September 26, 2013

Masinagudi- Amidst Wilderness...!!

The car took a left at Theppekadu fork, crossed over a bridge on which sat a few macaques which stared at us as we passed by. We reached Bokhapuram which has a beautiful colourful temple and our resort Glen View, was further up and the last one on a huge line of resorts in this small forest village. The last stretch of 300 meters to the resort was actually a dirt track with protruding stones. My car almost wept. However it definitely gave a glimpse of the rustic side of Masinagudi.

Mudhumalai sanctuary
The temple at Bokhapuram
Being on the edge of the forest cover has its advantages. Nestled beautifully amidst thick vegetation, the resort seemed away from the chaos of tourists in the other resorts which were adjacent to each other. The foliage added to the resort's setting and the sunlight peeping through the greenery along with distant fog engulfed hills made for some stunning frames. There were different kinds of flora around and fauna in the form of arthropodas (insects, spiders, centipedes etc) and amphibians (frogs) were seen all over the place. It undoubtedly made a creepy feel in my mind and that made it all the more exciting. There was also a wild pig that was roaming around the cottages but shied away when I went close enough. We spend the afternoon strolling around the resort. There was a small stream that flowed beside the resort. There was absolutely no sound other than the trickle of water, it was green all around, water droplets fell from the branches, silence engulfed the place and that was the moment when I first experienced the wilderness of Masinagudi. We decided to avoid the government safari bus from Theppekadu and instead booked a jeep which would take us through Mudumalai wild life sanctuary which is also a tiger reserve. Being on a private vehicle has its disadvantages too as we could not drive deep into the forest area and were majorly restricted to the main road.

Resort premises
Fresh, green and wet
Our driver, a very enthusiastic person with a fair knowledge of wildlife took us into the sanctuary on his jeep and doubled up as a guide and naturalist. He had been a part of the national geographic team that shot in the sanctuary a year back and was quite aware of animal movements and took us to spots which had high chances of wildlife sightings. We first spotted a wild fowl that was loitering around followed by a peacock. As always it was the brilliant azure colours that caught my attention. We were on the look out for elephants and guars as the population of both inside the sanctuary is quite high and our guide was quite sure that we would sight a few. As we moved ahead, many spotted deer were seen by the side of the road happily grazing and popping up their head on hearing noises. Langurs (hanuman monkeys) were seen aplenty perched on tree tops clutching their babies.

We drove ahead into the woods for long and reached the entry gate of Bandipur national park. From there we returned back and on the way we spotted a group of guars at a distance enjoying their solitude. We were quite happy to spot them and to have ticked one off the list (elephants being the other). We explored more and drove along slowly so as to not miss any wildlife sighting. Did not find anything interesting on our way back to theppekadu other than langurs and spotted deer. Our driver insisted on driving in the other direction and wanted to make sure that we did sight interesting wildlife in addition to whatever we had already seen. So off we went on the road that lead to Ooty and stopped within half a kilometer. A herd of elephants (mostly females and a couple of babies) numbering 7-8 were strolling a few feet away in the woods. The young one was quite playful and kept running around while its mother pulled it back. After capturing a few photographs of this wonderful herd we went ahead.

Guars in the woods

 A few  meters ahead a vehicle had stopped but when we turned our head to check, found nothing. Upon asking the people in the car ahead of us, one of them blurted- "Tigerrr". They had seen a glimpse of it while it was about to cross the road but suddenly retreated back into the bushes. All looked at each other and my guide was more than sure with his huge experience that there was a stripped cat in the bushes. On to our left was thick bushes, then a small valley and a river further down. The tiger must have gone down to drink water and now wanted to cross the road back into the forest. The engines stopped grumbling, people spoke in hushed voices and waited patiently for the big cat to cross over. The tiger had sensed human presence and probably that is why it never came out. Suddenly my co traveller screamed and claimed she saw half a paw. Excited about seeing the big one come out, we waited and waited for long. The tiger never came out and we had to return back with heavy hearts. So close, yet so far. As we waited for the cat, there was a peacock that showed itself on the other side of the road. Gorgeous it looked. The tiger must have gone back to the river and crossed over to the other side is what my guide said as he drove back.

