Blog 1:

I have just come back from a very adventurous trip to Kitulgala, its the place where the Oscar winning The Bridge on the River Kwai was filmed. This place is Sri Lanka is now known for white water rafting and yours truly had a few brush ups with the blessed travel agent and finally after her companion, - the office receptionist who had promised to accompany yours truly to assist with photography and give me graceful company did not turn up, I went to Kitulgala by a rickety old bus from Colombo on the day the New Year holidays started - on the 11th of April. All of Sri Lanka's vehicles were on Colombo's roads and the cops were also ofcourse busy celebrating the onset of holidays so mayhem ruled the traffic lanes. It took 3 hours for me to wait for my princess not to turn up before I decided to go it alone and another 1 and a half hours for me to reach that bus station in a place called Pittahkotu in Colombo. Once there, I asked a hapless cop to guide me to the bus to Hatton. Buses were parked crosswise and if you had the misfortune of being anywhere near the tyres of the bus that could move without warning and you are mowed down, just too bad. That is the way it is, in Colombo, take it or leave it. My boss was actually very worried about how I would manage alone with my huge camera bag and tripod besides luggage alone on a day when chaos would start ruling.

On reaching the bus station the cop whom I asked for help barked at a driver to take care of me till I board a bus to Hatton. He in turn brought me to the head of a long queue of people waiting for the Hatton bus. None knew if an AC inter city bus would come at all that day! I did not see any bus platforms, ticket counters or staff of the so called bus station. So wait I did at the head of the queue. After 25 minutes of roasting and getting stuck, literally amidst perspiring oily haired women and men, I panicked at the sight of the bus heading straight towards me! Then out of nowhere a uniformed guy took my luggage and blocked the mad rush of people storming in to help me get into the bus. Once inside, I was kind of ok. I called my boss that I was in on piece and that I would be leaving if the bus moved, in 20 minutes. It moved indeed. People were standing even on my toes, because of the maddening holiday surge and there was a traffic jam even in hill country. After rumbling along for 4 hours I finally arrived in Kitulgala barely 75 kilometres from Colombo.

I was honestly not prepared for what I saw. This place is not for the run of the mill also ran tourist, not for romancing people either, it is for the hardened serious traveler of the Lonely Planet type. I have done white water rafting before, I have stayed in many beautiful eco tourist resorts... but words fail me now to express the beauty of this place called Rafters Retreat,. I was booked in a log cabin, made wholly of wood and not a plastic anywhere in sight. The log cabin or tree house is set in the midst of rich evergreen rainforests, quite the way you see it in the movie. Birds start chirping early morning from the wines and saplings creeping up the balcony demanding your attention. The tree house literally overhangs the Kelani river, and I was actually waiting for more cheap thrills like dangling over the mouth of a hungry crocodile. But alas there are no crocs in this river! The flooring, also made of wood, is not even, you might roll down literally from the bed because of the sloping floor. But well, its a tree house, what did you think Malini? The bathroom is a cave, lined with rocks and granite blocks; herbal snails as big as my palm stick to the granite walls. The contraption that passes for a shower is a chiseled rock and so you cannot quite regulate the flow of water. If you turn on the tap, you can be assured of washing away your sins and cynicism in 8 minutes flat. The water is simply too cold for you to indulge in an elephant bath like I do in Colombo twice or thrice a day. Handcrafted lanterns adorn the lampshades and the mirror is literally framed in a couple of wooden logs. The candle stand is a piece of uneven rock. The chairs are also wooden logs, flattened, revealing the tree rings and all. Its rustic charm, rustic beauty of Mother Nature,... all the way. Oh I was so lost!

