An Aura of wilderness

I have visited Nagarahole many times by now, if I plan a wildlife trip to Nagarahole my parents and friends ask me one question “how many times you will visit the same place again and again?? Aren’t you bored???

My answer to everyone is a big smile on my face and a brief narration about wilderness I encounter every time when I visit Nagarahole… the jungle is as new as it was to me when I first visited the place…new sunrise… new excitement…a new ray of hope to sight big cats… Ahhh it is as fresh as new…


The trip was planned for 2 days from 1st April 2013 to 3rd April 2013 to Nagarahole aka Rajiv Gandhi National Park. The previous day we drove to mysore for a stopover at my cousin’s place, we made some free time in the evening to visit mysore city including Chamundi hills. Just for a change we planned to visit SubWay, after 2 hours of worthless search we ended up in a beautiful Punjabi hotel called Jwala. I recommend this hotel for all those who just can’t stop eating. yummmm

 Next morning we started at 4.30Am and reached Veerahosanahalli gate by 6.00Am, the first rays of the sun was peeping towards mother earth, the forest was engulfed with its warm golden sunlight. The splendid combination of the morning chills along with the warmth of the sun kick started our day.
A slow drive observing the forest took us more than an hour to reach FRH, hot upama for breakfast was ready to gobble. Mr. Lokesh is appointed as new RFO, a young and dynamic chap. A small introduction and casual chat with him explained his plan of actions with regards to conserving wildlife. 
Some times you have to be at the right place at the right time. Few things were lined up to buy from kutta a small village just outside Nagarahole. While returning back from our so called “shopping” we caught a sight of the big bird perched on top of the tree. Though we were not so sure of its identity we just continued watching the bird observing its behavior. As the excitement of spotting a new bird came down our focus widened only to spot 10- 12 more birds of the same family resting on the entire tree. We identified it was a vulture but which family it belongs was known later after referring the book. It was Red-Headed Vulture which is a critically endangered species of bird found in INDIA.
The Mantra still hold good. Few meters ahead a jumbo family crossed our path; it was so nice to see the little one veiling safely with its mother.
By now the sun was up in the sky and radiating his most sharp rays on to us. The scorching heat made us feel low and wanted a nap for sometime. The alarm woke us up for evening safari, Nagarahole game routes can be accessed only by govt. bus safari which is organized by forest department not always we are blessed with like minded people. The bus was filled with a variety of people, some who were interested in wildlife and few others who treat national parks as picnic spot. All our energy was exhausted in making them understand the importance of wildlife and national parks.
We had completed half the journey in the game route when our driver spotted a tiger beside the waterhole which was sitting on the boulder, the disturbance and loud noise chased the tiger away into the bushes. We waited for 10 mins hoping it might come out of the bushes; neither the bus driver nor passengers were interested or had the patience to wait.
A glimpse of the tiger made us happy; the safari came to end by sightings a herd of elephants and a lonely tusker.
The same evening we drove till Karmadu junction to try our luck for sightings but returned without any. After dinner we took a seat in the balcony listening to the sound sof the forest, the cicadas were calling in a unique pitch. The alarm calls of barking deer’s faded distantly, we could hear wild boar scratching the ground…

 

Next morning Siddanna care taker requested us for a drop to kutta, we crossed kutta check post and while nearing the village, a car approached us in the opposite direction , as we slowed down to give way we noted that the car was driven very hastily and in full speed. Not more than 10 seconds had passed since we passed the full speed car, we witnessed a huge male spotted deer lying beside the road badly injured. Unfortunately the deer was killed by road accident. We then related as to why the car flew past us in a hurry.
Immediately I called up my friend at Nagarahole FD and informed about the incident. A wireless message was passed to all 3 gates to ensure he would not escape. Finally the culprit was caught at veeranahosalli gate the car bonnet was torn and badly damaged as it had hit the spotted deer antler.
We did not leave until slayer was brought back to the spot where accident took place. RFO / Veterinary doctors and patrolling crew investigated and filed a hit-and-run case and took him to custody.
After tiring hours we came back to guest house with a mixed feeling, satisfaction for catching the killer, on the other hand we lost one huge male deer.
We had lunch and relaxed till next safari. Apart from sambar deer the forest was dry with out any sightings. The culprit and his family with the car were sitting at forest department; he was staring at me as if I have done a mistake by alerting the guards to catch him.
It was our last day at Nagarahole and next morning we had to leave for Bangalore, we started towards karmadu junction slowly observing things around us, forest was alive in the evening, herd of gaurs were gazing beside the road, we could hear elephant breaking the twigs in a nearby bush, but no alarm calls from any direction. All of a sudden from no where a sloth bear crossed the road. I was not prepared to capture the photo though I could only manage few shots.
Few meters away we spotted a crested serpent eagle – CSE on the perch, its watchful eyes drew our attention towards it.
After our final drive from veeranahoshalli gate we returned back to forest rest house, gazing the sky full of stars hearing cicada’s call all around we sat back and relaxed.
Nagarahole – is pristine and full of surprises….
Location:

Unwinding tales of Nagarahole

I weren’t an actor; I’d be a wildlife biologist or forest ranger.  – Rick Schroder

 This statement by Rick is so true; my body & soul always meander in wilderness though it is practically difficult to chase our passion because of our current profession.
This time I planned for Nagarahole aka Rajiv Gandhi National Park, it was almost 4 year since I visited the place. It is a pristine forest full of surprises which gave me an opportunity to sight tiger in the wild for the first time.
The booking at Gangotri forest rest house is made easy via telephone and booking can be confirmed by sending an MO to ACCF – Mysore.
Raghunath helped me by providing information of hotel Jungle Residency situated just before Veeranahosalli gate. Hmmmmm you should be lucky enough to get better half with the similar interest, I am blessed in such case. I and Sindhu [My wife] started our wildlife odyssey on Wednesday at 1.30 Pm and reached Nagarahole around 6.00Pm. The accommodation is decent enough for transit visitors like us.
 The next morning, at the break of dawn we left for our jungle drive. Luckily ours was the first vehicle to enter the check post. I began recollecting my old memories of Nagarahole. Few kilometers from the check post, we were fortunate to sight 5 wild dogs by the road which hurried into the woods as we slowed the car.

I would like to share my experience at Nagarahole in the form of tales which unfolded in front of me during the trip. The serene calmness engrossed the forest, we moved on slowly towards Nagarahole passing karmadu junction.  

Tale1: Encounter of Indian Sloth Bear

 Watching closely through the depths of the forest, we spotted a black object sitting beside the road. It took us few seconds to realize that the animal which we were seeing was a sloth bear, it calmly came on the road and started walking in front of our car. It was first time I was seeing a sloth bear in such close proximity. It sniffed the bumper and started moving ahead.
I shifted the gear to reverse and parked my car giving space for the bear to walk. This bear was very daring and walked for almost 2 km in front of us.

Sloth bears are nocturnal and insectivorous; it was strange to see such a huge bear in the day light walking on the road without getting intimidated.  The scene was unforgettable, sighting wild dogs is a sign of good fortune for us…and needless to say we had already spotted the sloth bear.

 We reached Nagarahole forest department, showed the photos and narrated the story to them, curious to know about this strange behavior. We later found out that bears usually go sniffing around in search of honey combs.

Our reservation was made at Gangotri forest guest house, Gangotri is a beautiful place built in 1972; it has four rooms and a balcony where one can relax and get a glimpse of the wild.

Sidaanna, room caterer came in search of us to take order for lunch, it is a simple menu consisting of chapati curry along with rice, sambar and rasam.
What more can one expect? With the rains pouring through the lush green forest… sending a whiff of earthy odor into the air. Enjoying this perfect set up we laid back in the balcony watching spotted deers, and listened to the distant happy calls of langur… Ahhh it was simply superb.

In the evening we started driving along HD kote road, there was pin drop silence in the jungle, it dint yield any sighting. It was long since I had spoken to Chikkanna, a guard at Kallala guest house, the wooden bungalow stood magnificently in the middle of the jungle. After reaching the guest house we enquired with a caterer named Deepak and later found out that Chikkanna had been transferred. 

We called for the day without any sightings thereafter.

 Tale 2: On the prowl – Wild dogs
After dinner we grabbed the chair out in the balcony and settled listening outside, it was pitch dark as the check post at both the ends were closed from 6.00Am to 6.00Pm no vehicle moment was there. It is a strong belief that in the night predators will be on prowl and most of the animals might cross the roads and move through game trails.
I might call it is a coincidence, when I switched on the torch and threw the light on the road side of the forest bungalow I was surprised to see a couple of  gleaming eyes, crossing the road it took me few mins to conclude it was wild dogs… 🙂
Sindhu was thrilled to see the predator roaming around the guest house.
We were awake for an hour or so listening closely for any kind of alarm calls by chitals, but the wild dogs dint gave any clew and pushed off to its hide…

The next day morning we planned to hit the roads before the sun rise. It was a windy weather, last night the rains had poured like cats & dogs. The road was wet and welcoming. 

 A morning welcome by Indian Peacock our national bird made us happy photographing the beauty on the road we preceded towards karmadu junction. A herd of elephants were gazing peacefully beside the road. We moved on photographing the elephants.
 On the way back towards Nagarahole we spotted Lapwing, greater flame back woodpeckers and lot of tree-pies. It was time for breakfast and reached back the guest house and had sumptuous break fast served by sidanna.
 We returned to the cottage and opened the windows to breathe the fresh air. I dint believe my eyes when I saw the pack of 5 wild dogs relaxing near by, we then concluded it was the same pack we spotted the previous night, I took my camera and rushed outside without getting noticed by wild dogs. I spent a considerable amount of time observing and photographing the wild dogs in the close encounter a tempo traveler filled with tourist passed making loud sound which made them move swiftly into the woods..

