Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Nights in Nagarahole - Part 2: Lessons for a City Dweller

1.30 PM on 25th May, 2012, I climbed the gentle slope on top of which sat the Kallahalla forest rest house. It was nothing like the picture on the Forest department's website. That would put anyone off immediately and that website is in urgent need of up-gradation!

Mahadeva, the caretaker-cum-cook appeared from his quarters behind the FRH and gave me a salaam. Obviously, he'd been told to expect guests. "Everything is ready Sir", he said. Then, looking around perplexed,he enquired, "Only two of your, Sir?".  He had been told to expect five persons and only two were to be seen. Lunch was ready and Mahadeva was worried it would all go wasted.

"Don't worry", I assured him. "I'm a little early and coming from another direction. Your main guests are coming from Mysore and will be here shorly". He looked relieved when I told him to set the table for five.

After putting our stuff into one of the bedrooms my son and I went around exploring the place. The Kallahalla guest house is situated on a slope on the outer curve of the Nagarhole - Hunsur road. Off to the left there is a large pond where a python had been spotted sun bathing not long ago. We went to see if it was there but apparently it was an off day for the reptile.

Hunger ensured that we were not very enthusiastic about exploring too much so we came back and waited. My sister and family finally arrived and after a late lunch we were feeling much better. Mahadeva's average cooking was tasting better than best on growling stomachs. We were a trifle disappointed that there was no chicken as promised. Mahadeva said he hadn't been instructed and in any case it had to be procured from either Kutta or Hunsur.

We did spy a chicken wandering around but it apparently belonged to a forest guard staying in the vicinity. How unfair!

Lunch over, the next issue was getting into the jungle. It was already 3.00 PM and someone was supposed to have arranged a jeep safari for us. There was a jeep parked next to the rest house but it seemed ill prepared for the task. A fact that was confirmed without delay!

 Now, if we had the misfortune of this vehicle stalling in the middle of a trip we couldn't recruit the help of some friendly elephants could we? After all the rules say we aren't supposed to get off the vehicle during a safari! In any case nobody seemed to know what the plans were and the there was no way to call anyone. Between us we had four cell phones. Three with Vodafone connections and my dual sim phone with an Aircel and BSNL connections. NONE of them had network access. How wonderful?!

After getting the grocery list from Mahadeva we piled into the car and drove off to the Nagarahole reception center. The gentlemen at the counter obviously weren't expecting any VIPs so we got ourselves into one of the buses that was taking visitors on a one hour safari.

It was a miserable one hour with a group of excited people. A langur would throw them into a frenzy and an elephant  sighting was greeted with loud roars that would scare the poor pachyderm off.

At the end of a very long hour we got off the bus to be greeted by the RFO. Obviously, he knew and asked us why we hadn't called him or informed the reception of our arrival. When we told him politely, in case he wasn't aware, that cell phones did not work here and his staff obviously were ignorant about our identity, he smiled sheepishly and refunded the money my bro-in-law had paid for the safari. It seemed that communication in Nagarahole needed some urgent improvement.

We had an hour and a half before the check post closed so we drove off to Kutta to stock up. The children were certified carnivores, not to mention my bro-in-law. He hopped off at the chicken stall and my sister went searching for veggies. I went looking for other stuff like butter and beverages.

If you are a city dweller used to the trappings of civilization take a moment to answer these questions.
  1. Can you live without access to the internet or your cell phone network?
  2. Can you survive on a spartan diet of rice, chapattis, lentils, veggies and some watery curry?
  3. Can you spend a night without electricity and the familiar soothing sound of traffic while you toss in your bed?
  4. Can you sleep with the roar of a tiger or the alarm call of a frightened deer outside your window?
  5. Do you enjoy the company of swarm of creepy crawlies where you stand, sit or sleep?
If the answer to all the above questions are NO, go read another blog somewhere else, because what follows after this is not for people used to creature comforts of the city.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Nights in Nagarahole - Part 1: Route

I've realized now why my fingers were struggling over the keyboard. In my obsession with Bandipur I forgot that there is a world outside it. I would probably have been blind to this Bandipur-less world if it had not been for my sister & bro-in-law.

Friday 25th April, 2012 saw my car heading off in a direction that promised a lot. Wayanad & Nagarahole are a an extremely exciting combination provided we have the time to let it soak into our senses. I realized halfway through the trip that that I needed another couple of days if I had to really explore this lovely piece of wilderness.

Words are now jostling over each other in my head and I'm not sure where to start. I have therefore decided that I'll record my trip in chronological sequence.

First things first. Before any trip I like to "get prepared" and so I went trundling around the net with search strings that read like this "nagarahole national park", "nagarahole map", "nagarahole forest rest house" and the like. Imagine my surprise when I found out that except for the Google map showing a road passing through Nagarahole from Kutta to Hunsur there was nothing to tell me what lay in between!