I went to eat food...ummmm authentic Sri Lankan food, with lots of coconut milk, coconut gratings, coconut shellings and everything with coconut and ofcourse my new found favourite red rice. The curries were so good, so spicy and authentic... ummmm I can have some more. That evening after I completed the interview to do the article I met with a group of Europeans who were to be my raft mates the next day. I need to introduce them to you... for you to understand my very frisky rafting experience. Jeronimo Candela is the Deputy Head of Mission of the Doctors of the World - Spain, his wife Dominique, Miguel, a travel agent and his wife - although her advanced pregnancy disallowed her to come rafting, Fabrice and his friend Marekatha, and myself were to go rafting. I was taking pictures of every single object in three different cameras while on dry land. And very smartly I took the auto focus and digital cameras with me for the rafting. They warned me that 70 - 75 % of the times people take a toss at Killers Fall, so if I insist on taking my cameras I better make sure they are safe in a water proof bag. I did take the 2 cameras and with water proof bubble wraps but once inside the boat when I started shooting pictures, it was difficult to put the cameras after every shot into the plastic bag, so I kept them in their tarpaulin covers / bags. We survived the first and second rapid alright. Fabrice was showing the whole world how much he loved his girl, and I was actually taking pictures. At one point he actually admonished me if I behave like paparazzi journalist! I turned away to take a wide angle of a lush green valley that you see in the movie... Bingo, the raft commander said forward paddle please because we were almost crashing against the rock. If only he had asked forward paddle a couple of seconds before we would certainly have avoided the rock and been midstream. Then we could have conveniently fallen or cascaded along. But bingo we hit the rock and a gentle nudge was enough to push the raft outside the grip of the perch on the rock. But after being perched when someone pushed the oar into the rock to enable us to move along... we plunged headlong vertically into the fall. If we had not perched on the rock, we would have cascaded down with the mass of water and moved along. But plunge we did, and in the excitement of falling headlong, Jero who was rafting at the right hand forecorner of the raft virtually got to his feet, that means on a plunging raft he was akin to sleeping against the water! As he crashed against the water, it threw him right onto me, while I was sitting in on my haunches in the hull of the raft on the 2nd seat. When he crashed against me (my right side), the force took me to the left and I fell right into the water, hold on I took Jero along with me ! Minutes before that Marki and someone else had fallen in a the 2nd rapid I think. It was my turn now, but alas I do not know how to swim... A lot of water went into my mouth, throat, lungs and nostrils... till the amount of water equivalent to my weight was displaced I was drowning, then the life jacket worked. It brought me afloat. But by then I was atleast a mile away from the raft!!! Current was really swift at that point. I saw my blessed cameras floating in front of me in their bags! I screamed my cameras! but it only took more water into my mouth. By the time I came to the surface, I was in panic breathing helplessly and saying ayyo ayyo amma amma...

But by then Jeronimo, (in Spanish J is pronounced as H) was right there with me having wrapped me from behind and arrested my frontal movement by holding the oar against me. He asked me if I was alright and told me to calm down, that everything would be ok. By then the boatman from the 2nd boat came to me, and started gently tugging me away. I asked what must I do, because I was kicking my legs violently though I was vertical in water. I could not retain my balance. So Jero told me to just lay down on my back and look up at the sky. I did, and the current took me to shallow waters. The boatman and Jero asked me to stand there and wait for the boat to come to us. I was actually standing on slippery rocks and could not balance again. I would not let go off Jero's hand...and when the boat came it crashed against me and I think I lost my balance. I told them to take the boat to the shore a couple of feet away lest I could not climb in. then, in all that confusion, I took out my extra film rolls from my pocket and gave it to the boatman who had rescued me, asking him to keep it till I went to dry land. I climbed in and we went rafting further down again. Later in placid waters I went down into the water to enjoy Mother Nature again for a few minutes more. All my raft mates were downstream enjoying. But Fabrice started swimming against the current to get ito the raft for he was exhausted. He asked me to let go of the raft so that he could stop swimming against the current, I would not, instead the boatman managed to steer the boat with me limp against it towards these guys, they got in, we rafted another 30 minutes or so and came back to our resort. Man, what an experience!

I will need awhile to recover from the shock but I hope to be foolhardy enough one day to risk one more such adventure ... someday hopefully. But please do rest assured I was having great fun. I enjoyed every moment of it except when I panicked I guess. Huh that’s the story. Later ofcourse I trekked quite a bit to take a lot of pictures and even went to the Beli-lena caves. That’s another story please read it online when I send you the links.