Tale 3: Fight for the pride 

 The sighting of wild dogs was still fresh. I was ready with my camera mounted with macro lens to photograph insects around the cottage. The sound of dashing antlers made by spotted deers drew my attention, the combat between male spotted deers to flaunt its mate was spectacular, males sporting hard antlers are dominant when they are in rut they fight to defend small group of females with which they mate.
In the mating season male deers make a distinctive call to attract the females in the group. It looks like deers are soft in nature when it comes to prove its territory the power is truly amazing.
The fight between the male deers was for few mins; finally a male deer won the prize catch and walked away with pride… the scene was mesmerizing. The jungle is the teacher; learn every moment … 🙂
 The car was running out of fuel we planned to visit Sri Mangala which is around 20Km from Kutta to fill the tank. Kutta is a small village which is in border of Kerala and Karnataka. One can also visit Waynad Wildlife Sanctuary [Tholpetty Range] from Kutta.
 We also figured out the timing of Tholpetty national park and reached the place; unfortunately due to monsoon the forest was closed.
It made me happy to see a traditional post office which is still functioning at Nagarahole. I remembered the Kannada film featured on post office and postman’s routine job in “Abachurina Post office” by KP Poorna chandra tejaswi.
 By the time we reached Nagarahole it was 1.00Pm, we felt very tired and wanted to relax for sometime and grabbed a quick nap. We started our evening drive towards HD Kote road by 4.30Pm; guars were in plenty nibbling beside the road and found a single tusker near Karmadu junction. Apart from this we were not lucky enough to sight any big cats and drove back to guest house by 6.00Pm.
 
 Next day morning we checked out from the cottage and started back to Namma Bengaluru. The time we spent in the forest without hustle life style was fantastic.
Location:

1411 – Count the King…

The newspapers published saying “Volunteers required for Tiger Census”. Whom to contact? How to apply? Where to submit? all these questions jumbled in the mind. Few weeks later the date of commencement was also published. The time ticked… if i miss the opportunity i don’t know whether i could attend next time…

I called up my cousin with regards to TC programme, he redirected me to a gentleman called Shashidhar, it was a short notice to him all the formalities were completed he said he will try to take with him. I crossed my fingers…

Jan 22nd to 28th was the date announced by WII[Wildlife Institute Of India] it was 6 days programme, divided into 2 batches Jan 22nd to 24th and Jan 24th to 26th. Shashi called me on Jan 21st and said you are in the 2nd batch and along with you 2 other persons will join and you 3 should report to hunsur wildlife division on Jan 26th morning by 10.00am. Everything was set for the big game…

I reached Mysore on 24th morning at 8.00am and called Balasubramanya who was supposed to be my batch member in TC. Mr. Srikant also joined us shortly, we reached hunsur at 11.00am and met RFO. He was busy with the schedule, other team of batch 1 were back from TC and the discussion among themselves was hot.. “Maga what a sighting.. was it”. RFO called us and allocated our stay for next 3 days.

It was my dream to stay in APC[Anti Pouching Camp] for at least one night and hear weired sounds the dream came true not for 1 day i was blessed with 3 days.

We rushed towards APC with guards and freshened up and had a casual chat with guards asking them how was the TC going on.. how many TIGERS did they sight directly? and with the same enthuse the guards replied to our questions.

The clock ticked 3.00pm, we planned to sit near a waterhole to watch the forest activities an hour lagged the guard gestured us to the direction where a tusker came to waterhole.

The day came to an end with sighting of beautiful tusker, we headed back to APC and sat exchanging our experiences.Tomorrow early morning we had to start our trail, so everyone went for a nap.

Next day we woke up at 5.30am and started to our designated trail in search of KING.. we got an opportunity in sighting of chital, guars, and barking deers, we reached a waterhole in search of any pug marks available. We recorded few details of the pug marks and scats of the TIGER.


It was very thrilling to see the pug mark in the waterhole, the trail came to an end.

To maintain the confidentiality, I am not disclosing further details like which place? APC name.. such things.

The next 2 days was breathtaking, overall it was an ultimate experience, though we could not sight TIGERS upfront we were lucky enough to see its existence in form of pug marks and scats.

With heavy hearts we returned back to Bangalore.

Flickr photo stream: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wildlifeodyssey

Wildlife Sightings:

1. 05 Tuskers
2. 3 Wild Dogs
3. Chitals
4. Barking Deers
5. Guars
6. Malabar Giant Squirel

A trip to Nagarahole.

