June 28, 2012

Bidar, Gulbarga and Bijapur

Ibrahim Roza
A marvelous work of craftsmanship, they say is modeled on the Taj. For me however, it is a model building not seen elsewhere.
It actually does look like the Taj in its later or perhaps an earlier avatar. And though the comparison comes naturally, it does do a bit of unfair justice to a beautiful creation such as the Roza, for it is a true gem on its own accord.It is cool inside and clean outside, unlike the rest of the city.

Looking at a place like this, completely overshadowed as it is by the imposing gumbaz near the present day railway station, I realize that every city has its historical paradox. Implying that for every Qutub there is a Raja ki Baoli, for every Gol Gumbaz, there is a beautiful piece of art called the Ibrahim Roza.

The city had till now left a not so sweet impression for the amount of dirt, grime and sometimes not so pleasant looking people (that is not a generalization, just with reference to the people whom we met). Then there was this wonderful security guard at the Taj Baoli who reacted adversely when I was not even referring to him, but to a kid who was spitting. I told the kid that he should not dirty the place and the guard immediately pounced upon this and said 'Tell the DC that the place is not clean and it is not his responsibility', but the DC's.
Another interesting thing that we found in the Ibrahim Roza was this film crew with a knowledgeable anchor cum team leader. She told us to explore underground and lo behold, that was sight to see. Left the Roza at 13.12.

Gulbarga in the dusk

Nothing spectacular except perhaps the fort area, which holds a small settlement inside. We went, though not before having a lovely lunch at a roadside dhaba where the cook was 9 years old and the roti wallah was even less, perhaps. After a rather fresh meal where everything was cut and cooked in front of our eyes, we went on.

Reached Bidar in the dark where everything looked dark and green and dense and lonely. I only expected it to be the same the next morning as this area was reputed to be a dry zone.

At Bidar 0945

North 17 58 21.0
East 77 23 12.7

An amazing site, perfect location for a jungle lodges that could be imagined in dry landscape such as Bidar. One comes to a place like Bidar usually combining it with a trip to Bijapur or Gulbarga and usually to visit the fort. Visitors hardly associate it with the lush forests of the western ghats that Karnataka is famous for. But the region springs a surprise and a huge one at that. Barely 15 kilometres from the city, driving at a leisurely pace, one’s eye staring at the vast expanse of the Deccan Plateau, suddenly something jumps out of the view. What could it be, one may wonder. And then at a distance you the male, the male blackbuck, venerated and worshipped, elegant and sinous. And then you see more, upto twenty in a single herd. You are in Black buck country
The lake must be 12-14 acres. It is a decently beautiful lake that abounds by the sounds of several peacocks and loads of smaller beings. Butterflies thrive in the vicinity, making it a noisy biodiverse habitat.
There are fields in the command area of the lake with cows grazing around.

It is DDF Forest or more likely a scrub.

Did a great walk alongwith Karthik Sir.


-Bee mimic king fly, besides the obvious difference, the fly does look like a bee.
-Canthium, ashrub has fruits that are eatable, lots of thorns and is good to look at.
-Rounded Pierrot is found in the dry areas. It is white and Black.
-Joker is another dry area butterfly.
-Fungus in the wild. When it is ripe, it explodes and the dust spreads everywhere.
-Story of Ants - -- - It digs up the soil from underneath and puts soil on the top level. Pangolins feed on ants. The lazy ones keep the soil on the corners while the hardworking ants put the soil at the very top
-They make an underground chamber for the family to live in.
-They make soil as good as earth worms

Millipedes have two pairs of legs per segment while centipedes have one pair of leg per segment.

We reached the end of the walk at 11.20. That means, it took us one and half hours of slow walk to reach this far.

Crimson Rose butterfly - - We saw both the butterfly as well as the caterpillar. The host plant is called Aristolochia. The flowers are unique for there is a bulb with hairs pointing downwards. When the pollinator goes down the bulb, the hair makes it difficult for them to come out. Only when it has collected all the pollen, that the hair withers out and the pollinator comes out. That is what is unique about this Aristolochia.

The Bidar property boasts of an amazing nature walk of more than two hours if done properly. One can walk down on to the embankeme

nt of the Vilaspur tank and cross over to the other side. A small climb and one can walk till the end of the forest on both the sides. Climbing up to the plateau, the walk back is an exciting ride through dense forests on both sides and one can well imagine the ancient spread of the vast central Indian forests that is unique, fragile yet an eye-opener.