Blog 2:

My dear friends and well wishers
I recently undertook a 7 article expedition to the Dandeli wildlife sanctuary and Anshi National Park in Uttar Kannada district of Karnataka. For those who do not know where these are located, its just south of Goa on the border with Karnataka.

My adventures began 3 hours after I left Bangalore's busy roads. The bus broke down with break failure on National Highway 4. 4 kilometres before or after Sira in Tumkur district at 12.00 midnight! We were all ordered to alight from the bus and take the next best set of wheels to the forest! I had young assistant and 8 pieces of luggage for 8 days! We could also trek it up - another 300 kilometres for all they cared! They did not refund the money on the ticket they did not radio the nearest bus depot they did not even call the nearest depot and we were only 2 ladies among 45 other passengers struggling for a torch on the sides of one of India's worst highways. After an hour of tension we finally managed to board a rickety express bus to Hubli and reached the Hubli bus stand toilets at around 6.30 a.m. by when we ought to have been in the comforts of the forest guest house in Dandeli itself!

After arriving there I let myself get roasted like raw cashews in the scorching heat while trekking it up to the forest office but the lady IFS officer who heads this wildlife division was away in Anshi for inspection. So I waited, slept it out and the next day my true adventures began.

Its very sad to meet victims of wildlife attack. How they have been mauled while going about their duty. One had his entire mandible and maxilla ripped off by the sloth bear. Restoration of his molar teeth meant jaw line was not stitched properly so now he cannot open his mouth properly. Another's scalp was torn off. Another had his thigh bone ripped off by that monstrous lonely sloth bear. Another guy has an injured hip bone, another's face and eye sockets were gouged off, another's rib-bone ripped off........ I met 8 victims in all, and each had a sorrier tale to tell. They are illiterate Gouli tribals and some of them did not even know that they had to seek compensation from the ubiquitous Karnataka Forest Department

Then I made my way to the abandoned mine pits where so called ecological restoration of the debris has commenced like restoration of soil nutrition. Well, the abandoned mine pits are now collecting rain water and serve as water holes to the wildlife. Around these pits the forest department is planting up timber yielding species like Acacia auriculiformis to restore the soil nutrition. These wonderful and photogenic green foliaged trees reflect oh so romantically in the brown green tinged water hole! It is a sight to behold you can view these pictures on the photo gallery in our website...After shooting in Chaavarli, Shanmukha, Shirolli, Potolli, Phansolli, Mandurli Virnoli and what have you I came back to Dandeli looking like Manganese Ore myself! You should see how much I have tanned, it is incredible. Then the next day I met some Kanubi tribals to record a song of theirs for my eco tourism documentary. Early morning and late evening I kept recording sound effects of birds chirping, the sound effects of boats getting into the Kalinadi, the crocodile splashing into the river, etc.

Then I went to Jungle Lodges and Resorts where I had been invited to stay. God what a riot it was. They took me white water rafting. Words can never describe the thrills one experiences! The radio documentary on the white water rafting is ready! The Karnataka Power Corporation had released 25000 cusses of water so we went rafting for 9 kilometres. I do not even know swimming. And I am physically challenged, my cheek to go I tell ya. The first rapid begins after we plunge 3 metres headlong! God, what a thrill. Then we keep drifting and lapping forward, lapping backward stirring holding on etc till we come to the next rapid. Only the first rapid plunges us so dramatically after that it’s just fringe excitement. Technically the first rapid is called third grade rapid and the rest are more humble ones ranging between 1st and 2nd grade rapids. We drift along through pristine evergreen forests oh it’s so cosmic. The water is so cool, the scenery so ethereal that one forgets all hassles in life for a couple of hours. I had some cheek to get into the water that is 80 feet deep. I cannot swim even to save my life but the temptation was too much to resist for impulsive me. Just got in! God! I started belching my lungs out in excitement. But for Eric our rafting commander I would never ever have had the guts to get into the water. I screamed my lungs out before I was pulled in kicking and screaming, because I would rather have stayed there! What a thrill oops!. What a thrill that was. The life jacket refused to let me into deeper waters damn.

