My flight was at 11.20 in the morning. I took an autorickshaw to the airport at 10 am. The flight left right on time and after an hour and ten minutes landed in Pune. We stopped here for 30 minutes and then landed in Bangalore 15 minutes ahead of schedule after an hour and 5 minute flight. Bangalore is a horrible huge city. Massive traffic, choking pollution, poverty, fumes and concrete everywhere. I immediately took a taxi to the bus station to go to Mysore. Another really nice deluxe bus took me the final 2 and a half hours to Mysore.
From the bus station I walked around and finally found a room at Hotel Luciya after checking 3 other hotels that were full. I ate at a small local restaurant across the street and crashed. It had been a long travel day that was finally over and I was in a city that I thought I was going to like and I did after only being here for a short time. I could tell I would like this place, the guidebook helped me pick it, recommending it as a likable city with interesting sights but it was also useful to me as a base for exploring nearby national parks.
I had planned on visiting the tourist office, the forest department and maybe the maharajas palace today but that all changed 5 minutes after I left my hotel to go out for breakfast. I went to the Indra Paras cafe and saw an Aussie couple who I saw for a brief moment the night before at the front desk of a hotel that was full. I decided to join them and was glad I did. Brandon and Selk were from Perth, which is basically the main place I stayed when I was in Australia in 1998 visiting my brother who was going to the University of Western Australia. They even knew band members of my favourite Aussie band – Adam Said Galore, so that was really cool. After breakfast they invited me to visit Chamundi Hill with them, a large hill with an important temple on it and only 20 minutes by local bus. I probably wouldn’t have visited it on my own but went with them just to hang out. I could do my errands tomorrow. I’m not too much into visiting city sights and don’t feel like I’m missing out if I don’t see anything while in the cities.
The temple was interesting but I was more interested in the views from the hill which were good but a haze lingered in the distance. We descended 1000 steps back to ground level and then took an autorickshaw back to the city center. Selk wasn’t feeling good due to a fall she took on the steps so she went back to their room to rest. Brandon and I went out to eat lunch. Brandon had heard about a Shiite Muslim festival going on in town from the front desk guy at his hotel. Today was the seventh day of the 10 day festival and one of the most important days. Today men would parade down the street performing self flagellation and since I had only seen this on TV before I was very keen to see it in person.
After lunch Selk still wasn’t feeling good so Brandon and I left and finally found a good street corner from which to watch the action. There were no foreigners around since this type of thing isn’t much publicized or in Lonely Planet. While we waited some angry voice was preaching over a loudspeaker in some distant language.The parade started with a horse covered with a bloody sheet and fake arrows. Next came a group of young kids about 8 – 13 in age. The parade is basically about showing your devotion to Islam by self mutilation. The kids had a razor blade in their hand which they cut either their chest or forehead and then proceeded to pound the cut area. It was pretty disturbing to see these young kids with blood pouring down their face or chest. I had expected to see men,not young boys doing this. They would stop in an area and chant ‘ Hussain, Hussain’, ( I must admit, I’m pretty ignorant and ill informed on the whole thing, so I don’t know exactly who Hussain is, sorry) while performing their self mutilation. After 5 minutes in the same area they would walk another 10 M and then do it again.
The groups of men got progressively older and some of the older men were really bloody. They would really freak out hitting themselves. I could see the blood splatting in the air and into everyone’s open wounds. It didn’t look like the most hygienic or safe thing to be involved in. It all became very real for me when I felt a few blood specks hit me in the face. I immediately went further back in the crowd and wiped off the blood. I couldn’t see where all the blood was and was grateful when some local kids pointed at my face. I just gave them a tissue and they wiped off the blood. I don’t carry much with me when wandering a city but I always carry some tissue. A detailed inspection of myself when I got back to my hotel room revealed blood on my hat, shirt and pants which came off when I washed them. It was almost too much and kind of gross to get blood on my face so I watched the rest of the parade from a safe distance. I got a few good photos before getting hit and felt I didn’t need too many photos anyway. We watched the whole parade pass us and felt satisfied with what we had seen so Brendon and I left to get a tea and talk about what we saw. We had both seen this type of thing on TV but seeing it in real life is really full on and we both agreed seeing the kids was unexpected and the most disturbing part of it all.
If I had not met Brendon and Selk I would have never seen this and in a strange way this has become one highlight of my trip. I had never expected to see anything like this anywhere unless I actively searched it out so I had felt privileged to have seen it. We both went back to our respective rooms and then met up again at 7.30 for dinner. After dinner we went to an internet cafe until 9.30. I had felt an itch on my back and felt a few mosquito like bites, but didn’t think I could have been bit while I was on the internet. The only thing I could attribute it too was bedbugs in my room or an ant that got in my shirt somehow. I looked at them when I got back to my room and saw that I had 6 large bites all in a row which are characteristic of bedbugs. I have been very lucky to not have experienced bedbugs hardly ever in all my travels. They also bit me on the side of my hand and my leg. I had my mossie net up so I was sure it wasn’t mossies getting me at night. There’s not much to do against bedbugs but I think next time I’ll take off the bedding and use my own camp bed and see how that goes. I went to bed scratching myself.
I met Selk and Brendon for breakfast but after that they had to leave. I was on my own again. I walked to the tourist office which couldn’t give me the info I wanted so I carried on to the Forest Department office. Along the way the busy street was lined with huge fig trees with their spectacular secondary roots hanging down, similar to the trees used to make the root bridges in the northeast. I got the information I was looking for from the Forest Department. The main thing being that the accommodation at the 2 close national parks was fully booked on weekends so avoid weekends at all costs. The weekend was coming up and I didn’t want to stay in Mysore for another few days even though the city wasn’t bad, I wanted to do something else. I decided to go to Hampi and relax there for 5 days or so and then come back to Mysore and visit the national parks during the week.
There are no direct buses to Hampi only to Hospet which is about 30 minutes from Hampi. There is only one bus direct to Hospet from Mysore during the day. It’s a ordinary government bus but I didn’t care, I didn’t need a nice bus all the time and I didn’t want to go to Bangalore to switch to a nice bus. It’s only a 9 hour journey anyway. The bus left on time at 1pm and I had a soft window seat. The scenery was nothing amazing but the road itself was interesting. Almost all the way from Mysore until it got dark, huge fig trees lined both sides of the road. Their huge dangling secondary roots hung over the road just above the height of the bus, lingering like an earthly chandelier. These trees always gave me something to look at while I listened to my ipod.
To me it’s essential for any journey to have music to listen to. I don’t know how these other travellers do it, just sitting there with no music. Music is a big part of my life back home. I play drums, guitar and bass and for the past year had been jamming with friends almost once a week. Last year on a 4 month trip to Madagascar and South Africa, my refurbished Ipod died on me half way through my trip. This killed me, it was so depressing not having any of my own music for 2 months. I didn’t even want to travel anywhere because I had no tunes along the way, but of course I still travelled. I’ve gone through all the technology as I have travelled over the years. I had cassettes and a walkman at first, then graduated up to a mini disc player for a few years and now to an Ipod, which has gradually been increasing in storage capacity until I got to my current 30 GB Ipod. I just purchased it in 2007 and it has video capabilities and I took advantage of these. I put a few movies on it, a season of South Park, a season of Simpsons and hundreds of short podcasts of National Geographic specials and an ultra violent comical cartoon known as Happy Tree Friends.
The 350 km journey was taking a little longer than the 9 hours I had expected, but it wasn’t the bus. We kept a steady pace and only stopped for minutes at a time. I was wondering when we were going to arrive since it had already been 10 hours and we were still 100 km away from Hospet. We finally arrived at 1 am, 12 hours later! I went straight to a hotel and crashed. The next morning I took an autorickshaw to Hampi.