You know the magic of nature

On a stony hilly plateau atleast 50-75 metres away from the nearby forests/plains, where due a to a lack of soil depth, just about everything makes an attempt to survive and life is held to tenaciously (an the proof being that releatively huge nem tree, which must have taken several years to reach this height in such a punishing environment, fallen, possibly because it could not fight a strong burst of wind or a heavy spell of torrential rains. Suddenly, I see a dip and see an oasis of greenery. Almost evergreen in nature, it was a paradise in the top of a tough hill. And then I see, that the entire area has subsided inwards, as if a giant JCB has scooped the rock and flung it far away. A soft layer of alluvial soil held out life to several trees and with little scope of exit, most of the water was being utilized by the trees.

Walking on that plateau, I feel that the slope or aspect plays a magical role. On the plateau, the slope was from the left to the right and as a result the vegetation on the right hand side of the cliff was much more green and luxurious.

Bidar has been carefully chosen as Jungle Lodges flagship in North Karnataka. It serves the twin purpose of showcasing the rich cultural heritage of the region while at the same time sensitisies the visitor of the hidden natural gems, usually hidden from public eyes. The nature walk for example being offered in the surroundings of the resort is an attempt to explaore and make visitors understamd the nature of dry, scrub forests of this part of Central India. And if the walk is undertaken in the rains, it gets even better as the lush environment adds to the charm.

We came back and read books, rested, had a pleasant evening and slept. The next day we fionally left, went around Bidar and then to Hyderabad, through the most terrible traffic I have perhaps ever seen in my whole life. In the list of bad traffics, this counted as highest. Waited for the train and finally left.

June 26, 2012

Guest mantra - Tiger tourism


Tiger centric tourism thrives on the expectation that something will be seen on the next bend....Time to slowly reduce that feeling amongst guests

June 23, 2012

WOW - Kabini Style

Waste Management, as it is kabini style....

After a couple of years of working in this field, I can safely say that there is a long way to go when it comes to waste management.....
I have started putting photos from all the work that we have been doing and will put as much information as possible in the coming few months... Information from what we have learnt on how to reuse, how to recycle and a little bit on how to reduce....

From benches to signboards to dustbins to paneling.... using old wood has been among the most creatively satisfying works in my entire life.....

So the fun is that as one's arena increases, he realises that just about everything has a second life or perhaps a third and a fourth one..... And one can do as much as his calling takes him....

June 21, 2012

An Alternative Tourism Model – The Dubare Elephant Camp

The forest department of Karnataka maintains elephant camps across the state for a variety of purpose. Elephants were traditionally an instrumental part of the logging business and camps were set in various parts of the state to enable smooth operations of these activities. Usually, located deep inside forests, these camps provided livelihood to indigenous communities, besides engaging in timber logging. However, with the stoppage of these logging activities across the state, there were few options for these elephants. It became increasingly difficult to offer work to the pachyderms.

The forest department and Jungle Lodges and Resorts decided to cooperate in a unique project towards tourism based management of the Dubare Elephant Camp. The genesis of the resort was in the suggestion that the existing elephant training camp be put to some better use as their utility for timber cutting and logging was not practical in the current regime and most of them had no work. It was suggested to transform their activities and present it as a tourism activity. This would help generate income from tourism and also keep the elephants busy. The camp was located close to the tourist hub of Madikeri within the district of Coorg and this favourable location made it ideal for such an initiative as there was a captive tourist who already visited Coorg as part of his holidays and would love to include Dubare in his or her itinerary.

Thus, Dubare became a prime location for this experiment and soon, activities were designed around the elephant interaction programme. There were many elephants who have been either kept in captivity or domesticated over the years. There are some who have begun their natural lives at the camp and many who were captured at a relatively young age, all being trained by the mahouts. It provided a rare opportunity for the common man to feel and touch the elephants at a close quarter. This camp thus served the purpose of promoting elephant based tourism, educating tourists on elephant management and also promote the message of the need for a peaceful coexistence between man and animal.

Cheers for a great idea!!!