Then once we came back to Dandeli it was serious work again, interviews, collection of water samples from Kalinadi where West Coast Paper Mills is discharging untreated effluents into the river. It looks like thick brown nailpolish. Indians do not know what we have, or they don't care if we lose what we have I tell you. It is pathetic. Thick brown effluents coming directly from West Coast Paper Mills into the Kalinadi. The sediment on the shallow river bed has left it light green and dark brown tinged in clear waters reflecting the romantic green of the surrounding forests. What a pity that tonnes of fish in the river are dying. But the crocodiles seem to be thriving in the polluted waters. There are more than 200 crocodiles in a 15 kilometre stretch. When we went coracle riding or drifting we even felt a crocodile thud under the coracle ! Oops how frisky! Imagine falling trap in croc infested waters. Anyway I saw 14 crocodiles in all, one a great grandfather of the Kali river crocs. He ignored us royally and got it into the waters after paddling up the shore line. Another croc threw dirty looks at us for disturbing her young ones in the lagoon. There are islands in the river where these monsters nurse their young ones! And they flourish with gay abandon. I also saw a herd of 150 spotted deer very close to the Dandeli road. 300 eyes reflecting against the torch light. I yelled at the guides for using torch lights.

Then we made our way to Anshi National Park. This is a rain forest and one cannot see even a centimetre of ground. We traversed through thick arduous forests formidable terrain, enroute to interview villagers in Nethurga and Shivpura for they have to be resettled as the National Park has been legally notified and boundaries drawn up. After meeting them I was coming back to the Nature camp tent (where we had stayed overnight without electricity and some very basic food and facilities, but it was raw fun). Just three kilometres before the nature camp I saw a Black Panther cub. It was coming out of the bamboo grooves into the road. For once I did not scream in excitement. I just pointed my finger, but the driver was speeding because I had a bus to catch to Bangalore. We reversed the jeep and the creature was still coming towards the jeep or the road! These people - Jahnavi, the ranger and the driver got down after they confirmed that it was a Black Panther cub indeed. These guys got down and it did not seem bothered at all. They went close by and at that moment its mother called out I guess so it made its way to the bushes. It just walked away looking at us with all the curiosity of the cat. It looked just like a big fat black cat. Oh it was so cute so cute so cute that it only looked like the cartoon panther just walking out that is all - harmless, innocent and would rather be left alone. It is ssssssssso cute that it is incredible. I fell in love with that cub. I did not take a picture because in one camera the film was over and in the other I needed the tripod to shoot, which is not practical with the wildlife. In any case when one sees such fantastic creatures one has to enjoy the moment rather than sight visions of money. It was a moment to cherish I tell ya. I loved the Black Panther tooooo cute for words. 15 hours later I was in Bangalore, back to blighted reality! Hmm.

Lots of love

Blog 3:

Namaste my dear friends, well wishers colleagues, producers, Editors, and cousins,

I want to share with you my excitement of having participated in the Wild Elephant Census 2005

At this stage I must share with you all, the touching, personal care the forest staff took of me both in Bangalore and in Chamrajnagar. I told them honestly at forest headquarters in Bangalore itself that I am very interested in participation, but all these years I have feared participating in this, given the fact that I am physically challenged. They were very encouraging. They, specifically Mr. Anur Reddy, Conservator of Forests Wildlife, Forest Dept., Bangalore, counseled me to take up water count method which does not call for walking in arduous terrain in the forests. He also immediately called up the Chamrajnagar WL office and left a word with the Deputy Conservator of Forests that I will be participating in the Census and that I might perhaps be fit to do only the water hole count. I knew the DCF and the DCF was apparently apprehensive of my fitness. But he was told to let me participate in the water hole count anyway.

Well, water hole count calls for volunteers like us sitting watch over a particular water hole where there are watch towers usually. A forester or forest guard / watcher sits with us with a wireless set cracking. And we are supposed to keep a count of all animals that visit the water hole from Sunrise to Sunset on a given day. We are supposed to count the number of elephants / animals in a herd, mark their gender and age, time of sighting and the activity it / they indulged in. They could be having a blast in the water, they could be munching on the creepers, they could be resting, or they could be socialising or even romancing! It’s really exciting, trust me.