We were back at the place where we had seen the elephants. Many vehicles had stopped by to see them. The herd had moved closer to the road and wanted to cross over and go down to the river. However with so many vehicles parked, they were quite apprehensive and waited near the road. The one in the front was a large female and she was the one to take the lead. We were first in the line of vehicles and had a good view of the elephants. The herd still took its time to cross and we waited patiently at a distance of 50 meters away from them. Suddenly the elephant that was leading the way got onto the road, trumpeted and did a mock charge towards our vehicle. There was a scream inside the vehicle. Our driver being the sensible person with good reflexes immediately started the engine and flashed the headlights. The pachyderm stopped after 20 meters and then waited. We also waited as the other females in the herd along with the babies came closer to the road to cross over. Only the first one crossed over and while it was crossing our sensible driver turned senseless. He wanted to make it more adventurous and went closer to the elephant that had almost crossed over.We were at a distance of 5 meters from her when she turned around, took two steps towards us and trumpeted. Had I stretched my hand out, I could have touched her trunk. The jeep being an open one, the dreaded thought of being airlifted by the elephant ran through my mind for a second. We shrieked, shouted at the driver for being senseless and then drove back before the remaining herd crossed over. Phew, that was a terrifying experience. 

He justified his act and said he was well aware of animal movements, their reactions and their mock charges. However we were quite upset with his actions and did give him a hearing. We just wanted to see wildlife, not encroach into their territory and irritate them. However, he wanted to make it a memorable experience for us and that was a unforgettable one for sure. It was already dark by the time we reached back Theppekadu and on our way to the resort we spotted a couple of guars by the road in the dark grazing away happily. Without bothering them much we drove back to the resort. An eventful day came to an end with the sound of cicadas through the night. 

Masinagudi and the safari through Mudhumalai sanctuary was definitely memorable for interesting sightings and frightening experiences. It had all- elephants, guars, deer, langurs, fowls, peacocks and a just missed stripped cat!

Signing Note- As wild as it gets...!!

Route- Bengaluru- Mandya- Mysore- Nanjangud- Gundlupet- Bandipur- Mudhumalai- Masinagudi
Distance- 240 Kms

September 18, 2013

Bandipur- Into the Wild...!!

As soon as we entered the Bandipur National park, we stopped the car and got out for a photo session. We knew we were not supposed to stop the vehicle but we did, and were asked by an army personnel who drove behind us to get back into the car and leave. That was an interesting start to our wild adventures at Bandipur. With sulking faces we got back into our car and drove past the lovely winding roads painted in green on either sides with an odd spotted deer popping its head between the bushes. An aged and ill looking elephant stood by the road and we slowed down for a click. I had driven past the Bandipur national park information centre and forest department guest houses many times but never stopped by. This time however our stay was arranged at one of the cottages of the forest department. We checked in, booked our safari for the evening, had lunch, dumped the luggage and then set out to explore the surroundings.

Both the information centre and the forest guest houses are adjacent to the road that cuts through the national park and hence the surrounding areas are frequently visited by herds of spotted deer, wild boars, peacocks, bonnet macaques and langurs. We strolled around the place to find some beautiful landscapes in the distance. Monsoons had left its mark and the whole place seemed covered in a carpet of greenery with distant green hills, tall trees and thick foliage. The fluffy white clouds hovering above these made the scenery all the more dramatic. We saw a couple of bonnet macaques gleefully playing on the branches of trees near the road. The forest department also has a few tamed elephants which were being trained near the forest office. 
The beautiful landscape
A tamed one
Playful bonnet macaques
We crossed the road upon seeing a few wild pigs and their piglets happily playing with each other. While capturing them on our lenses, we were in for a special surprise as a huge herd of 100-150 spotted deer were happily grazing near by. That was indeed the largest herd of deer I had seen at one glance and had stags, fawns and female deer. From the piglets, our lenses turned focus to the spotted deer. It is tough to see them from very close quarters as they are quite wary about human movements. We took each step with caution to capture these elegant creatures. However a few popped up their heads, giving us a stare but most of them to our surprise, nonchalantly grazed unaffected by our presence. There were a few stags which locked horns with each other and that made for some wonderful captures. More tourists stopped by on seeing the huge herd and were all over the place making noises and got very close to the deer and that disturbed them. We spend quite some time with the gentle deer before heading back to the forest office for our jungle safari. That was the first glimpse of wildlife at Bandipur for us. As we patiently waited for the jeep to arrive, we captured some playful langurs jumping from one tree to another. They were all over the place and were happily enjoying all the attention they received from the visitors. 