June 20, 2012

Tree Planting at Kabini

The Velas Code - where we slept, where nature permitted

K Gudi - Gaurs Own Country

Returning to B R Hills, every 8 to 10 months is a refreshing change from the life I live. Most visitors come to esacpe from the madding crowds but I land up to enter into the midst of crowds that throng the resort and not escape from them, it is a small place and one can't help be around people, though the serenity of the forests makes up for everything.

K Gudi camp had been earlier managed by my friend Sourabh for two years, then Nahar for a couple of years, and then Ashish for another couple of years. The resort is located in the critical and uniquelly well placed site of being inside a sanctuary, probably the only one in India to be placed in such a way. That is perhaps the reason why so many people visit and revisit the place again and again. I met one such person and his companion who have made 30 visits to the camp in the last one year. The camp also receives unique bedfellows - birders, researchers, free riders and so many more that it is more of a circus than a jugle camp. But in totality, it is a mindblowingly beautiful place comparable to none.

This trip was a bike ride, right upto the gate and then some moving around here and there. There were plaenty of occasions to go for safaris, but to Lokesh's angst, I chose not to go for any, primarily because I had found myself some books and was subject to sleep deprivation, the early night.

We loitered around for two days in which enjoyed the small things in life, especially the lime juices that appear out of nowehere in these camps...

Two days hence, took the bike route and drove through a beautiful evening sun that lasted till I reached a small junction and then I drove in complete darkness... to my office's field centre in..

Back to home next day, with nothing restored and nothing gained... just another small ride in the larger scheme of things that life throws at us...

June 18, 2012

An ecological walk through the Nilgiris - Had posted it two years back... Now am going to US for a conference related to this project

Standing over the high ridge of the Nilgiri Tahr Mukurthi National Park, a thought struck me that walking across an area of 5520 sq km was not going to be an easy task. But in the light of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve representing a microcosm of the diverse forests of Southern India and thriving in endemism, a survey of this kind was worth the effort. Our plan was to estimate wild honey bee colonies and starting from the Rajiv Gandhi National Park in Karnataka, we moved downwards to cover the entire biosphere. In the process, we gathered interesting information on honey bee populations as well as gaining a larger perspective about the state of the forests in the Biosphere Reserve.

Spending the last days of summer in Nagarhole is magical as an air of expectancy hangs around in the forest awaiting the impending rains. The rain clouds appeared as we began the survey that would take us through some pristine forests. A large population of mammals in the region guaranteed numerous close encounters. Once, a tigress taken aback by our intrusion into her water hole responded by jumping in front of a team member causing him severe discomfort. Several elephants decided to ignore us as we constantly pushed our limits in their territory and as suddenly as it began, our survey in Nagarhole got over and it was time to move.

From Nagarhole, we covered Bandipur NP and Wynaad sanctuary. Though Bandipur is famous for its large mammals, I consider Wynaad to be one of the gems of the Western Ghats. Wherever they are protected in good measure, forests thrive with abundant flora and a diversity of animals. Encountering a wild elephant is not an exception but the rule here and by the time, our survey finished in these forests, I had thoroughly mastered the art of avoiding the pachyderms without causing any harm to self. But Wynaad also tells the story of the effects of fragmentation. Except for the sanctuary, which infact is also fragmented between ranges, much of the remaining forest of Wynaad district is highly disturbed with ancient migratory routes of elephants permanently broken. This has resulted in severe cases of conflicts and losses for both animals as well as human groups. As a local person put it aptly, there is 'No Space for neither Humans nor Elephants'. The histories behind these conflicts is disturbing but save for a band of interested groups and dedicated forest officials, there would have been little attention on the status of these forests.

In these forests, human wildlife conflicts have far reaching environmental impacts. Elephants are electrocuted or fall in deep ditches meant to protect human settlements. Snakes, deer and small mammals are crushed under speeding vehicles. Loss of natural habitat coupled with habitat fragmentation is the most overriding cause of animal injury and death. This conflict causes immense damage to human groups too. Most forest villages suffer from crop depredation and damage to physical infrastructure such as water pipes, electrical installations and livestock. A local study suggests that most conflicts occur within the reserve forest boundary which forms part of the home range of large mammals, especially elephants. In these cases, people who have encroached upon these reserve forests face maximum conflict. And as population increases, the high pitched conflict between various actors of the debate is likely to cross over to cause more damage to the mute wilderness.