I took a boat across the Tungabhadra river flowing through Hampi because the other side of the river is suppose to be more relaxed. I had planned on staying for 5 or 6 days here so I wanted a place I really liked. I found that place at Mowgli Guesthouse. I had my own thatched roof circular bungalow with attached bath and its own covered swing out front. It was lucky number 13 ( the same number of the jeep I saw my first tiger in Kanha national park ),furthest away from the restaurant and the reception area was blocked by a few trees, so I had my privacy. I could easily stay here for 5 days.
Hampi was the center of a huge Hindu empire until the 15th century. It’s known for its many temples and ruins set amongst a boulder strewn landscape. I spent my second day there wandering around on foot. I went to the top of Hemakuta hill to get my bearings and see the layout of the land. It was huge boulders different shades of brown and rolling hills as far as I could see. I could also see many of the temple complexes I would be visiting in the following days and planned a route. I met an Australian couple up there and hung out with them for the day. Unfortunately they were staying on the Hampi bazaar side of the river so we couldn’t hang out in the evening since the last boat across the river leaves at 6pm.
While waiting for the last boat with many other backpackers I struck up a conversation with a British couple and ending up hanging out with them for the night. We ate at the guesthouse next door to Mowgli, the Shanti guesthouse, which had low tables and cushions to sit on overlooking the rice paddies. A very relaxing place, which I had ended up eating at every night. I ate breakfast at my guesthouse but they played a lot of music I didn’t like so I didn’t want to spend my evenings there. I discovered that Shanti has a few eating areas and one of them shows nightly movies.I spent a few nights watching flicks.
The next 2 days in Hampi I rented a bicycle to check out the spaced apart ruins. There are some very impressive ruins here with elaborate carvings that reminded me a lot of the carvings I saw in Angkor Wat. They must be related somehow and it would be interesting to know if their histories are interconnected. Most of the ruins are free and safe to walk around in but the best of the bunch you have to pay to see ($5). I bought a ticket to the massive elephant stables and then finished my day at the jewel of the Hampi ruins, the Vittala temple, a walled in temple complex close to Hampi bazaar. I was impressed and it was worth the money.
I had come to Hampi with the intention of spending my 31st birthday here on January 24. I either wanted to be in the forest or in a nice quiet place and Hampi fit my requirements nicely.I ate breakfast with a Canadian guy and Dutch guy who I had been seeing around Mowgli. After hanging out with them for a few hours I went over to Hampi bazaar. I like to treat myself in some way on my birthday and after I wandered around the ruins close to Hampi, I went for a 90 minute Ayurvedic massage with essential oils. It felt great and was a good way to end the afternoon. I realized after the masseur was finished that 2 hours had passed. I gave a nice tip and went back to my room to shower and read before dinner.
I went to Shanti for a tasty cashew masala dinner with plain rice and a big Kingfisher (650 ml) beer. I drank a beer almost every night in Hampi, mostly because it was available, cold and reasonably priced. I usually like to enjoy a beer most nights when I’m in a city but in India beer is not widely available, at least not in the places I was eating. I could have counted the number of beers I’ve had on one hand before coming to Hampi, so it was nice to have a cold beer with my meals. My birthday was enjoyable and very low key with no significant events but I still had fun.
I ate lunch on my birthday at the recommended Mango Tree restaurant. A very cool restaurant with terraced seating and views of rice paddies and the river. After I ate I noticed a color pamphlet with the Indian Sloth bear on it. I began to read it when a waiter gave me a black and white information sheet which I mistakenly thought was for the same place. But after some confusion and a repeat visit back to Mango Tree I realized the color sheet was just about rescuing sloth bears from performing since they are used by local people to perform and earn money as dancing bears. It’s a very cruel practice and this color sheet was information about it and how they rescued 130 bears so far and how you can send money to help their cause. I had never seen a dancing bear here or even heard about anyone else seeing one so I think it is becoming less common, which is good news for the bears. The black and white sheet was about the Daroji bear sanctuary near Hampi where is possible to see sloth bears. This is what I was interested in doing because although sloth bears are found throughout India they can be hard to see. This seemed like my best chance for seeing India’s most widespread bear.
There are 4 species of bear in India. The sun bear is only found in the northeast, which is the world’s smallest bear, weighing from 27 kg to 65 kg. The Himalayan brown bear and Asiatic black bear are both found only in isolated pockets in the foothills of the Himalayas.
I asked about visiting the sanctuary at a travel agency on my birthday to get specifics about transportation, entry fee and so on, for myself and to pass on to some of the guys I had been eating breakfast with who expressed some interest in visiting the sanctuary. But when it came down to it, no one was interested. Hampi is filled with backpackers and hippies who seem to just want to get stoned and drunk and hangout, which is fine but I can do that at home! While I’m in India I want to do stuff and doing stuff costs money which these people weren’t willing to part with. Everyone I met in Hampi had come from Goa. Goa is a tiny Indian province known for beaches and a party atmosphere. I had thought about going there to hang out on a beach for a few days but changed my mind when it wasn’t on my way anywhere. I didn’t feel like I would be missing out on anything. I didn’t have much in common with some of the people I met in Hampi, they weren’t interested at all in seeing animals or visiting national parks.I thought ‘ forget about them, I don’t need them to go with me’ and decided to visit the sanctuary on my own.
I hired a car from the travel agent guy who was very helpful with providing information.The road is only paved half way and with bears roaming around it’s not a good idea to use a rickshaw or a bike. The owner of the travel agency decided to come along because he had friends at the sanctuary who could get us closer to the bears. It took almost an hour to drive the 30 km to the sanctuary. The landscape was still many large boulders and dry scrub forest. I was the only person visiting the sanctuary at the time. We climbed to the top of a hill where there is a lookout tower for observing the bears. Opposite the hill was another hill with caves in which the bears resided. The sanctuary put out honey and garlic to entice the bears into the open. We arrived at 2.30 and were told sometimes the bears don’t come out till 5.30 and sometimes they don’t come out at all. I began to play the waiting game and started to read.
After an hour I glanced up and saw a black shape moving on the other hill. My first Indian sloth bear! Then another came out, then another….in total there were 5 bears. They began eating the garlic. There were already peacocks around and 2 huge wild boars came out. There was also 2 ruddy mongooses, which were a new species for me. It was quite a scene all playing out in a very small area. I could see the bears through the binoculars ok but they were far away. The travel agent, Ragu, persuaded one of the workers to take me closer. It wasn’t his good friend but the guy was willing to do it for a bribe ($12). We climbed down the hill and rushed closer towards the bears. They couldn’t see us coming due to the vegetation. The guy was almost running and constantly looking back. It seemed like he was more worried about getting caught by his boss than he was about the bears! It was exciting to be running towards the potentially dangerous bears on foot. We stopped when we got to within about 20m of them and hid under a tree. I took some photos and watched the bears through my binoculars. Sloth bears are all black except for a dirty light brown patch on their chest. They weigh up to 145 kg and use their powerful claws to tear open termite mounds. They suck up termites and ants through a gap in their mouth caused by missing front incisors.They also have a very shaggy coat that looks like a wild hairdo. The bears didn’t pay much attention to us, which is good because sloth bears can be very aggressive. I was told they were responsible for more attacks on people than tigers. One of them ripped a guide’s nose off at Kanha National Park! But for some reason I didn’t feel like I was in any danger.
The guy promised me 5 or 10 minutes up close but after one minute he was urging us to leave already. I didn’t want to leave yet, this was not worth the bribe, which I hadn’t paid yet. I stuck around for an extra minute and then reluctantly left. I talked with Ragu voicing my disappointment for the short time up close and he said he would talk with the guy and wouldn’t give him our agreed bribe price. Ok, I thought that was fair. We went back to the lookout hill and a few Indians had arrived to watch the bears. The worker was worried about them seeing us and we arrived minutes before they got to the top of the hill, so the guy was safe. We left the sanctuary and I got back to Hampi just in time to take the last boat across the river. I was so happy that I decided to visit the sanctuary and was rewarded with 2 new animals species for me. It was worth the money (in total around $30) and as far as I’m concerned the guys who didn’t come with me missed out.