So after we - my good friend from All India Radio and myself - landed in the Chamrajnagar WL office, we were already one day late for the elephant census. But since I had called earlier and sought permission to participate only in the Water Hole Count, we were indeed well received. The officials had apparently waited for us to arrive but when we had not arrived till 5.30 p.m. on 5th May, they left for the Billi Giri Ranga Hills Wildlife Sanctuary which is about 45 kilometres from the district headquarters - Chamrajnagar. They had actually been worried that we had not arrived there till then and had called up Forest HQ in Bangalore to enquire about us! Then after our tardy 5 1/2 hours lunarscape journey to Chamrajnagar from Mysore, the forest officials in their office cracked on the wireless and informed the mobile wireless sets for the forest officials enroute to BRT about our arrival. Incredibly, the forest officials asked me to wait there, for, once they reached the forest they would send the jeep back to Chamrajnagar to have us picked up. I was touched by their personal attention, because though all volunteers had been asked to assemble at the forest office the previous day to be ferried to the different forest ranges in the Chamrajnagar WL division, they were still sending a jeep exclusively for us, after they had reached their destinations in the forest. The block count method was undertaken on 5th May and we had missed out on it firstly because I couldn't possibly have covered a few odd square kilometres on foot looking for wild elephants, and secondly we had a few hiccups before leaving.

Finally we landed at the Kyathadevaragudi range of the BRT WL sanctuary at 9.30 p.m on 5th May. The forest officer asked us to join him for dinner and then I was given a room which was still vacant. It was so vacant that they bed too was missing! My AIR colleague decided to rough it out on the couch in the forest guest house while I was given another set of cushions to make do for a bed. Well we were tired and managed to slumber off. It was early next morning... really early for me to get up at 4.30 and get ready for the day. The boys as far as I knew did not even bother to shower.

The forest department had made excellent logistics arrangements. Volunteers were grouped off with an accompanying forest watcher or a guard and sent in jeeps to various water holes. We were given food packets for lunch and breakfast besides water bottles and the data forms. I was further equipped with pens, tablets, toilet paper, sun glasses, hat etc. We had a forest watcher with his famous wireless set and a Soliga tribesman whose sense of smell, feel and touch was incredible. The forest staff had prepared detailed lists of volunteers and accompanying forest guards and waters and designated to each water hole or forest block as the case maybe. The forest guard had been assigned responsibility of the volunteers’ safety, duties for the volunteer, technical knowledge of observation for the conduct of the census itself, and we volunteers were bundled off with marking of time of arrival at each observation station (in our case that day it was water holes) and estimated duty schedule, besides estimated time of pick up. We were even enlightened of the meaning of phrases like sub adult, Makanas, and how to gauge the age of an elephant.

I had with me a young teenaged daughter of a forest officer, besides a late entrant from the Jungle Lodges (Sunil) and another young 12 year old boy (Karan) with me. Enroute to Basavannikere, the whole lot of us - 16 I think in the jeep, saw a herd of 9 Bos Gaurus - popularly known as bisons. A lil’ further we saw a herd of around 27 to 30 spotted deer. Then another lonely spotted deer, and two Rhesus monkeys. We were the first to be dropped off at the first water hole on this jeep's route. We arrived @ Basavannikere exactly at 6.55 a.m. at the K Gudi forest range of the Billigiri Ranga Hill Temple Wildlife Sanctuary. When we were still alighting from the jeep in which more than 16 people were squashed like cabbage leaf, Bingo there came a family of 3 adult female elephants chaperoning a baby. The forest guard - Pasha quietened us with his index finger on his lips and gesticulated to us to hurry up to the watch tower. We - Myself, Sarayu, the forest officer's daughter, Karan the 12 year old boy and Pasha scrambled up to the watch tower, while the jeep hurtled off. The elephants were about 70 feet away from us at that moment. The Soliga boy scrambled up to the nearest tree.

