In the Land of Tigers and Tahrs
May 4, 2011 § 5 Comments
Back in school days, I used to completely look down upon one Mr. Wordsworth for writing utter non-sense like ’emotions recollected in tranquillity’, and that too about some stupid daffodils! Today, I was stuck at Silk Board Junction and I couldn’t make it across, even though the lights had gone from red to green four times (situations like these kind of reminds me about CAT, which clearly doesn’t help when one is stuck at a signal). Now I have no idea what made me think about Mukurthi amidst all that chaos, but within seconds, blue-green mountains and grey mist and wild flowers of every colour from a trip I did months ago ‘flashed upon that inward eye’!
Thillai had invited us to spend a couple of days in Mukurthi National Park, a place he calls, in his own words, “My Breath, My Soul”. After a week, which felt more like an year, we finally met the big guys with the big jeeps at Ooty town. It was a rude shock when we found out that none of the TASMACs in Ooty have even heard of Old Monk! Finally settling for something called Bolt (or, was it Bullet?), we loaded the jeeps with the rest of the stuff from chicken and mutton to salt and pepper and started the long jeep-trek away from civilization.
Tarred road gave way to mud track and soon, there was no path to be seen. Curious Sambhar Deers and Nilgiri Langurs stopped and stared with curiosity at us strange intruders. Birding too was awesome and for a novice like me, it was raining lifers!
It had been quite sometime anyone had threaded this stairway to heaven and doc’s beast had a tough time ‘making’ the way. Someone posed a hypothetical situation of encountering a tusker in the midst of all this and there was pin drop silence for a minute as everyone pictured the hopelessness of the situation in their minds.
We finally reached Fishing Hut by evening and by then, we were 5 full hours and 35 kms away from any other human being, mobile connectivity or electricity.
Day 2 6 AM, amidst a light drizzle, we set out to trek the 14 kms to Mukurthi Peak. It was nature at its best, the raindrops and dew on leaves, the wild flowers, the big trees which made sure we had to crawl and creep and climb to keep going, the big yellow ferns which looked like Mr. Stripey from distance, the streams with ice-cold water…
A good 5 hours later, we were at the base of the final stretch, looking at the fire-line. Now, at Fishing Hut, there is a very big framed photo of a tigeress walking this very fire-line. None of us were speaking one word. Now, I don’t know if it was the fire-line, or the usual thing that happens to me in the last steep stretch in treks, I lost steam, decided to call it quits, and settled on a comfortable rock soaking up the view of Nilgiri Thars grazing at a distance in the grasslands, with the majestic mountains in the background.
Thillai joined us soon and I got my earful for quitting! So, off I went again, carefully climbing up the stretch they call “nenjum-medu” (heart-meadow), with Ananth and had I not done that, I would have regretted the whole of my life. Surprisingly, there was no mist at all, and the view of the Nilambur forests from top is something I will never forget. Just makes one wish if he could spend all his life, here in mother nature’s lap…
We started back soon, as we had to get to the hut before night fall. Trekking on foot in a tiger reserve at dusk is a feeling in its own. Every little leaf in yellow-orange, every strange smell, every scrape on the ground sends a thousand alarm bells ringing inside of you. Tired, but full of awe and inspiration, we finally got back by 6 PM, to a wonderful night by the fireside, with James’ trademark mutton pepper fry, rum, old songs, jungle lore and conservation debates.
The next morning, while returning, I saw my first ever tiger pug mark. It was fresh, huge and unmistakeable, even for a first-timer like me.
But like all good things, this trip too, had to end, and while returning, even Ooty was an eye-sore! One of the awesomest trips I’ve had; a big thanks to Thillai and Shanmugam and a big sorry to Wordsworth 🙂
(Pictures flicked from Thillai, Ananth and CK)