Travel

Jumbo tales from Mudumalai

An Indian Gaur. Photo: Special Arrangement

An Indian Gaur. Photo: Special Arrangement   | Photo Credit: mamp30Indiangaur

Driving through the forests of Masinagudi and on a safari inside Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, A.SHRIKUMAR raises a toast to the majestic elephants

The unswerving stillness of the jungle is broken only by the faint rumbling of our car. The light is falling, stars line up on the horizon as I and three of my friends drive from Masinagudi to Mudumalai. We hear the gentle jingle of the Mayar River winding its way like a giant serpent through a deep gorge parallel to the road. Massive trees with scraggy canopies on either side, cast ghastly silhouettes against the dusky sky. Flocks of birds return to their nests. Giving us company is a lone Malabar Whistling Thrush that’s still out hooting happily. Suddenly, we hear a rhythmic knocking sound echoing through the desolate forest.

The jungle is always a riddle and we are partly excited yet scared as to what lies ahead. Just then, we spot a colourful bird pecking at the bark of an oak tree. Wearing the autumn yellow in its wings and the crimson of the morning son in its feathery crest, the Flameback Woodpecker is busy knocking the tree trunk. We admire our first sighting for the day until it flies away.

A troop of Grey Langurs leads us on the road briefly and then swiftly hops on to tree tops, becoming fur balls perched on branches with their frizzy tails dangling like epiphyte shoots. In a clearing amidst the bushes, we see a family of Chitals busy grazing. The antlers of few males in the herd glitter in the setting sun. Surprisingly unperturbed, they strike candid poses for us before disappearing into the undergrowth.

Further ahead, we come across signboards with images of giant tuskers and words of caution in neon red, announcing elephant crossings. The nippy evening wind howls menacingly, punctuating the air laden with a heavy grassy smell. The road is soiled all over with elephant dung, strewn with leaves and trampled lemon grass and huge circular footprints dot the soggy murk on the sides. As silence befalls again, we hear the breaking of twigs and the creaking of bamboos. We start perspiring even as the chill breeze brings the smell of the pachyderms.

But our elephant sighting doesn’t happen yet, though they are very much in touching distance. The bamboo thickets shield the massive beasts, leaving us in suspense and dread that we may have a rather unpleasant jumbo encounter. More chitals, birds, a lone jungle cat and a pair of Sambhar deer keep us engaged in the meanwhile. We take in the landscape of the nearly dry semi green escarpment of Masinagudi that gradually merges with the green sholas of the Nilgiris. Layers of thorny shrubs, tall trees, shallow valleys and rounded peaks weave a tapestry of light and dark shades of green and brown.

However, our watchfulness comes handy as we unexpectedly see a pair of glistening tushes protruding out of the bushes just a few yards away. Our hearts race, we freeze and our car comes to a grinding halt. Maintaining a safe distance, the photographer in our team, George Varghese Kodiyatt calibrates camera settings to capture the event in falling light. In few minutes that seemed like an eternity, the much-awaited moment becomes a reality. A pair of pillar-like legs steps on to the road gingerly, pausing for a moment the beast gives us a glance, the glint in its eyes warning us and the road gets blocked by the colossal figure of the elephant as it marches across. Before we could even realize the event, it gets over in a jiffy and we only see the tail vanishing into the thickets on the other side. Later, looking at the blurred images in the camera, we realize how unpredictable moments in the wild are. Hoping a second chance, we retire for the night before returning on a morning safari in the forest van.

Mornings in Mudumalai come alive with bird songs and the calls of animals. From Jungle mynahs and bulbuls to robins and tree pies, the feathered friends rustle up a birdie concert while herds of Indian Gaur and a sounder of Wild Boar lay lazily like bundles on grassy dunes. The van enters the core area of the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve and we are greeted by a pair of young tuskers. Our guide M. Sahadevan, a tribal from the nearby Singara village tells us that the duo belong to a bachelor gang. “They are a herd of 16 and highly notorious for surrounding vehicles and charging at them,” he informs as we see the pair nonchalantly stride across the road, right in front of the vehicle, displaying their rotund masculine bodies. The localites identify elephants with their peculiar features and have even named a few. Sahadevan tells us about one such jumbo characterized by a pair of uneven but long tusks, referred to as ‘ Sub Inspector or S.I.’ by the villagers.

The curvy forest roads takes us deep into the tiger reserve and all along we see herds of Gaurs and Chitals sharing their morning meal as a fine example of peaceful coexistence. Peacocks sit perched on rocks, preening their feathers. Herds of mother elephants with calves and lone tuskers greet us often but the big cats remain elusive. The guide asks us to keenly scan tree tops in search of camouflaged leopards. We try our luck in vain but the jumbos keep cheering us up with impromptu appearances. Hoping to return another time for the big cats, we carry back memories of the élan and gaiety of our ‘ele-friends’.

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Printable version | Jun 1, 2020 3:37:38 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/travel/Jumbo-tales-from-Mudumalai/article14907526.ece

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