Sunday, June 10, 2012

Nights in Nagarahole - Part 5: The Day After

26th May, 2012. When I'm ensconed in the comforting embrace of the wilderness my whole being undergoes a change. A body that struggles to crawl out from under the sheets at 6.30 AM is up and about, all senses alert, by 5.00 AM in the wild. Nagarahole was no exception.

Ablutions over, I went over to window to welcome the morning. The sky was just brightening in the East and the last few stragglers of the chital herd that came in for the night were still under the gulmohar tree.

The morning begins quietly in Nagarahole. The park gates open at 6.00 AM but there were no speeding vehicles with blaring horns trying to outrun each other. This was Nagarahole, not Bandipur.

A hot cup of tea and we were out on the road by 7 AM because we had been told that a jeep had been arranged at the Nagarahole reception center for a morning trip into the jungle. We watched the last of the chital move off into the forest. It seemed to be a good day for the herbivores.

Kushalappa, the driver, was waiting at the office. "You should have been here at 6 AM", he told us. Unfortunately, the range officer had informed us that the vehicle would be ready only by 7.30 AM. Unlike many drivers I know Kushalappa was very well informed about the forest he was driving in and for his age he had a rather keen eye for spotting wildlife.

Not much could be expected at half past seven but the forest had it's own beauty. Large swathes of teak forests with trees that were between 30 - 60 years old arched over the track.

Placid waterholes at every turn but with nary a movement. Even the morning mist that floats over the water was gone. Summer showing its colours.

The lonely egret walked forward in slow motion, watching for breakfast to swim by in the murky water around its legs.....

 ..... the terrapins decorated the tips of the submerged tree trunks. Basking in the early morning sun, they looked like sculptures in the midst of the brown water.

The only activity in the morning were the chitals near a watch tower. Some grazing, some sparring and some just soaking the morning sun. Life was Beautiful in Nagarahole. The elephant census had just concluded and it would be a little unreasonable to expect a predator to just rush out of the bushes!

Just as we were about to conclude our morning round we heard the unmistakable clicking call of the Malabar Giant Squirrel. Sure enough, up in the canopy an eye appeared from behind a trunk.

After a minute of assessing us it decided that we were not competing for breakfast and came out in the open to pick its choice of fruit & nut.

There was a whole day ahead of us as we sat down to a leisurely breakfast of home made idlis. It didn't take much effort for us to polish off the entire container!

We were the only souls in the reception area that morning. Even the car looked lonely in the parking lot.

We had to find something to do for the morning and as we mulled over it as we collect some plastic litter and disposed it safely.

As we got into the car we saw why Kushalappa had chided us. Timings in Nagarahole were a little different. Here, the priority was for the wildlife, not humans. I remember once, in Bandipur, a loud mouthed 'wildlife photographer' from the North making more noise than a trumpeting elephant and complaining about the insufficient opportunities for his camera because of the time restrictions. Of course, his only interest was getting a tiger in his sights. The rest of the jungle could have well been invisible. I stopped short of telling him to go to the zoo! I hope our forest remains unchanged forever.

The lunch menu had been entrusted with Mahadeva so we had to kill time till he could place it on the table. Thirunelly wasn't too far away and we could get back in time. Besides, we had to pick up another feathered creature for our dinner table!

As we drove out of the park we discovered the reason for our powerless night. A snapped electric line with branch over it.

Mahadeva had assured us the the power would be restored when we got back but chances seemed remote. We were worried about the butter in the fridge! Our worries were unfounded. On our way back from Thirunelly the line had been repaired. The chicken in the back of the car would be alright after all!

(The Thirunelly leg of the trip is another story. Please watch for a link that I'll place here shortly. The full story will come in Mango Musings & other Seasonal stories)

Mahadeva had readied a sumptuous lunch. We were rolling like hippos after lunch and a siesta was in order. In any case, there were no definite plans for the evening.  The siesta was never destined to be completed, as we had a visitor. Mr Vijay Ranjan Singh, Conservator of Forests & Director of the Rajiv Gandhi National Park. We spent a good hour in conversation, of which I'll relate in a separate blog.

