Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A crazy trip to Nagerholay

The game of Cricket had brought me to the Nikams who owned a Handicrafts Shop.  It was in the very heart of one of Mysore's popular streets renown for shopping.  Girish had become a team mate in 1979.  Frequent visits to his shop to spend leisure time revealed our common interests.  One of them, besides Cricket, was Trekking.

Girish at "Mysore Curios".

Their little shop attracted many people in the form of customers or 'casual chatters'.  The Nikam brothers were so fond of 'meeting people'.  One such casual visitor was a certain Deve Gowda [we later shortened it as DG].  He was always clad in a full shirt, a towel on the left shoulder and a loincloth [panchay] up to the ankle, all in white cloth. It was a typical appearance of a neat villager.  His expression was blank and whatever he spoke seemed to carry no water.  His craziness stood out on various occasions.  It was 1981 and this post is dedicated to Mr.Deve Gowda because it was he who started it all! Read on.

DG seemed to have all the time in the world and he was visiting the shop one day.  A casual chat about wild animals and forests had somehow begun and turned serious.  Because it had drifted to the subject of tigers.  DG began boasting about his brevity and justifying it by showing some old injury marks on his person, relating stories to them about how he fought with a tiger in his village!!  He said he would take us to the forests and show us tigers.  We believed him.  A certain Dr.Gopinath, Girish's friend, who was also there, said he too would join the trip. A date and time was agreed and fixed by the four of us. Girish had two film cameras and he also saw an opportunity to take a few shots with them during the trip. He asked me to use the 'black and white' while he used the one loaded with colour film.  Both had 12 exposures each.

  Myself, Girish and Gopinath assembled at the Bus Stand as scheduled, at 7 AM, prepared with a light luggage for a couple of nights stay.  Deve Gowda arrived as casually as he had sounded and his arrival reflected it too, but he came.  All his luggage was on his person, which was the usual whites he was wearing!  When asked about his luggage, 'I can manage.' was his response.  The towel on the left shoulder serves many purposes!  Long later, when his older namesake, who also wears the same costume became the Chief Minister of our state, I recalled this 'tiger-DG'.

Our exact 'tiger-destination' was still a suspense because we had left it to our Mr.Deve Gowda.  He made us sit in some bus that was ready, saying it would go to Bandipur [Bandipur is a Tiger Reserve].  This bus was set to go to some place in the neighbouring state of Kerala, but certainly in another route!  He did not appear to have any knowledge of topography at all. The driver was ready to get the signal from the conductor who was already issuing tickets to the passengers.

This was the short exchange between DG and the bus conductor [BC] when he came to issue tickets:
DG: 4 tickets to Bandipur. 
BC: Bandipur?  This bus is not going to Bandipur. [We looked at each other.]
DG: Then where is it going?  "...." /some village name he uttered/
BC: It will pass through Nagerhole. [It is 100 km from here]
DG presented that famous look again.  
All of us agreed and decided to go to Nagerhole [pronounced - 'Naagarholay'] as we had no choice.  Four tickets were bought and we landed in Nagerhole before noon.  Nagerhole National Park has been renamed as Rajiv Gandhi National Park since.  As we approached, we saw a herd of deer.

Let us not forget that DG has brought us here to show us tigers.

The three of us had already decided that this DG character should stay separately.  Park's official lodging facility was soon allotted. Lunch was taken followed by a brief rest and imagining what our DG will do next. All our jokes by now revolved around DG and his antics. It was great fun anyhow.  In the meantime, we had booked for a short safari in the Forest Vehicle for the evening.  In the one hour safari into the jungle we came across many deer, bisons, wild dogs, elephants, langurs, monkeys, peahens and peacocks and wild hens.

Bisons - mother and calf, in fading light of the evening.

Peahens and Peacocks were abundant around the lodge and we spent the next morning watching them for some time and then came across during our loitering, some tamed elephants belonging to the forest department, eating the fed grass. 

Photo by Girish - Peahen.

 We already had our breakfast. We had come to a firm conclusion that Deve Gowda, the great 'tiger fighter' must be packed off by bus at the earliest. He 'unhesitantly' agreed to go by the next bus, as if he knew our plan!  We had enough of him already.  He never seemed to make any attempt to show us any tiger!!  He had given the  impression that tigers could be spotted like street dogs near our houses!  We came to know that in about 500 square kilometres of that forest reserve, there were only a handful of them living in that territory. 

In the meantime, Girish was interested in some adventure since this DG-tiger element was a total flop.  We discussed about how safe it is to risk walking along the road towards Hunsur.  There was total agreement.  

We saw an old tribal couple cutting firewood and went up to ask for their inputs about our plan. 

The man was Chella, a native having lived all his life there and he guessed his own age as 80. 

He took us to his hut also.

DG, Gopi, Girish, Chella and relatives at his hutment.  Chella filled us with courage that tigers, if at all we were lucky to spot, will not attack us.  Tigers were not the only fear.

Skipping lunch, we decided to leave, after settling the lodge bills by noon.  It was risky to walk without arms protection in a forest reserve, even if it is on the road leading to Hunsur 60 kilometres away. Our only weapons were a long stick and luck.  We also discussed our plan with some forest official and he left the decision to us.  Our plan was to hitch hike some vehicle that passes towards Hunsur after some miles.  The sky was overcast and there was a light intermittent drizzle.  I also had a slight cold as well. So Girish lent me his jerkin.