Once we were inside the watch tower we noted down on a piece of paper the number of females, their approximate age, etc. There were 3 females and one Baby which was about 45 days old, according to Pasha. The beasts splashed into the water and we were so excited to watch this, that one of us spoke something I don't remember who. That was enough for the elephants to ring the alarm bells... they quietly left the pool and walked away from the left side. When they disappeared it was 7.03 a.m. On our left was dense forest cover behind which we could barely make out their outlines as they were marching to safety from human rascals. When we sight wildlife in the forest or for that matter if you sight wildlife in the forest next time, do everyone else with you a big favour and keep your vocal chords silent, please. I know it is very hard to keep shut with so much excitement and especially if you have a chatter box like me around, but I also shut up when I am trailing wildlife.

The watch tower was rusted and was making such a noise every time one of us moved a muscle. An hour later Pasha went down to sit with his Soliga friend for breakfast. We stayed up. Half an hour passed and not a fly to be seen. I became restless and so I walked down cautiously with Sarayu. It was around 8.45 when Pasha noted that there were a couple of elephants far away to our northwest and they were likely to come down to the water hole. He ushered us back to the tower. We scrambled back. We had to wait another 25 minutes to have them show themselves up. Finally they appeared clearly between 9.10 and 9.23 a.m. They started making their way to the water hole but just before getting into the water they smelt human beings. Both mother and daughter started charging towards the watch tower! Goodness we were excited and panicky at the same time. They threw their trunks into the air - apparently to smell us. They trumpeted noisily rebelling against us. They knew that we were there somewhere. Owing to their poor eyesight they could not quite sight us. They were still hurtling towards the watch tower. Then suddenly, the mother pulled at her daughter, and turned around to a trench between the watch tower and the water hole. They felt much safer in the trench I guess for they had the cover of bushes, trees and the narrow trench. We actually heard them scream out in stress and call out to their herd or family or whatever. In seconds they disappeared beyond the trench into the forest cover on our left side.

I guess the forest was so dense on our left side - on the left of the water hole - that all elephants that came to the hole that day found their way to the forest cover on this side of the water hole. Elephants use their own well trodden path; they get traumatised by disturbance to their habitat. They are used to their own ilk and family, they need their space and habitat. These are the elements which make a patch of forest an "elephant corridor". Believe me when I say this, it is epiphanic, nay ethereal to watch the mighty beasts so sensitive to our presence... they look so utterly vulnerable smelling us constantly out of fear, yet evoking awe and fear in us hapless, yet merciless human beings. That’s a spiritual call, trust me. I loved the elephants and for a moment hated our own species. It is touching, you know, - their sensitivity and awesome might seem to us. Amazing!

We were seated for a while longer inside the rattling watch tower. Then Sarayu and myself came down again, sought the permission of Pasha to walk up a distance of atleast 100 feet. Pasha permitted us to go only as far as a particular tree some 100 odd feet away and to come back in 5 minutes. We just went to stretch our muscles. By the time we came back, Pasha had cushioned himself under the shade of a luscious tree with the leaves of a tree. He looked really comfortable in the sweltering heat. The poor Soliga was still looking out into the shaded horizon for wildlife. We too came to the fallen trunk of the Mathi Mara (Mathi tree) or Terminalia tomentosa - tropical deciduous tree whose foliage is actually used by forest staff to douse forest fires. We seated ourselves on it. Pasha came up to us saying he could hear the jeep rumbling somewhere and that forest officials will come to check on us any moment and that if we are outside the watch tower he will lose his job. So we went back to the rattling watch tower. The heat was stifling inside the tower. 10 minutes later without any trace of the jeep, we came down again! This time we went behind the watch tower well behind the fallen trunk, and, incredibly, lay down on the forest floor. I covered my face with my Panama hat and uttered a prayer on my lips to save me from the elephants, because if they were to come back to the water hole from the dense forest cover on our left they would certainly cut across the path where we were audaciously lying down. I was actually lying on shrubs and a thorny bush scrapped my right forearm. At that moment we heard an elephant trumpet not so far ahead from where we were lying. We scrambled to our feet again and looked at Pasha rather sheepishly and quietly made our way to the watch tower.

