Thursday, August 30, 2012

Making of a New Woodcrawler

There comes a time in every daddy's mind when you start wondering if your little boy has grown up. I recall a conversation a couple of years in Bandipur with a Canadian tour operator, who was showing my son the photos he'd shot of polar bears while taking his guests on a wilderness tour in his native country. He said, "Don't come when your dad has to bring you; come when you can bring him".

Supreme court seems bent on throwing obstacles on our Bandipur visits for the time being but it gave us to explore some very unique parts of wild  Kerala. We drove 535 kilometers over four days and walked through some beautiful ecosystems which, if Bandipur were accessible, would have never popped up on our scanners! I will go into those experiences shortly but today I'm just a proud father of a son who loves nature as much as I do.

I wasn't sure if a boy, just a couple of months away from his 10th birthday was ready for  Woodcrawling but this trip seemed to have been designed by someone up there to test a 10 year old's resilience.

Day-1: 26th August 2012. Anaimudi Shola National Park
Our stay at Marayoor on that day was with the intention of checking out the famous fruit and vegetable farms of Kanthaloor and a trip to the mid-sized bit of the Shola National Parks here, the Anaimudi Shola. It's not for the faint-hearted especially if you are very "leecho-phobic". My son loves these slimy creatures. He says they have to feed too so there is no harm in contributing a little for the leeches' cause!

Day-2: 27th August, 2012. Eravikulam National Park

The home of the endangered Niligiri Tahr. It is a long climb to where the tahrs graze but it is well worth it. Unlike other national parks there is no restriction on the time you can spend here. We had come up to the reception center many times and gone back because of the crowds. This time the halt in Marayoor ensured that we reached in time for the ticket counter to open. Not surprisingly. this is the bit the little Woodcrawler loved most!

Day-3: 28th August,2012. Pampadum Shola National Park
As usual the timeshare holiday activity department portrays every task so difficult that you tend to think they are so concerned about you. Actually, if you do things on your own, you'll find that you spend ten times less!

We drove off to explore Mattupetty, Kundala and Pampadum Shola. The man at the forest station was skeptical. He said we were here during the wrong season but if we were willing to tolerate the leeches we could go. Someone should tell these guys that leeches are not going to put off a 10 year old waiting to do his third jungle walk in as many days!

Day-4: 29th, August 2012. Chinnar WLS

Last day of our trip saw us spend little time on Lakkom waterfalls between Eravkulam and Marayoor. As we reached Chinnar WLS I remembered I had promised the lady at the Eco-development committee counter that we'd be back to take a trek. It was 2PM but cloudy. I asked my son if he was ready for another walk in the jungle. I shouldn't have asked, because the answer in the affirmative came even before I could complete the question!

As we moved out, Selvam, the guide started off about "an elephant chasing a foreign tourist yesterday". I shut him up before he could narrate the entire episode. I hadn't planned for this walk and my son was in his "Ona-kodi", the new dress for Onam, a bright orange t-shirt, and he was sticking out like a beacon!!

A few minutes into the walk the guide paused in  mid-stride, his stick held up horizontally to tell us to stop. I could smell the elephant (or it's dung). We moved forward cautiously without any uncomfortable encounters with the elusive pachyderm.

The going is stiff in a few places but the little woodcrawler seemed to take it in his stride. With the invisible elephant behind us, he was more comfortable.

There were signs of the gaur and elephant but quite old and it was no deterrent for him. He just kept pace with the guide like a veteran trekker!

He was the first in top of a rock face that had some caves, (more about that later).......

...and while we waited to catch our breath on the very top. The guide went to take some pictures of the caves, and us.

After going to "Point - B", we began our descent. A lone gaur on the way provided the only interesting diversion. The guide was over cautious but then he did not know about our experiences with this large herbivore in Bandipur and other places.

Back at the car, my son showed me his foot. The shoe had scraped the skin off his heel and the blood had soaked into the material. All through the walk he had never complained or protested.

I have every right to be boastfully proud! After all this is what a dad looks forward to. No TV or Playstation for my son, ...

The Woodcrawler Version.2


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Trial of the Tusker - Part 4 - The Elephant that Monayi Saw

A visit to Thekkady is incomplete without a boat ride on the reservoir. The boat landing point is some 5 kilometers from the check post at the boundary of the park where you have to purchase an entry  ticket that you have to produce when you return. You reach the parking area from where you have to leave your vehicle and walk for about five minutes to reach the boat jetty. This is where you buy tickets for the boat ride and your camera.