The day after seeing the bears I decided to leave Hampi. I really liked it there but 6 days was enough time and I wanted to get to some more national parks. According to the forest department in Mysore, the 2 national parks near Mysore, Bandipur and Nagarahole are fully booked on weekends but relatively quiet during the week. I planned to spend the weekdays at the parks. The buses leaving Hampi are all overnight so I had the day to kill. I met Steve, an Englishman, who was staying at Mowgli. He wanted someone to go with him to a nearby reservoir where there was a cliff jump. He needed someone to film him jump off it. Sounded like fun so I joined him. He already had a rented motto and in ten minutes we were at the reservoir. Steve had heard about a very high jump from the top of 3 boulders but as we got there and saw the jump it didn’t look good. The jump was doable but the steep climb up the rocks looked very dangerous, I wasn’t going to attempt it. The cliff itself was about 10m high and that looked fun enough for me. Steve kind of tried to climb up with the help of a local but decided against it after getting half way up. I filmed him with his camera jumping off the cliff which was a big deal for him. He had to get hyped up to do it. Myself ? I just jumped off, no biggie, heights don’t bother me. We hung out there for a while and then went to the Mango Tree for lunch. Steve had already bought his ticket for the night bus so I was happy that we would be travelling together to Mysore. However, Steve was a bit of a scatterbrain and changes his mind a lot and in the end he decided to stay in Hampi. This kind of sucked but also worked out good for me since he sold me his ticket on the sleeper bus for half the price.
I left Hampi on an autorickshaw which I shared with an Australian couple. We left at 9pm to go to the main bus station in Hospet. There were no morning buses to Mysore, only overnight buses from Hospet. The sleeper bus left at 11pm and was filled with backpackers. I got my own small bunk on the upper level at the back of the bus. It was a soft bed but the bumpy road made for a hellish journey and I hardly slept at all. The good thing was that we arrived in Bangalore 2 hours before I thought we would. From Bangalore I had to get a bus to Mysore. I met Dan, another Englishman and we shared the autorickshaw to the bus station. It was 2 hours to get to Mysore and then Dan and I went out for breakfast.
I decided to give Hotel Luciya another shot in another room, hoping it to be bed bug free. I met Dan at 6 in the evening and we went out to eat. We ate in a cool rooftop restaurant. Mysore is nicely blessed with 12 cinemas but only one of them had an English movie playing. It was John Rambo, the fourth and latest installment in the Rambo series which I had been wanting to see ever since I saw a trailer in the summer. I couldn’t convince Dan to join me so I went alone. The cinema was packed with Indian men. It was a huge cinema with good sound. Indian men are a rowdy bunch and at many parts in the movie they felt it necessary to yell and whistle loudly. This was annoying but what could I do. They also smoked obviously not caring about the no smoking signs. Even with all this I still enjoyed the movie. Sure, there is no great acting or oscar winning scenes but it was very entertaining. Stallone directed it and wrote most of it and he didn’t skimp on the gory action. It was sunday night and tomorrow I would leave for Bandipur National Park.
Bandipur and Nagarahole are 2 national parks both within 3 hours of Mysore. I had planned to visit both of these during the week. Monday and tuesday at Bandipur and then wednesday and thursday at Nagarahole and then back to Mysore for friday night. I went to the forest department in Mysore to find information about entry fees, safari fees and accommodation. The officer told me accommodation must be booked well in advance if I want to stay at the park’s cottages, unless I go during the week when it’s not usually booked up. The cottage price for Bandipur was reasonable but the cottages at Nagarahole were pricey and just over my budget but would be ok for 2 nights. My budget has been going so well that a few days over budget won’t affect my daily budget at all. Also, food, the entry fee and safari fees were the cheapest I’ve seen in any park.
My last question was about the wildlife in the parks. Would I see anything? How were the parks? The forest department officer was less than enthusiastic and told me I wouldn’t see anything at either park. It’s not the season, he said. The season is from May to October which is kind of opposite of most parks in India. I didn’t care what he said anyway. I had planned on visiting these 2 parks and I knew I would see something, even if it was just more of the usual suspects. I also wanted to go just to get out of the city and spend some more time in nature.
The bus only took 2 hours to get to the reception and accommodation area of Bandipur since a main road cuts through the park. I couldn’t get a hold of the forest office in Mysore to book my room ahead of time so I had to wait until 6pm to find out if I had a room but I was confident I would get one. I stored my large pack in Mysore and was travelling minimalist style again.
Bandipur is open from am to am and then again from 4pm to 6pm. They run safaris in a 25 seater minibus, if there’s enough people. A 45 minute ride in the minibus costs only 85 cents and my entry was only $5. My first safari left at 4.30pm and was packed full of loud, rude and smelly Indians. Everyone is supposed to keep quiet but nobody pays attention to this rule and there is always some shushing going on. I had really lowered my expectations for seeing animals in this park because it was off season and I was in a loud minibus full of loud people. We drove the main road for a minute and then entered the scrub forest that makes up most of Bandipur. I wasn’t in intense safari mode yet and was caught completely off guard when after only 5 minutes in the forest a leopard crossed right in front of the bus and went into the lantana bushes on my side of the bus! Unfortunately, I couldn’t get my camera out in time to get a photo and could just barely see the leopard hanging out in the lantana bushes. We only stayed a minute and it was so annoying that no one on the bus would shut up. We saw the usual suspects on the rest of the safari and returned back to the park at 5.15. As soon as we got back I walked right into reception and bought a ticket for the last safari at 6pm. A lone elephant made an appearance along with the usual suspects.
I got a room in the Harini cottage which was furthest from the road and very quiet. Dinner was a simple,cheap (40 cents) and tasty thali consisting of dahl soup, rice, chapathi and curried potatoes and cauliflower. There was hardly anybody staying at the park that night. I took my chair outside and sat in the dark and stargazed. Spotted deer also sleep in the park grounds. During the day, spotted deer, bonnet macaques, hanuman langurs and wild boar were all seen roaming around. I didn’t have to go anywhere to see animals here.
There were 3 things I really liked about Bandipur that have been hard to find at other parks. First,entry fees and safari fees were very cheap. Second, the safari minibus always went very slow, 20 km an hour, which was very good for looking around and not missing anything. Third, the park reception and accommodation were the only thing around for at least 15 km, except for a few private lodges about 4 km away. There were no private lodges here or restaurants, only a very small village for staff workers which was very quiet. This is the type of accommodation and park set up I have been looking for. Although it was on a main road, the traffic at night was minimal and hard to hear from my cottage.
I got up at 6.30 to make sure I didn’t miss the first safari. It left at about 7 and was almost full. Nothing unusual this time though, just the usual suspects. I again went straight into reception after returning and bought a ticket for the next safari. It was a funny thing here and strange. The safaris were cheap and short and yet hardly any of the same people went for 2 safaris in a row. Indians have a misconception about wildlife in the parks. They think they can just show up and see a tiger or 2, maybe some elephants and then go back home. There are signs at every park informing visitors that this is a wild place and the park doesn’t control the movement of animals and any animal sighting is a matter of luck and chance, so don’t complain to staff if you don’t see anything.
The second morning safari was just as uneventful as the first but I didn’t mind. I was here to do safari and that’s what I was going to do, animals or no animals. We did see fresh tiger pug marks in the sandy road so I knew there were tigers here. A guide sat beside me on one safari and I asked him about animal sightings. He said he saw a tiger just 5 days ago and also saw wild dogs many times. I had been thinking about wild dogs lately and how much I would love to see them. The Field Guide to Indian Mammals states that Bandipur and Nagarahole are the best places to see these wild canines. I’m in the right spot, just has to be the right time.
I crashed after my breakfast after the 2 morning safaris. The first afternoon safari left at 4pm. It was again filled with loud Indians who were starting to piss me off with their constant chatter. It was cheap for safari and I couldn’t really complain though I would pay more to go with less people.
