Safari Trippin’

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Nothing serves better than adventure in the wee hours of morning – when darkness and silence play perfect accomplice. We headed out at 4.30 am from the mayhem that is a city – yawning serenity outta its system.

– Images: Kaushik Bajibab

Keeping it simple – various instruments took charge – welcoming the sun with good old cello and drums. The landscape has undergone ugly metamorphosis  – having done this drive with Kaushik several times in the past – these quiet streets today choke and green horizons are swallowed by bright yellow and pink houses (these are ‘vaastu’ colours – believed to bring luck and immunity) Off the wall, I know.

After getting our permits at the Forest Department, Mysore – we bid goodbye to its old regal buildings and quiet parks and left for the Nagarahole National Park.

We entered the gates – scanning ever tree, the small pathways for any sign of wildlife. Unlike our previous visit (in summer), this time she was all green, more welcoming yet stubbornly playing the hard-to-get peek-a-boo game with us.

After settling in, though we are not much for ‘safaris’ –  we still made it for the 3pm jeep safari – monitored and organized by the forest department. Accompanied by two women, a man and a child – Kaushik and I wore sombre expressions – knotted and twitching eyebrows pleading our fellow guests for silence.  “Oh this safari is so boring. I saw blah blah blah in Africa. In fact, it’s so easy to spot a tiger in Tiger Reserves in North India. Here, in Nagarahole, I think they are all extinct. Hey man, you better show me a tiger; I am not interested in your elephants.” The poor guide rolls his eyes.

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I worked with the Wildlife Conservation Society-India as a conservation communications specialist for over a year. Scientists led by Dr. Ullas Karanth have been studying the dynamics of the meta-population of tigers in Karnataka for over two decade. Their research shows that the Bandipur-Nagarahole tiger population is at high densities of 10-15 tigers/100 sq. km. However, this population has mortality and losses amounting to over 20% per year due to high reproductive rates. Yet, is one of the well-protected and monitored tiger reserves in India. Even tourism is well regulated here – you will never find 10 jeeps and 50 tourists going berserk around a tiger at these reserves.

Ignoring their boorish jabs, we tried hard to concentrate. Soon, the ever excited Kaushik spotted turtles on a rock, by a beautiful waterhole. We saw many ungulates including chitals and sambar. A healthy prey base thrives in the continuous forests of Bandipur and Nagarahole. At a distance, I saw elephants enjoying a sand bath. Not intruding its privacy, we moved ahead – each turn taking us deeper into the dramatic dry deciduous forest.

Just as our fellow travellers’ gibberish and impatience was turning into an unbearable crescendo – we spotted a herd of elephants. She first flapped her ears, she didn’t like our presence, and of course a calf was involved. She wet herself, followed by restless foot stomping, and soon came the mock charge, loud trumpeting and a few exaggerated steps towards the jeep. One of the adult elephants came by. The calf was calm, feeling protected between the two elephants. The adult soon began to use her trunk to calm the agitated mother. They raised their trunks in unison, still smelling us close by, but this time, displaying no fear. She gently rubbed her trunk, and immediately began to feed on the grass below, showing her to do the same. In other words – she was teaching the agitated mother to ignore us petty anxious souls.  Right there, at that moment, we witnessed an austere yet wonderfully gentle exchange of knowledge – by an adult to its young. This personal moment – an intimate conversation was so beautiful, that Kaushik and I sat amazed.  We had to pull ourselves away, not wanting to cause any more agitation.

A pack of dholes hung out an entire day patiently, indulging in some light play yet careful not to ward off the chitals – Who on its part, played hard to get, and echoed alarm calls sometimes just for fun, confusing the pack. Oh, the dholes knew they will have their fill soon.

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Star-studded sky, and yet moonless! In the middle of the forest, sound travels afar. In the darkness, we sat, absorbing every minute detail – alarm calls of sambars, of macaques, and chitals, somewhere in the distance the dholes had found a prey, they were wolfing their joy, and as the primitive and wild was awakened deep within us, there was a reward. We heard the growl and the gossebumps stood in awe.

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Early morning drive – Right around the bend, catching us unawares, were gaurs. Three standing right by the road, too close for comfort. The power of muscle and strength – the leader of this group stood guard, frequently darting his small eyes towards us, as he fed. He looked ‘hulkish’ – an unsympathetic face, hard and daunting – he was so damn gorgeous with his long hanging beard and everything! The younger one, almost bubbly, moved closer, naturally curious.

Reality ‘bites’!

Insensitive tourists (loud and obnoxious) with little or no knowledge of wildlife. Of course, you have the majority, who come over only wanting to see a carnivore – read: tiger/leopard! Wildlife is smart enough to evade an awkward rendezvous when a safari bus comes rolling.

Lantanna – the spread since our last visit clearly shows expansion. This invasive species spreads very fast and does not allow grass or other plant or shrub grow in the area leading to migration and at times, decline in the number of herbivores.

People still dump a lot of garbage, playing dumb to a zillion instructions on the road. You find plastic bottles, wrappers and yes, sanitary pads (what the hell are they doing there – is another story: a few villagers believe hair and menstrual cloth or sanitary pads should be discarded outside their homes- whilst they become impure. Off the wall, I know!)

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Kaushik’s log book:

Elephants, Gaur, Sambar, Spotted deer, Striped neck mongoose, Wild dogs, Crested serpent eagle, Peacocks, Common Mongoose, Common Langur, Wooly necked stork, Wild boar, Common spoonbill, Giant Squirrel

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