A drive through Nagarhole National Park (Coorg Part 4)
We were on our way back to Bangalore, ending our Coorg sojourn, and decided to take the route Madikeri – Gonikoppa – Nagarhole – Huskur – Mysore – Bangalore. I was delighted by the prospect of driving through Nagarhole National Park (also known as Rajiv Gandhi National Park) – what if we managed to catch sight of a big cat, or at least one of the predators? How exciting!
We drove through never-ending stretches of coffee estates and tall canopied trees, breathing in lungful of fresh air. After all, that was our last day amid pristine surroundings, till we returned to our polluted, choked lives in the city. I tried to hold on to every picturesque view, right from the scenery to the pretty Kodava women in their typical reverse pleated Saree, and asked the husband to drive slowly. “No,” he said. “Gates to Nagarhole closes at 6.00 pm and we need to reach there before that.”
Even then, we could not stop ourselves from halting here and there to click some beautiful frames along the way. Soon, we entered the plains and vast agricultural lands provided a change of spectacle from the dark green coffee estates. The air had turned relatively hotter but the shade provided by interlinked branches of trees on both sides of the road proved to be a welcome respite. The fact that the trees were heavily laden with beautiful flowers added to the charm.
A candle shop in the middle of nowhere
An interesting tree house
We stopped at Gonikoppa to have our lunch and proceeded towards Nagarhole. We asked a few people for directions and that’s when we learned that Nagarhole had to be pronounced as Nagar-hole-y and not Nagar-whole! Finally, we reached the gates to the national park at around 3.00 pm. Quite an ideal time, I thought, as animals and birds became more active towards the later part of the day.
As we entered Nagarhole National Park, all of us said quick prayers under our breath, wishing for good sightings. “Don’t worry,” Sis assured us from the back seat. “Today will be your lucky day since I am with you.” That started a spar between the husband and my sis as to “Whose luck are you talking of, dude?”
Anyway, they finally decided to keep quiet and channelize their energies towards looking for any animal or birds lurking in the jungle. The husband drove the car really, really slow while other cars zipped us by. I guess they had other important work in life rather than looking for wildlife. But maybe the speed should be curbed a bit as some deer may decide to cross the road.
The first animal to come into our sight was the beautiful Malabar Giant Squirrel. We had seen it in Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary last year, although I remember seeing it first in Mahabaleshwar (Maharashtra) where it is known as Shekru. This red, black and white guy was scurrying along the branches of a tree and we had to be a little patient to get a good view of it. It is an upper-canopy dwelling species, which rarely leaves the trees, and requires "tall profusely branched trees for the construction of nests." While moving from one tree to another, it can cover a distance of around 20 ft in one jump!
Malabar Giant Squirrel
After the giant squirrel, it was the turn of the dainty, docile spotted deer to elate us. They could be seen in pairs, in groups and some even preferring to be solitary. They seemed to be quite oblivious to passing cars and people like us ogling at them from close quarters. Some of the deer were so close that you could reach out your hand and touch them! That made me really squirmy, I mean wouldn’t that be an advantage to a poacher, for instance? I wish these beautiful creatures stopped being so ‘trustful’ and understand that men are the most dangerous predators of all.
But the presence of these deer also told us that there was no predator nearby. The deer were blissfully munching on grass and their alert modes were noticeably down. We did not let this knowledge dishearten us and proceeded to look around closely for any other animal that may decide to honour us with their appearance. There were birds chirping all around us but we could not see them, except for a few bulbuls and shrikes. We did manage to catch sight of the Racket-tailed Drongo and a Lesser Hill Myna couple but they were too far away to get decent shots.
Lesser Hill Myna
Meanwhile, our little brat had started acting cranky. And a good time he had chosen, too. Just when we reached a turn along the road, his cries almost reached a crescendo and there it was – the lonely tusker. We stopped the car to click a picture but realized that it was mistake to do so, because the baby was by now wailing with all his might. The elephant pricked up its ears and stared straight towards us. It sent a chill across my spine thinking what it might do. Reminiscence of the time when my father’s Jeep was lifted off the ground by a huge tusker in Manas and then the subsequent crushing of the vehicle with dad still trapped inside it flashed by in my mind. And dad was travelling with us that day; was there some kind of affinity that he shared with lonely tuskers? I dared not think of it.
The lonely tusker
Meanwhile, the elephant had taken a step towards us. It was around 12-14 metres away from us. “Should I reverse the car?” the husband was confused. “No,” Deta (my dad) called out from behind. “That will only make the elephant more confident. Move fast and do not slacken the car’s speed.”
The husband revved up the car and we passed by the elephant in a jiffy. I believe it was quite a close shave with danger. I also realized that I am no more a madcap regarding wild animals since I became a mother.
Things became a little tame after the elephant episode and we came across more Malabar Giant Squirrels and spotted deer. Some of the squirrels were still napping on the branches and looked quite cute. There were also a number of langurs among the trees and we caught sight of them every now and then. A Crested Serpent Eagle obliged us with its appearance and fixated us with its trademark fierce glare.
Crested Serpent Eagle
We drove past offices of the forest department and saw several safari vehicles getting ready for jungle tours. We noted that there were two safaris on a day, one at 8.00 am and the other at 3.00 pm. Maybe we could come back another time for these safaris.
Some way past the offices and a block of derelict looking abandoned quarters, we came across a huge bison. It was grazing very near the road and we did not want to take chance by stopping for a better photo opportunity. After that, we did not witness any wild animal but there were birds to compensate for it. A Common Hawk Cuckoo teased us with its flighty antics while a Grey Jungle Fowl sauntered around with a regal air about it.
Common Hawk Cuckoo
Grey Jungle Fowl
Red wattled Lapwing
After some time we reached a part of the jungle which looked burnt down. I then remembered reading about the catastrophic forest fire that had engulfed Nagarhole National Park last year in January (2012). It had destroyed over 6,000 acres of forest and huge trees were reduced to cinder. Burnt remains of snakes, monitor lizards, Giant Malabar Squirrels were reported to have been found scattered amid what was once a verdant patch of moist-deciduous forest.
We passed the area with a heavy heart and prayed for it to regain its former beauty very soon. Just then, as if to cheer us up and tell us that all will be well, the beautiful peacock made its appearance. It half-danced across the road and a female showed her presence shortly. Even though we were practically living with peacocks on our balconies when we were in Dwarka, Delhi, it never failed to bring happy smiles on our faces.
Finally, it was time to bid goodbye to Nagarhole National Park and we exited the gates satiated. It was almost 6.00 pm. We had not realized how time had passed while we were inside the jungle. Although Nagarhole had still not fully recuperated from the forest fire, it nevertheless managed to keep us enthralled during the 3 hours that we were there. We hope to be back soon, to take a safari to the depth of the jungle. Till then, I hope the poachers are kept at bay and the animals and birds of Nagarhole National Park remain safe and sound!