The concern of future repercussions of this conflict lingered on as we moved out of Wynaad, where we had conducted the survey with the help of a dedicated young conservationist, Vinayan. The story of Wynaad where widespread depredation occurred is unique, for it is here that answers are emerging. People like Vinayan embody the spirit of wild Wynaad as they have taken up cudgels to preserve remaining forests through education, proactive liaisoning with the forest department and community based afforestation activities.

Disjointed thoughts about Wynaad stayed on as we moved to the adjoining Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary. In Mudumalai, we intensively searched for bee nests and recorded several such colonies. The presence of a large number of colonies adjacent to riverine areas with a predominance of high trees gives rise to our belief that bees prefer high trees in moist forests while preferring cliffs in dry forests, where high trees are rarely found, though this result is yet to be scientifically analysed.

Mudumalai lies at the northern boundary of Tamil Nadu and is one of the oldest protected areas in the country. More than 70 years of protection have resulted in a high faunal density as well as adequate natural regeneration. Though protected, the sanctuary is not bereft of problems. Fortunate enough to be shielded on two sides by Bandipur and Wynaad, it continues to reel under rapidly increasingly biotic pressure from the east and south. Small towns like Masinagudi and Singara pose immense threat to the fragile ecosystem, besides the numerous villages along Gudalur. Largely, plantations creep right up to the forest boundary, leaving no scope for a buffer zone. Locals and marginal farmers have devised unique ways of living in this strange lifestyle and are up against the elements as well as the giant pachyderms that constantly threat to invade their fields. To watch them sandwiched between plantations and the forest is a lesson in survival, both from human interests and giant elephants.

A recent phenomenon in areas adjoining Mudumalai is the mushrooming of resorts and home stays. This activity, being conducted in legally held revenue lands has its pros and cons in the larger context of conservation and is open to debate. But activities like excessive firewood extraction, safaris and treks for large groups in reserve forest adjoining the sanctuary is taking a toll on the health of the fragile dry forests. Efforts to enthuse resorts to undertake environmentally sound principles for their operations is likely to aid in the longer run. Mudumalai and Sigur are an important elephant habitat besides being home to small groups of indigenous people and a largely creative policy initiative to restrict use of revenue land for non forest activities is the only feasible solution to an otherwise attractive real estate destination that Sigur is rapidly turning into.

As the honey bee count in Mudumalai came to an end, groups spread out to Silent Valley National Park, Nilambur forests and the Sathyamangalam region in the eastern part of the biosphere reserve.

At Sathyamangalam, there are several cliffs harbouring a large number of combs and the team, aided by students of the Mettupalayam forest college counted more than 600 combs in a matter of few days. The Sathyamangalam region lies to the east of the district of Nilgiris. With claims to fame that includes a high density of wild elephants and the legacy of brigands like Veerappan, Sathyamangalam has been blessed with some of the largest contiguous forest patches in the Nilgiri Biosphere region and has been a laboratory for successful initiatives of forest management under the able hands of dynamic forest officers.

Co-existing for long, adivasis and animals have thrived till today, but the future of both is at a crossroads and sometimes pulling at opposite directions. There is a proposal for a railway line that will cut through some of the best preserved forests and it is a plausible certainty that the Sathy forests, as they are so called, will rapidly disintegrate. Not as a warning of gloom but as a reminder of the doom that has affected far too many places in the nation, it is but imperative that Sathy forests should be allowed to flourish.

Finally, the season for counting combs was coming to an end and I went back to where it all started, the Mukurthi National Park, the cynosure of the Nilgiris. It was a fitting end to an exhaustive and much educative trip through these ancient forests of Southern India. Though I have been to most of these forests at different times, it felt strangely rewarding to cover the entire region in a short span of time. Quite a few impressions were formed during this foray and that night, somewhere in a dry rivulet with the Nilgiri Peak towering above, it struck me that though the rights of the voiceless amongst humans is recognized, what will happen to the looming trees above me as the century old onslaught on them continues. Forests, the omnipresent philanthropist is scheduled to be phased out soon. Crushed between debates and opinions, most forget that the forest inherently comprises of two elements – flora or trees and shrubs, fauna or animals, with mankind being a latter addition. These three are intrinsic to the very identity of the forest. But in the divide between interest groups, importance of either component is looked through the benefits they can accrue to man. The policy as we know it has an inevitable conclusion with erstwhile forests likely to be henceforth known as plantations, forest villages or maybe, just a nature park.