The safari started out like many others, the usual suspects were around. Actually there were more sambar deer than I have seen at any other park. The driver of the minibus was pretty good at spotting animals but would only stop for a minute for photos. But he didn’t see a freshly killed carcass of a spotted deer that I saw, so I asked him to stop. It was just off the road in the grass and had a bowling ball size chunk taken out of its stomach, most likely just killed by a tiger. I had just finished reading a book by Jim Corbett, an Englishman who lived in India in the early 1900′s. He would be hired out to kill known man eating tigers and leopards. He vividly described how he would stalk them and their behaviour towards their kills. I felt pretty knowledgeable about it all and from Jim I learned that a tiger never goes far from its kill. We probably scared the tiger away with our loud minibus and he left to hide in the surrounding bush until we left. I knew he was watching us. Shortly after that someone in the bus asked the driver to stop and reverse and as soon as I looked back I knew why. I had been busy scanning the road in front of the bus and generally everything on ground level on my side of the bus,so I was totally shocked to see that I had missed a huge leopard sleeping in the crotch of a tree just off the side of the road! I couldn’t believe it, another leopard! Even though there are about 10 times more leopards in India than tigers, tigers are seen more often. This time I was able to get a few shots of the elusive sleeping giant since he was on my side of the bus. He opened his eyes to acknowledge us but hardly payed any attention and I watched him close his eyes again through my binoculars. This was the best leopard sighting I have ever had. I could stay all day watching a leopard or tiger do whatever they are going to do but we had to leave after only a few minutes. That’s one of the major drawbacks to the short and cheap safaris. The more expensive safaris we could sit as long as we wanted.
The leopard was gone when the bus came around in the second safari but a huge elephant we had seen on the first safari was now on the road and coming straight for us! The driver sensibly stopped the bus but as the elephant got closer it was apparent that he wasn’t moving out of the way and we were in trouble. The driver started backing up the bus and the elephant kept the same pace coming right at us. This was exciting and kind of scary at the same time. I wasn’t sure what the driver was going to do and then the driver made a bold decision and put the bus in drive and swerved around the elephant, just missing him. I could have touched the elephant with my hand out the window! It was then I realized that this massive pachyderm was the same height as the bus. Lots of excitement and close encounters on these 2 afternoon safaris, India never fails to amaze me. After dinner I took a hot bucket shower and again stargazed behind my cottage. I thought about all the animals I saw and even had dreams about leopards.
The morning safari brought more of the usual suspects until the very end when we saw a mongoose. That was cool and I was happy to see that but other people were disappointed that we didn’t see ‘anything’.
I met a French couple on my last morning safari at Bandipur. They hired a minivan from Mysore and left at 5am in order to reach Bandipur for the first safari around 7. They don’t have much time left and were going back to Mysore and offered me a lift. I ate breakfast, packed and left with them 20 minutes later. They dropped me off at the bus station so I could get a bus to Nagarahole and not spend an unnecessary night in Mysore. I ate lunch and waited for my bus. There is suppose to be a direct bus to Nagarahole but as one bus was leaving the conductor tells me this is the bus I want but I have to switch buses later. His English wasn’t good and there was no one else around to ask about a direct bus and the bus was leaving right then so I reluctantly jumped on.
After 3 hours we stopped in Gonikoppal where I had to switch to another bus. This bus also functioned as the school bus dropping off all the kids after school. The further I got off the beaten track the more uncomfortable the buses became but also the more friendlier the people became. Lots of people smiled and waved and talked to me. It seems like Indian’s have a collective unconsciousness when talking to a foreigner. All over the country they ask the same questions, in almost the same order.
“From what country are you?”
“What is your good name, sir?”
“Are you married?” ( I’m not, which usually leads to the follow up question) “Why not?”
“How old are you?”
“How do you find India?”
“What is your profession?”
Upon hearing the answer to this question, many Indians even want to know what my salary is. These questions don’t bother me because I can ask them all right back if I want to.
I got off in the small village of Kutta where I had to hire a jeep to take me the last 12 km to Nagarahole reception and accommodation area. I arrived at 5.45pm, reception closes at 6. I got my way, way overpriced room ($40 but only worth at most $10) and took a hot bucket shower. Dinner here was as tasty and cheap as it was at Bandipur. Nagarahole is the same set up as Bandipur but the accommodation is on a less used road. There is nothing around here at all, it’s very quiet, no private lodges or restaurants. I really liked it here. It appeared I was the only overnight visitor.
I got up at 6.30am to get the first safari but was very disappointed and frustrated to learn there was no one else around to go and this is usual for most mornings. It’s because it’s off season, they told me. So here I am paying a shitload for my room and in the middle of the forest of Nagarahole but I can’t visit the park. It’s so frustrating so I just go back to bed. Spotted deer, bonnet macaques and hanuman langurs hang around the park grounds and I can watch them out my window. I grab a chair and read outside. I eat lunch. Sidappa, the ‘room boy’ asks me if I’m interested in sharing a jeep with 2 Indian couples to go see a waterfall. I don’t really care about seeing a waterfall but it’s a cheap price and I have nothing else to do. This might be all I do today, I thought, if no one shows up for the afternoon safari.
Only the guy of one couple talks to me, I think because his English is the best of the group. They are all really friendly and once we reach the waterfall, they pay my small entrance fee. The falls are nothing amazing but in an area of nice forest with tall trees and some macaques around. I don’t want to stay too long though as I’m anxious to get back to the park to do the afternoon safari. We stop on the way back for tea and again, they pay for mine.
On the drive back to the park, we see a gaur far from the road. We get back to the park at 5.30 and the minibus is just returning from a safari. Damn, I thought I missed out but I ask at reception and tell them there are 3 of us and they say we can go on the last safari. Since there is only 3 of us we take a jeep instead of the minibus, I like this much better. It’s 5.45pm and we are losing daylight fast so there is no time for me to pay my entry fee and safari fee. I can do it tomorrow. I ask our driver who just came from driving the minibus if they saw anything. He says no, but I know that no just means they didn’t see a tiger or anything big. He says they saw wild dog. Shit, I missed out on wild dog. I ask the driver to take us to the spot where they saw them. We start the safari and 2 minutes in he stops and points and says this is where they saw the wild dog. Luckily they are still there, a small pack of 3 wild dogs lying down a bit far from the road. They get up and just walk along parallel to the road and although they are too far from the road for a good photo I can see them clearly through my binoculars.
The wild dog or dhole is a uniquely Asian handsome canine with a rich rust brown coat and a bushy black tail. Pack size varies according to the season. They hunt in packs of 6 or 7 and begin to eat their prey before its dead, cleaning it right to the bone in a few hours. I’m so happy that I was able to see this elusive carnivore which numbers only 5000 – 8000 in India.
A bit further on we see a side striped mongoose, which is also a new species for me. Its hanging around the skeletonized carcass of a spotted deer which was eaten by the wild dogs. He’s not frightened of the jeep and I am able to watch him for a few minutes and get photos.
This safari was great before we even saw any animals because there is just the 3 of us, the wife is sitting up front and it’s just me and the Indian gentleman in the back, whose name, of course, I have forgotten. It’s like my own personal safari and we can stop and go when we want. A few gaur are feeding in the undergrowth and of course there is the usual – many spotted deer, a few sambar deer,hanuman langurs and bonnet macaques.
We round a corner just as a medium sized elephant is crossing the road in front of us. As we approach slowly we see that he is just one of a line of elephants that are crossing the road. We can see 4 of them as we keep getting closer. We stop for a few minutes and let one cross in front of us. Another elephant is on the left side of the road and wasn’t crossing yet to join his herd on the right so we started to drive past him. As we began to drive the elephant began running parallel to the jeep and was trumpeting very loudly and angrily. He dropped the mouthful of grass right out of his mouth he was so pissed. My heart ( and I think everyone else’s) started racing. I had never been this close to an elephant that was this pissed. We stopped and he crossed the road just in front of us and continued to trumpet loudly on the other side of the road. We quickly got to a safe distance because there was an even bigger elephant behind him and we didn’t know what he was going to do. We are tiny compared to them but I still felt safe in the jeep.
