Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Masanagudi Jungle Trek
When the wild calls, you answer, simple…at least for the 24 who went on the masanagudi jungle trek. For the rest who wanted to but couldn’t, it was call waiting. For those who answered, it was an event that would stay with them for ever….they would be glad that they answered.
Well, once we all were gathered, intros over and desperately trying to remember the names of the members we were meeting for the first time and wondering whether the masked co passengers were just being careful or should we be worrying; it was time to move. Sudhanshu was still stuck somewhere in traffic, but after many phone calls and laughs at the confusion, we managed to pick him up enroute. The Volvo bus journey was all right; we managed to disturb others in the bus with our enthusiasm. The journey to Mysore was over with some bonding, chatting and sleepless night for some.
Shift over to Swaraj Mazda, we all started to go visit the temple at Gopalagiribetta. After the green countryside from Bangalore onwards, time had come for some climbing. Narrow country roads, small clean villages and beautiful sunflower and marigold farms greeted us.
The temple at the top of the hills was quaint and quite. Legend has it that there is a lake close to this Sri Venkateshwara swamy temple that has magical properties, so much so that we no longer spot crows in that area because they have turned into swans.
Well, stories aside, the rolling green hills give a fantastic panoramic view of the nilgiris yonder…a fantastic photo shoot opportunity, which none missed.
After an almost missed darshan (the curtain was drawn, did not see the idolL), loads of pics and stories heard; we made our way to Masanagudi.
The ride was through the lush green thick jungles of Madhumalai and Bandipur…all part of the same forest reserve…what’s in a name….We tried to keep a look out for animals, but being the wrong time of the day (animals generally come out during the early morning and late evening hours) and here we were in the middle of the day. But I guess, call us lucky, we spotted a few deer….in all their glory….shiny spots, antlers et al.
Monkeys were aplenty, much to everyone’s sense of humor…..trying to see who is related to whom?? Just when we were about to give up on seeing any elephants, we spotted a lone tusker a few feet inside the forests. Now that’s what I call a treat for the eye!!!!
As we approached the place where we were told we would be put, I was taken aback. Here I was expecting a rustic ‘in the middle of the jungle’ set of cottages with maybe no electricity and quite prepared for the most ‘away from civilization’ experience; and there it was…something else altogether. A very cute semi modern farmhouse with all luxuries yet so far removed from the ruckus and noise. Coconut trees surrounded it, the river flowed just close by, and you could see it from the hammock that was in the gardens. Well the hammock was one place you could find me…swinging away, watching the play of light passing through the coconut leaves, enjoying the cool breeze and of course sharing words and laughs of who ever passed my way.
After a nice hot decent lunch (some sumptuous fried fish from the river among other things) through which we heard some local news that changed our trek plans (the death of a French lady while elephant spotting), we were briefed on the agenda of the rest of our time. I really did not pay too much attention, wanted the surprise element intact.
A short walk (read cross the road and I am there) away was the river, meandering at its own pace, dragging with it the leaves of the bamboo plants surrounding it, reflecting the blue green hills and whiffs of white clouds on its calm surfaces. Again made for more photo ops.
A quick feet-soak in its cold waters left us asking for more, which was promised in the form of a small brook a little way away. Pilling into an Omni car, stuffing ourselves into an open jeep left us with no option but to also hang onto the rails of the jeep, which was enjoyed by few…almost that a fight broke as to who will hang outside the jeep..:).
The little brook was inviting enough till we landed inside it…ice cold waters welcomed us as well all the friends who were merrily soaking the dry ones.
After a robust game of playing with a tennis ball in the waters, we stepped out most unwilling….but to continue the game elsewhere…a fantastic green meadow encircled with trees.
With evening approaching, being cold and wet, promises of hot tea/coffee got us back in a jiffy.
A night safari was planned for all of us, for which instructions were aplenty, but all for our own safety. Now was no pilling…only eight in an open jeep, some snug and warm in jackets, some wontedly feeling the cold air, but all very eager and forcibly quite. Apparently the animals are quite used to the whrooming, honking, rattling vehicles speeding along the roads with full lights on, but are sensitive to human voices. A peek on the backside of the jeep gives you the best experience of being in the jungles at night…. winding roads, dark, mysterious, maybe dangerous and definitely scary. The driver has a way of driving zig zag that allows you to see the animals in his head light if they happen to be next to the roads. And we were again lucky…saw elephants in twos and threes and fours…. unperturbed by the noise of the vehicle but will panic at the flash of the camera…. munching away at the tall elephant grass by the roadside.