June 17, 2012

Roaming with Giants

The entrance to the Dubare Elephant Camp is dramatic and moreso in dusk. Wearing life jackets and positioned cautiously on a boat that can accommodate not more than a dozen people - that is all that stands between them and an imminent dip in the Cauvery, one looks out into the river. The boatman pushed the boat away using a bamboo pole and soon the scene changes as large trees loom in the distance. The boisterous crowd is left behind as silence takes over and you are at the middle of the river looking at the Dubare Elephant Camp. The forest stands tall as you disembark from the boat and strain your neck to look what’s in the ahead. Giant trees, the likes of which is seen usually in television shows in faraway lands stretch upwards, kissing the skies almost. Rosewood, lagerstroemia, teak, flame of the forest, wild mangoes and many more species is all that stands in front of you and an enviable holiday that has few parallels.

For in Dubare reserve forest, just north of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, in the Coorg district, lies several hidden gems that truly invoke the beauty of the forest in the eye of the viewer. Yes, more than the famed tiger or the elusive leopard or the giant that is the elephant, it is the forest that takes centre stage by its diversity and sheer beauty and holds its ground at Dubare. That and the fact that a person can touch and be one with the elephants in a natural setting without fear of being trampled over by some unruly giant is perhaps the singular thrill of this unique experiment of the Forest Department of Karnataka and Jungle Lodges and Resorts.

Dubare is situated in the district of Coorg, a vast mountainous region with a low population density which makes it one of the most sparsely populated regions in South India, with few urban concentrations and the sweet aroma of coffee and spices pervading the senses everywhere.

Dubare lies on the banks of the Cauvery, about eighty kilometers from her source at Talacauvery. Located aptly so, as the Cauvery is the singular presence that occupies the landscape in the district of Coorg. The entire hilly country of Coorg is devoted to the river for the bounty she provides and much of the popular lore in Coorg is usually associated with the great river Cauvery. Besides, coffee also defines Coorg along with the fragrance of pepper, rubber and other spices also grown alongside the major crop of coffee. People who visit Dubare get an opportunity to see the flourishing agricultural practices of the people who grow a diverse variety of rice on the valley floors and plantation crops in the hills, some of the bounties of the river and her tributaries.

A beautiful water-locked forest, Dubare is located at the eastern end of the district at an average altitude of around 900 metres. As we drive from Dubare to the west, the altitude rises sharply with the Tadiandamol peaking at 1750 metres and Madikeri lying at an average altitude of more than 1400 metres above sea level. The Western Ghats is at its prettiest here and the rains exceed in its more than 4000 mm at various places, much of the water drains into the Cauvery providing Dubare with an intensely lush riverside vegetation and the sight of the river at its brim several times a year.

The cabins are located close to the elephant camp, next to the flowing Cauvery and are simple in nature, snugly fitting into the surroundings. Woodwork done to taste ensures that one feels part of nature while gazing at the setting sun over the Cauvery. A wonderful idyllic location, the Dubare Elephant camp is much loved by nature lovers throughout the country. Although, it was set up relatively recently, it has acquired a special status as an unexpectedly unique holiday.

Home to Giants

The giants have a place of pride at Dubare. Giant trees, a larger than life riverine landscape and above all the gigantic elephants. Fuelled by a high rainfall regime, the river often brims over and the trees grow to a height uncommon to large parts of India. The elephants here too form an integral part of the forest. This is the land where the giant beast roams with abandon, where the smell of coffee pervades all senses and where an unique experiment of introducing the general population to the experience of handling real elephants has worked wonders and brought thousands closer to nature and at the same time aided in conservation by imbibing valuable education to the common man.

A serene location, lots of elephants to interact with at close quarters, some beautiful patches of ancient bamboo forests and a small quaint village of tribals or indigenous people who make these forests their home. Dubare thus, whilst set up as an elephant camp is a wonderful location matched perhaps by the very best nature camps in the world. A must visit for any traveler to the hills of Coorg.

June 8, 2012

Experiencing an Unique Tour - The Elephant Interaction Programme

Dubare in Coorg is one of the many elephant camps set up by the Karnataka Forest Department which in association with Jungle Lodges and Resorts (JLR) conducts the hugely popular Interaction Programme every day on the banks of the river Cauvery.