The other elephant didn’t come after us so we stopped. It was then that I found out why the elephant was so upset. We had just stopped and I was looking out the back of the jeep at the elephants when I heard the driver say the magic words…..’Tiger,tiger!’ I even get goosebumps now thinking about it again. I look to my right and there was a huge royal Bengal tiger, walking the same direction the elephants had come. They obviously knew the tiger was following them and they didn’t like it at all. I wondered why the tiger was following them anyway, they don’t eat elephants. Lucky for us though, the tiger stopped and lied down. Just like any other cat I thought, when they’re not doing something, they lie down. The tiger looked right at us. I met his glance through my binoculars. After a few minutes he got up and disappeared into the bush but then reappeared seconds later to cross the road, right where the elephants had gone minutes earlier. He continued to follow them. He slowly disappeared out of sight and we drove on. Everyone was amazed. It didn’t matter what else we saw now, what else could be better? We’ve just had one of the most spectacular safaris possible.
We all calmed down when we got to the main road and breathed a little easier and looked at each other. Holy shit, what a mind-blowing safari, we all thought as we smiled knowingly at each other. We got back to the park and the Indian guy just told me to pay in the morning. I went back to my room, showered and ate.
I sat on a chair again in the darkness to watch the stars. The ground was full of dry dead leaves so no animals could sneak up on me. I heard something big nearby and since I was sitting still and quiet, it didn’t know I was there. I shined my light and it revealed itself to be a massive wild boar. It was startled that I was there but just altered it’s course a little and kept rummaging around for food. Spotted deer also walked around close to me. Later on I noticed a small shape close to the ground and from its outline appeared to be mongoose. I was surprised when I shined on my light and it turned out to be a small Indian civet. The civet is a nocturnal carnivore but is also omnivorous, eating fruits too. Civets are slightly similar in appearance to mongooses but larger with a more elongated body. Its ears are small, rounded and set close to each other on top of its head. Civets are sometimes called civet cats. I’ve seen civets before in Borneo and South Africa.
Wow, what else is this unforgettable day going to throw at me? Well, nothing actually, but I didn’t care. I felt super satisfied and all the money for the room and the hassle getting here was all forgotten.
The next morning after my adventure filled safari I got up at 6.30am because the Indian couple said there were interested in a morning safari. They were staying in the room above mine and I could hear them faintly talking last night but I didn’t hear them this morning so they must have changed their minds. I kept my door open and knew I would hear them if they went down the stairs. No one else was around. I was depending on them for a safari but they never showed. I wasn’t too concerned since we had such a great safari yesterday but I would liked to have done more than just a one hour safari in the park. I went back to bed and was awoken with breakfast at 8.30am.
I ate and packed and was ready to catch the bus to Mysore at 9.30. It was a direct bus there, damnit, I knew that conductor screwed me when he said there was no direct bus from Mysore. I wandered over to the reception to pay my entry fee for my safari but as I glanced in the office I didn’t see anyone around. I made the effort to pay, now it’s up to them to track me down if they want me to pay. I wasn’t hiding, I was in the open waiting for my bus and saw a few forest department officials walking around but nobody paid any attention to me. That’s fine with me….free entry and safari! I was back in Mysore in just over 2 hours.
I found a different and cheaper hotel that was quieter and also proved to be bedbug free too. I picked up my luggage at the bedbug palace, also known as Hotel Luciya and moved into the Srikanth Lodge, just around the corner. After 4 days of the same food and only coffee and water to drink I was craving some different food. I had passed Pizza Corner a few times on the bus and was really craving a pizza now. I ate a very delicious pizza sandwizza and even treated myself to pineapple/banana fudge with ice cream. It was one of the best lunches I’ve had. I showered, hung out, watched movies and went to the recommended Parklane Hotel to eat dinner. It was a hip and secluded restaurant with a live violin and tabla duo. I had butter chicken, rice and a thirst quenching cold large Kingfisher beer. I again treated myself to a sundae with nuts and chocolate sauce. I talked with a British guy sitting alone at a 2 person table beside me. There were 5 solo guys in there and they put us all in a row in 2 person tables. I never felt so singled out. The restaurant made it obvious that we were all there by ourselves.
The next morning I went to the Indra Paras Cafe for my usual breakfast of rice idly, masala dosa, coffee and orange juice. In the afternoon I visited the Maharaja of Mysore’s Palace. This immaculate structure I have passed by many times and this being my last full day in Mysore, I decided to finally visit it. I don’t usually get guides for historical sites but after a guide approached me he made me think. Maybe a guide would be good for this, it will enrich my experience so I went with a guide for an hour tour. The palace is over the top in every aspect. Materials imported from all over the world, inlay with ivory and precious stones, massive archways and carved teakwood doors from Myanmar, to name a few. There were also many large 3D paintings which I had never seen before. As you look at the painting from one corner certain people are looking at you or facing you, as you walk to the other corner they follow you and are facing you from the other corner. It’s a really cool trick and many of the paintings were done in this style.
After the palace I was at an internet cafe again writing more. I seem to go on writing binges when I’m in the city trying to get all my friends and family updated on my adventures. This book began as emails written during my trip and then edited and expanded after I returned home.
I again went to a nice restaurant and had a delicious Thai chicken green curry. The Tiger Trail was a very upscale restaurant in the courtyard of the plush Royal Orchid Metropole hotel. It almost felt too fancy for me. The waiters were decked out in traditional Indian server uniforms and there were large black and white photos of tigers and maharaja hunting parties. This was a topclass restaurant with prices to match and I couldn’t bring myself to pay for the overpriced beer so after I ate I went to another place just to have a cheap beer and read my book.
My last day in Mysore I ate my usual breakfast and went to the bus station at noon to catch a bus to Madikeri. Just my luck, a bus for Madikeri was leaving as soon as I showed up. It was a 4 hour journey and we climbed to 1525m in elevation. I came to Madikeri to do some trekking but was a little disappointed that the usual 3 day trek doesn’t involve much forest. Its mostly through coffee and spice plantations and sleeping in villages, no camping. I was desperate to use my tent again but this wasn’t going to be the trek for it. I found out this information from Anoop, the owner of the Dawn Guesthouse where I went to stay. He said he could find out about trekking in a wildlife sanctuary but it would cost a lot more. I could afford a bit more and asked him to find out what he could. This morning he was making calls and he’s going to let me know my options after I return from the trek.
I met Ellie, an Israeli girl staying at Dawn who was also interested in the 3 day trek. We were supposed to leave in the morning but Anoop’s guide was busy so we would leave the following day.
Earlier when I arrived in Madikeri I decided to walk to Dawn Guesthouse because my guidebook showed it as being only 1 km away but didn’t provide a map. I found the street it was suppose to be on but after walking its entire length didn’t see any Dawn Guesthouse. After I had been walking up and downhill for 30 minutes I sat on the low wall of a house to rest. The other side of the wall dropped about 2 m straight down to the grass of someone’s front lawn. As I sat down the weight of my pack started pulling me backwards! My pack is a little heavier than when I left from some of the souvenirs I had bought. I tried to stop the fall and scraped up my right wrist grabbing on the wall but it was no use. It all happened very quickly and in no time I was on the ground. As I lay on the ground I was surprised at how unhurt I was. I landed on my large pack and my small pack on my front also cushioned my fall. Only my shoulder was a little sore the next day. I had to take an autorickshaw to get me to Dawn. As it turns out I had walked right past it but there was no sign. The first thing I said to Anoop was ‘ Why don’t you have a sign?’. He agreed he should have one and was going to put one up.