Wild pigs
Spotted deer

A jumping langur
We had a very friendly driver for our safari and he took all possible routes to make sure we had a good sighting during the same. All of us wanted to spot one of the big cats. Be it a tiger or a leopard, we wanted to sight it and we peppered our driver all those nice talks to help us spot one. We all knew wildlife sighting cannot be done that way. Had it been that easy to spot wildlife, I do not think wildlife sanctuaries and national parks would have got so much prominence and there would have been so many wildlife enthusiasts. But a desire is a desire! Our driver mentioned that a week back, a tiger lay on the road for about fifteen minutes blocking the traffic. Now that is what you call 'luck'! The woods looked so serene and beautiful with greenery, fresh air, waterholes, elephant dumps and meandering paths. We began the drive by spotting the commonly seen peacocks, spotted dear, wild hare, wild fowl etc. The peacocks looked so beautiful and their blue hue blended so beautifully against the bright green background. Surprisingly we did not see any elephants. Suddenly our driver stopped the vehicle and said "Pug Marks". I had never spotted a big cat in the wild and those words from the driver made me excited. However it was just pug marks that we saw for a long while and kept following the pathways. The spotted deer kept marking its presence frequently along with the odd peacock. Even though the driver kept speaking over the wireless with other vehicles, the response was negative. 

A wild fowl

A waterhole
All of a sudden the driver remarked after his conversation over the wireless that three tigers have been spotted in three different places at the same time. Our joy knew no bounds as we drove towards the spot. A couple of vehicles were already parked near a waterhole and we too found a nice place to park and view the beast. The tiger was at a distance of about 100 meters or more and was happily enjoying its solitude in the waters probably after a heavy meal. Cameras flashed from all the vehicles as the lenses zoomed many fold to capture the stripped cat. Unperturbed by all the noises and the people, the big cat was lost in its own moments. We had doubts whether it was asleep in the waters as it never moved from its position. Suddenly there was a 'hurrah' from the crowd. The tiger had lifted its head and kept looking in the direction of the vehicles. Patience had paid off as all the onlookers were desperate to see the tiger move from its still position. Though at a distance, the experience of spotting a tiger in the wild was definitely an enthralling experience. However the sight of 5-6 vehicles loaded with people making noises and flashing cameras at a silent beast was not that great a sight. After capturing a few more angles of the wild beast we drove back from wildlife to civilization. As per wireless communications later, the other two tigers had retreated back into its wilderness. We however were a bit disappointed about not spotting an elephant but the words of our driver made us happy. He said, ''Spotting an elephant is not a big deal as you can see it even by the side of the road, but you are lucky to have spotted a tiger in the wild, which is a rarity". 

The stripped cat
The evening was cold and we came out of our cottage late in the night to have a glimpse of the shining stars. That was indeed a beautiful sight. We got up early next day for our morning safari. After spotting a tiger the previous evening, we were all charged up and enthusiastic to spot another one. Supposedly, mornings are the best time for wildlife sighting. As we entered the path into the woods, a few spotted deer jumped the tracks and crossed us. Our first sighting was a lonely indian gaur, which was happily sitting under a tree in oblivion. After capturing its candid moments, we drove further into the forest which looked so fresh and beautiful early in the morning. There were fresh pug marks and elephants dumps all along and our driver was sure that the animals were close by and had not wandered off far. Now more than the tiger, we wanted to see the wild elephant which had eluded us since the previous evening. We followed the pug marks for quite a distance with all the heads popping out of the vehicle in different directions. Frequent interaction through wireless did not yield any exciting information this time. The dumps were frequently seen on either sides of the path but the elephants still remained elusive. Even though we followed the trail marks for long we had to get back without sightings of any wild cat or elephant. Our driver being the generous guy, explored 15 minutes beyond the allotted safari time in search of a sighting. However we did not have the luck that we were bestowed with the previous evening. As we came out of the woods, we spotted a beautiful peacock sitting on a wood with its feathers beautifully laid out. That was an eye-soothing sight. 

A Gaur
A beauty
After breakfast, we checked out and drove past more greenery, spotted deers and wild pigs beyond the Bandipur National park towards Mysore. Bandipur Natinal park does have some of the best wildlife sightings in the Nilgiris biosphere and apart from the commonly seen deer, peacocks, wild pigs, langurs and fowls, the rarely seen tigers, elephants, leopards and dholes make their presence felt inside it.

Signing Note- Get engulfed by the wilderness...!!

