My first wildlife sojourn this, it also proved to be a golden-triangle of sorts, with our parking place very conveniently located in the midst of it all ! A motley group of people had just come across the gems that these parts of Coorg and Wayanad are famous for.
We started off on yet another Saturday morning from Bangalore, on to the Mysore highway, and then on to Mysore’s outer ring road ( right turn on the Colombia Asia junction ). A right on another traffic signal led us towards Hunsur, after which we took a left deviation on to our road to Nagarhole. The road now turns to a single lane either way, but is a decent one ( do watch out for potholes which are on and off; no issues during the day though ).
A few more turns and GPS directions past, we knocked on the doors of the Nagarhole tiger reserve. This was a 5 hrs drive in all ( 250 kms ), but I am one who enjoys leisure even while driving, and in addition to that, Mysore highway doesn’t give you much of a chance to speed up, winding as it does amidst towns that come up regularly on it’s trajectory.
Once inside the reserve though, it’s a different story, with previously sparse vegetation suddenly giving way to dense outgrowth on both sides of the road. We suddenly stop chatting; the music in the car halts; and we are now all eyes and ears to any sign of life inside the jungle. Some people start watching the trees for signs of bird life, while some get busy with the bushes below ! It was fun with the car windows suddenly rolled down and all of us peeking about in our directions !
Spotted deer, which we later realized to be of abundance here, or perhaps used to human presence as no other species is, came up first in sight. It was beautiful to see these animals mingling and feeding about in their natural habitat, and it’s a feeling that is very different than that which you get by watching these animals in a zoo or any other closed environ. Add to it the thrill to try and seek them out ! We stopped our car for sometime near them and watched them with awe as they went about their daily business. Some of us got busy clicking them in their various poses and moods !
As we moved ahead, we met another group of them which was feeding too, but looked a little nervous as well ( Yes, we had our organizer with us who could tell ! ). We did hear strange sounds from somewhere nearby and stopped our car to wait for any action that may happen in front of us. Well, as is the case most of the time in jungle where disappointments rule, nothing much happened and we had to move ahead ( remember we are not allowed to stop in our path once inside the jungle, and we are not allowed to come out of our vehicles too; all for our own safety as well as that of animals around ).
A few more deer sightings later, we crossed the safari point, ( good chance to inquire about the safari timings and to book your tickets in advance, though I doubt if they allow that ! ) and then came out of the reserve from the other side. Our destination was a small place called Kutta, which was another 10 kms from this second gate. This was where we were going to park our vehicles, as well as ourselves for the night ahead. This place, in my opinion, has a strategic importance in terms of it’s closeness to Nagarhole, Tholpetty and Irupu falls, which are all in the range of 10 kms from here. Of course, it’s a small place so accommodation and food is basic ( pure Kerala cuisine ! ). Families and people who are in search of more comfort may instead opt to stay in home-stays just outside the reserve, of which we found plenty of signs once we got out of the second gate. Another advantage of staying on this side of the reserve is that the safari point is closer from here, so needless to say, your driving to and fro costs less time and fuel. I did not see much of public transport in these routes.
A simple but filling lunch later, we were on our way back to the safari point inside Nagarhole. To our dismay, safaris that evening had been reduced from the usual 1 hr to about 40 mins. That happens inside the jungle, so it’s better not to depend on only 1 safari timing. The more the better anyway ! We decided to chuck the safaris, and decided to set off on the road itself, in our own vehicles. We were told that at times, the road offers more action than the usual safari !
First though, we sat down for the customary introduction session, where we were to discuss a bit about the jungle as well as wildlife photography. Little did we know that we would be treated to some wildlife action right then and there ! No sooner had we started our chat, that one among our group spotted a pack of wild dogs ( dholes, as they are referred to here ) in the woods yonder ! Shutterbugs as we were, we sprang into action immediately, and started to take our positions behind trees. This was done with movements that were as slow as possible, so as not to warn the pack. We got busy clicking from our positions, and were being rewarded with beautiful shots of their playful and restful moods ! Add to it the excitement of seeing the animals out in the wild, and it was a pretty intoxicating concoction ! A word of warning nevertheless. Dholes hunt as well as eat in packs; they’re very brutal; and you don’t wanna get too close !
Even as we were getting back from our ‘dhole’ view, a herd of spotted deer was seen nearby, and we could now guess the reason why those wild dogs may be meandering about in the area. It was perhaps their dinner time, and the deer were alarmed ( their tails up ! ), coz perhaps they knew that too ! The dogs started encircling the herd but they were alarmed enough by now, and hurried past us in another direction. The whole herd made their way through, and for some reason, the dogs decided to abandon their chase and moved about in the opposite direction. They crossed the road and sat for sometime afterwards, wherein we got another opportunity to click them !