Madikeri is an pleasant town set on a series of ridges. I only came here to organize treks and not spend any more time than necessary in the town. I have a day to kill before our trek. I had a shitty sleep last night. There were mossies buzzing in my ear, dogs barking and the hard bed wasn’t conducive for a good sleep. The room was in the second floor of Anoop’s house and although it was very cheap ($4), I didn’t want to spend another night there. It was one of the most basic rooms I’ve ever had. It was literally just a single bed, nothing else, not even a rubbish bin. Anoop was totally understanding about me checking out and I am now staying at another homestay he recommended. It’s only $2.50 more a night but has a soft bed and many other nice things. I’ve never really liked homestays, no privacy. I prefer the cold shoulder of a hotel, most of the time. But no one lived in this home Anoop assured me and he was right. I was only guest and had the place to myself. It was like my own house with 3 bathrooms, private front porch, frontlawn and TV.
I was waiting for Anoop’s guide to be ready for the trek but the day he was suppose to be ready ‘ for sure’ he bailed again. I only came to Madikeri to do some trekking and didn’t want to wait around anymore. I’ve been thinking about the trek too and really, I wasn’t looking forward to trekking through plantations and sleeping in villages. Why am I going to do something that I’m not looking forward to? I said ‘screw it’ to the trek but still stayed one more day in Madikeri and went to Anoop’s village with him. His ‘ village’ is 30 minutes out of town and isn’t the typical village. There is a lot of degraded forest around and houses are spread far apart. We hung out there for the afternoon and he dropped me back in town around dinner time.
With no exciting trekking to do here it’s back to the national parks/ wildlife sanctuaries for more safaris, something I’m always looking forward to. I will try and trek somewhere else. I left Madikeri wednesday morning. I had to change buses 3 times. My last bus departed from Kutta, which is where I had to hire a jeep to bring me into Nagarahole national park just a few days ago. I didn’t know I had to come through this way and with some better planning I could have avoided my last return trip to Mysore to get my large pack. I would have brought everything with me. I left on the bus headed towards Kalpetta. I was going to use Kalpetta as a base town to visit Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary. I also wanted to call and make reservations at the Pachyderm Palace. Wayanad is split into 2 ranges, Tholpetty and Muthanga. Kalpetta would be my base for Muthanga and Pachyderm Palace for Tholpetty. I read in my guidebook that it was essential to book ahead at Pachyderm so I thought I would go there after Kalpetta. I wasn’t sure where either place was in relation to each other or where I was now but I knew they were about 80 km apart.
Only 2 km after leaving Kutta we crossed from Karnataka state into Kerala state. The signs along the road in Kerala proudly proclaimed that ‘ Kerala is God’s own country’. Another 2 km brought us to the Tholpetty gate of Wayanad. I didn’t realize we would be passing it and looked out the window at the small village around the gate and made a spontaneous decision to get off the bus and try to get accommodation. The park itself had no accommodation to offer so I walked 50 m to the Pachyderm Palace. Thankfully they had a single room for me. It was a bit expensive but the price included 3 meals a day and they supplied water, toilet paper, a towel and soap. It was the only place around to stay so it was quiet. I settled in and at 4.30pm went on my first of many safaris.
Pachyderm Palace runs their own jeep safaris in the park during the morning and afternoon. With me in the jeep were 5 other foreigners. It was nice to be in a small jeep again and with quiet foreigners. Right away we saw 2 ruddy mongooses close to the road. A new animal for me was the next to make an appearance, the Malabar giant squirrel. There are 4 species of giant squirrel, the largest squirrels in the word, in South and Southeast Asia. 3 of them are found in India. They dwell in the forest canopy and rarely come to the ground. They build globe shaped nests for sleeping and raising young.These cuddly and multicolored giants are over a metro from head to tail and the Malabar giant squirrel are only found in the Western Ghats. The Western Ghats are a thin and long chunk of forest from Mumbai south to the tip of India. The Western Ghats are a biodiversity hotspot and contain many endemic animals and India’s tropical monsoon rainforest outside of the northeast.
We also saw the usual suspects – hanuman langurs, bonnet macaques, spotted deer, sambar deer and wild boar. A few gaur where also visible but the unseen star of the park are elephants. My guidebook says this is the one place where you’re almost guaranteed to see them, but not this time.
I had a hot shower and ate a delicious variety of food for dinner. It was a relief no to think about what food I had to order for a few days. There were 9 of us at dinner but most of them were leaving the next day. I was really surprised and happy to here that they run a sort of night safari here. The park is closed at night but there is a main road running through it with a long stretch of no human habitation. Driving along this was the closest thing to being in the park. Actually we were in the park but not in the interior of it, the gates for the park are about 15 km from each other and we would be driving inside this. Only an American girl and I went. We didn’t see much except some spotted deer and a few gaur but I didn’t mind. I was so happy to be finally able to go out at night. Many of the animals that I haven’t see yet are nocturnal. Venu, the always smiling,happy and very accommodating manager at Pachyderm Palace, summed up the night drives “ Sometimes good, sometimes no good”.
I was up at 6.45am the next morning and ready to go. 3 of us left for the morning safari and were ready to go at the park gate when the park opened at 7. It was a fairly quiet safari though with only some of the usual suspects and a malabar giant squirrel showing themselves. However on our way out our driver spotted an elephant but it was mostly obscured by bushes. We could only see its ass and watched it for a few minutes in hope of him moving around for a better look. But after only seeing him do his toilet duties we decided he wasn’t moving anytime soon. The driver of our jeep from Pachyderm had a very good eye and could spot squirrels high in the trees as he was driving and he always drove slow and turned off the engine and coasted down any hilly bits.
A lot of people left today but then an equal amount of new people arrived. There was always someone to share a safari with which was a very affordable $6 ( including park entry, guide, camera and jeep hire ) for 1.5 hours if there were 5 people, and most of the time there was. Our afternoon safari was also a bit quiet with a few mongooses spicing it up. Wayanad is a low key park and there was never more than 3 or 4 jeeps in the park.
After another delicious dinner I was on a night drive with 4 others. We saw many spotted deer, some guar not far from the road and again, another mongoose. I had never expected to see so many mongooses here. Now I’ve seen 3 species and seen them multiple times, though they are hard buggers to photograph and I only have one photo of the side striped mongoose from a bit of a distance. I really liked Pachyderm Palace and the set up and cheap prices of the park and stayed 4 days and went on 12 safaris
I get along great with everyone at Pachyderm. We all have an interest in animals and are here to go on safari. The word safari comes from the East African Swahili language and means ‘journey’. It seems like an appropriate word to describe an animal watching excursion because everyone safari has different unexpected results. Like a journey, a safari isn’t about the beginning and the end, its about the journey itself. Everyone knows the risks of a safari and I’m happy to hear that most people are just happy to be in the park, cruising quietly around the forest even if they see nothing.
At 11am, 7 of us pile into the jeep to visit an island in the middle of a river. Some other people planned it and they invited me along. I debated about coming because there was no animals to see but I figured it was something to do and wasn’t expensive. We drove 20 km to the river which was a touristy spot for domestic Indians. We were paddled across the river and could walk freely on the other side. We came to a wide but shallow river crossing and we all took off our sandals and waded across. I have experience with crossing many rivers on foot. Last year alone during an 8 day trek in Madagascar we must have crossed the same river about 10 times in a few hours. The first thing I thought about before crossing here was getting a sturdy stick to help with my balance. This was a rocky bottom river and very slippery, I knew a stick would help me a lot. I found a nice piece of dead bamboo and broke it down to a good size. Everyone admired my stick and remarked how good an idea it was. I looked around to make some balancing sticks for others but couldn’t find anything else worthy. Once we reached the other side we walked for 2 minutes before coming to another river to cross. We crossed this and then came to yet another crossing. It was fun at first but I didn’t feel like any more crossings and either did anyone else so we turned back. We walked around the forest then headed back to the jeep. We had lunch after we got back and then I took a short siesta before the afternoon safari.
There are 9 of us for the afternoon safari so we have to take 2 jeeps. The first jeep leaves with the driver from Pachyderm. I’m in the second jeep with 4 others and an older Indian driver who doesn’t speak any English. As it turns out we are behind the Pachyderm jeep most of the time so we still see anything that the Pachyderm driver sees. It starts out good with a few Malabar giant squirrels and some spotted deer. Halfway through things really look up when we see a large tusked elephant grabbing at a vine in a tree about 15m from the road. The lower half of his body is blocked but the upper is clearly visible and binoculars aren’t needed. The elephant faces us and grabs the vine high above his head with his trunk. We have a perfect view of his mouth under the trunk. It’s a part of an elephant that I think is rarely seen and it was certainly my first time to see his big pink gaping mouth. He turned to the side but kept reaching for that vine. Must have been some tasty shit!