The bison were a little deeper…you had to look carefully to spot them…and we did!!! You see these animals in their natural habitat so up close and are awed by their size and regality….so much so that you loose your voice, eyes pop out and makes you think that you are so small and vulnerable in this kind of jungle.
A hot dinne awaited us back at the farmhouse
along with a bonfire…made for the perfect night in the jungles. Much bonding, laughing and dancing later, we all headed for a night’s rest for we had to be fresh for THE trek the next morning.
Morning found us all eager and ready, drizzle and all. Some made a quick trip to the river side only to find that the gates to the dam had been opened sometime during the night that left very little water now exposing the bushes and undergrowth. Not a very scenic sight, unfortunately.
We had a poignant flag hoisting ceremony, some homemade laddoos to celebrate being Indian and 62 years of freedom.
Set out on the trek well prepared, things and instructions in place. A short walk through the village got us to the forest. Following a trail for some time, pushing the shrubbery and branches out of the way (because they crowd on the way, or rather, the trail was cut through them), trying to avoid the small rocks, bushes, thorns et al on the way, trying to keep quite so as not to scare the animals away, we managed to soak in all the senses of the jungles. The quite, the dampness, green smells, flowers, skeleton remains, dew stuck in cobwebs, dried trees, fried trees, moss, ferns …everything that can be noticed while keeping your balance and being on track. You don’t want to get lost in the jungle!!!!
Now my idea of a jungle trek was cross-country types, not on trails…and my prayers were answered. We started the decent into the valley…making out way around shrubs, small and big trees, tall elephant grass and occasional rocks. Its not funny going down a steep mountain slipping and sliding, grasping the grass roots for your dear life…some of us grasped the hands of who ever lended it at the right time…and many did. Lessons learnt…teamwork it is …all the way!!!
A short stop halfway down the mountain (3700 feet above sea level), we heard yet again “hey lachoo” “ oye lachuu”…some calls that the guides were making between themselves. Maybe was a secret call on sighting an elephant…coz immediately we stopped at a cliff edge and were pointed out in to the deep valley under us. We strained our eyes to see but could only make out muddy coffee colored water in a thick green jungle-ed gorge. Then we noticed some black spots and were told that they were elephants on their daily splash. We then got out our binoculars and zoom cameras to see them clearly and they are a sight o see.
Such bulky creatures can be quite playful in water. After they had moved along we too did, only to encounter them a few minutes later…luckily going uphill, far away and in the opposite direction on the slope facing us. Again what amazes me is the way these creatures can mange to walk on such steep slopes, with nothing to grip by, where as we had only two feet, small body and hands to grasp at trees stumps and tall grass. But then they were in their natural habitat and we weren’t.
Soon after a seemingly long trip down the mountain slope, we reached the river and its icy cold muddy waters. But after putting our feet and body through ordeal, cold water was bliss, muddy or not. Soaking our poor feet and then splashing and playing gave us all the much-needed relaxation time to unwind and fill our tummies. Also gave people ample photo ops too.
The trek back was another story altogether. If coming down was something, going up a slope with almost nothing but grass to hold on in an almost straight incline is something else. Some sensibly went up the easy zig zag way as instructed by the guides and some made their own paths. And some like me hung onto experts to lead me along the right way…. easy or not…just up and out of the gorge. A push here, a prod there, helping hands, encouraging words, sips of water shared, a couple of breaks to give the elephants enough time to get away from us (we did not want to chance upon them during grazing time…we were almost close, some saw them but held back for fear of our safety) and much later we were at the top. Or so I thought. But I was wrong….we still had a long way to go, cross the top of the mountain to get to the village.Almost 3 kms of walk through the jungle was pending, evening
was fast approaching, and we were rushed by the guides for we did not want to be still in the jungle in the dark when elephants come out along with other wildlife. A small disagreement amongst the guides on taking the south road or the west road ensued, much to everyone’s amusement. With enough pushing and separating talkative team mates (read me and Naren, specially), we were making slow progress according to the guides. To add to his worries, it started drizzling. Not to make all of us happy, though. We were hot, sweaty, tired and so ready for a cool off, but no such luck. Soon it was clear and we quickly managed to reach the village before it became dark. While going thought the village we saw so many coconut trees and when asked the villagers could nit give us any to drink the juice from because there wasn’t any one to pluck them. Theses guys depend on people from other villages to pluck these coconuts….coconuts coconuts every where not a drop of water to drink..:(
Good hot tea and coffee greeted us at the farmhouse. A quick back patting and meditation session (by Ranjan) got everyone relaxed, happy and proud at our achievements. Some scrambled for a hot shower to get rid of the tiredness. Some were lucky, some weren’t. Had to do with cold showers all the time..:(
Some of us settled for a quite evening with friens with some good soothing hindi songs for company. The fidgety types decided it was too bland, decided to take a small walk to the village. Managed to buy some fruits for everyone, chocolates and stuff to take home too. All in all a culture trip into the local life…small village, one lane along which the trade happens and tourists are catered to.
