warning step forward. We backed a bit. A moment paused and we resumed our photography, when suddenly the elephant broke into a run…a very fast one at that . It was a race between man and beast.. a thin line between adventure and death, The car was at least 5 feet from where we were . We made a quick scramble to get in… We yelled, shouted, screamed and panted . We were unprepared for this ;. My friend rummaged for the keys . I flung the camera and looked back. The elephant stopped just a foot away from our bonnet.. A look which said, Get out of my territory.
The entire thing lasted for around 30 secs, may be a minute at the most. We raved, ranted and told the same story many times over, each from his /her perspective. We thought of the many possibilities of an IF added to the situation. I remember the last look, all it had to do was to stretch out its trunk and reach out to us. But it preferred not to do that.
We now speak of this incident in our inner circle as the most adventurous trip we ever had. We showcase our bravado and our story telling skills. We are probably looking for more adventures to score brownie points, to increase our adventure rankings. To us, it was a fantasy , an escape from our daily mundane lives But at that moment, however, it was about survival than exploits. It was fear , rather than hope and excitement . It was about encroaching another’s territory. And we were chased away.
Thursday, February 03, 2005
Holidays should not be planned . They just happen. This is my husband’s favorite line. I presume it’s his favorite line when it comes to anything that needs to be planned.
Anyways, that’s how it all began. One sunny morning, (It doesn’t matter if it was a Friday or a Thursday - all weekdays to me are the same, like identical slices of bread ) he called from Bangalore asking me to join him there for the weekend.
I was kicked , in spite of the fact that Bangalore weekends meant living with in-laws, no partying, staying indoors for dinner and eating rice, sambhar and dhal cooked so lovingly by my MIL for her son…Anyways, I refused to crib , for this is the only way , I could get out of the evil compulsion of working on a Saturday (any company that makes its employees work on Saturdays and that too , fulltime is committing a criminal offence, in case they didn’t know it- the law, incidentally will be passed soon.)Besides, I don’t have to cook. And so, one sleepy Saturday morning, I boarded a train which makes a stop over at Bangalore en route to Mysore and drifted off while the engine chugged its way .
If you thought that train journeys were all about green fields, blue skies , picturesque lakes and idyllic hamlets, please think again. To me, trains are about noisy kids and indulgent parents, persuasive hawkers and multiple interruptions. Needless to say, no journey is complete without them. After five hours of an uneventful trip, I awoke to some pushing and shoving . I always wonder what makes people suddenly bolt , when they see a speck that resembles a platform approaching miles away, especially after they have nestled comfortably in their berths for long hours. The train moves on, refusing to give in to the impatience of the travelers whose unleashed hormones trigger utter chaos .
Finally Bangalore arrived and as I waited for the eager lot to vacate the compartment , I saw my husband, walking in to the bogie with luggage in tow. He explained the itiniery in precisely three sentences.
We were going to Mysore .
We will be met by his friends and their families .
We will make further plans during lunch
And so, our holiday began… with just these three sentences . Mysore is a very sleepy town, quiet and serene. It is everything that Bangalore was and will never be.
Food was priority as we all greeted each other at a popular restaurant If I were to narrate the scene that were follows , I could sum it up in a few sentences.
Everybody was talking at the same time .
Everybody was shouting orders for food and beer
Everybody forgot about the weekend jaunt
10 of us, altogether - 4 couples and two kids. I wondered where we were headed . Traveling with friends is universally great fun , especially if you are used to living in large , joint families and you have been out with cousins and kids. Well, if you haven’t, here are just three (the number is a sort of motif ) tips for beginners and the uninitiated
Look out for the brat who will go all out to spice your trip and change the course of your directions .
Always maintain a straight face and say no problem when it happens .
Finally forget your plans of having fun, the way you would describe fun. .
It could mean that instead of adventures, you have a family excursion. Or a kid may impulsively demand that he will get ready only if you get him a Life Buoy soap while you are in the middle of a forest and delay your plans by a couple of hours ; you have only one option then - to grin and bear ! This is a sure success formula to enjoy your journey.
After three hours of lunching topped with beer and the plans were laid out. Coorg. Home stay . Another three hours of journeying. It was dark and the roads were practically non existent . After a barrage of calls and SMS guiding our way , we reached the home stay. Cavalry Links Estate. A petite bungalow. with plenty of space , both indoors and outdoors. In one word, comfortable. Our hosts greeted us with hot dinner and explained that this bungalow belonged to a late military officer and his wife stayed in Bangalore, leaving the couple who were neighbors to manage it. Coorg is dotted with home stays . Type the word Home Stay in Google when you are surfing information on Coorg, and lo, you get 100 sites in 0.36 secs ! Almost every other estate here is a home stay and they even have an association to manage it.
Cavalry Links Estate is an ode to colonialism and gives you the quaint feel of living in the past. The rooms are wide and airy with even bigger bathrooms and nets are there to protect you from the small bugs that populate these estates. The red oxide flooring, a swing and a hot water bath with water heated by firewood completes the experience. Small curios dot the living space, indicating the places visited by the owners . And of course, plenty of coffee
As night fell, it was time to entertain ourselves. We converted the vast eternity of space in front of the bungalow into a discotheque.. Music blared from the car speakers and no body could hear us for miles and miles. As alcohol flowed, roles reversed as the men decided to entertain . Snake dances ensued, men gyrating over each other. Next on the agenda was the fashion show and body flaunting. It was such a riot of fun. .It evoked an array of emotions . Men, I find are better entertainers than women. The latter in general , I confess are never completely at ease with fun. They have to get emotional, angry, upset , crabby, moody… I have had my moments too. But men are naturally given the gift to have fun and create fun. I must hand it over to them. They have the perfect ability to be completely influenced by alcohol and leave all inhibitions aside to just party.. Mundane issues like time, hunger, sleeping children do not worry them.