Shortly after leaving this elephant we come across a herd of 6 elephants ranging from middle to large size. They aren’t far from the road and don’t mind at all the 3 jeeps filled with people taking their photograph. I’ve finally seen the elusive but also often seen elephants and everyone in the jeep is really happy. For many of them its their first time seeing wild elephants. I like being in a ‘virgin’ group like that and witnessing people’s reaction and excitement the first time they see a new animal, but it doesn’t end there. Minutes later we come across the largest group of gaur I’ve ever seen. 15 of these giant bovines are eating in the grass close to the road, spread out over a distance of about 50m. They aren’t bothered by us, in fact, most of the time I’ve seen gaur they have tolerated human presence quite well. They can be approached closely in a jeep and I got some great photos.
We’re all delighted to see another lone male elephant walking parallel to the road about 20m away. We drive slow and follow along beside him. Suddenly he changes direction and is now heading for our jeep! The driver speeds up a little to get out of his path and the lone tusker crosses the road right behind us. I noticed his aged pink ears had holes in them and very curiously, he had no tail. It was very rewarding safari and everyone was very pleased. We told our safari tales around another tasty Keralan dinner.
A young American couple arrived at Pachyderm, Derek and Rebecca. Derek was a wildlife biologist and knew his animals and habitats in India, though not personally, they had only been here 5 days so far but he read up on it. I have the Fieldguide to Indian Mammals with me and practically have it memorized. We talk a lot about animals. It’s refreshing to talk with someone who shares my same passion for wild animals and is knowledgeable about them as well. I can mention any animal and not have to wonder if he knows what it is. He’s interested to know what I’ve seen and I tell him some of my best safari stories. There is also Ed/Meera, British couple and Dan/Nadine, Swiss couple, who I have become chummy with. After a very filling dinner and a few beers the 7 of us go out for the night drive.
I jump in the back of the jeep and realize I didn’t have my camera or binoculars but I decided there weren’t necessary as the last 2 nights the animals were kind of far away and I already had better daytime pictures of them. I didn’t realize then how much I would regret this casually made decision.
Derek has a very powerful headlamp and proved to be very talented at spotting eyeshine. He would spot something and then Venu, who had a super powerful spotlight, would light it up so we could all see what it was. Venu also looked for animals on both sides of the jeep but Derek only looked on the left side of the jeep. I sat beside him.
Derek spots something small on the ground not too far from the road in some scrubby bushes and grass. He can’t make it out and Venu’s light isn’t illuminating it well. Venu says it’s a mouse deer, a small nocturnal deer but Derek and I both kind of saw the outline and agreed it looked more like a civet. Minutes later Derek spots eyeshine again, this time Venu’s light catches the animal as it runs away and I clearly see the striped black and white tail, it’s a small Indian civet. We also see a few spotted deer. The safari is only 45 minutes long and was nearing its end. It was a very relaxed safari with quiet conversations going on and everyone a little buzzing and in a good mood. No one was ready for what came next. Derek spotted a tiger but not by its eyeshine. This tiger was practically on top of us! The road was raised here and the tiger was in the open bush just below the road about 5m from us and directly across from us. The jeep stopped and Venu put his spotlight on it and we all just stared, stunned to have so unexpectedly seen the true king of the jungle. It was a sleek female or possible sub-adult male. The tiger reversed its direction after she knew we spotted her but didn’t run or even speed up her pace. With all the tigers I’ve seen, and this being the seventh one, I’ve never seen them run. They gracefully and calmly exit the scene. Besides they’re a tiger, who’s going to mess with them?! We watched that tiger till it disappeared fully from our view back into the forest back from the road.
It was almost a surreal scene. As I said I didn’t bring my camera, neither did Derek, so I wasn’t taking any photos but I didn’t know why the others weren’t. It was like we were all hypnotized by this magnificent beast and couldn’t move. We just all stared and took it all in, totally appreciating that we were seeing something magical and at Wayanad, a very rare occurrence. As the tiger disappears there were a few quiet comments about how spectacular an animal it is. We drove off in disbelief. This all happened only about 2 km from Pachyderm Palace. Once we got back we stood out front, filled with adrenaline still and vividly chatting about the safari. We woke up an elderly British couple who decided to skip the night safari. She was blown away to hear that we saw a tiger.
I went to bed with mixed emotions. I was so happy to have seen another tiger but filled with regret at not having brought my camera. It was a hard lesson to learn but it taught be something very valuable and that was to never underestimate the animals of the Indian forests. This night also taught me to never underestimate a tiger under any circumstances, no matter where I am or how many people are around.
My original plan was to leave Pachyderm today but with such a great day and night yesterday I decided to stay one more day. It’s 7 am and there are 5 of us in the jeep at the gate. We are the first jeep to enter the park. There’s no line up of jeeps here like there was at Kanha and Bandhavgarh. The most jeeps I ever saw around the park was 4. I like that this park is more low key and not really popular. After only 5 minutes into the park we see a pack of 9 wild dogs! They are on the road and resting on the side of the road. We approach and they just move further down the road and rest again. This happens a few times until they aren’t bothered by us and let us approach and watch them silently with our engine turned off. Most of them are lying in the grass just off the road. They look happy and content. I finally get some good pictures of them. Besides the usual suspects, we also see a Malabar giant squirrel and gaur.
The Asiatic Wild Dog or Dhole as it is also known, is a uniquely Asian forest dog. They are a reddish brown color with a bushy black tail. The pack size fluctuates according to the season. Dholes hunt their prey in packs and began eating it before it’s dead. A pack of Dholes can even take on a full grown tiger and are a serious threat to tiger cubs. There are less than 8000 wild dogs left in India and they range all over India except the desert like north west.
Venu has one bike at Pachyderm and tells me it’s free to ride whenever I like. I take it out and ride a few kilometers the same direction as we take on the night drive. I stop to eat a Munch wafer bar and it’s very quiet. I listen and I hear an elephant making noise somewhere out of my sight. I ride a bit more and then turn around to be back by lunch. People driving by in cars are giving me strange looks. Some of them happily wave but others are just puzzled. I guess they don’t see too many foreigners riding bikes around here. Maybe they think I’m a bit crazy because of all the potentially dangerous animals around. After lunch I walk for a few hours on the backroads with Dan and Nadine, a friendly Swedish couple. We come back for the 4.30 safari.
10 minutes into the park we see the same pack of 9 wild dogs. Apparently they didn’t move too much today. It’s almost a repeat of this morning’s safari with malabar giant squirrel and gaur and a generally quiet safari. They can’t all be intense adrenaline rushes with charging elephants and tigers! Very surprisingly though it begins to rain. It has been overcast lately but I’ve seen clouds before and it never rained. The last 15 minutes of our safari it was raining. It was nice to have rain again. It smelled so fresh and would be good for keeping the dust down on the roads. This is only the second rainfall I’ve seen on this trip. It’s been over 2 months since the first rain and only rain in Darjeeling.
Many things in India are such a huge contrast to last years Madagascar/South Africa trip. For one thing it rained about 60% of the time in Madagascar and once rained for 40 hours straight. It sounds like an easy decision as to which one I would prefer but it’s not. I liked the lushness, humidity and high temperatures of Madagascar during the cyclone season. The rain also brought out many animals and chameleons that retreat deep into the forest during the dry and cold season. I think as long as I’m ready for rain and know it’s going to be wet I don’t mind it at all. But I also like the dry weather in India, though not the sub tropical temperatures it was bringing in the north. I have been thinking it would be good to have at least a little rain here.