Such is the excitement of being in the wild, but we wanted more ! We got into our cars and ventured on to the road, looking out for the park to give us some more ‘photo-op’ moments ! After some time, each group was on it’s own. We spotted quite a few deer herds again ( quite a plentiful of them in this park I’m sure ! ), but nothing else thereafter.
We got back to our abode after the park gates closed at 6 P.M., and were treated to stories from other groups whose sighting efforts had not gone in vain ! One group had spotted an eagle high above in the branches of a tree, relishing it’s kill of a Giant Malabar Squirrel. Some had spotted a pack of wild dogs again, while some had to contend with a lone tusker. All in all, a mixed day wherein some people got lucky, while others, not so much ! A few among us ventured out in the night towards Wayanad, hoping to come across some elephants on the road. I, on my part, slept peacefully after a hard day, waiting for the next ‘early’ morning, Phew !
The next morning, we set out again towards the safari point, this time to catch the morning safari for sure ! It was still dark outside ( and decently foggy ), even as we waited for the park gate to open at 6 A.M.. It’s a queue at the gates, so it makes sense to come as early as possible, but half an hour before should be a decent enough margin. Once the gate opens, people need to rush in to book their seats for the safari ( nothing, though, like the rat race that we’re used to in our cities ! ). Reason why I could guess above that there’s no advance booking.
We had 2 safaris back to back that morning, and were rewarded with views of a group of kingfisher birds, a lone eagle sitting nearby on a perfectly dry tree branch; elephants, barking deer, boar, and a bison among a few others. Carnivores were elusive as usual, and we decided to try our luck in the nearby Wayanad wildlife sanctuary during the evening ( Tholpetty forest area ). It was only a half hr drive from Kutta, with only jeep safaris being offered. Once again it was a queue, and while our organizers were busy trying to purchase tickets, we got busy with a big group of sunbirds nearby. Tiny but very beautiful, and very active mind u !
We had a good time with the birds, and got into our jeeps as soon as our turn came in. It was a 1 hour safari, with the jeep driver boasting continuously about tiger sightings during the last few days ( It’s difficult, though, to believe all that they say ). Nevertheless, we managed to see langurs, hefty male bisons, a wild boar, a tusker, and a giant malabar squirrel during it’s afternoon siesta ! We did ok, but such is the experience in the wild; you have to be patient and ready for disappointments, and as a matter of fact, you have to be satisfied with whatever you get to see. If you get good enough shots, you’re ok !
2 more safaris in Nagarhole the next morning, and with the usual sightings that I have mentioned above ( add a vulture and a big owl in them; sorry don’t know their exact names ! ), we were ready to wind up and leave. We enjoyed nature in all it’s finery while on our way out from the park. The morning sun was still golden and not yet hot, and we were happy to click up whatever we found on the way ( an owlet, pretty big spiders by the roadside ). We went back to the lodge after breakfast, and relaxed for some time before saying good-byes to each other. Some people, who had more time on their hands, decided to visit Kabini ( another popular wildlife sanctuary nearby ), and then head back to Bangalore late at night.
I decided against being that adventurous ( next day being the usual work day ! ), but still had plans before knocking on Bangalore’s outskirts that night ! My plan had it’s share of takers, and we decided to head out of Kutta, and to the nearby Irupu falls before driving back to Bangalore. The drive to these falls is pretty ok, what with the greenery in Coorg closing in on you as soon as you enter the region ! You need to park your vehicle, and walk a short distance inside to the falls. It’s doable pretty much, and the sight of the fall even as you near it, makes up for all the bit of walking done to reach it ! It’s quite a magnificent one, with water falling in from a good enough height first, and later cascading from a series of short step-like rock formations. You can climb all the way up to main fall, but not sure if you can go underneath it. We were getting short on time now, and decided to head back after a quick lunch at the parking area itself. Nothing fancy, but a decent enough fare !
The road to Bangalore can now be taken straight out of Irupu, without getting back to Kutta, and believe me it’s a much better route ! You will get to experience a drive in Coorg as it is, with good quality roads and lots of greenery to feast one ! It’s a blanket of green out there, so go ahead and have fun !
All said and done, we reached Bangalore around 10 P.M.; traffic on the Mysore highway being a drag for a good part ( we had started from Irupu at around 4 P.M., after our late lunch ).
I was happy to be back within the confines of my cozy bed after this beautiful sojourn over the weekend ! I wanted to sleep off all the way before my next journey, but work had to be attended to. Like many others of my tribe, I needed all the money to support this life !