It is suggested that you reach the ticket counter well in advance to avoid the rush, especially during the holiday season. Since we were in the middle of what was supposed to be the monsoon season the crowd was slow in building up. The boats do a "two hour" trip so there is nothing else to do till the boats return. Of course if you have company of people like Monayi time passes very quickly.  Monayi probably had one too many, early in the morning because he was swaying like a palm tree in the wind. He ambled across unsteadily and asked me"Which country are you from?". I was taken aback. I did not know that a jungle green dress habit made me look like a foreigner! He looked a bit upset when I answered him in Malayalam but carried on without losing his composure. He wanted to know if my camera was 'professional' and if I was with some 'channel' (read NatGeo or the like!).

When the boats arrived we managed to shake him off. We were assigned a boat run by the Forest dept while Monayi was on the other, run by the Tourism dept. A trip is scheduled every two hours but it doesn't work that way. You get on the boat and wait for it to fill up. We were on the boat on time, by 9.00 AM but when it finally took off it was after half past. So the 'two hour' trip actually becomes a 90 minute trip if there are not enough people to fill the boats.

The boat involved in the Thekkady boat tragedy, Jalakanyaka, lies on the shore abandoned. A mute witness to that horrifying day in September of 2009. 

It was reassuring to see the life jackets on the seats and the guide insisting that we wear it if the boat were to move. There is also a partition rail between the two rows of seats to ensure that passengers don't rush to one side of the boat when wildlife is sighted. That was one of the alleged reasons, and the lack of life vests, for the Jalakanyaka tragedy.

There is a pole with markings of water level at the jetty. It spoke of the failure of the monsoons this year as the water at the bottom, near the 115 feet mark!!

A sounder of wild boars cropping grass on the shore was the only wildlife in sight till the boat finally took off. It had been raining in small spurts so the reservoir was not filling up too quickly. The banks were green with the the newly grown grass. Perhaps the elephants would put in their customary appearance.

There were a lot of water birds on show. The darters and cormorants occupied vantage points on the dead tree stumps.....

.....some were snoozing.....

....others were peering down into the
murky water looking for their breakfast to swim past.

Still others were hunting in gangs, perhaps rounding up shoals to have a better chance of snaring a meal.

Kingfishers were there too. I saw all four types but couldn't a decent picture because of the light and a rocking boat.

The pied kingfisher (above) and the white breasted kingfisher waited long enough for me to squeeze off a few shots.

The KTDC's Lake Palace Resort lies in the middle of the reservoir. The only access being by boat. Room No: 44 is the room with the view but it costs a whooping 15,000 rupees a night even in off season!

A couple of white necked storks were sitting on another stump building nests on what appeared to be artificial branches placed conveniently to entice the birds into nesting on that particular stump!

The only large mammals we saw were a herd of gaur on the distant bank, too far even for my 300mm. I've seen gaur at touching distance in Bandipur so this was something not worth screwing on the teleconvertor for! 

As we turned around and returned there were only the birds to keep us interested till we reached the boat landing area.

After a rather anti-climatic boat ride we met Monayi again. He probably slept through the two hours because he seemed sober as he waved good bye. "Did you see the elephant", he queried with that mischievous glint in his eye. While his family found it amusing  I knew he needed another drink!

We walked back to the car park, disappointed that our tryst with Thekkady's elephants did not happen, we saw this little fellow on a branch above us. A Malabar Giant Squirrel. If not elephants at least an elephantine squirrel!!

We are due to meet up with elephants anyway, provided that the Supreme Court lifts the ban on trips into the jungle at the tiger reserves. Our bags to Bandipur are packed and ready. We leave on Sunday!

Watch this space.......

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

A Break from Woodcrawling

I'm a Woodcrawler. Period.

Nothing will make me consider crawling the footpaths of a concrete jungle but sometimes professional compulsions can make me change my mind.

(Thekkady will be back here shortly but I have to take a little break here and go to Mango Musings briefly.)

You see, in my circles I'm considered a reasonably decent speaker and if the subject is on my specialty, Glaucoma, I'm occasionaly invited to enlighten an already enlightened audience! I had therefore dragged myself to Ernakulam (Cochin) for the weekend and since I hate driving out early in the morning on the nightmare called NH 47, I left on Saturday afternoon with my son.

At the end of 24 hours I had to admit that if I discounted the NH 47 experience on my way towards my destination it was really a Grand Experience.
(You can click the link to go back in time and enjoy the old world ambience of the Grand Hotel, Ernakulam as soon as I finish that post, which will be very shortly. Meanwhile enjoy the crisp papadums for starters!)