Route- Bangalore- Mandya- Mysore- Nanjangud- Gundlupet- Bandipur
Distance- 220 Kms

September 13, 2013

Dubare White Water Rafting...!!

When we reached Dubare camp on a lazy sunday afternoon, the place was quite crowded with adventure enthusiasts who had come in truck loads. People waited in long queues to get on to the raft for a still water ride. We however were keen on the long white water rafting. The elephant camp at Dubare is situated on the other bank and we could spot a couple of pachyderms enjoying a bath. We contemplated about going ahead with the rafting seeing the crowd but quickly changed our minds and bought tickets for the 7km long rafting on Cauvery river. Cauvery was flowing at its best and looked all brown and beautiful. However, the water level was low and the rafting was a grade 1. Though a  bit disappointed we got charged up when our gears came and listened to the instructions from our guide before securing our places along the ridge of the raft. After my rafting experience at Barapole ( which I thoroughly enjoyed, I just lapped up this exciting opportunity of rafting on Cauvery. Rafting at Dubare is much longer than the one at Barapole and I was quite excited about spending a couple of hours amidst the greenery and the river.

The team (6 of us) was all set to paddle and we began our adventure as we followed the instructions from Raj (instructor), a jovial person who loves being in the waters and who does his best to make the experience an adrenaline rushing one. He was quite disappointed that the water level was low and could not show us the real experience of rafting at Dubare. During the best times of monsoon, the water level rises to more than 12 feet from the present level is what we were told by him. After the initial interaction and guidelines, we were happily rafting away in between the branches of trees that had bend itself to kiss the waters. Moving away into more openness we were asked by our instructor to take the plunge into the cold Cauvery. Before we could think about how to jump off the raft, I was gulping down a few mouthfuls. I was the first prey to the push from Raj. We swam for a while taking in the coldness of the river and then floated in the brown waters staring at the  blue sky. For a while we did not have to swim as the flow of the river took us further down along with the raft. Our instructor was quite a water lover and displayed his skills and acrobatics in the water to our amusement. 

Shortly after getting back into the raft, we encountered our first rapid. Though a small one the first hand experience to most in the group made us enthusiastic and we were ready to face the next one. There were many rocks which popped up from nowhere and we paddled our way through them, hitting them and then flowing away from them. When the Cauvery is full to its brim, most of the jutting rocks and the swaying branches of trees go under the waters and the rapids and swirls that they create are undoubtedly the best adrenaline rushes of rafting in Dubare. The grade 1 level made us enjoy a few more exciting rapids and our free spirited instructor made sure all those jutting rocks were put to good use by hitting them and had us falling all over the raft.

Slowly I noticed that we were away from civilization. Except for the six of us and our instructor, I could not see any other people. Cauvery had wound itself through the Dubare forest area taking us into the lap of nature, away from the mad world. All I could see was the Cauvery meandering itself through the greenery, a few birds flying off the branches and the six of us enjoying the gurgling of waters and the silence of woods.

We had a second plunge into the waters and enjoyed a few more moments of floating in the Cauvery before heading further down to our end point. We had a final rapid to encounter which was made memorable by our instructor. After hitting the rapid, we paddled back against the flow and went head on facing the water that was flowing over a rock. We were all then asked to squat near the front portion of the raft and bend ourselves facing the rushing waters. Our instructor made all his rafting skills to the best use by hitting the raft on to the rock and we had water gushing all over us and it soon filled up the raft. We repeated this enthralling act many number of times before flowing back along with Cauvery. 

Though the rapids were not very exciting (due to grade 1), the long time spend rafting in the Cauvery taking in the beauty of the surrounding greenery, diving into the cold waters and all those adrenaline rushing acts was definitely a great experience. The day which began as lazy one turned into a memorable one by the time we drove back from Dubare.

Signing Note- Raft away and get engulfed by the nature in Dubare...!!

Route- Bangalore- Mandya- Hunsur- Kushal Nagara- Dubare
Distance- 235 Kms

September 5, 2013

The Landscape...!!

A meandering river, a curvaceous ghat, thick canopy, shadows of floating clouds, distant open lands, brown hills and a blue sky made a beautiful landscape vista from Dhimbam ghats, Tamil Nadu. August 2013.

September 3, 2013

The Waterfalls...!!

Can you spot the waterfalls amidst thick vegetation and floating mists?

Western Ghats, Kannur, Kerala. August 2013.
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