I drew Sarayu's attention to a spotted deer which ran across from right to left near the tree upto which we had gone walking. Then we heard repeated alarm calls of some animal a little farther away from the tree upto which we had gone walking earlier. Pasha told us that it was a barking deer's shrill call alerting all and sundry about some predator close by. Now I knew why the spotted deer ran for its life. We were fervently hoping that the leopard would show up. Pasha clarified that it has to be a leopard because no tiger had been sighted here. Later this was disputed by the forest ranger who said this is indeed tiger territory. The barking deer kept its shrill alarm for atleast 20 minutes. Later we heard a Langur Monkey - the black faced silver haired monkey calling out in alarm beyond the dense forest cover on the left side of the watch tower. I gathered, and Pasha concurred, that the leopard or whatever carnivore it was, must have moved away. The barking deer quietened down.

A bevy of ants were making their way from the bushes to god knows where. Orchids and climbers hung daintily from the railings of the watch tower's steps. We climbed up the tower and then the jeep came rambling. A photographer alighted from the forest jeep. I could not help asking the ranger how this guy was allowed to shoot when we were explicitly told not to bring our cameras. I was told that he is the official department photographer. By then a 50 year old lonely princess of the Elephant kingdom had entered the water hole at the far end rather quietly. Royal folk are known for their grace and quiet demeanor right? Another tourist from the Jungle Lodges alighted from the jeep - and joined us in the census. He too had brought his food and water. The forest officials were really doing a good job, as far as I could see. Pasha ushered us inside because a Matriarch was present at the opposite shore of the water hole. This lady - the Matriarch of Basavannikere section in the K Gudi forest range of the Billigiri Ranga Hill Temple Wildlife Sanctuary was indeed a desolate depressed melancholic sentimental and rather thinny old Cow Elephant. She looked rather forlorn with her ribs jutting out like unpainted nails of a old matriarch who has renounced worldly life. She stayed in and around the water hole for a good 50 minutes from11.00 a.m. to 11.50 a.m. Finally she sauntered away from the shore at the far end of the water hole.

Karan, and Sarayu sat down with their legs dangling out of the railings at the entrance of the watch tower door while I went down to chat up with the forest guard. Pasha looked deeply into the bushes near the tree up our walking path. Two Sambhars were browsing at the bushes. He pointed out with his forefinger, careful not to crack the human vocal chord. I looked at the Sambhar - tiger's favourite prey, - they were three in number, and I waved to the kids at the watch tower to come down and watch these wonderful genteel beasts. By the time these two kids came down the rattling rusting stairs of the wretched watch tower the beasts ran away!

Then I asked Karan who was bored stiff to count all the birds that he would sight that day. I taught him how to count in the barcode way in multiples of 5. He did it for a while and gave up because it proved a tad difficult for him I guess. He asked me innocently "Auntie do I have to count all the birds even if I don't know their names ?" Well what could I say? I just said try your best and do it as long as you can."

Around 1.00p.m. another group of 4 elephants with one male sub adult and 3 adult Cow elephants came to the water hole. They splashed around for 20minutes before leaving for the dense forest cover on the left side of the watch tower. Then at 2.15 another set of 3 elephants came by. They too splashed. Ooh they had a baby with them right in the middle. They bathed in the sweltering heat of the afternoon and graciously went up the left bank. There were two cow elephants and one male sub adult. These guys knew we were there. They became rather suspicious and edgy inside the pool when they felt our phony presence. Quietly, slowly but decisively they had to usher their rebellious baby out of the water. But they succeeded eventually 20 or 25 minutes later.

After 3.00p.m. it was party time. Elephants were coming in larger numbers. Oh but listen to this. Sunil, the jungle lodges tourist had his packet of rice Pulav and could not keep his eyes open so he went down to dose off against the fallen trunk. He was apparently in deep slumber when the Soliga boy, still atop a tree gesticulated to all of us in the watch tower that he had seen some big creature, his excitement was telling. Pasha who was munching his lunch rather respectfully on the steps of the rusted watch tower hurriedly packed off his lunch and ran down to rescue Sunil! Sunil was apparently snoring! Pasha just woke him up rather rudely unapologetic to say the least! Imagine being woken up like that! Poor Sunil later told me that it took a couple of seconds for him to understand what happened. By then Pasha had figured that nothing less than a lone tusker was on its way! He brought back Sunil to the watch tower. It was only after a wait of 30 good minutes that the tusker - a huge mature male of 35 - 40 years appeared behind a cluster of bushes making his way to the water hole.