The programme which begins early each day is open to casual visitors and guests staying at the nearby wilderness resort managed by JLR. Trained naturalists interact with guests and take them around the facility, explaining in detail about elephant behavior, it ecology and ensure that guests return back with a greater understating of the giant animal.

The programme begins with vigorous bathing of the giants. The naturalist escorts the guest to the bathing area and along with the mahout, guides them to start the bathing. It is a sight, watching the mahout ambling down the steep slope atop the elephant, a slope that most humans can’t maneuver. The mahout, in a time tested sequence stops near the water and gently coaxes the elephant inside the river. The elephant, perhaps tired after a long night foraging in the forest drinks the water to his heart’s content. An apparently nonchalant mahout meanwhile rolls a pack of tobacco and deftly places the roll in a corner of his mouth. Just as suddenly as we all are watching the proceedings; the mahout barks a harsh order. The elephant agitated knows what to do next, yet it resists. The mahout shouts at him, the crowd waits in expectancy, the elephant trumpets loud, some guests slip in the confusion as they try to move further away from the giant and then as suddenly as the commotion started, it stops. The elephant decides that it is time and with a slow motion inspired move from the movies, gently rolls into the water, setting a mini tsunami in its wake, drenching unwary guests standing at one corner. The mahout chuckles at this and decides to go about his business with an air of someone who knows his business well. Perhaps, there is none in the world who performs his work with as much craft as these mahouts, engaged in similar work for the past few centuries, perhaps.

A rough stone in his hand, the mahout vigorously rubs the elephant who is content and placid for now. Once in a while, the mahout looks up and invites the reluctant guests to try and bathe the giant. Guests, several of them unacquainted to the giant and perhaps so close to an elephant for the first time in their lives, gingerly places his hand on the giant’s vast backside and immediately recoils. A brief grin and he exclaims with wonder that the skin is so rough and immediately starts back at the elephant and rubs hard. The hairs on the elephant’s body are on alert and it is never easy to bathe the elephant as the prickly nature of the hair makes the soft hands of us humans seem fragile in comparison. But the guest keeps on trying and after a few seconds, perhaps tired, asks his young children. Apprehensive and eager at once, the children walk up to the elephant and then in a frolic abandon rub the giant, who has perhaps been sleeping through all the commotion. Now, as a few minutes have passed, all the other bystanders, egged on by their respective mothers and wives and brothers and husbands join in the bathing procedure. By nine a.m., all guests are totally drenched, slightly muddy and immensely happy - a smile in all the faces.

In another few minutes, as the other elephants join the first batch, the naturalists take the guest to the next site, a feeding place. But a final surprise awaits the guests as the scrubbed up elephant, struggles and gets up causing another tsunami and drenching a few more people. As the mahout calls all the guests to be blessed, in a secret signal called dalle, the elephant raises his trumpet, drenches everyone and majestically moves for his food.

An old building that is the kitchen for the elephants is located at one corner of the camp, where mahouts prepare breakfast using a mixture of ragi, jaggery, horse gram and salt. As there are more than twenty two elephants at any given time, it is but confirmed that breakfast takes a long time to cook. Horse gram is boiled for up to five hours and then made into a paste. On the other hand, ragi powder is mixed with water and a little salt and cooked. Finally, the gram and ragi is mixed and made into a ball of about two kilogrammes each and fed to the elephants. The preparation is cooled and then rolled into a ball which can be easily put into the giant’s mouth. The naturalist explains the elephant’s daily requirement and invites guests to feed the elephant. It is an exhilarating experience dropping the huge ball into his mouth and watching him gulp up the content in the blink of an eye.

Feeding done, the guide takes the guest for a brief session about elephant ecology and behavior. He speaks of the role of the mahout in ensuring that the elephant is kept in a good state. He also speaks of the various elephant commands and opens up the fascinating world of these giants to guests from all across the world. Tourism, perhaps at its best.

