Wilderness @ Nagarhole & Madumalai
Shali Chopra & Manuel Fernandes narrate their independent travel journeys that we combine in order to bring you the best of both the worlds…
Nagarhole, in Karnataka, is really only one of the four contiguous sanctuaries in South India which span the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The other three are Bandipur (Karnataka), Mudumalai (Tamil Nadu) and Wynad (Kerala). The topography is generally the same in all these national parks: the topography of tiger country. Basically, two types of forests dominate the region: The moist deciduous type is to the north and West of Nagarhole. The dry deciduous type exists in the south and east. High quality teak and rose wood trees are found here. Bamboo is also plentiful. Animal safaris are in the early mornings and late evenings.
Madumalai Wildlife Sanctuary, Tamil Nadu (Shali Chopra)
Madumalai is a paradise in the wild. Certainly, the name itself suggests visions of bees and honey. However, it is much more than that. A virgin valley of fresh, crisp foliage is home for tigers, gaurs, deer and elephants over acres of jungle. Tiny brooks and streams. While the Kabini river forms the nerve system of the sanctuary. 19 km from the Bandipur National Park, the Madumalai Wildlife Sanctuary lies on the way to Udhagamandalam (Ooty). It is in the Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu, where three states intersect – Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. There are deciduous trees and shrubs of several rare species. Madumalai is invigorating for those tired of the bustle of cities. Regular buses ply and there is accommodation available in Forest Department lodges and a variety of resorts. Nearby cities also regularly arrange tours and elephant safaris for tourist pleasures.
Madumalai on an Elephant Safari
Being an early riser I was delighted with the dew on the leaves. And also moisture drops on window panes. It somehow made me realise an artist’s delight with nature. The lodge I stayed at was in a clearing at the edge of the forest. It was simple with slanting roofs. There was a log-cabin effect which it had. I opted for the most adventurous safari, the elephant safari. It began at 6.30 am so that it could show us a glimpse of the wild life here. Our elephant started with a fresh early morning round of elephant dung to mark the start of a long journey. Rocking along on elephant back, I went brushing past branches. I saw something and hoped it was a yellow carnivore. But it was a blue bull. Our trip could not have had a better start. No sooner had we crossed the shallow Kabini River than a herd of spotted deer appeared as if just sprung from beneath the ground. Sunshine seeped through the gaps between leaves giving the jungle an antique yet unsullied and fresh feel. I was aware of such scenic beauty. But only in the pages of National Geographic.
Brief Encounter at Madumalai
Stepping into a puddle shook the entire gray mass on which we were seated. Additionally, I made the mistake of clicking my camera. But then I did not know that 60 meters ahead of us, stood a giant member of the cat family. However, that was a brief treat. Are encounters with the tiger ever more than that? Nature has been lavish in providing this sanctuary with thickly wooded hills, plateaus, deep valleys, waterfalls, rivers, marshes and streams. Therefore, Madumalai is heaven on earth, serene and exuding harmony. Moreover, the varied flora and topography meet the ecological needs of several species that inhabit the sanctuary. Thus offering so much variety to a visitor keen on a tryst with the wild. Elephants, deer, bison, tigers, leopards and mammals like civet cat, mouse, and giant flying squirrels. It was a holiday to remember.
Nagarhole and its Beautiful Beasts (Manuel Fernandes)
Looking for Tiger at Nagarhole
At Nagarhole, in the early morning mist, we peered out of the windows. The mini bus rattled along the jungle roads at 6.30 in the morning. We were hoping to see tiger. But with the sound that the bus was making we would settle for any lesser being. What we did see were animals less elusive than the tiger, but certainly not lesser beings. The two biggest animals that still roam the Indian wild are the elephant and the Indian bison, known locally as gaur. Now if you want a guaranteed look at these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat, then you must visit Nagarhole. In the three days we spent there on the four early morning and late evening safaris that we took, our only encounter with a tiger was spotting his fresh pug marks by the side of a stream. And we really cursed the noisy bus for we felt sure that it was the rattling metal beast that had frightened away the magnificent striped animal from the stream.
Elephants, Gaur, and the Deer family
The elephants and gaur however, were less fazed with our vehicle. The elephants, often in herds, went about swirling the grass and leaves with their trunks before dunking sizeable morsels into their mouths. Their offspring gambolled playfully, unconcerned about prying human eyes. Then there were old white-socks. One is used to tame elephants ambling about crowded streets. Yet the gaur, with its hefty build, large horns and white shanks is a far cry from its domesticated bovine cousins: cows, bulls and buffaloes. Not a single trip within the jungle passed without our sighting these imposing animals with their gleaming, blue-black skin. Sometimes they were at a distance. But on at least a couple of occasions they stopped grazing and stared at us from just a few feet away. It is no wonder that visitors are forbidden from venturing on foot into the jungles of Nagarhole. The elephants and gaur are huge and wild and we ordinary humans are no match for them in their homeland. By far the most visible animals here are the cheetal or spotted deer. These come and graze right near the forest rest houses. There are other ungulates, which thrive at Nagarhole, but are shier than the cheetal. There are sambhar, barking deer, and the four horned antelope. The last we did not see. In fact, sightings are very rare. Along with species like tigers and panthers, they qualify for an entry in the sightings book kept at the forest lodge.
Then there was this big herd of wild boar which ran grunting into the undergrowth in the morning mist. Foxes and wild dogs were two other species of which we had fleeting glimpses. Occasionally a grey jungle fowl would dash across the open ground lending a dash of colour to an otherwise drab landscape. And the more wooded areas were coloured with short flights of coucals and peafowl.
Birding at Nagarhole
Although we were not allowed to go birding into the jungle, we had a fine time with the birds just outside the forest lodge. Golden and black-headed orioles. Also drongos, racket-tailed drongos and large green barbets. Spotted babblers, red-cheeked and red-vented bulbuls, crimson minivets, and hoopoes. They all descended on the trees and ground giving us a grand stand view of avian activity.
But ultimately we didn’t see tiger. Seeing the striped king is such a chancy affair. I have a friend who has spent a greater part of his life in jungles. Yet, he has never spotted a tiger. Then finally, at Tadoba in Maharashtra, one late evening, we had all gone looking for tigers in our jeep. This friend remained behind near the lake to gather plant species. And there he saw tiger, tigress and cubs. So the moral is, enjoy the jungle and all you see there. Bonuses, in the form of big cats will come when the jungle is ready for you.