ELIZABETH PAULOSE discovers that the drive to Thengumarahada is bumpy but blessed with an abundance of wildlife

With hopes of meeting the elusive tiger, we set out. Our destination — Thengumarahada, a village in Kotagiri Taluk at the foothills of the Kodanadu hills. Our hopes ride on the 28-kilometre drive from Bhavanisagar to Thengumarahada through the Sathyamangalam forest.

Our Tata Sumo driver, Saravanan says a few days ago a villager encountered three tigers lazing near a waterhole. He took his slippers in his hands and bolted! We are hopeful.

The mud road cuts through the forest. The drive is not very friendly to our backs. Make sure you take an experienced driver who knows the way. We peer through the undergrowth hoping to spot an animal. We do, after around 20 minutes — it is a lone spotted deer. It stares at us, licking its lips and twitching its ears. We can't believe it when a peacock walks right in front of the deer.

The waterholes, though now completely dried up, still appear a place of calm. The trees around them are still green and provide ample shade making them favourite spots for the animals. Each time, we cross a waterhole; we hope to see some movement. We come across a variety of birds — the grey partridge, the ring dove, a nest of tiny red kites on a coconut tree and the colourful green bee-eater.

There is excitement when the driver spots an elephant. All I can see is a trunk twisted around the branch of a tree. “There is a waterhole a few metres ahead. We'll wait there. The animal has to come out,” says the driver. We wait. Twenty minutes later, there is still no sign of the elephant. Maybe it has gone into the forest. The driver starts up the engine, when suddenly, the tusker moves into view. The large animal walks parallel to our parked vehicle, gracefully swishing its tail and holding its trunk up in the air.

A herd of blackbuck sprints right back into the undergrowth before we get a good look. Even without the animals, the place is beautiful with the Moyyar River flowing nearby. You can sit on the banks and treat yourself to a packed lunch. From here, to get to Thengumarahada, take a coracle ride, or if you prefer, like the locals, just walk right across.

Legend says that a lone coconut tree grew to become a sprawling coconut grove. That's how the village gets its name Thengumarahada (‘Thengu' means ‘coconut' and ‘hada' means ‘plain' in Kannada). This village is where a 142-member co-operative farming society is located. It was formed in 1952, thanks to food scarcity in the preceding years. The Government decided to lease the land to the locals for cultivation to help them during the crisis. Now 500 acres has been given to them. Each farmer has been given three acres . Rice, bananas and marigold flowers grow in abundance. The Moyyar is the main source of irrigation.

A few locals inform us that a mother and baby elephant have been spotted drinking water close by. We venture into the forest again. It is perfectly still, except for the rustle of dry leaves, the crunch of twigs beneath our feet and the sound of the gurgling river.

After a 15-minute walk, we see large ears flapping behind a tree trunk. It is the mother elephant. We look for the baby, and at last see a tiny head bobbing toward us.

The calf moves forward closely followed by its mother. They chew on a few leaves obliging us with a perfect photo op. After which they disappear behind a large clump of trees. We may not have seen the tiger, but the elephants have made our day.