Close encounters of the wild kind need patience and luck, writes Manu Remakant
The mist envelopes the road. But Sultan Bathery-Gundulpet Road seems to be programmed in the mind of the bus driver. Or else, how can he drive when visibility ends where his nose starts?
The crisp morning air is invigorating and one can see signs of life on the road. One has stare into the mist to decipher the outlines that one sees.
Finally the bus come to a halt. We have reached Muthanga. From Sultan Bathery, it takes only 30 minutes to reach Muthanga. The mist has still not cleared. “You will miss most of the animals in the sanctuary,” says Rafeeq a jeep driver.
The 23-kilometre journey through the sanctuary can be under taken only in the right vehicle. Visitors can explore the sanctuary only in sturdy vehicles.
Motor cycles, 800-cc cars, autorickshaws and so on are banned inside the sanctuary. “See that jeep? An elephant attacked it once, but the tourists escaped,” says Rafeeq revving his jeep. A guide joins us and we are off to explore the Muthanga wildlife sanctuary.
In the sanctuary
Soon, we leave behind all signs of habitation, including some shacks on the trees. The verdant forest envelopes us. The path is littered with big anthills, waist-high, on either side.
“The tourists who came yesterday were lucky. They saw a tiger,” shouts the guide who is travelling on the rear footboard of the jeep.
A little later, the guide taps softly. The jeep comes to a screeching halt. “Deer,” he whispers. All of us get atop the jeep. False alarm.
Sunlight filters in through the branches of huge trees creating an ever-changing canvas of light and shadow. Every moving shadow on the road prompts the visitor to look up to catch glimpses of monkeys whizzing around at dizzy heights.
A peacock laboriously flaps its wings across the path and vanishes before we were even aware of its presence. But Rafeeq, the driver, is concentrating on something else, far above. “You see it?”
We strain our eyes to catch something moving on the top branches of a bamboo plant. Is it a monkey? “No it is a giant mountain squirrel. You are indeed lucky to see it,” says Rafeeq.
Suddenly, it makes a long jump from one branch to another, making itself visible. It seems to be testing the sturdiness of the light branches and then it quietly vanishes in the dense greenery. We proceed further and we see a scene that seems to have been borrowed from a painting. A herd of deer near a pond. A wild bison makes a brief appearance, sees the pond occupied by hundreds of deer, and it graciously retreats.
Although, the scene makes one want to linger, we reluctantly drive ahead to see if we can see elephants.
But, no luck. Suddenly, the driver excitedly whispers aloud, “Elephants ! Near the stream.” We reach a vantage point near the stream to begin our long wait. Five elephants, including a calf, are seen grazing on a slope.
“We wait here,” whispers Rafeeq, “until they get to the stream.” The elephants take a few steps towards the stream and take a long break, munching on wild plants before they move again. The tusker leading the herd keeps a close watch on the surroundings and the other elephants crowd around the leader.
All of a sudden another jeep comes by.There is a lot of honking and shouting.
The tusker halts for a moment and then leads his herd towards the deep forest. All over in 20 minutes. Although, we drive for another 30 minutes, there are no sign of the elephants. By then, we reach the other end of the sanctuary.
Source: The Hindu