Summer in Bandipur

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Music always plays an integral part of a “journey” – Sometimes it furnishes a mood you want to exploit, or maybe a flavour you want to explore.

– Images: Kaushik Bajibab

And on this particular day, I was in the mood for confrontation, bantering Kaushik with some heavy metal. His tolerance for the genre is scarce, if not lacking. But when Judas Priest took over, he was enjoying the drive. Worked fine for the both of us.

We had to stop over at Sathanur, a small town closer to the Muthathi forest. The particular farm we visited in this quaint village places itself unabashedly closer to the road, yet desperately seeks to belong to the natural and beautiful horizon to its north. A few meters away was a lake, sparkling with joy as she perpetually remains full, being fed by a check dam.  In comparison, over the distance stood desolate looking heavily quarried hills.

This is not a regular elephant range; the villagers rarely have any close encounters with a herd. But lately, in the last one year, elephants have been visiting the farmlands frequently. One of villagers laments, “In the last dozens of years, elephants have been spotted by the lake only during summer, once a month in a year. But now, they visit more often. We are really worried. Many farmers have lost their crops, and the conflict will only escalate.” The adjacent farm remains dry, revealing the tired farmer’s resigned attitude after it was raided by elephants for watermelons. These incidents clearly stress how elephants have been changing their traditional migration ranges, being forced into farmlands, and at times, like in Hassan and Tumkur, urban areas too.

Good news? This small village boasts of great bird life, right from small bright coloured bee eaters, to multitudes of kingfishers, painted storks, spoonbills, pelicans and lots more – and a few interesting reptiles too.

We picked up rations in Mysore and headed towards the Bandipur National Park. A harrowing sight, right from Nanjangud all the way up to Gundulpet, massive, century old trees, predominantly ficus, were felled to pave way for four-lane roads. These trees don’t just add character to its milieu; they are THE landscape.

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It’ll be hard to get used to watching the stripped, bare-desolate streets sans the comforting wise old trees. Many locals who sit under these trees holding out tender coconuts for travellers are bound to lose their job too. There is a price we have to pay for the want of development and industrialization, but its cutting too deep now, and giving up invaluable assets cannot be an appreciated economic strategy. At least not in our rulebook! The state government has assured to plant trees along the stretch once ‘fresh black tarred’ roads are laid. Castles in the air!

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The sight of Bandipur forest was highly welcoming. Dressed in lovely summer hues, she wore all shades of brown, and occasionally, the Flame of the Forest broke the monotony.

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With dried leaves shading the black of the roads, the landscape quietly grows on you, and your eye soon absorbs the sight of tall grass, withered bamboo, and after a while, spots perfectly camouflaged wildlife too. And that’s when we spotted two dholes, sniffing its way, fully alert, looking for plausible prey. Two striped-neck mongooses were going about their business, completely ignoring us. Strangely these shy creatures never moved away.

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In the neighbouring forest, Mudumalai, we were lucky to observe a few elephants. A mother and its calf – The mother was highly cautious, flapping ears and moving restless hind legs forwards and backwards. Just a little ahead were two other elephants, not a part of the same family. The little one was hiding in the bushes, and the mother was feeding, frequently assuring the younger one with gentle rumbles.

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In one of the small villages in Bandipur, walking along the boundary of the fenced reserve, we were exploring the adjacent farmlands. Here, human-wildlife interactions is not a rarity, you’ll find fire crackers in most homes, plates and sticks hanging out of tree branches and frequent shouts and loud whistles dominate forest sounds – measures adopted to ward off elephants and other wildlife.

Surrounded by forested hills and farmlands to the right, the place looked splendid. In one of the trees, a beautiful large and long-winged oriental honey buzzard was roosting. She expressed disdain, clearly hating our presence. After circling over our heads, screaming incessantly, she moved towards the hill, sat over a rock and did the same. Only when she stopped, complaining, did we hear the breaking of a branch. Quite literally felt like she had gone to share her displeasure and warn her fellow beings – the two adult elephants froze when they heard us. They remained in that posture for over 5 minutes, before starting to feed again.

As we walked ahead, we saw footprints, and after observing a few, Kaushik confirms a sloth bear. Out in the distance, a wild boar (a massive one) was running across a field. It was soon followed by a few loud human voices, farmer trying to get it off his property. But it was quite a funny sight, a lone fully grown wild boar running about a farm. We also spotted chitals a few yards away.

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After spending two days closer to this landscape, where forest and agricultural lands marry at a boundary, what becomes apparent is the complex co-existence of wildlife and humans in such a set-up. There are myriad species of wildlife on the fringes of forests, and in plantations – especially small mammal life and of course, elephants. And yet again the same question haunts… can this situation persist without leading to uncomfortable interactions in the near future…

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