It was the time to let go. Emote . Chill . Relax . Enjoy. We did all of those, were DJs for the night, created our own mix, our own discotheque and our only witness that night was the starry company .
Its moments like these where we forget our vexation with brats and begin to behave like one, ourselves .Its moments like these that make journeys, memories worth remembering, and cherish our friendships. Its moments like these when we forget our earthly lives, miles away and live in a world of our own; with heavens above and us sleeping on green dewy lawns …
The rest of the journey was just journeying… sights, sounds, food, shopping . Itw as all about taking snaps, record our visit, the place . But there are things that the Kodak moments never capture - the fun, the laughter, the gay abandon and most importantly, the letting go of everything ……….
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
It was the darkness that first met my gaze. A thick blanket that shrouded everything, including my mind, as I collected my first thoughts of this year .
It took a moment to sink in. 40 feet above ground, suspended between branches of a jamun tree in a dense 300 acre of wild and awakened by a montage of cries that you will probably never hear in the confines of your bedroom. And the only human to share this experience was my husband, sleeping . What a way to welcome the new year !
We are one of those people who like the word different and love to make it a part of our every day’s experience. A human weakness, I would say - to wear our different experience on our sleeve, boast about it, feel good about it and occasionally pat our back saying that we did something ‘different’. A stereotype that redefines stereotypes.
And so, we began our new year with a different experience . Far from the madding crowd. We drove down from Chennai via Bangalore-Mysore to reach Masinagudi, which is 30 kms near Ooty to our base camp . A 10 kms drive through wild tall grass and dusty mud roads with the Nilgiris for company took us to a 300 acre property aptly titled Wild Canopy Reserve. The trees created the canopy and the wild here included a variety of fauna from chimps to elephants to leopards .
It was dusk when we approached and we were greeted by a very excited group who had come to inspect the spot . Tigers and elephants punctuated their conversations and we stopped to hear their story.. Arms gesticulated wildly and animated conversations ensued when they reported seeing a herd of wild elephants at a small pond nearby. Nothing unusual, we thought , until we were told that our tree house is beside the pond.
More information came in, there are things that web sites do not tell . That, there are not many of the human variety staying there . A couple of tree houses dotted the reserve and yes, it is so secluded that you cannot view the one tree house from the other .
We were shown our wild retreat- a tree house built with bamboo tucked away in the branches of a 80 year old jamun tree, An exquisite piece of nature, designed by man. The hues of twilight came and went as we climbed the rope ladder and as night descended, we saw the first glimpse of our tree house . aided by moonlight.
Small and quaint, it came with a petite balcony, an awesome bathroom with hot water and a double cot with a comfortable mattress. And an open view of the jungle and life, as seen from the top ! This, we realized was the heights of exuberance . The view became blurred until it merged with the darkness . We sat in the balcony and took in the moment . A pregnant silence gave way to the murmurs of the forest as we meditated on the sounds .
A twig cracked and with it, came light- not the dawn, but a solar lamp which we were told would last precisely for four hours. We slept the last day of 2004 , atop a tree .
It was not the dawn of the new year that awoke me, but the darkness and with it, the sounds and I’m back to where I started this journal. I lay silent, imagining the fauna around me and doing a mix n match of the various cries. And that’s when it happened. A violent jerk, a strong smell and an exuberant cry. We leapt out of our bed to see if we had visitors . My solar light had died and the moonlight was not sufficient to trace the whereabouts of our early morning visitor. We spent the time till dawn sitting in the balcony, afraid to see if our intruder has occupied the bed. We were told later that there were langurs in the tree , above our house , exercising their limbs in full glee .
It did not end there. We realized that we had more visitors that night, except that they were courteous enough to leave us undisturbed. The ponds were filled with deer and elephants ,peacocks and more colourful birds ( an adjective to clothe my ignorance) who had come to quench their thirst and thus the morning montage of sounds. There were a few wild elephants, I was told who had created quite a rampage in the property and had tried to cut through our electric fence . A watchman had been a witness to this and so this is not my imagination speaking.
We decided that we needed more of those close encounters and hence went on a safari which led into a trek as well. The wild animal eluded us as we came close to a tusker whose destructive trail we had followed. Bamboo shoots, footprints and plenty of dung were our clues for this treasure hunt. We seemed to be doing badly. At one time, it even shouted out to us an encouraging call and the scent was so distinct , but we were just not destined to get a glimpse of it. We limped back our way to the tree, defeated in this game between man and beast , while the animal, I’m sure had the last laugh as it has been seeing us all the way !
Adventures over, we climbed our way up 40 feet to reach our haven , to spend the last few moments living with nature , in silence. We were there, on top of the world , at least for that minute, until reality brought us down to earth . But one thing was sure, we were destined to reach those heights last year