Mudumalai

Mudumalai
What an adventure!!! Phew!!!

When me and Sirish, desperate as we were, decided to head off anywhere out of Bangalore last weekend, we had no idea we would end up at Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary. The plan shifted from Shiradi Ghats to Charmadi to Chikmagalur to whoknowswhere - finally to settle at Masinagudi.

On Friday, the 19th of May, Sirish, Sudarshan and myself set out from Bangalore and ripped towards Mysore in my Santro, covering the 140 kms in just over an hour and a half!! After picking up Subbu at the police station and Sriram at the palace (he he), were on our way past Nanjangud and Gundlupet.

Image -- The lit-up Mysore palace at night in all its glory

A night trip is all about the breaks! Roadside chai and arbit pit-stops!! One of these was next to a large lake before entering Bandipur, which we christened as the 'horny frog' lake :-) ... No prizes for guessing why!!

Once we entered the confines of Bandipur WLS, our speed slowed down to an unimaginable twenty kmph!! At this crawling speed, we were on the lookout for gleaming eyes in the dark .... and we weren't close to being disappointed!! With the cool breeze in the night and the fresh grass thanx to the recent rains, there would be a lot of animal sightings right by the roadside! The first we saw was a bunch of Sambars .... and then some more .... and then some more ... and then some more .... more ........ more ..... u get the idea rite!!! For the first time, we all noticed the 'shaving knicks' all of these had!!

Suddenly, our eyes fell on something bigger .... A Bison this time!! A highly excited bunch admired its build for quite some time before moving on. For the next couple of bisons, the car got closer .... and many failed attempts to take snaps were underway. By the end of the journey, we weren't stopping for Bison sightings!!! Ditto for the spotted deer ..... very commonplace!!

Image -- Subbu, Sirish, Sudhi and Sriram in our official vehicle

A wildlife officer at Bandipur swindling fifty bucks (that amount came down from three hundred) for no reason at all got to us and we were cursing him (and probably his whole bunch of ancestors!) before we crossed over into Tamil Nadu ...... the Mudumalai WLS. The animal sightings continued, more spotted deer here, and we were at Theppakkad. From here, there are two routes - one through Gudalur to Ooty and the other through Masinagudi to Ooty. We wern't interested in the stupid hill station and wanted to set base in Masinagudi. The checkpost here doesn't open till 6 am and we were willing to wait. However, the guards there were plain - "Pay up and move on .... or turn back!". We were livid now, but twenty bucks was little to fight for. It also showed how desperate these guys were .... Pitiful and damn shameless .....

Our plan now was to take the morning safari through Mudumalai and get back to Masinagudi to hire a local villager to trek around this place. We stopped a while in Masingudi and admired the Nilgiris in the morning light ..... it was truly spectacular .... and truly blue in color - "Neela Giri".

Image -- The blue hue of Nilgiris at dawn

Heading back towards Theppakkadu (7 kms from Masinagudi) for the Safari, we stopped to admire a bunch of peafowl by the side of the road and continued on satisfied.

Image -- A peacock

Then came the first of our adventures!! - "Wild encounters of the first kind" - I call it!! Barely three kms out of Masinagudi, we saw a bunch of elephants - Three female elephants with two calves - on the side of the road. I had stopped around 100m from them and waited for a couple of vehicles in the opposite direction to go past. We were in a really vulnerable position there, in afterthought. The elephant was quite pissed with people around it and apparently gave out a trumpet - the first warning.

Image --The pachyderms by the side of the road - Encounter #1

I backed my car up to the other side of the road, the oncoming vehicles passed by and we drove past the elephant, barely twenty feet from it at one point to a hundred and fifty meters on the other side, past it, where I stopped the vehicle and all our click-itchy fingers were given the go-ahead. A minute into ooh-ing and aah-ing at these magnificent denizens, when I was checking out the snaps I had taken of them, loud voices of Sudarshan and Sirish shouted at me to "GO! GO! GO!! The elephant is charging!!!!". I had enough time to start the vehicle and floor the gas pedal before the elephant came to within 50m from us - charging!! Phew! We all convinced ourselves that this was just a mock-charge to scare us away - which had worked perfectly!!!

With the first (mis)adventure behind us, we packed ourselves into the safari bus - and we pretty much saw the same stuff we had so far! Spotted deer, peacocks, a bison and a few elephants!!

Image -- Elephants spotted on the safari from Theppakadu

Lack of fuel in my car influenced the decision to head towards Gudalur, were we checked in at Hotel Haridagiri, just outside the forest checkpost in Thorapalli. If anyone remembers, we hadn't slep all night long!! We certainly remembered that we hadn't and had some shut-eye for a couple of hours.

When we navigated towards Masinagudi shortly after noon, it was time for "Wild adventures of the second kind!!". Less than a few hundred meters from our first encounter, on the other side of the road (again to our left), were two huge elephants with a calf! With the memories of the first encounter very very fresh in all our minds, we harbored no intentions of admiring their beauty from close range. The elephants meandered onto the road, swayed around for a couple of minutes and headed back to the side. A Toyota Innova and a Qualis were enterprising enough to overtake me and try to pass the pachyderms. We quitely followed them - something we would regret!!!

