Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Trek in Bandipur Forest

My friend Girish Nikam had planned a trek in Bandipur forest [Wildlife Santuary, a Tiger Reserve, now a National Park].  Two years before in 1981, we had done a crazy trip to its adjacent sanctuary, Nagerhole |click|.  Trekking in the forest sounded good, so I agreed to go with him.  Applying a day's leave for Friday 8th July, we set off on this 80 km. journey by bus, with me expecting to be back on Sunday.

On landing, I discovered it was not a casual trek at all, but to my big surprise, it was for the "Tiger Census"!  30-40 people, mostly young, had also come as volunteers, having hopes of interesting fauna and a sight like this during the census trek!

His Majesty - adapted as our National Animal in 1950!

[Click on all images to enlarge]

In the evening, the briefing session by the Range Officer turned out to be a laughing session to us [English-language wise].  Pug mark recording methods were explained along with other information about how we must behave in the wild forest etc.  After dinner the night was spent in a dormitory.

Early next morning a truck took us up to the nearby "Himavad Gopalswami Hill", the starting point of the trek.  Post breakfast at the heritage guest house, we were divided into 3 or 4 groups, each one to go in a different route accompanied by one range officer and one armed guard each.  The place is amazingly cold and misty in the mornings many months in the year and hence 'Himavad'. [hima=dew/mist].

All these colour pictures are from the film camera that Girish brought with him.

The sanctum sanctorum is inside.  The mist had cleared. 

We saw a herd of elephants looking like ants, roaming on those hills seen here far away. We were to go into their territory, into thick forests.

Me in Girish's sweater behind the temple, before the trek started. It was a cool morning.

I soon realized I was very ill-equipped for the trek in several ways:  not knowing where and how we would camp, not carrying warm clothes [nights in the green forests are chilly]or sheets for night stay, just one pair of socks which were on my feet and I had to return to work on Monday [being new to the job and hence no leave at credit]. I learnt that comfortable trekking shoes were needed, but I only had my ordinary sports shoes, the only pair I had, besides my cricket boots. I was wearing my cricket cap and custom-made black jeans and carrying a water bottle.  Girish was equipped with his jacket and so he lent me his sweater as I was not having my own at all. 

The drawbacks were to make me tense as I went through the day.  To add to these, I had learnt that this census would be of five days duration.  I was in a dilemma!

The trek began at about half past ten. Before we set off, we made 'walking sticks' from branches of shrubs grown behind the Temple.  

This was after trekking for two hours and resting a while.   
Beautiful views of the green forest. 

Our group taking a breather. The armed guard in khakhi is also seen. 

We were trekking in single file, making no noise.  Speaking had to be in soft tone.

The smell of the forest was heavenly.  Our group officer was explaining about the samples of dry animal poop that was in our path and what food they ate.  My sports shoes were soon proving inadequate.  In certain stretches of challenging [for newbies] terrain I had to hold on to the tall grass or embedded rocks to climb down or up slippery and steep paths. 

Mid way, we were at a place called 'Chammanahalla' for the lunch break and some freshening. It was on a small hillock.


The young man on the left [above] had some mountaineering experience.  He was showing some techniques on how to use our fingernails to grip and climb rocks. The depth behind that rock on which the boys are resting is not perceived in this shot. 

The enthusiastic elderly man seated centre [above] was nearly 70!  He developed breathing problems and had to be carried by the young men until he felt comfortable.  Someone's nylon rope came to the rescue as four people carried him for quite a distance even treading through difficult terrain, until he felt better. He had his own medication but was determined to continue. That was still the pre-cellphone and pre-PET bottle water era!

All the way through we were enjoying the beauty of the forest, its tranquility, its smells, listening to the sounds of the bird calls, the creaking of tree branches far away, the occasional chirp of the langurs and also enjoying the different shapes and colours, mostly green and brown, while eager to spot any pug mark on the soil or any clues the tigers might have left - that is why we were there.  Some interesting trees made us to stop and take notice.  We did not come across any tiger pug mark but we encountered fresh and steaming bear poop and dry elephant dung. 

How lucky we would have been if such a sighting had taken place!

By about 4 pm my feet started to cry, not because of tiredness but from peeled skin on my toes.  My shoes were too ill fitted for such a long trek. We had trekked about 20 kilometeres for the day when we reached Moolehole [pronounced Moolay-HoLay], our night stop.

The small rivulet Moolehole flowed silently close to the 'forest check post', the perfect ambiance to relax till daylight faded out.  This is where I also first saw the little water skimmers.  We were advised not to venture after dark as wild elephants would be wandering.

Here are two satellite-images showing locations of where we started and where we camped:

Bandipur to Gopalswami Hills - see line.

Gopalswami Hill to Moolehole Forest check post - see red circled spots.  We had trekked westward. 

A simple dinner was served.  The injury caused by the shoes to the skin on my toes were too sore.  My last hour's trek itself was a struggle.  I decided not to continue the trek.  Also, I HAD to return to work Monday.  Some of us slept in the checkpost room floor, while others slept in the adjacent block. A borrowed newspaper was my sheet to sleep while my towel and water bottle became my pillow.  Nothing to cover myself from the cold [and mosquitoes] except wearing Girish's sweater. 

This place was on National Highway 212 connecting our state Karnataka and Kerala.   Buses plied far apart but goods lorries were frequent.  After breakfast next morning, I prepared to leave for home.  the groups had left for the trek, minus me. Soon, a lorry came by. The driver agreed to drop me at Mysore.

We fear of being bitten by some creature in the wild forest, but I was bitten by my own shoes and had to shy away!
After I left, the group encountered elephants at a water hole.  Girish explained his experiences of seeing elephants in the wild, up so close.  

They had stopped overnight at Gundre and enjoyed a campfire. 

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 

Bandipur was once the private hunting ground for the Mysore Kings. Animals were shot and taken as souvenirs and trophies and proudly displayed the taxidermied animals, their skins, heads and horns in their rooms and decades later we go there to count the remaining numbers!!  Imagine the abundant animal and tiger population then and a hundred years before.  Now in a forest area of 874 sq. km we were trying our luck to see if any of the few big cats [tigers] left, left their pug marks, leave alone the chances of sighting them.  Not surprisingly, we found none on the first day and I know not if the group found any later.  Nagarhole and Bandipur forests in a combined area of 1500 sq. km is said to be the largest [among the 47] tiger reserve in the country.

A few shots from the web. 
Maharaja Jayachamaraja Wadiyar [pictured below] who was also hunting, later was instrumental in banning shooting in the forests [1960s] as soon as it was realized the wild animals had to be protected. It was a fancy among the Royal people or dignitaries visiting India to go on hunting expeditions, including from the time of King Edward VII [early 20th century].

What a huge animal they shot here! 
It was a great fancy in those days to pose for a photo with the 'trophy' they shot. 

Picture below: 1930s. Maharaja Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV (the then ruler of Mysore - in whites) with his hunting team.

Bisons, deer, leopards, bears etc. were also hunted for sport, not to speak of poaching. 

It is estimated that there were 40,000 [forty thousand] tigers in India at the beginning of the 20th century. Reduced to 4000 by 1965 due to indiscriminate hunting and poaching, the latter still a bane. Bandipur alone had 75 in 1973 and the good news is that the number rose to about 300 by 2010. 

A few banknotes featuring Tiger from my collection:

Reverse [see years of issue]

We reach an era observing "International Tiger Day" on July 29.