Mudumalai – Harmony or illusion? (2012)

Mudumalai – Harmony or illusion? (2012)

She strides majestically into view, her baby trailing along. At the edge of the forest, she stops and surveys the road before leading her baby onto the macadam. Obviously, she has done this many times. There are three cars on the road at present, but all of us stop to let her pass. She makes sure to flank her baby securely until they both have crossed the road into the other side of the forest. She turns towards us and trumpets, her trunk held high, as if to tell us to go. But we don’t move. She stops in her tracks and waits for us to drive past, but only one car whizzes past. I set up my tripod on the road to shoot her picture, but she doesn’t like it one bit. After another longish trumpet, she moves purposefully towards our car while the baby hesitates and stays back, perhaps restrained by the mother in their own elephant language. I grab my tripod and dive into the car and we drive off.

We are in Mudumalai Game Reserve, supposed to be the sanctuary of both elephants and tigers. On the Karnataka side, it is called Bandipur while in Tamil Nadu, the same game reserve goes by the name of Mudumalai, or ancient mountain. You cross the state border in the jungle itself and there is an arch welcoming you to Tamil Nadu as you enter the Mudumalai part of the forest. There is also a check post. But travellers are free to drive from one into the other. In fact, this is also a regular transport route through which buses, trucks transporting goods and Sumo taxis ply regularly. No wonder the mother elephant was unfazed by traffic, but was careful enough to gauge the road on both sides before leading her young one.

We take the jungle safari organized by the forest department on both sides twice a day all the three days we were there. But the big cat continued to remain elusive. During the day we also drove through the forest road several times looking for unusual game. We could spot a monitor lizard sunning itself lazily, a black bear crossing the road leisurely and hordes of deer grazing peacefully by the roadside. There was even a resplendent peacock, its blue-green feathers sparkling bewitchingly in the afternoon sun. Every time we crossed this particular stretch of the forest on Bandipur side, the bird was there, slap bang in the middle of the road as if asking us to stop. Actually, he was looking for food. Although there are signposts everywhere telling us not to feed wild animals and warning us of elephant crossings or tiger crossings, it was obvious that this peacock did not take them seriously. He was demanding to be fed and blocked your way until you did.

We had driven from Bengaluru to Mudumalai, crossed both the reserves and had stayed in a lovely resort at the edge of the jungle. A five hour drive through dense bamboo forests and tropical jungle, Masinagudi is a quaint village tucked away in the recesses of the forest. It is also one of the best-kept secret locations on the Bengaluru-Ooty road which has sprung up many resorts and lodges in recent times. After trying and failing to locate a place to stay in Gundulpet, we drove on to Masinagudi about which we had been tipped off by a friend. Without any bookings on a weekend, we could still find a lovely cottage to stay on the banks of a stream.

Ooty is just an hour’s drive away, but we resist the temptation. In June, there might not be a foot of turf on which you could stand. Hordes of visitors from Coimbatore and adjoining plains join the tourists who come from far to make Ooty look like a miniature Kumbh Mela. Masinagudi, on the other hand, is an as yet uncharted haven. Besides, you can drive through the jungle road as many times as you like which increases your chances of spotting game.

It was thus on our fourth drive that we managed to see a bison, a grand specimen placidly munching near the bushes on the road side. It was a lone male with impressive horns, shiny folds of skin, and a protruding stomach. Like the mother elephant, this one too crosses the road nonchalantly, taking its own time to cover a stretch of 30 feet while we gape from our cars and furiously take photos. He knows he is a star anyway, so he turns towards as if to give a full frontal view and then turns the other way to present his profile. He crosses the road and stays put on the other side of the jungle, munching away at more shrubs and bushes. Usually bison are seen in herds and sometimes in very large herds, but this one seems to be a loner. Maybe he lost his harem to a younger competitor and has been driven out of his herd to fend for himself. But judging by his placidity, he did not seem to mind at all.  We marvel at the way in which beast and man have made their peace as long as they keep their distance from each other.  Is it harmonious coexistence or just an illusion? Will man eventually crowd out the beasts as he has done elsewhere on our lovely planet?

Back in our cottage in Masinagudi, we’re entertained by a horde of raucous birds all of which have made the banyan tree their home. The mountain ranges loom through the mist. The Nilgris live up to their name – the blue mountain. From a distance, the jungles seem blue although when you drive through them, they are green enough.  The verdant peaks are silhouetted with a golden rimagainst the setting sun. As dusk merges into the mist, the lights of Ooty come on one by one, yonder.

(Published in The Tribune on Aug 5, 2012)


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