Roads winding down and up, twisting and turning through hills and jungles. A steady buzzing grows in your head – as if to keep company with the chirping of birds – magnified by the silence around you, You look through the trees, half afraid of the jungle beast lurking around somewhere just out of your sight. If he comes out, would you be able to hold his gaze? You turn off the music in your car. The sound outside is much more pleasant. You choose the fresh air over the air conditioning in your car, because, let’s face it – the green smells so much better than an ambi-pure’d lavender. You think of anyone who might have walked through these paths. You know you are not allowed to stop and take pictures. You keep going, eyes strained, hardly remembering the city you left an hour or two behind.
A little way ahead of Mysore, on the way to Ooty, lies the pristine, green forests of Mudumalai. The Mudumalai wildlife sanctuary is divided into five ranges – Masinagudi, Thepakadu, Mudumalai, Kargudi and Nellakota. Lying on the north-western side of the Nilgiri Hills, this area is not just a declared tiger reserve, but also home to critically endangered Indian White-rumped Vulture and long-billed vulture. To the untrained eye though, the most one can spot are the wild elephants, herd of deer, peacocks in their feathered glory, and maybe – if you are lucky – a royal Bengal tiger.
Our decision to visit Masinagudi had more to do with the amount of time we had on our hands (the weekend) and the terrain I wished to go to for my only break before I joined my new job (anything to do with hills). My sister and brother-in-law consulted, researched and finally made the decision to drive down with me.
Masinagudi is the lesser known sibling in the Mudumalai clan. Sharing borders with Karnataka and Kerala, Masinagudi falls under the Tamil Nadu region. From Bangalore we took around 6 hours – including stops at various locations to take pictures and to eat a hearty brunch at Kamath’s (The aforementioned brunch consisted of anything and everything imaginable – idli, dosa, vada, upma, poha, sheera, khichri and homemade grape juice). Armed with google maps and a pretty reliable GPS navigator, we managed to cover the 240-odd kilometers within the set time.
In Masinagudi you will find lots of guest-houses, resorts and home stays to choose from. We booked ourselves in De Rock Jungle Living Resort. As an all-inclusive place, we didn’t have to worry about the food or the facilities – which were all pretty much up to the mark. There are cottages and tree-houses to choose from. (We stuck to the former and were lodged in two rooms – with balconies and a very clean bathroom).
As soon as we had freshened up, however, I went and settled myself on a cushion in the balcony. The view was spectacular. All around us were the Nilgiri Hills – lightly green at the time – but would soon turn blue and then pitch black in some hours. The area between the hill and the cottage was uncluttered, with some trees lining the sides and a place to light your own bonfire. After the lunch hour, we went walking within the resort ground. There was the lunch room, a decent sized volleyball court, next to a slightly muddy basketball court. Tree houses were lines behind the trees. On the other side were the pet animals – from hens and ducks to turkeys and emus. A two year old pug, which answers to the name of Bolt, was there to guide us through the plantation. Bolt seemed to be the brave sort – except when it came anywhere close to the other 3 dogs kept in cages – two Dobermans and a German shepherd. The growling ones were kept as guard dogs and would be let out only at night. The owner of the place knew what he was talking about. “We get visited by elephants almost every night. And leopards once in a while as well. We have to make sure that the lodgers and our animals are all safe”, he said, smiling, only as if to add a touch of mystery.
The idea that leopards can come inside the resort and that elephants have no qualms about visiting every other night left me sleepless. Add to that were the notices and the government rule which declared that the road to Masinagudi would be closed from 10 pm to 6 am. We managed to stay up till around 3 am to see if an elephant to surprise us with his visit, but even if he did, we could not see a thing. So we did the next best thing – book a safari early in the morning.
The safari, which starts from the Mudumalai wildlife center takes you around the core areas of the jungle. We managed to catch sight of gazzion of deers, a few peacocks and one wild elephant. Some wild boars and such were also visible once in a while. After 2 hours, once we were back – we realised it was just a matter of luck, like it always is with animals. And as always, my luck never favours me in places of such wild, primal interests. We did visit the elephant feeding centre and saw the domesticated ones being given a bath and being fed mounds of well… un-edible looking things. The notice board at the tourist centre listed down how many tigers and leopards had been visible in the last month itself. According to the forest department’s record – we were two days too late. The groups who had come just two days before us had managed to see not just a tiger, but a leopard, a black panther and a bear. The injustice!!!
We decided since the jungle isn’t really warming up to us, except for the guest house and the absolutely delicious food they served there, we should make a move. Thus we finished our weekend-drive – via Mysore to finally reach Bangalore – hoping that somehow or the other the luck changes and a wild animal suddenly comes ahead. Maybe next time. Maybe there is a quota for how many times you can visit wildlife reserves and still not see something. Maybe soon.