On reaching back, we were greeted by a nice warm bar-b-que with paneer and chicken smells tantalizing us. After much trail and error, shifting cooking patterns, inputs from all and sundry, ready hands to work….the stuff was ready and gobbled up faster than it could be made ready.
More dancing, chatting, joking and frolicking later, we realized that it was past mid night. But many still wanted to make the most of the ‘last night here’. Naren plugged up the camera onto the TV and we had a showoff all the pics taken till then…comments, laughs, revisiting the good times spent, most were ready to sleep off the tiredness. A few managed to keep awake the entire night and had to get to sleep as soon as the maid came over just at sunrise.
With a packed day planned ahead, we made hurry with the fantastic poori-sabzi breakfast. After many byes and heavy hearts we said our farewell to Suresh and Padmini, our hosts.
Ooty is just 29 kms from Masanagudi…. that takes almost an hour and a half to go…complete with 37 hairpin bends, dizzying roads, scenic beauty wherever the eye turns, deciduous trees giving way to elculeptis tress which in turn giving way to tea gardens and lovely flowers by the roadside and outside quaint hilly houses or rather cottages.
A quick stop over at a roadside shop filled up everyone’s baggages with spices and teas to take back home. Happy with the unexpected shopping, we were all set to go to the Paikara falls.
Passing through the lanes of Ooty, meadows of wild horses, small water bodies; we made our way to the falls. Quite a crowd greeted us, but not to be left behind, we made our way down hill …ooohhing and ouching our way.
What greeted us was raw beauty…water over rocks and boulders making its merry way and gurgling away on its course…tall fir trees falling over themselves to get near the water’s edge…. trying to beat the grass in some hidden race. And to mar it all were half naked banyan-lungi clad portly guys having a bath and washing their clothes. I had such a difficult time to cut them out of my sight to be able to soak in the beauty…. because they were just about everywhere. Quite a disappointment!!!
After another round of shopping, this time for the famous small sweet deep orange colored carrots, sweet corns, fresh fruit juices, avocado puree, some hot tea for who preferred it. ….we had to be rushed back, trying to hide our eatables from the monkeys who were lying in wait by the side of the roads for unsuspecting human to snatch from. I had to surrender my apple to one such notorious guy and poor Komal had a good fright when another guy (could be the same, for all I know) snatched a chips pack from her hand…enough for her to scream out which we could hear quite far away at the bus. Lesson learnt…never keep edible food items visible to monkeys.
The ride back to Mysore was not as vocal, enthusiastic as lively as the trip from there. The ride through the forest reserve did not get us out of our seats for a look out for animals, many stole quick naps and others kept one eye on the watch for the time…. we were running a little late than schedule…. thanks to the roads of Karnataka. Managed to reach the bus stand just in time, event he bus driver and conductors were relived at our arrival…. they too had the same surprised look at seeing us as we had on seeing them…they were the ones who brought us…same bus too!!!
A longish bus journey found most of us sleeping like dead wood, tired, no longer bothering to find a comfy place to sleep in. morning brought us closer to Hyderabad with great plans to meet up very soon to exchange pictures and rehash memories and laugh yet again at al our endeavors.
After all this what should say, do I say, should I say??? But going by my notorious image…I will…;)
A memorable trip that brought people from all walks of life together to do something all of us had a common interest in. We had doctors, engineers, IT professionals, lawyers, architects, students, and of course the likes of me and Rachna…writers. The age group was as old as 11 years and as young as 52 years…so ultimately it was that age did not matter…it was what was in the heart and going by the enthusiasm of the entire group…I can surely say we were a very young-at-heart crowd. We take back with us fantastic memories, cherished bonds, lessons learnt, growing as individuals who now can face the world with more confidence than before because we have achieved something we had aimed for.
“When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds: your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction and you find yourself in a new, great, and wonderful world.... Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive and you discover yourself to be a greater person than you ever dreamed yourself to be.” - Patanjali, Indian philosophy
P.S: This blog is contributed entirely by Manisha - professional writer and active member of HAC..HAC Team sincerely thanks her for contribution...