We did go on another round in the evening but Mr.F who doubled up as the driver was all at sea in Nagarahole. He was in charge of the Kallahalla range and was totally lost in Nagarahole. Even the tourism zone tracks were unfamiliar to him so we called it a day and returned to the rest house.

Mr. V.R Singh had told us about a tiger who had made the Karmadu junction his favourite evening resting spot so we got into the car and went for a drive. There was no tiger but the elephants were making their presence felt as the sun went down.

Hollow tusk, as I chose to call him was there with his wife.

His right tusk was broken, perhaps in a fight, or maybe just rotted off, but he was still a handsome bull. The pair seemed inseparable. It was something I wasn't familiar with. An elephant couple without the rest of the herd anywhere in sight! I had seen them together earlier in the morning on the way to the reception center. Since the cow was in a belligerent mood we rushed past without slowing for a good picture.

Hollow tusk was probably older than King Elephant, and so more wily when it came to getting the attention of the ladies!  He was more keen on looking good and applying what is suspect is the equivalent of the fairness creams our Bollywood heroes promote. Slowing down near him had no effect on his composure.

 Even his lady love seemed calmer than she was in the morning. Despite four cars full of gawking humans on the road beside her, she ambled off without paying any attention.

A few hundred meters further down the road I spied something lying in the middle of the road. I slowed down to see what it was and before I could get a hand to my camera it skimmed across into the grass. I was a spectacled cobra. 

Karmadu junction did not have the tiger waiting. There was this guy in his car having a leisurely conversation on his cell phone. I was wondering about parking vehicles within the national park. Driving down the road was like going through a bamboo thicket. Dried and broken bamboo were lying on the road and on either side of it. It was an after effect of bamboo flowering after a few decades.

They were a potential fire hazard as it had been proven in March- April. Nagarahole has its share of horror stories. Forest fires that have been deliberate more than accidental. The conservator of forests had told us his story (which I will record separately). We were just wondering about the consequences

... and the TV news link is here.

While the Forest Department and NGO's point fingers at each other, the fact remains that it is the wildlife & forest that suffers.

As darkness settled a hesitant little animal came onto the road. "Camera", I hissed but I needn't have asked. Barking deer are too shy to wait and pose like the chital or gaur. We returned to the rest house to wash off the days dust and grime.

Power did not fail and Mahadeva's prediction of power being available for the night seemed true.The heaters in the bathrooms and fridge were working. A nice hot bath washed away the weariness from the body. We were ready for Mahadeva's dinner.

Kallahalla was settling for the night and so were we. Sitting in the the darkness in the lounge we awaited the arrival of the 'resident' leopard. According to Mr.F, it would appear around 8 PM most evenings to pick out a well fed chital from the herd that gathers in front of the lodge.

Not wanting to disturb the creatures we shone our flash light to take these pictures. Flash would spook them and in any case the on board flash was grossly inadequate. The herd were peaceful. No signs of alarm till well past 10 PM. Our eyelids were drooping to and we decided that the leopard had already fed and probably was not going to hunt again this night.

An hour after we hit the bed I heard, through the darkness and haze in my head, the sound of a chital's alarm call. Something was happening. We scrambled out of bed and peered out of our windows. The chitals had disappeared. A couple of them were standing under the gulmohar tree looking in the direction of the road. Perhaps the leopard had come after all. 

It was not our night but the experience was unparalleled. Nagarahole is a memory that won't fade away too quickly.

Watch this space.......

1 comment:

Mitr Friend - Bhushavali said...

That pic of Malabar Giant Squirrel is too good! Love the way its peeping from behind the branch!
New here. Came from Anu's blog!!!
And ofcourse glad to be here...
Do drop by my blog sometime! :)
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