Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A trip to Brahmagiri Wildlife Sanctuary

Part 1 – the drive inside Nagarhole National Park

“There is an elephant behind there”, whispered Imran. Owen & I looked at each other & smiled. The next moment Krishna beckoned us to get a closer look at the mammoth creature. We rushed in the direction not making much noise. I suppose running quietly & trying to remain unnoticed comes naturally to you when you are in an environment like that. Krishna had already stretched out his hand & was pointing toward the elephant with his index finger. I stared at the point trying to spot the elephant. Not that I have never seen one before, but seeing a wild elephant in the wild is never the same as seeing an elephant walk down the city roads. I could only see huge trees & a little movement. I stood there patiently & stared in the direction a little longer. I gave up when the movement behind the bushes stopped. May be it was a tamed elephant I told myself just to console myself for the missed chance.

We were at the entrance of the Nagarhole National Park and it was a little past 6 o clock in the morning. The park is closed for traffic between 6 PM & 6 AM. After a simple registration process we were let inside the park. The greenery on either side was an awesome sight. “Get ready with your camera Lokesh” said Imran. I nodded without turning away from the window. Although I kept a steady view outside I was skeptical about spotting any wild life. I could not have been more wrong.

The drive inside the park was slow. Every member inside the vehicle looked out eagerly hoping to spot the evasive tiger or gearing themselves up to see an elephant lazily walking down the road we were on, preferably coming in our direction. The concentration & the quiet were broken when a Sumo honked loudly from behind. “You are not supposed to honk inside here” said Krishna angrily to nobody in particular & then realizing that it wasn’t feasible to advise them at that stage advised our driver instead to give way to the vehicle behind so that any further honking could be avoided.

Shortly after, the quiet was broken when Krishna looked out & said, “Stop”. “Reverse the vehicle”, he ordered the driver. All of us looked in the direction he was looking. What was that he had seen? In the path going inside the forest we saw some movement. And then we saw a wild boar sniffing around there. It was a far sight, so no cameras clicked. Also there was no much excitement on spotting a wild boar. Yeah it was a wild boar but can we see something more exciting seemed to be reaction of everybody. The excitement didn’t stay off for long. We saw a pack of spotted deer grazing next to the road. I must say that it was a pretty sight. As if on cue all of them looked in our direction. A few stared at us till we were there & a few others got back to their business of grazing. It was their breakfast probably. We were the uninvited guests. Cameras clicked. What amazes me is how these animals live in the jungle, wandering around, eating & drinking what they find, playing around. Its such a carefree life that they have. Now, don’t we want to lead a life like that?

As we drove further we saw more deer, also a Stag. Suddenly spotting them wasn’t a task in itself. There were plenty. Apparently there are 20000+ such deers in the wild in the Nagarhole forests alone. The only exciting part about spotting these animals was the number of them that were around in some places. At one spot we found a good number of them on either side of the road. A little ahead somewhere behind the trees that line the long road inside the forest we saw hundreds of deer. Its sad that we cant go closer to them, I would have loved to.

There are plenty of tribal huts inside the Nagarhole forests. The children (toddlers included) walk about the jungle like it was one big play field. The sight of the tribal huts is very bland actually. It just makes you think how far this whole concept of development has gone. Even the tribal huts look like any other hut in an Indian village. I wondered if that is how it was from the beginning. May be not. The tribals also didn’t look like tribals. Of course the images of tribals that I have are mostly of what I have seen in Hindi films. And in Hindi films they cover themselves up with leaves & paint their faces & have spears in their hands. These tribals that we saw had none of these features about them. They looked like any ordinary man. Men were wearing shirts & pants & Women had saris on them.

We stopped at the spot where vehicles can actually stop in the forest. That is where the forest authorities have some basic facilities like toilets & a canteen and organize for the jungle safari. There were a lot of people there & vehicles parked in line in the parking lot. It was as if there was a civilization in the middle of the jungle. When we finally got off & stretched our legs & walked a bit, a bit of energy seeped into us so to speak. Krishna suggested that we freshen up at a tap there & get ready for the big one.

Yeah the big one. The Brahmagiri peak. This was the focus of the trip. This was the final destination. We saw the glimpses of this peak once we drove out of Nagarhole forest & entered Kutta, a small town south of Coorg. The peak was Majestic in itself. Huge, Really Huge. It was well past 7 in the morning. All of us were wide awake after the freshening up. When would we start? When would those backpacks get on our backs? And when would we start to sweat like a pig.

The vehicle drove through a road full of potholes. The drive was uncomfortable no doubt but the view outside of the coffee plantations & the trek ahead of us kept us in good spirits.

Coming up shortly: Part 2 – the climb up to Narimale Base Camp.

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