Friday at the office was a hectic day, for even though I was physically in my office, my mind had already wandered away into the wilderness. My heart and soul was aching for a wild getaway…anywhere! Where, when, how, and with whom to go, was unclear. Until lunch time.
I met Shreyas for lunch near SLV and the casual conversation developed into a concrete weekend getaway plan to Nagarahole National Park, aka Rajiv Gandhi National Park. Next moment, I was telephoning my friend to reserve a room at Gangothri in Nagarahole for Saturday. We got a positive reply saying “your room is booked”. All set for a wild weekend!
 
 At the National Park, we intended to sit at one place and observe the wildlife activities. We decided to sit at the watchtower (WT), but who are we to decide?? The Range Forest Officer (RFO) has to give us permission to sit at the WT. We thought, if we get the permission, then well and good. If not, there was always Plan B. We had even prepared ourselves for a negative reply from the RFO. Plan B was to just walk in and around Nagarahole main road like H.D.Kote Road, Karmadu Road, Kutta Road, Murkal Junction… and so on. I have read many trip reports, which said the wildlife sightings can happen on the road side also. So, if the WT plan was a failure, we still had an alternative plan.
 
 We left Bangalore on the same evening at 10:00 p.m., stopped at Chennapattana Coffee Day, spent an hour, and continued to Nagarahole. Our aim was to reach Nagarahole Forest Check Post by early morning 5:30 a.m. Of course, we reached earlier than planned. Earlier, the better! It increases the chances of wildlife sighting and movement on the road side!! And with good luck, we may even spot big cats. We drove slowly at 20 km/hr. As the Sun rose from behind the horizon and its rays
 penetrated the lovely Teak forest, the birds wished us ‘Good Morning’ in their melodious early morning calls. Shreyas spotted a Serpent Eagle perched on a branch of a tree and took a few photographs. We also saw Chittal (Spotted Deer) grazing by the road side.
Finally, when we reached Nagarahole, I went straight to the Forest Department Office to complete the formalities for lodging. After few minutes, a guard named Sannappa came along with us to show the room and handed over the keys. After the overnight journey, we wanted to take a quick nap for at least 2 hours. We woke at 10.30 a.m. and decided to meet the RFO, Mr. Poovaihah, to obtain permission to sit at the WT. He asked us several questions. “Who are u?” “Why should I allow you to sit in the WT?” “What is you intention?” and so on. We answered his questions and assured him that we are true Nature enthusiasts, and not pseudo wildlife observers. Finally, he agreed and he sent a gunman with us in our vehicle. Shreyas and I felt very happy as it was our first experience to sit in a WT and observe wildlife.
 The RFO reminded us the protocols set by the Forest Department, which had to be followed very strictly when we are in the park. We agreed it is our responsibility to obey the rules and regulations, and started our journey to the WT located amidst the jungle. Nagarahole has two WT’s; one is on the safari track and the other is deep inside the woods. We were told that we’ll be seated in Nagarahole Main WT, which is in deep jungle.
The RFO had permitted us to sit there from 11:45 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The gunman, Shreyas and I, quietly climbed up the steps of the WT. The watchtower is situated in a location from where you can see in all four directions. In front of us was a big waterhole. The first sighting was a herd of elephants in the waterhole; it was an amazing, wild experience of our life.
After an hour, the herd returned to the woods, and later a Guar (Indian Bison) visited a salt lick and thrilled us for the next one hour or so.
Beside the WT was a tree, on which a Langoor monkey (Hanuman Langur) settled down. With their sharp eyesight and keen hearing, the Langoors are the first to spot a predator. It signals with its alarm calls when it sees a predator. So, we thought it is a good sign and crossed our fingers in anticipation of sighting a big cat!
 Exactly at 1:10 p.m. Shreyas suddenly shouted “TIGER… TIGER…” and I was left searching for the tiger. The striped cat descended from a hillock, which is next to the waterhole. Its majestic walk and the fiery looks was a mesmerizing scene. Wow! That was the first tiger sighting in my whole life. The scene cannot be explained in words until it is personally experienced. We witnessed the show for more than 20 minutes and then the tiger disappeared into the woods.
Until 2:30 p.m. we were watchful, hoping we might get a chance of sighting a tiger once again. But, we had to be content with one sighting. We felt very happy and satisfied after seeing a tiger from such close proximity. It is one of the rarest sights in South India. We also spotted Guars, Elephants, Sāmbhar, and Chittals that revisited the waterhole and saltlick.
It was soon 5:00 p.m. and the gunman insisted that we leave from the WT. With the scene of the tiger descending from the hillock still fresh in our memory, we bid goodbye to the wilderness that surrounded us and came back to Gangothri. At 5:45 p.m. the gunman picked us up and we started our journey back to Bangalore.