Manu Remakant takes us to the solitude of Pattiyar Bungalow and the intoxicating beauty of the Palakkadan wild.
Early morning. Sitting on bamboo chairs lining the long verandah, we sip the hot black coffee, blowing smoke against the misty mountains, the waterfall and the blue water.
See. The bright mornings of Pattiyar do not hold a trace of the terror its night could unleash.
Its night, I saw yesterday, is another planet.
A cold shudder bolts through my body, when I think about last night’s jungle safari. The journey began with excitement as we were all sitting eager eyed to be the first to spot an animal. The headlights could bore only a small white hole in the thick darkness ahead as our jeep jumped from boulder to boulder down the jungle stretch. Nobody spoke; only the low noise of the engine. Even that was switched off as the road declined.
Then Kunjumon, our guide, said “Stop”. The vehicle stopped.
A pair of golden eyes stared at us from the road. Except for the occasional hooting of a distant owl, and a few cicadas getting on a high deep in the forest, there was silence. We held our breath; our eyes strained to figure out an outline. Aneesh put the high beam on. Deer!
We were both chilled to the spot, but the deer soon got over, and scampered to the thick foliage on its right. The jeep moved again.
We saw a check post at Keralamedu with a decrepit forest office. It wore a deserted look. Getting out of the jeep, we walked to the building with caution as our eyes scanned the bushy path for snakes. We stopped at the entrance, and rapped on the door to wake the officer up. Nobody answered. I took a long breath of the night air, and walked to the edge of the road to take a leak at the foliage, leaving the waking up business to my friends. I wanted to see how ‘the pee on dead leaves’ would sound against the deafening forest silence.
At my back, a window opened. We saw the silhouette of a man against the light of a dying candle. “Hey, get on the vehicle quick. Elephants were here few minutes back. See those broken railings? They are quite moody today.”
Suddenly I heard a movement ahead – the sound of plants getting crushed under heavy feet. This could be that! I stared into the darkness. “Manu, run,” I heard one shouting. But my legs went concrete. I stood there on the warfront, holding a weak instrument shivering in my hands, against a wild elephant that could emerge any minute from beyond the tall shrubs.
I still don’t know who pulled me towards the jeep. But what I saw next was our hurried journey back to the Pattiyar bungalow. A bungalow surrounded by a mote, to discourage the moody elephants. “But leopards do come at nights,” Kunjumon reminds again. Well, they didn’t come that night and we slept tightly curled under the thick blankets after supper.
I pour myself another cup of black coffee and sits back. The morning rays begin their magic on a cobweb spread across the stem of a flower. I see a spider scouring the web for the night’s catch, mending broken strings along the way. We still remain curl up as we sit on bamboo chairs, amazing at such small wonders with long-lost boyish curiosity, with shawls draped around our bodies – a weak defense against the loud, freezing blast.
Thick clouds stretch from the other side of the mountain. They blush the moment they catch the sun peering at them through shredded rags scattered on the eastern sky. We look deep at the dark woods along which the long strands of the waterfalls tumble down in a seemingly sedate pace.
“The remnants of a plane which crashed during the world war are still there,” says Reji, the cook. We smile dismissing the story as another myth to step up the ambiguity of the place. “You don’t seem to believe it. Some time back Manorama carried the story of a team which trekked the jungle for two days. The newspaper had the photographs of the remnants,” he says. Well, that sounds convincing.
After a breakfast of uppumavu, vegetable curry, pappadam and fish curry, we decide to head towards the dam. The water glistens. The mist which hangs on to the mountain gives it a snow-capped effect. Take my word, you will never stop swiveling on that green, boggy ground, as your camera goes, ta..ta..ta..ta…like a machine gun.