June 13, 2010 § 4 Comments
Gullattikaval is a small hamlet in Kanakapura Taluk , some 40 kms off Bangalore. Forest Department Jeeps, the van which comes to collect milk from the village society and the occasional BMTC 214G is more or less all the traffic that ply its kacha roads. No wonder curious faces welcomed us as Danny Beliyappa stopped his zen near the forest guesthouse.
Karnataka Forest Department along with A Roacha India was conducting Synchronised Elephant Survey in Bannerghatta National Park on 15-17 May, 2010. I had sneaked out of office on Friday afternoon and raced to reach Kalkare Forest Office in time to register as a volunteer. Its here that I had met Danny Beliyappa and Ashish Agrahari and we were assigned to cover Gullattikaval Range. We had then picked up Munibyrappa, the forest watcher of the area and after being briefed by the chief conservator, had left for the guest house in Danny’s car.
So there we were, curiously inspecting this so called Forest Guest House. It was more of a dirty little room, a far cry from the ‘posh’ ones I have stayed in before at Anchetty and Jowlagiri for our KANS surveys. The light was fading quickly and the guest-house caretaker’s wife brewed some fresh jaggery-tea for all of us. Danny and Ashish were discussing plans for the next day with Munibyrappa. When I heard the words “watch-tower” and “watch-duty”, I make a ‘smart guess’ that there was a watch-tower around. (I make a note to myself to try learn Kannada faster every time I go on these surveys and when I get back to Bangalore, as part of this plan, I would speak in Kannada to the auto guy or the shopkeeper. But hardly a sentence into it, these guys take pity on me and start replying in Hindi or English. So, even after two full years in Bangalore, I am hopeless when it comes to Kannada.) Anyways, we convinced Munibyrappa to allow us to spend the night in the tower along with him.
We had an early dinner comprising of Ragi Cannon Balls, Rice and Sambhar and by 8:15, five of us, Munibyrappa, the care-taker and we three volunteers started walking towards the watch-tower. Munibyrappa walked in front scanning the dark thickets left and right with his torch and we followed him like obedient children. We reached the watch tower in like 30 minutes. There was elephant dung all over the place and we hoped the elephants would pass by that night also. We climbed up its terrace and made our beds. It was a dark night with no moon, just the dim gleam of those numerous stars. Now that our eyes had got used to the dark, we saw fireflies all around in the bushes. I kept looking at those wonderful insects hoping I would be able to witness that rare spectacle when all of them would turn on together and light up an area. Looks like I have way too less patience compared to Kenneth Anderson and got bored of this pretty soon! Munibyrappa and the caretaker were discussing loudly every subject under the sun. I even heard the words Kempegowda and Raja! The very sound of humans drives animals running for cover and that too when the topic is History you don’t leave them with much choice! So, it was a pretty uneventful night other than for the call of peacocks far inside the forest and I had a nice sleep.
We woke up at around 6, decided to skip the breakfast so that we could start before 7. Throughout the day, we were supposed to zig-zag the entire forest range and document every direct sighting of the pachyderm. Two more watchers, Venkatappa and Nagayya also joined us and the six of us entered the National Park from near the watch tower. A Red-Wattled Lapwing which had its nest somewhere around immediately took offence and flew around screaming its typical did-you-do-it. Just half an hour into the dry deciduous forest, we flushed a spotted deer from inside the bushes and the next moment, it was gone.
We crossed the forest in about three hours and reached a small hamlet on the other side where the watchers stayed. After resting for a while in the verandah of Nagayya’s home, we followed a shorter route back. We had lot of bird sightings from Bee-Eaters, Robins, Bush-chats, Munias, Mynahs, Babblers, Hornbills, Parakeets and Raptors in this area.
Also, There were thousands of butterflies mud-puddling, on course there annual migration from Western to Eastern Ghats.
But the day was getting really hot by now and we had no big mammal sightings for encouragement! Munibyrappa got information on his walky that the group of girls from Christ who had gone to Anekal Range had spotted 14 elephants! Covered in dust and sweat and with egos which couldn’t be hurt more (though its kinda stupid) we reached the guest house back at around 2 PM. Rice and Sambar was ready and we took a quick nap after the lunch. We walked perpendicular to the track we covered in the morning for another tiring 3 fours. This track was steeper and more rocky and was disappointing again in terms of sightings. By 6 we were back in the guest house again. Tea was getting ready, while the sun sunk deeper into the horizon changing the sky from blue to purple, red and orange. Dark clouds were gathering, ready to pour down any moment. The perfect evening for a not-so-perfect day!
The next day, the forest looked wonderful after the rain. The agenda was to measure and cover the two km transect line and document elephant dungs along it. It was deja vu when the same Lapwing protested at the very same spot. This time, we found its ‘nest’, more of a last minute arrangement of stones, and that too, just by the side-walk. I thought if you’d done such a clumsy job for a nest, you had no right to cry foul!
We soon reached the beginning for the transect line. It was in the densest part of the forest and looked like a long green tunnel. Now Venkatappa would take the 50 meter rope and walk ahead of us, while Munibyrappa and Nagayya would hold the rope down at the other end. We were supposed to inspect both sides of the line and document everything within 10 meters of it. Half a kilometre into the line, elephant dungs were all around, in fact, too many to document. Suddenly, we realised we were right in middle of the Elephant Corridor in the heart of this Elephant Country. Things started happening really quickly after that.
I was filling the tables, kneeling down, when something just zoomed past me! I looked back and saw Venkatappa running back shouting ‘Aanai’. I looked up and saw the grey mass some 200 meters in front of me. And that was it! I never looked again, threw the papers and my bag to the ground, turned tail and fled! All my life I wanted to click one inside the thick forest and cometh the opportunity, all I do is abandon my camera there and run! It was both funny and disappointing at the same time. Nagayya had already burst crackers by then and we all started shouting at the top of our voices. There was this trumpet of disgust which sounded more like ‘what the heck are you guys doing in my territory’. More crackers were burst and we could actually hear them take a detour towards our right. Luckily the elephants were at this place where the jeep track crossed the transect. Nagayya said they would have taken this jeep track. That meant we could move forward, but only by keeping a close watch on all four sides.
We quickly covered the rest of the transect, shouting and talking loudly. Venkatappa’s scream was kind of funny as he would start with this firm ‘ho’ which would then break down to a feeble, miserable cry of a ‘hee’ every time. We took the Jeep track on our way back and Munibyrappa showed us the footmarks and trunk-marks of at least two adults and a calf. They had walked along the Jeep track on hearing our crackers and soon got back into the forest. The rain had loosened the soil and we saw fresh pug marks of sloth bear, dhole and deer along the track. We were soon back at the guest house was done for the day! Danny and I decided to head back as we hadn’t applied for leave on Monday but Ashish decided to stay on for Waterhole Census.
We clicked this before we departed.From L to R, that is me, Watcher Venkatappa with his gun for which he has no bullets, Danny Beliyappa, Watcher Munibyrappa who knows the range in and out, Watcher Nagayya who kept his cool when all of us got scared and Ashish Agrahari.
Ashish called me up on Monday evening telling me how he had spotted elephants from his machan when they had come down to drink water and I kicked myself for deciding to come back on Sunday itself. But then, at work on Monday, this module which had been bugging me for quite a while finally worked and that too is bliss, of another kind, though!