Thursday, October 9, 2008

Food for the ears

Music is divine, is there any other word to explain it better? I love attending weddings where everyone come in their best makeup – hearty smiles. We can enjoy the different shades of color and ornaments which add beauty to the people and the place. The wedding which I went this evening, added more to it. A musical troop of 6 and their flute, tabla, mruthangam and drums with an appropriate mixture of experience, youth and passion lit up the whole place.

With the fascinating sound drilling deep inside the soul, eyes filling with tears, heart the world’s joy, mind with complete emptiness, the sense of existence beyond this world – is this any kind of enlightenment?

‘Seviyukku unnavu illatha podhu …’ I experienced the powerful meaning of the saying.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Into the wild

To spend our long waited holiday we packed our bags for a jungle experience in Masinagudi. Located at the foothills of the Nilgris, Masinagudi is a small village amidst the Mudumalai forest, national park and whatsoever. The Bangalore-Mysore-Nanjagund-Gundelpet-Bandipur-Mudumalai-Theppakadu-Doddilingi-Masinagudi is around 250 kms. Being told that the climate was very pleasant we packed our winter lotions and sweaters. However when we reached Mysore from Bangalore, we were wondering if we should have packed some sunscreen lotion too. The roads until Gundalpet are okay, thanks to the SH17 ‘Swarvna Karnataka’ roads for prosperity. (The road signs on the SH17 are quite interesting stating Welcome to Silk city - Ramangara, Sugar city – Mandya…..)The drive from Gundalpet to Bandipur starts giving you a feel of the jungle terrain.

We entered a new world beyond the Bandipur checkpost. The climate suddenly changed and all the road signs stating Wildlife ahead, Wildlife has the right of way’, Wildlife passing area and so on.. adds to the feel of entering the jungle. Though we were on total watch out only Monkeys, Langurs were there to welcome us. Beware of the solar electrical fencing which is there in all the resorts all the way.

We chose to stay @ the ‘Machan’ which is a watch tower, a secluded building facing the jungle in the ‘Foresthills’ resort, Masinagudi. (

We took an evening drive until the Masinagudi checkpost and were instructed to come back before 8pm. The timings are from 6am to 8pm to drive in the main road until the checkpost. No horns, no music, no street lights, no high beams, no human and all you get to see is complete darkness, shrubs and trees which are so still as if they are expecting orders from someone and the preceding jeeps suddenly stop spotting something into the dark. The feel of it makes countless butterflies fly in your stomach and the mind becomes frozen filled with an unknown fear. There was a jeep which stopped before our car and they said they spotted 4-6 wild bisons. However we didn’t have the ‘jungle eyes’ yet and all trees looked like elephants but couldn’t look for the real bisons.

Nights are so scary in the jungle. I wondered what was that I was scared of. The wild elephants, snakes, darkness, the sound or is it the feeling that something would happen?

As the tuskers and bisons might walk in during the night, the resort staff advised us not to park the car near our room. Once we were dropped in our rooms we were not supposed to come down until the next morning. Mani who dropped us in our room (by walk with a torchlight as the armor) suddenly stopped and said he could smell the elephants and vouched they will definitely come during the night. Needless to say, it made me run to the room.

Being more civilized, looks like we have lost the sharpness and intensity of our senses. The localites there could say which animal has passed by with their smell. Even a small kid could spot and elephant among the trees which I had too see through my zoomed lens. Though I wouldn’t blame on my cold for not getting the smell of animals, I really felt sorry for not having have that instinct.

The Mudumalai forest department offers a jeep safari from 7-9am and 3-6pm. The safari is a very short one of 10 kms and you must be extremely lucky enough to spot tigers or panthers. The jeep driver said that the first trips @ 7am,3pm and the last trip are the best ones. We got to see a calf and its mother elephant and lots and lots of deer.
An elephant camp @ Theppakaddu has some feeding camps everyday for the tamed elephants. They have a 2year old naughty kid, called Masini. They had rescued the calf from the jungle whose mother passed away.