The interaction programme is one small but interesting component of the management a camp. The forest department ensures that the elephants are well taken care off. A roster is maintained for all the elephants with full details such as name, lineage, sex, age and so mentioned in it. Besides, special care is provided for the mahouts who belong to the Jenu Kuruba group. These mahouts and their helpers, also known as kavadis, spend their entire life with an elephant and are known to consider the elephants as their family members and not just any animal. Experts at the art of managing the elephants, they are trained in this form by their fathers and soon they pass it to their children. It is a sight to behold, when you see the mahout talking to his son and then whispering a message into the giant ears and lovingly watch the elephant trumpet loud. This is the world of the elephant and the mahouts of Dubare.

June 5, 2012

Munnar Myraidness

It was a whirlwind trip to Munnar, three days including the travelling... That left us with little time to see all the sights of the high ranges, but nevertheless was an excellent exercise in a social group based travel that I am not so adept in doing. There were some 30 families and Samita and me had also went along.

At the start, we knew that Munnar was a good choice, for the tendency of man to avoid visiting those places that are closest is universal and I stand testimony to not having visited either Darjeeling, Sikkim, Bhutan or the Sunderbans, though many say that I am a half Bengali, having lived there for most of my life.

Munnar is a small town that possesses the virtue of being located in planter country. One advantage is that populations are low , primarily because the huge plantations prevented small landholdings from touching these lands adversely. There are few villages and though tea dominates, there are neverthless large stretches of forests. Much as I think, I liked the place.

Reaching somewhere before Udmalpet, we had lunch and then moved into the Chinar wildlife sanctuary. A startling landscape, Chinar is magnificient with the Anamalai National Park casting a wide shadow over Chinar, though many of us have been working in forests most of the time - we felt an awe worth a thrill. Huge hills, deep forests, a single lane... that ride was an eye opener that as many forest one sees, there are still many more to soak in.

Tea and then Munnar and then Autumn Trees resort and then sleep after a heavy dose of confusion in seating arrangements.

Next morning though, we had a good start and after breakfast, went to the long cherished Ervaikulam or precisely Rajamalai Wildlife Sanctuary. Sheer cliffs and witness to so many tahrs made the day for almost all the staff members and for me too. In between, we went to popular tourist spots in the town, including this and that view point. At one place, all of us went for a speed boat trip that was what it promised to be. A TRIP. Jumping over the lake, it feels fine to doo these things once in a while.

Night time dance in the so called dormitory and next morning, we were ready to leave. Driving down, we reached the Trimurti falls where the gods had arranged a super charged shower for those who wished to take a bath and this is what we did. Took bath amidst a heavy water outflow and almost gasped for breath several times.

This done, this fast forwarded trip came to a rushing end with the return to Kotagiri late at night with us tired and cheerful with a a good insight into Munnar.

This trip was more of a whirlwind we associate with a lonley planet style of travel, but without those discomforts. But in the short time that we had, I felt that there are enourmous differences between Kotagiri and Munnar.

Population is obviously one, but so is cleanliness. Also is the fact that there are so many more rivers in Munnar as compared to virtually none in large parts of the Nilgiri Hills. Where have the rivers gone or were there no rivers from earlier times.

It is easier to find fault with one's home but nevertheless Kotagiri is a lovely place, in much need for its citizens to conserve the beauty of the place in the coming years as well as to promote more measures to increase tree cover and the assorted list of things that need to be done.. Who will do it...

June 1, 2012

Up through the Coast - Gokarna Travels

Unlike the customary prior bookings that we usually do before going on a holiday, we decided to take a jaunt through the Karnataka coast line with just a guidebook in our hands. It was supposed to be a basic inexpensive trip, and Samita even voted against taking the car as we would be moving by our instincts and not through designated highways.
The night of our journey turned out to be warm. Living in the Kotgiri hills as we were at that time, Mettupalayam, on the foothills of the Nilgiris, always shocks one with the heat that the plains liberally sprays on the unsuspecting hill man. It had been too long in the hills for us, I guess. Into the train and immediately felt stifled, both by the dust and the crowd. From Coimbatore to Mangalore on a fast train, sleeping through northern Kerala, we woke up to witness the morning bustle of the railway station that is Mangalore.

And then, all of a sudden, as sullen the start had been, our moods changed and our bodies got acclimatized. With earnest, we pushed off to Kollur, where the Mookambika temple, abode of Goddess Parvati is sprawled amidst an evergreen protected area.