Finally we slowly and silently got the feet moving, single file by the side of the road.  At times, we stopped to enjoy the tranquility of the forest at its best.  Jungle sounds are amazing.  Even when a busy city sleeps, it will not be as 'tranquil' as a forest.  In the jungles, we can 'listen to tranquility'!  Distant sounds of some elephant breaking a branch or trumpeting far away, invisible little birds making their melodious calls high up on the trees, monkeys and langurs chattering and jumping the branches and the insects making their sounds, are all heard so clearly. No other sound mixes with that. It was such a soothing, calming feeling.  That was the lovely music of the forest.

Tranquility of the forest.

We were aware that even a little sound by us may alert some wild animal lurking behind the bush.  So whatever words we exchanged were with soft voice, almost a whisper.  One of us had to keep vigil at the bushes on the left, the other on the right and the lead man looked ahead.  Since it was the rainy season, the shrubbery was green and lush.  And that increased the chances of animals easily being 'unspotted'. Their 'camouflagiblity' was high.  

We came across our path a large pug mark of some cat in the soggy, puddled earth.  It looked fresh. We got frightened.  It was in the direction perpendicular to the road which meant that it had crossed the road.  Since it was overcast, the bushes appeared darker and the jungle silence added to our fright.  We trod even softer, all our senses in top alert.  After some time, the fear waned.

We had started at noon.  After just over three hours of non stop walk we reached a certain point where there was a curve in the road and a culvert.  The road ahead was obscured by the bushes.  We decided to have a short rest on the culvert and have a slice of bread which Girish had salvaged in his bag.  We were tired and hungry.    

There was no breeze. The sound of dry twigs on the forest floor crackling and the soft ruffle of leaves seemed to come from just a few metres away.   We looked in that direction for any clue, but there was nothing.  We feared that they were being created by an elephant nearby.  We had also noticed close to our path a few trees with slim trunks being freshly broken. The leaves were still green and 'unwilted'.  We also had crossed a heap of fresh elephant dung which had increased our heartbeats!

Girish posing at the culvert and curve before we continued.

Me in Girish's jerkin and my cricket cap on.  Photo by Gopi.

Now, we were really afraid to move further as the way ahead was obscured by the tall shrubbery. It does not look dark in the above photos. What if a tiger or panther [leopard] pounces on us from behind one of those bushes, we imagined. The bushes were so close to the road!

Gathering all the courage which Chella had given us, we resumed our trek extra cautiously now.  After about 10 minutes or so, we sighted a couple of cows with neck harness.  It was such a reassuring sighting!  That meant we were near some village and we felt somewhat safe from tigers but not pachyderms. And we were right.  Just at that time, we heard the sound of an approaching vehicle behind us.  Till now, not a single vehicle had passed from either side for all the three plus hours.  This was the first, going in the direction we were going.  It was a lorry.

We waved our hands and the driver kindly stopped.  "Hunsur?".  "Yes, he said."  He asked us to climb into the empty space meant for carrying materials. Our excitement knew no bounds.  We felt as if we were rescued from the jaws of great danger.  And it appeared it was so!  The lorry driver asked us if we were crazy to be walking like that!  He had seen a wild tusker uprooting small trees near that very curve and culvert .  We realized that it had come out of 'hiding' after we had moved ahead after the bread-break!   It was very angry and that we were extremely lucky, he added.   He said we were extremely lucky.  We then realized that those twig-cracking sounds that we had heard were made by that same tusker he was referring. What if it had spotted us?  What if we saw some animal ahead of us?  How do we react?   All this we had planned before we started the trek. We would have panicked had it literally appeared in front of us!

We might have been on foot for roughly 10-15 kilometres which we had covered in about 3 1/2 hours.  Another hour or so in the lorry took us to Hunsur. We thanked the lorry driver in such a manner that he had saved our lives.  

We did a couple of photography experiments also. A big spider web was spotted on our way.  The jerkin was used as background.  

We wanted to have a blur background but did not achieve, since it was only a box camera!  I took this picture in the moving lorry.

After reaching Hunsur, we returned to Mysore that evening in a bus.

We neither spotted any tiger in the forest, nor do I recall having spotted our DG thereafter in his shop. Reminiscing it after 30 years about how our 'carefreeness' and daring resulted in such a thrill, thanks to this mysterious DG.  I doubt if well planned trips give that much thrill!


Not to be totally disappointed with tiger sighting DG promised, let us have some consolation to see this tiger caged at the Darjeeling zoo:




Very interesting. I like the black and white pictures, especially those of the tribal couple and person.

girish nikam said...

Dinu, I really did not remember any of these things, except that we had this man, DG who promised us the moon! In fact I dont even remember DG coming to our shop! I thought we had met him in the bus!! And i have no memory of where we stayed the night! You have a great memory I should say. I thoroughly enjoyed recalling those crazy days---and we hardly had much money i our pocket if i remember!

Dinakar KR said...

Thanks Girish. Indeed, we managed only a few saved rupees from the pocket money. When we went to the Tiger Census at Bandipur two years later, I had to return home due to shoe bite. I had no other shoe other than my cricket shoe which was unsuitable for long walks! I had not known the exact schedule at all. It was a 5-day trip. I had to return on day 2 itself and you continued to trek - you spotted wild elephants near a water hole..

YOSEE said...

A grand adventure indeed ! Incredible that you remember all the details. It must have really impressed your young mind !..... Box Camera pictures have a charm of their own !

Nagarhole was like a paradise those days . And then they had to go and build all those guest houses and "facilities" and ruin everything !

Unknown said...

A very lucid description and great writing skills.

Amrit Yegnanarayan said...

Wonderful narrative