Image -- Jumbos on the road again - Encounter #2

Right in front of the jumbos, barely ten feet from them, both the vehicles come to a grinding halt!!! The Innova moved quickly on, but the Qualis stayed put while its excited Foreign passengers took photographs with excited shreiks!!! We, just boxed behind this bunch of idiots, had no clue what to do!!! Honking at them to get them moving was ruled out ..... No chance of navigating my vehicle in reverse gear - I suck at it!! Sriram had half a mind to shout out loud - another no-no!! Sirish was probably praying fervently for the Qualis to move ahead. I was checking out if there was enough space to the right of the goddamn vehicle for me to navigate if the elephant suddenly decided to charge!!! Subbu, meanwhile, clicked this beauty- albeit overexposed!! Probably the first time he had to zoom OUT to shoot an elephant!!!

Image -- The pachyderms at close range!!
Photo Courtesy - Subbu KL

Weren't we glad that this elephant did not decide to charge at us!! We were minced meat if it had!! Phew!!! We wanted to stop and give a piece of our mind to the two vehicles ahead of us- but they sped off.

Our initial destination - the Moyar Gorge and the falls - was ruled out as it was inside the forest area and we were denied permissions (and rightly so!! I wouldnt want to be on foot with an elephant charging behind me!!!). We then decided to drive up halfway to Ooty on the steep curves till Kallatti falls. The drive was good fun!! Steep curves of around 40 degrees and hairpin bends follwing each other within a hundred meters!!! The car really had to prove it deserved to be there!!! There was a small stop at the 'Bison Valley View Point" before we reached Kallatti.

Image -- The valley at the view-point

Kallatti was a disappointment - zero water flowing down. But our plans to head off and explore by ourselves were still on!! We saw some arbit hill and decided to conquer it!! A half hour later, when we were just about to plant the Indian tricolor on top!, we heard voices shouting at us to turn around and get back. Prepared to fight with the forest guard there on the grounds that there were no notices preventing us from climbing up there, we confronted him, only to find him to be a nice chap who said it was a private estate and we could'nt go in!!

Image -- Almost at the top before being called down

Driving back towards Masinagudi, we stopped at a lone restaurant and resort and were enchanted by the natural beauty there!! We took a small walk by the side of the stream and planned a longer one after the snacks which were on its way!!

Image -- And a river flows through it!

Halfway through our food, Sriram excitedly shouted and pointed at Sudarshan - a monkey had snatched food from Sudhi's plate and was now on its way up the tree again!! Then, within minutes, the clouds came down with gayles of wind and it was all 'wet wet wet'! Sipping hot coffee and watching the rain is a pleasure in itself. :-)

We had sighted a couple of bulbuls near Kallatti and now we hung our eyes on a beautiful Golden backed Woodpecker!!! Watching it peck holes onto a termite nest and nibbling into those little creatures was poetry in motion!!














Images -- The golden backed woodpecker and the bulbul






On the way back to Theppakadu, we stopped in the vast open spaces before Masinagudi, in the slight drizzle and decided to have some fun of our own!! Pointing excitedly into the woods and shouting arbit shit, we managed to arouse the curiousness of a passing vehicle - enough to make the inhabitants stop and look around!! And when they did, we promptly stepped back into the car and sped away!!! Childish, yes ... but fun nevertheless!!!

Image -- The sunset over the Nilgiris - Not blue anymore!!

We were now past Masinagudi and had stopped at the place of the second encounter. Thankfully, we were all in the car and having animated discussions about were the elephant was and how close we were to it - and cursed the Toyota drivers again!! When I turned back to say something to the guys sitting behind, I had the scare of my life!! A Hugggge elephant suddenly came out of the woods, with a louuuuud trumpet (remniscent of the war shouts of yesteryears) and charged right at the little car!! Without losing a moment, I put the car in gear and floored the accelerator. The elephant was still in pursuit. When I changed from first gear to second, the car appeared to lose momentum, whereas the elephant was accelerating!! With one eye on the rear view mirror and the foot on the gas pedal pushed as far as it would go, I watched the distance between the car and the elephant gradually increase .... a huge PHEW!!!!!! Sirish then told us that the elephant had gone on to rip off the milestone by the side of the road using its mouth (not its trunk) and threw it aside ... None of us wanted to go back and verify his claims!!!!
That, we hoped, would be the last of our encounters. I don't think any of us had the energy for one more!! When we stopped by at Theppakad to inform the RFO about this, he just quipped "You go around in a small car, what do u think will happen!!! You were lucky to have this experience!! Relax!" :-)

Moving on towards Thorapalli, the next elephant sighting was a calf suckling from its mother, while another elephant kept guard. This was right out of National Geographic!! We sped past them like we couldn't care less!!!! Safely back into the confines of Hotel Haridagiri, we called it a day.

Day two began early - up at 3 am and watched the Indian Cricket team come tantalizingly close to the West Indian target, only to lose by one solitary run!! By half past four, we checked out of the hotel and were on our way back to Bangalore. The drive through the forests again had the same bunch of eyes gleaming under our headlights - Sambar, Spotted Deer, Bisons and a single elephant. We stopped for none. Our car was subject for a thorough search at the TN checkpost and when the guards found nothing, they made a feeble attempt to beg for some cash. I began by saying "If we had done something wrong and you are asking money to hide it, therez some sense in u asking it ... What the hell ......" He didnt let me complete it and asked me to go on with an "OK sir, OK sir" ....... Probably the Karnataka officer too could make out our flared tempers and let us in without a word.

Image -- Sunrise over the plains of Nanjangud

After a brief stopover to climb a tree and watch the sunrise, we reached Mysore by 0700 hrs and were back in Bangalore by 1000 hrs. End of story!!

Image -- The Lone tree


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