Winter in Bandipur

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Mysore – its quaint charisma, the pleasant green cover, and the majestic monuments and buildings, clearly radiate an aura of stately yet simple living. Truly inviting.

– Kaushik Bajibab (images)

We usually try and dig out the not so popular eat outs – roadside “thindi” vendors or a hole in the wall cafe. We found one such breakfast joint by the side of a road in Mysore. Young and the old, a perfect blend – only such a place can make eavesdropping fun. An old man was recounting his past to a young chap in hushed tones, “Back in the days, it was very easy to go get a deer or a rabbit. Now, they have silly rules. I can even be jailed for six years for killing a rabbit,” he said, absolutely appalled that such an act could be pronounced a crime. He even spoke of several animals that were earlier spotted closer to the city and how, no one had to go to the forest fringe to hunt for food.

This winter, we were greeted by clumps and heaps of dead and decaying bamboo, after the gregarious flowering period in the Bandipur forests. The last such flowering season occurred in the Bandipur and Nagarahole forests in 2009-2010. We are talking of beautiful shades of green standing tall in stark contradiction to the browns and grey of thickets on ground, many still shouldering beautiful flowers.

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Though the flowering of bamboo brings with it an air of anxiety and uneasiness to villagers, tribals and the forest department – this is yet another ordinary phenomenon in the natural world that’s not totally consumptive. Because of its shallow rhizome-root system and accumulation of leaf mulch, bamboo serves as an efficient agent in preventing soil erosion, conserving moisture, and reinforces embankments along rivers. It plays a pivotal role in maintaining key ecological functions in tropical and subtropical forest ecosystems. In fact, unlike previous years, there were hardly any incidents of forest fire reported in Bandipur during the last flowering season.

One species that do suffer from lack of fodder, especially during this season is the elephant. In fact, one of our friends in Coorg explained of frequent crop raiding and also mentioned of its strange behaviour – he has been often spotting elephants shake down garbage cans, looking for any kind of spoils, including soaps. This is quite depressing, not to forget the increasing pressure from anthropogenic impact on forests.“Would the last animal, eating garbage and living on the last scrap of land, his mate dead, would he still forgive you?” asks Barry Lopez. Maybe we need to keep asking ourselves.

However, the morning was sublime in Bandipur. We even spotted a leopard closer to the forest department. It was sitting peacefully amidst shrubs, before being driven off by loudly gesticulating people and their even louder vehicles.

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Yet again, I would like to bring to notice the absolute callous and imperceivable attitude of a few while on a safari. This one man and his clownish outfit were not just loud, they were repulsive.

Besides demanding a sighting of a lion (yes, they are shockingly ignorant), they sang songs, scared gaurs away and kept calling peacocks “bird hen”. The annoyed driver’s warning fell on deaf ears. I really think anyone who speaks loudly, or does not follow the rules of a forest, while being a guest on their turf, should be punished – strict fines and a stern warning!!!

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Like the elephant whisperer, Lawrence Anthony once said, “Time spent around elephants in the wild precipitates a sense that all is well with the world.” That is so true. Next morning, we were greeted by one of the most wonderful sights – a herd of over 25 elephants moving up a hill, to a waterhole closeby. The last to follow was a mother and her calf; she was being very patient with the little one and its absolute stubbornness to walk. Later, we spotted another family of five, frequently watching over us as they continued to feed.

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On a full moon night, the coldness embraces like an intruder and silence grows into an actual being. We sat wrapped in jackets listening to the rutting of chitals, and the drawing sound when it rubs its antlers on trees. We were suddenly slapped awake by the sound of an angry cat – which later turned out to be a courtship call. Strangely, the calls often followed the wolfing drawls of dholes – the long twin growl swallowed complete by silence. The chirpy birds relentlessly sang through the night, nothing perturbed these spirited creatures. And the music continued…

Kaushik’s logbook: Elephants, leopard, gaurs, sambar, porcupine, Russell’s viper

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