A misty morning

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Like always, this year too we travelled to a few a forests in South India by the end of year – firstly to visit all our favourite haunts, and secondly, to see how our fellow sapiens understand and treat their wild cousins. Errr… nothing much has changed really!

Images: Kaushik Bajibab

Wildlife tourism has only tripled if anything else, attracting bounteous happy, LOUD hordes from all over. After visiting Agumbe, Kabini, Bandipur, and Coorg, November clearly and solely was saved for the withdrawn, yet enigmatic lone wolf – Nagarahole!

What a start really. Just as we reached the periphery, a forest guard informed us of a tiger sighted 3kms from the gate. No such luck though, not that we complained. There she was – heaving mist, quietly taking comfort in spongy drizzle, whispering in hushed tones – nothing, absolutely nothing like Nagarahole.

Having no other companions on road, we were enjoying the drive enormously, until we had to slow down for a stalled car. We looked closer, and noticed two men step out of the car and take selfies with wild elephants crossing the road behind them. There are times when your mind bursts with several mean, really mean thoughts, like a wicked sorcerer, frothing inconceivable curses. Ah well, looking upon this grand sight that lasted for a full 5 minutes, Kaushik and I at that moment were just helpless frothing phony sorcerers.

We made it just in time for safari – we take these rides in canters into forest ever year to understand our fellow travellers – what are you looking for, what are your expectations, what do you know of the forest and its inhabitants? These observations provide us with critical inputs to design and put together wildlife awareness programs each year. Every year we come back with several rib cracking anecdotes, depressing analogies and a few positive narratives – there is always hope and that’s the best part!

This time there were people shutting windows in panic upon sighting elephants that were a good three canter(s) distance away, demanding for lion sightings and yet, except for a handful, most remained calm and didn’t complain about sighting anything but elephants. That was lovely. How could they – the forest was so beautifully captivating.

We always stay at the forest guest house. They refused to confirm booking for three days at once; instead we had to book the same room every morning – the reason? Most often people cancel booking after staying for a day because they are bored! They don’t even confirm online booking now!! That’s just sad to hear. We cannot imagine staying anywhere else – where else can you sit back and hear forest tongue, loud and crisp all night.

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The next morning was truly special and will remain so… we were driving into clouds of thick mists, soaring 100 year-old tress fleetingly fenced our field of hemmed vision – it felt like we were travelling back in time. Our very first companion was a tusker, standing by the road quietly feasting. What a specimen he was, him one of the largest tusker I have seen in the recent past, completely dwarfed by towering trees, shrouded by mists. What a sight!

We approached a narrow road – blocked by three elephants – two adults with a calf in the middle. Absolutely carefree, these elephants were relishing the still morning. We stayed back not wanting to disturb them, and just then young gaur calves jumped about the herd. They were all together – we sat there dumbfounded as the elephant and gaurs treaded soundlessly and peacefully on the road side by side – playing hide and seek with the milky mist. That’s why she is so special – Nagarahole still evokes a sense of primitiveness that remains unmatched.

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We spotted yet another aged bull (gaur) with severe cataract – like the one we spotted in Bandipur forests recently. And then of course, our time in this unique forest is never complete without the presence of the good-humoured,  feisty little predators – the dholes. Kaushik seemed completely at peace after spending an entire day observing a pack that remained close to our room. We even witnessed this quick pack circle wild boars, separating the mother from its young one, and following it into the forest.

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The next day we trekked up the Brahmagiri hill accompanied by a forest guard. Loads of leeches, the little ones are the toughest to yank out from your skin and there were way too many. After sometime, we just didn’t bother. Quite a steep slow climb, stumbling upon surface roots, we took it slow, making time for some colourful butterflies, interesting leafhoppers and spiders. Closer to the peak, the pathway was reeking of fresh elephant dung, we treaded carefully as the grass was almost chest high in many places and we definitely didn’t want to spot a wild grey giant on foot up-close. The view was breathtaking, though a large part of our immediate surrounding was curtained by thick mist. Little caterpillars by the hundreds clung on to tall grass; saw almost one on every blade of grass I was singling out. On our way down the hill, closer to a small stream we spotted a juvenile, barely discernible vine snake.

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Back in Nagarahole, the night grew darker, colder and loud – several high-pitched parallel conversations all happening at the same time in the forest. Now, clearly this is the kind of chaos that calms us down – the forest jingle!

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