An Elephantine Elephant Herd

December 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

A huge herd, at least 55 strong.  Looked like they wanted to cross the road and migrate to the forests of Andhra like their forefathers used to do.

Just that the old small road is now a national highway connecting Bangalore to the cities further south. And that there is no forest whatsoever on the other side for many kilometers. They stay in the nearby forests and instincts bring them closer to the road in the night. Villages are petrified, crops damaged. People are on watch-towers (read tall trees), posted up there to give alarms to the villages if the herd moves in their direction. Crackers are burst, and they all shout in a crescendo trying to send them back to the jungle. Forest Department is torn among the man, the animal and their fatigue as most of them haven’t slept properly for weeks. Experts and research papers give various solutions. But no one is sure what to do.

With forest cover dwindling and we guys using the last remaining patches for over-grazing/over-fishing/over-mining/over-partying, there is no surprise we have such huge elephant herds literally waiting at zebra crossings. We need to do something; do something fast. The ball is in our court, but then, when was it in the elephant’s court ever?


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)

Volunteer for Melagiri!

January 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

Dabguli festival takes place around Shivrathri time in an old temple located along Kaveri, in Urigam Range of the Melagiris. This year, the festival is marked to fall on the 5th and 6th of February, 2011. The festival is a grand event, and during it, this otherwise pristine and untouched land sees participation of villagers in numbers as high as 10,000. With plastic becoming such a big part of our lives, the impact of such a gathering for 2 days along Kaveri poses a serious threat to the subtle ecological balance of Dabguli and all the forest ranges down-stream.

Kenneth Anderson Nature Society (KANS) has taken up the task to contain the effect of such a huge social gathering . We have already made arrangements with the organising committee for the festival to replace plastic plates with areca plates and promised them that we will bear the extra costs incurred. We would also like to remind the attendees not to litter the forest and river bank and deposit the used plates in the pits arranged for that purpose. Also, at the end of the event, we are planning to pick up any plastic that is littered around the area. A screening of the Kannada Version of the Nagarhole Video is also being planned.

We are looking at around 20-30 volunteers during this period. The initial plan is to assemble at Anchetty Guest House on Friday night, go to Dabguli on Saturday, stay over-night and come back on Sunday evening.

The villagers and the organising committee are sincere about the damages caused by pollution. Our presence and the efforts we take along with them to clean-up the place, will further drive home these points in their mind. If you are interested to be a part of this initiative, do let me know / mail

Happy B’day Hobbes!

September 19, 2010 § 2 Comments

2 years and 14,000 kms of friendship.

Satisfying each and every silly whim of mine!

Happy B’day Dear Hobbes!!

Kenneth Anderson Nature Society

September 1, 2010 § 8 Comments

Perhaps, you would like to come with me on one of my night prowls into the jungle. I am taking you to a place called Kundukottai, where there is a nice forest. Two ranges of hills converge there; and two streams coming from different directions join to form a large stream called the Doddahalla, but I have called it the Secret River…

From A Night by the Camp Fire by Kenneth Anderson

Anderson goes on, takes his reader through Hosur, Denkanikottai and Anchetty into his favourite forests of Melagiris. He lights the camp fire and lies listening to the language of the jungle, sharing with his reader, all the gyan he had acquired over years. As much as 20 of the 57 Kenneth Anderson stories are based here in the Melagiri hills, nestled between the Cauvery and Chinar rivers. It is elephant country and contains two traditional elephant corridors. But today, poaching, cattle over-grazing and lantana have driven out most of the wildlife including the tiger from Melagiris.

A group of readers of Kenneth Anderson met at Aiyur, Tamil Nadu in June 2008 and formed Kenneth Anderson Nature Society (KANS) to explore the various ways in which they could contribute towards conservation in his favourite forests. KANS decided to take on the task of restoring the erstwhile glorious Melagiri through a mix of passive and active conservation activities like community interaction programmes, equipping the ground forest staff, field work to control man-elephant conflict, removal of invasive species etc. Also, in order to regulate cattle-grazing and poaching, KANS has been working hard along with the Forest Department and ANCF to get this region declared as a Wildlife Sanctuary. Scientific biodiversity surveys are conducted to gather solid proof to substantiate this sanctuary proposal. Lying in the vicinity of Bannerghatta National Park, Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary, Sanctuaries of BR Hills and Sathyamangala and forest patches that join the tiger reserves of Nilgiri Biosphere, Melagiri holds a very good potential for becoming a tiger habitat yet again.

To learn more about KANS, see the short video (in 2 parts) below. If you would like to join us, see our website. And I can lend my Kenneth Anderson omnibus if you want to read some awesome jungle-lore 🙂

Elephant Spotting in Gullattikaval

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!

We did not want to be human lightning-conductors atop the tall watch tower, so we agreed to sleep in the guest house. And by 9, there was torrential rain and storm.

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!

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the Back in the Jungle category at Quarterlife KuttikaLi.