Except the Soliga boy we were all ensconced in the watch tower, breathless with excitement. He took his time to saunter into the northern shore of the water hole. Just when he was a couple of steps away from the water he turned around and went away. That was so disappointing. He made us wait for so long, and though we saw enough of him to mark statistics, he did not give us a display in the water. It took another 15 minutes for the Soliga boy to come down and tell us that he had seen the tusker disappear at the far end. By then our water bottles were all exhausted. Pasha asked the Soliga boy to fetch us some water. He took our bottles and went away for a good 40 minutes. When he did come back he brought with him 4 bottles of light brown coloured water. I told Sunil, "well we are in the forests let us rough it out, I shall even skip brushing my teeth in the night". He did not utter a word, he opened the cap of the bottle and downed some water. I followed him, Sarayu followed after me. Karan too drank a bit, I think. Incredibly, the water was very sweet, not the sour taste of salty water, one would have expected of light golden brown water! It was real fresh water from some spring in the forest. It felt really refreshing to soak in the blessings of Mother Nature like this.

By then another elephant had gotten into the water in a loud splash. He was having a blast. Whether or not he knew of our presence seemed immaterial. He was out to have fun. The shadows had just started lengthening on the western front, and he was making the best use of the summer cool. He was actually prancing about in the algae infested waters of the water hole. Then he started coming to the centre of the tank. A tall tree hid my view so I moved a foot away and the rusted watch tower creaked in agony. Pasha who was also watching from inside the watch tower agonised on his face for the noise I made. I twitched, regretting the whole thing, by then the elephant had positioned himself under the broken trunk of the tree inside the pool. He started scrubbing himself vigorously. It made such a strange noise that Sunil looked at me questioningly. I had no clue what it was. Then Pasha whispered that this guy was scrubbing himself. Sunil clarified that the sap of the trunk must have served him as a bath loofah. He splashed around for a while more and then swam around then he scrubbed himself again and swam again then slowly but very reluctantly he moved out of the water. He went right around the tree where our Soliga boy was perched and came behind the watch tower. Pity we could not turn around in the watch tower just as noiselessly. Then this elephant trumpeted rather loudly while marching behind us. We came out of the watch tower and stood at the door of the tower high above the ground. At that point our elephant friend started coming menacingly very close to the watch tower and crossed the point where Sarayu and myself had actually laid down in the morning. Worse, it sniffed my toilet spot behind the big bush, which really scared me. What if he could smell my DNA or genes from what I had left behind? Believe me I was scared at that moment. He was joined by another cow elephant which was hanging out there, which we had not seen till then.

In barely another ten minutes we had a mother and son pair of elephants coming into the water for a late afternoon shower. They had a decent bath for about 20 minutes and also came back on the same path where our friend had passed through to the lowlands adjacent to the dense forest cover on our left side. Ah! finally with the setting Sun, we could clearly sight all the pachyderms that had made their way to the forest on the left side since morning. I saw atleast another 6 elephants, a few in pairs . They were grooming each other playing with each other and generally socialising. They were making quite a racket there. But I could trace their brown bodies under the thick forest cover for they had showered themselves with cool mud after their cosmic shower in the water hole. At close up we could see that one guy's coat had a shine to it after that fantastic indulgence in the water. Now I know what is meant by an elephant bath!

It was a surreal experience. By the time we entered the data of this last count after 5.00 p.m. the jeep came to pick us up! Oh what a pity. We had to get away from there, alongwith our litter bag, water bottles data file and our personal kits. I had a whole department store in that utility jacket of mine. On our way back to the guest house we saw another herd of 11 bisons - Bos gaurus, and another herd of 15 spotted deer. It was a once in a life time experience and none should miss it if one is around in India at the time of elephant or tiger census. It’s worth the effort. Not much effort actually. We should be grateful to the forest department for inviting us to participate.

I wanted to share my cosmic experience with you all.

Warm regards


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