The first thing I've done is to mark the locations on Google Earth so people interested in a wild vacation in Nagarahole will know exactly where they have to stop. We were booked into the Kallahalla FRH, right in the middle of the forest. If you exclude the road that passes in front of the rest house it will be "deep-in-the-jungle"!

The Route from Palakkad

The road to Nagarahole from Palakkad goes through some really winding terrain. I've recorded myself driving through the shortest route.  Point Zero is my house. (All distances in brackets are from Point Zero).

The first major town is Mannarkad (40kms). Just after Mannarkad, NH 213 takes a left turn at Kumaranputhur junction (43kms). Keep going straight on the Nilambur road. After Alanallur, Melattur, Pandikad (72kms) you will reach Manjeri (85kms). It can be a little confusing here so don't hesitate to ask for help.

Manjeri town has a bypass that appears on your right immediately after the Korambayil Hospital. This bypass curves gently and reaches a junction. You have to turn right here onto the Nilambur-Areekode road. A little further, the road turns right to Nilambur. Keep going straight for Areekode.

Areekode in exactly 100 km from Palakkad. Keep going straight through the town and you will hit Mukkom (115kms), followed by Omaserry (120kms) and Thamaraserry (130kms). At Thamaraserry this road joins the Kozhikode - Mysore highway where you have to turn right for Kalpetta.

After climbing the ghat road which is picturesque by itself you will reach Vythiri ((160kms). You can take an alternate route from here which is a trifle winding so what you make up on distance you lose in time. (I returned through that route so I'll give the details later). Kalpetta (172kms) has a bypass but is best avoided. The road is in pathetic condition and it rejoins the highway in the heart of town! Just out side the town is the Kainatty junction (174kms) where you have to take a left for Manathavady.

The road passes through Kaniyambetta (182 kms) and Panamaram (188kms) to reach Mananthavady (204 kms). In Manathavady get onto the Kattikulam- Tholpetty road. At Kattikulam (215kms) take a left turn immediately after an IndianOil Petrol station onto the Thirunelliy - Tholpetty road. This is the last petrol station before Nagarahole. (You will see the Pancahyat office on your right at the Junction).

Thirunelly - Tholpetty fork

The road divides about 10 kms later the left fork going to Thirunelly and the right to Tholpetty. It is well marked there so you cant lose your way. The Tholpetty WLS entrance (229kms) is only three kilometers from Kutta (232 kms). If you are driving by road better fuel up at Kattikulam because the petrol station at Kutta is defunct and they were drying arecanuts in the yard!!


Kutta Junction

As you enter Kutta, just past the Forest Check post the bus stand appears on your right. You have to make a sharp U-turn to get onto the Nagarahole road. (Between the two posts in the photo. The road on the right is the one that comes from Tholpetty to Kutta)

From here on it is a straight road. After signing in at the National park boundary (236 kms) you drive through dense forests before you reach the Reception center (242kms) where all the activities are coordinated.

Two forest department guest houses are available here, the Kaveri & Gangothri.
Kaveri FRH

Gangothri FRH

Kallahalla (250kms) forest rest house is another eight kilometers away. Located on top of a rise the rest house overlooks a waterhole.
Kallahalla FRH
 This 1924 vintage, British built, forest rest house is an ideal location for a quiet communion with nature. The building has been renovated recently and the first floor has two rooms with attached bathrooms. It has running water but since electricity is unpredictable, you should be prepared for cold baths, warm fridge & dead batteries in laptops and cameras. You can leave your cell phones behind since this place in eminently out of range, even from BSNL's network though the caretaker said there was a corner where you would get a connection.

Keep watching this page.......

Sunday, May 20, 2012

My Clay Elephant

As I mentioned in my last post this is another post that is NOT about Woodcrawling. The fact is I haven't been able to find time to woodcrawl recently and I've been forced to look at other options.

So what's the next best thing to jungle? An elephant sanctuary.

In Guruvayur, the famous temple town in Kerala you can see more tuskers in one place that you would see on the banks of the Kabini reservoir even in peak summer. Some 50 odd tuskers that belong to the temple are kept in Punathoor kota.

It's might look odd to a true nature lover but despite the not so wonderful conditions the elephants of Guruvayur are the best cared for among the ones that belong to private owners.

Their tale is told here.

One of them was a fascinating fellow. Both the times I encountered him he was not the natural colour of the elephant. He had sort of painted himself with all the mud lying around. I therefore called him The Clay Elephant.

You will find a description of my encounter here.

 Please click the links above to go the the respective Blog pages.

Meanwhile, I've got one more opportunity coming up this month end to go Woodcrawling. I'll be back with some more tales soon, but till then go meet my friend, The Clay Elephant.