A short trek into the Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary throws up sights of friendly langurs, fleeting birds and a shy owl

The Anamalai Forest has plunged into silence. Busy ants and chatty birds listen carefully as the langurs let out frantic cries. “They have spotted a predator!” whispers Baiju, the forest guard. “They are warning the forest.” We freeze. The thought of a tiger prowling amidst the trees scares and excites us. We wait, holding our breath, hoping to catch a glimpse of the beast. But, we are unlucky. Our feline friend has retreated into the wild, sensing the presence of humans. Peace is restored. The birds get back to singing and the ants resume feasting on fallen fruit.

It’s a sunny Saturday morning, and 15 people, many of us rookies to the forest, have taken a break from work to spend a day at Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary as part of a nature education trek by Canopy Nature Academy. We walk into the dry deciduous forest, lugging binoculars and DSLRs to spot and shoot some animal and bird life. Leading us into the forest is conservationist Saravanan Chandrasekeran.

“The jungle is not just about tigers, elephants and other big animals. It is also about small insects and birds,” says Saravanan, drawing our attention to robins, insects and the mounds of sand dug out by forest mice to build a “mansion underground”.

The Sun bears down on us as we trek uphill through the arid jungle. Soon, we hear the gurgle of water as we near Kootar, a meeting point of three rivers — Chinnar, Paambaar and Thenar. After dipping our feet in its crystal waters and refilling our water bottles, we resume our journey. The forest looks greener now, with shafts of sunlight falling through the leaves.

A drongo drinking water hears us and takes flight. A sleepy red-whiskered bulbul hides behind a cluster of leaves. But, a wonderful sight awaits us near the Paambaar river bed. Hundreds of cavorting butterflies, sporting orange, yellow and black-and-white polka dotted wings, are mud puddling. The winged visitors from the Eastern Ghats flutter around us, kiss our feet and flit back to form a huddle as they absorb vital nutrients from the soil.

That’s when we see something moving between the trees. “It looks like the huge brown wings of a bird,” exclaims Saravanan as he looks through his binoculars. All of us rush to view the avian. An owl with prominent ear tufts surveys us from a distance. Saravanan flips open the guide book. “It looks like our winged friend is the brown fish owl, a rare variety,” he says. I try to photograph the owl, but it melds into the forest.

The langur family we meet next is more media friendly. They flick their long tails in style and pose for a family photoshoot. The mother langur bares her teeth menacingly as one of us moves close to her child. A giant male langur seemingly meditates on a stone, far away from the family. He is unperturbed by human presence and yawns and scratches his back in absolute disinterest. “Many people walk down this route. They are used to all humans,” says Baiju.

We leave the monkey family to bask in the sun and prod on. I can now hear honking vehicles and the conversation of people. Our little trek has come to an end. I give a last, longing look at the jungle.

Wait. Is that the meditating langur waving?