A small diversion of the beautiful 8 lane Bangalore – Mysore freeway, down some terrible narrow roads and Bingo, you are smack in the middle of Nagarhole National Park, also known as Rajiv Gandhi National Park. It was a long weekend in early May and we decided, like scores of others to hightail out of simmering Bangalore.
Unknowingly, but with a happy coincidence we had booked a homestay on the periphery of the national park and so boy, did we feast our eyes.
Nagaraj, mom who was down from Goa and myself, all in a battered down sumo vehicle, the bad roads and rattling vehicle notwithstanding, we were all geared for some wild excitement!
A check-post, sign in your car number, a few kilometers ahead a big board says welcome to Nagarhole National Park
The sights and sounds of modern life recede and we drive down a single lane bumpy road. The signal on our phone vanishes and we drive and drive through dry forest. It’s May, and there are shades of brown starting from just off the road. The only bright colours are the boards that spring up at regular intervals our left and right. Put up by the forest department, the boards are instructional, like “do not stop your vehicle”, “do not get out of your vehicle”, “do not honk”, “do not drive above 30 kms an hour”, “speed kills” animals in this case, common sense stuff really, but when you are a moron from a city I guess this is indeed helpful stuff.
The trees are cleared 3 meters off on each side of the road and then the scrub begins. These clearings with roughly hewn holes have been carefully designed so that wide-eyed folks like us see more wild animals. It had rained the night before and at a little pool by the side of the road we were face to face with an India gaur. You recognize an Indian gaur, not only from its large size and huge hump, but its 4 white socked feet as well. It’s amazing to be before such a magnificently large creature but god help if it’s in a bad mood and decides to charge.
Spotted deer range free and often break the scrub and bushes to nibble off at tender green leaves facing the road. Male deer’s have majestic antlers that stretch out skywards; females with little ones are a bit skittish. As luck could have it we even saw a pair of barking deer. These are tiny deer really compared to their spotted cousins and you need to have a keen eye to see them. Thankfully, Nagaraj who even others has eyes like a hawk kept stopping the driver every few minutes.
Like deer, wild boar was plentiful and small herds could be seen foraging among leaves and swampy grasses. We bumped into a playful pack of wild dogs and saw mongoose scampering by, couldn’t get that one on film. A tree stripped off every leaf but full of wild figs had as many as six Giant Indian Squirrels eating up with gay abandon, we caught pictures of the Racket Tail Drongo, peacock and wild hens.
The mornings were especially beautiful as the mist hung heavy over the forest and the haunting call of the cuckoo rang from tree to tree. Parrots and parakeets broke into periodic cacophony and in this surreal setting, Nagaraj chanced upon a herd of 4 elephants with a calf.
Nagarhole is surrounded by coffee plantations and human habitation is constantly shrinking the forest, when the surroundings are loaded with fruit, especially jackfruit, the strong fragrance draws elephants which rampage through the coffee plantations. But that does not stop plantation owners from growing a few jackfruit trees anyway.
The road through Nagarhole leads to Kerala and though it is a narrow, ill maintained road there is a fair among of traffic roaring by, most drivers are disciplined and the area is clean. One can also stay at government lodging in the heart of the forest and go on jungle safaris. Patrolling the forest are guards who live in small thatched houses with smooth floors and walls. Even as wild animals roam free, so do villages and little children. Schooling looks to be rather rudimentary.
In a couple of places we had boards which meant that tigers are sighted in those areas and even though we went early one morning hoping the gods would favour us with an apparition, our luck did not hold through.
Pics by Nagaraj Papanna and me