There are 10 of us at Pachyderm and everyone wants to do the night drive so we have to go out in stages. I wait behind with Derek and Rebecca and a Scottish couple while the first group goes out. They come back at 9.30 and only saw spotted deer and sambar deer. We see the same, huge herds of spotted deer. But we get lucky and see another small Indian civet. Venu shines the light on it and we see the whole body very clearly before it dashes into the forest. It was the highlight of the night and I’m glad I stuck around for one more day. The pack of 9 wild dogs was something special to see and the highlight of the day and all my Wayanad safaris, except of course for the tiger which stole the whole show from everyone. Nothing beats a tiger sighting in my mind and I remember every single one I saw and they are all a highlight of the trip and my life.
The next day I plan to leave but I can still go on the morning safari. When I’m in a place with safaris I’ve decided to go on every safari that leaves. I don’t want to get lazy and skip a safari and then have someone to come back to tell me I missed a tiger or leopard or something else special. I’m not going to be that guy that misses out. We see some of the usual suspects and 3 giant squirrels and I finally get a photo of one, though at a distance. Further on we see a herd of 6 gaur feeding not far from the road and near the end of the drive we see elephants up ahead but as we reach them they disappear into the bush.
I eat breakfast and pack up. Venu was so happy that I came without a reservation for one night and then ended up staying 4 nights. He’s a really nice guy, always smiling. I catch my first of 2 buses to Kalpetta. As we leave the park area on the main road we see spotted deer and 2 gaur that had just crossed the road. The wildlife never stops here.
I change buses in Mananthavady and arrive in Kalpetta after a couple hours total journey. I stay in a deluxe room at PPS Tourist Home. It’s still reasonable and I have paid the same for other rooms so I decide to treat myself to a nice room and TV. This trip has also been a big contrast in the entertainment aspect. I didn’t have one room in the whole 4 months last year in Madagascar or South Africa with a TV. I just read a lot. Now this year I’ve had so many rooms with TV. I must admit even though I was halfway around the world having great adventures hiking with lemurs, I still missed watching movies. So this year if I’m staying in the city and the room is a good price, I’ll take one with a TV. It’s been educational too because they have Discovery and National Geographic channel and they are showing programs about India.
Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary exists in 2 ranges, Tholpetty, near Pachyderm Palace and Muthanga, near Kalpetta. Actually Muthanga is 40km from Kalpetta but I thought this would be a good base to share a jeep with someone since I had met others who were coming here. An American couple I met at Pachyderm recommended PP, a tourist guide in Kalpetta who is based at PPS Tourist Home, where I’m staying. I meet him in the lobby in the evening and I talk to him about visiting the sanctuary. It turns out he has a group of 4 doing a tour of the area the next day. The tour begins with a safari and then some caves, waterfall and viewpoint. I join up with them. I eat some very delicious dravidian chicken curry at Pankaj restaurant below the tourist home.
I’m up at 6.30 and meet everyone in the lobby. There is an American couple,2 older French women, PP and our driver. We are in a very comfortable SUV style jeep that has a sticker on the windshield stating it’s a non polluting vehicle. Not sure exactly what that means in India because its not a hybrid. In an hour we reach Wayanad after a break for chai tea. The first animal to appear in the park is of course, spotted deer. PP, the driver and the guide are talking a lot and not concentrating on spotting animals. It’s up to me to help out more. I spot our first giant squirrel and a troupe of hanuman langurs. We see some gaur but they are very far away.The safari lasts 2 hours but we see nothing else significant.
From Wayanad we drive to Sultanbathery for breakfast and then we drive to Eddakal caves. We park and walk up a steep road to the base of the caves and then climb more uphill. The caves are more like overhanging rock shelters and contain India’s oldest petroglyphs from 4000BC, says PP.
I’m starting to feel the early morning start and all the walking to get to the cave and I take a short nap on our way to the waterfall. We have to walk through coffee and tea plantations and then down a steep trail to get to the second and most accessible tier of the 3 tiered falls. The falls are nice and surrounded by forest. I was the first one down and found a nice spot on rocks to sit with a backrest. I look around at the forest and see a black monkey high up on the other side of the falls. I get my binoculars though I already know what it is. It’s a Nilgiri langur, an all black monkey with dirty yellow hair around his head. Nilgiri langurs are the most common monkey of the southern Western Ghats. They inhabit primarily rainforest but also decidous patches, plantations and the edges of estates. They are hunted extensively for alleged medicinal properties. There are about 10,000 Nilgiri langurs in India.
I watch them the whole 20 minutes we are here and more appear. I’m very happy to see this primate for the first time. There were 2 primates that I had not yet seen but thought realistically that I could see them. The nilgiri langur is one, the other is the even more rare lion-tailed macaque, which I am hoping to see at one of 2 sanctuaries where they are found.
After the falls we end our day at Sunrise Valley. The valley has a good viewpoint over the Western Ghats. Back at PPS, the American couple say I can join them for dinner if I’m looking for company but even though we got along, spending 12 hours with them was enough for me. I ate alone.
Hiking is allowed in Wayanad and I arranged to go the park tomorrow by moto but later as I eat dinner PP finds me. He has another group going tomorrow and I can hitch a ride with them to the park and take the bus back. This sounds like a great idea and much cheaper than hiring the moto.
I’m exicted about visiting Wayanad because I’m going on a 3 hour hike. They only allow a 3 hour maximum or you can bet I would be walking all day. I met 4 Brits in the lobby at 6am and we were off, driving to the park through heavy rain. It was really coming down when we got to the park. PP and the others left to do their jeep safari. I waited at the park office for the rain to let up. It finally did at 8 and my guide, Raju and I were off. It was a rush to be walking in a park with so many potentially dangerous animals – tigers, leopards, elephants, gaur, wild dogs not to mention king cobras and vipers. I was surprised that Raju was carrying no protection of any kind. Our only protection was our feet….to run away if things got hairy. In the national parks in Ghana it was mandatory for the guides to carry a gun. Not so much for the animals in the park but for the often armed poachers. A guide carrying only a machete is not much of a threat to a poacher with an automatic rifle.
Of course, the safari started out with spotted deer. A barking deer came onto the trail but quickly turned around and went back after he saw us. We were walking through prime elephant country but they were eluding us today. It rained lightly off and on for the first hour and I didn’t mind it at all, but it doesn’t entice animals into the open. We did see a herd of 7 gaur at a distance. Evidence of elephants was on the trail. There was fresh shit and bark peeled off many trees. We also found fresh tiger pugmarks. The elephants kept avoiding us though we could hear them sometimes. We were walking along a path wide enough for a vehicle, seaching for elephants in the distance, when we were suddenly surprised to hear a kind of nasal grunt and see the bushes move just beside a big tree on the right side of the path. Raju has instant reflexes and almost ran me over trying to get away before realizing the danger had passed. Yeah, thanks for warning me Raju! He didn’t see it but he said it was a tiger in the bushes and I believe him. Something let out an annoyed grunt that we were intruding on them and then disappeared in a split second as only a tiger can do. Raju tells me the last tiger he saw while hiking in the park was in this area 2 months ago. This really got my heart going and I was on very high alert for a bit looking around for a glimpse of orange and black stripes through the bushes.
Minutes later we saw 2 gaur peacefully eating about 15m from the road. I had thought these animals, the largest bovine in the world were not a threat but Raju tells me they have charged and killed people before. The gaurs get a whiff of us and look in our direction. One begins to charge and again Raju runs but stops quickly when it turns out to be a false charge. The gaur was only trying to scare us and stopped charging after a second and then they both disappeared. We heard a few unexplainable sounds on the way back but still no elephants. We did find a few porcupine quills, which I’ve never seen and take one with me to bring home. I didn’t know they were so thick and strong.
We arrive back at the park gate exactly 3 hours later. I catch a bus to Sultanbathery where I eat breakfast and then another bus back to Kalpetta. I’m beat from the half dozen early morning starts in a row,the hike and multiple buses to Kalpetta and take a well needed siesta for a few hours.
Nov 17 2008