We were very lucky to join a ‘trio’ from Chennai who had obtained special permission to drive into the jungle. They had a friend who is an elephant researcher and been a forest ranger. We hired a local jeep and set towards ‘Congress mattam’ a restricted area. The history behind the place is that Gandhiji and his team had held meetings here and you could see the ‘Congress Flag’ flying high when you climb up. We reached the forest checkpost @ 5pm and the Ranger added to the thrill saying that we need to return before 6pm as the wildlife movement will be at its peak during that time. We heard that they had spotted 5 to 6 tigers in the last few weeks. We agreed to his terms and got the time extended until 7pm.
We traveled until a small village called ‘Aanaikatti’ where the tribals live. At the end of the village is a small wired gate which reminded me the gates of ‘Jurassic Park’. The bent and broken wires of the gate told us lot of untold stories and pumped up the adrenaline. After the gate we were no more in this world. ‘No turning back’ was the most we experienced. Everytime we turned back to see the path we came by, we witnessed rapidly varying landscape. In one turn it was all bushes, no roads, rivers, thick shrubs, flat grounds of dried shrubs, rocks, centuries old tribal temples and on.
Deers and bisons were on the way. Though it was a rough road and not a proper way. Have it not been for the experienced jeep driver we would definitely fallen into the trees and into the mouth of leopards or elephants. The changing sky from blue to red to grey to black did its own part to add to the thrill. The jeep slowed and there it was a herd of elephants walking back to their homes. Having been used to tamed elephants, the sight of herd of brown elephants (yes they are brown, covered with sand) doesn’t scare you. The moment one of them turns back and stares at us, our heart comes to the mouth.

All the way up we were begging the driver we will turn back as the jungle gets dark very soon and we do not even know how to run away if attacked. The jeep driver Sasi didn’t wa
nt us to miss the experience until we reached our destination. When there is a fear mounting up we talk all stories to hide it. We heard all elephant stories that the ‘loners’, the single male elephants are like adolescent men. They are the most troublesome, playful and ferocious guys. The lifestyle of elephants is in many aspects similar to us. In a family if there is a female calf and a male calf the mother will drive away the male kid when it turns to adolescent age. This is to avoid the male mating with its own blood relation. So that is the story of the ‘loner’ elephants which roam around until it finds its match. On a way back we saw an elephant family crossing our jeep by few meters. The enjoyment was filled with a rush of fear when the driver saw thru the rear view mirror, a huge loner tusker turning in the direction of the jeep. Only seconds back we got to know that the maximum speed the jeep can go on a rugged road was 15 km/hr whereas an elephant can run 30-35km/hr. A lifetime experience it was with all crazy thoughts and strategies running through the mind @ lightning speed when enjoying the thrill.

The long day packed with thrill and experience ended with a drink beside the campfire. The absolute silence, calm breeze, sounds of the jungle, ’I’m still alive’ feeling, campfire, a drink, barbeque vegetables, wildlife stories can anything be better than this ?

Next morning was scheduled for a different experience, a trek into the jungle along the trails of elephants, leopards, bisons, panthers, bears, wild boars and deer. The trek guides Ravi and Basavaraj were quite experienced and didn’t miss to show us the footprints of leopards the marking of leopard claws on the trees, droppings of bear and panther, the wild fruits which are food to bear and we even got to taste the fruit of cactus ‘Kalli pazham’ which the peacocks eat. It tasted like watermelon and custard apple. We trekked on the elephant and tiger trail until the ‘tiger rock’’ which is the resting place of tigers. High up the hills with a breath taking view, will the tigers rest here to mediate? On our way back we passed by the waterfalls and never the chill water has tasted so heavenly.

After the adventurous safari and trek, we opted for a low-profile plan to drive up to Ooty which is 30 kms from Masinagudi. Along the 36 hairpin bends and the untouched nature the drive was so pleasant. On our way back we chose the Ooty-Gudalur route which was scenic with tall eucalyptus trees and the sunset among the mountains and trees was fantastic!

On our back unexpectedly we spotted a family of 3 elephants, looked like brothers and sisters with a very small baby elephant. It was quite dark and being in the jungle for 3 days our senses have sharpened enough to spot the brown beasts in the dark night. The sense of joy and accomplishment was suddenly replaced by the thought that the parents of the family must be very close by hiding in the shrubs.

The last aday morning was a totally relaxed to sit out of the room with a book, cool breeze, butterflies, colorful birds and their chirping, bees.

The staffs in the resort Radha, Mani, Kumar, Basavaraj and the resort owner Rahul are extremely friendly. The home made food for your taste buds are real treat. My favorite on the menu was Radha’s barbeque vegetables. (RadhaKrishnan is a caretaker/manager in the forest hills)

Holidays transform us in to a totally new world and as all other holidays I never wanted this one to end too!