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.......

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