We landed and met a Mr. Gupta ji at the temple bus stand. He takes care of the public toilet and we refreshed ourselves in the surprisingly clean toilet. Taking his guidance, we went to the ancient temple and were lucky at the time to see the golden chariot, which was being cleaned up. We decided to keep moving and were off to Kundapura - Another name, an outpost. Yet, I remember it for an unsightly incident. At the bus station, the gentleman sitting at the enquiry counter demanded ten rupees when I asked him for the bus to Gokarna. His desk said 'May I help you' and he was a crook worth no salt.

At Kundapura, we caught a bus to Kumta that passed through some exquisite white beaches while running parallel to the Konkan Railway. Almost as if to make up for the incident at Kundapura, just about everybody helped us in catching the connecting bus to Gokarna and in a split second, upon landing at Kumta, we were on to a bus to Gokarna!!!

An hour through picture perfect views and with none of the crowds that one associates with big time tourist hangouts, it was a pleasant journey. The lateritic soil provides a distinct flavour to the region and one associates much of the Karnataka Western Ghats with this colour. At this time of the year, it was dry and the world looked still, yet the soil had a natural dullness to it, unlike during the rains, when lushness colours everything in various hues of green.

Gokarna came and we were surprised enough to gape our mouths into a semicircular wowowow. Wowow because of the charm it exuded and because it was a really small village and I wondered how it would become as famous as Goa. We ate at Raghavendra Hotel and pushed off to Namaste Cafe at the Om Beach.

At Om beach and imagine, there were expensive resorts and the many small shacks that do not charge much, all within a square kilometre. It gives one choice to pick from and we decided to go to Namaste Café as we had heard a lot about its charm. At the café, we were totally enamored and decided to stay. However, there were few rooms available and they were not so keen upon lending one out. So I decided to use a favourite trick, one that links us to a guest they had some weeks ago. It always works and after some cordial discussions, we were given a good room. The room was good, great indeed and at 400 rupess was worth every paise. Made of Bamboo, lined with yellow tiles and a rudimentary lock, it was open source but comfortable.

Resting and then a walk to the beach and sitting around. Night comes and we sleep.

That evening, was it the 12th, was the first of the many amazing evenings we had. Sitting, walking to the end of the beach, we began the process of doing nothing.

Mostly westerners for company, life seemed great – so silent was the beach, so strong were the winds, was almost magical, our very first evening. But then, we did not have the faintest notion of the long day ahead.

I woke up early and had no one for company. Took a nice little jog, two, three, four rounds, a quick dip and got ready. We lazed till lunch time, reading and dozing. Sights and sounds of the beach passed on, people came, stayed but always left. They had to, choices are few. But we stayed on, and then we too had to leave.

First to our cottage and then to our rather scary fate over the next few hours. A walk to Gokarna town, but I made the mistake of not having enough water and both of us making the mistake of walking under the direct sun. The adventure had truly begun. We took a wrong turn and had to walk up the rocky clifs abutting the sea. It was hot and in an hour we were tired and thirsty when we finally reached the top. But that was not to be the end of the pains. Reaching one seemingly high cliff, we realized that it was jutting out directly into the sea, exposing us to some fierce winds and an impossibly beautiful land. From there to the temple on top, was an exercise in pain management. Dense bushes were crawled under, snakes were felt to be appearing from all sides but we did reach and ultimately got some water – prize of the day. But whatever may have been the pain, we were blessed to see such wonderful rock formations – geological and natural forces at their best.

Reaching Gokarna, we were too tired, having had to walk through Kudle beach as well. Some windows were shopped, little food eaten and a trip made to the Gokarna railway station, which I recommend to all. The station had a charm of its own, though it was a recent construction. We returned and slept soon after a sumptuous meal.

The next day was an exercise on craziness again. We went to Karwar and the Kinetic had to be pushed more than what it ran by itself. Be very careful and check the two wheelers before you hire it or things could go wrong in an unknown land.

We were enjoying ourselves and decided to stay a couple of days more as it was still unplanned. We also stopped ourselves from going to Goa or any of the nearby places of interest as Gokarna had impressed us greatly. So we stayed on and the last day at Gokarna remains the least worrying, most peaceful, and totally soothing. We remained seated – watching…. We made several trips to the beach, either together or separately. Finally on our way back to home, the strong effect of Gokarna’s charm lingered on. And the decision to make an unrestricted plan proved right. Will plan another one soon…

The Gap

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