Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Destination Bandipur

Bandipur till recently was the national park we traversed and enjoyed its elusive inhabitants along the road while driving towards Nilgiris. This time around on our way back from the blue mountains, we thought of a stop over at the Bandipur safari lodge.

Enough has been written in here about my trips to national parks and sightings. So no more fauna but lets talk  about flora in Bandipur! The hunting grounds of Mysore Maharajas is to my surprise a white wonderland of wild flowers in month of December. Karnataka has its own version of meadow of flowers!

Tropical dry deciduous, tropical moist deciduous, scrub forest and open grassy woodlands- in case one has forgotten what each means, I would suggest joining the 3 hour long safari organized by the jungle lodges. So the eastern part of the 874sq kms of forest land is covered with stunted trees,shrubs and grass patch lands making it the Moyar jungle of scrub. The central part kaniyanapura is dry deciduous , the western part Ainurmarigudi, Begur, Beerambadi is moist deciduous. One can find Teak, Rosewood, Sandalwood, Jacaranda, Mango, Jamun,Tamarind, Banyan, Pipal, Plumeria,Gulmohar, Honne, Mathi, and Bamboo among many more. This diversity in flora is carried forward to fauna too.

The Bandipur family consists of the predator Tiger , joined by co predator panthers, wild dogs, jungle cat and python. The associates of this family are the Indian Elephant and sloth bear. The preys who keep the family fit and healthy include spotted deer, sambar, four horned antelope, barking deer, Gaur, indian wild boar,mouse deer, indian porcupine, indian hare, common langur, Bonnet Macaque. To add some drama  are the relatives and friends including the flying squirrel, indian giant squirrel, palm squirrel,cobra, vine snake, common krate, wolf snake, green keelback, rat snake,rock python, bamboo pip viper, giant wood spiders. Keeping the family entertained by their songs are Quails, Partridges and stone curlews, Malabar Trogon, Malabar grey hornbill, Bluewing parakeet, Whitebellied minivet, Drongo, Yellowbrowed bulbul, Drongos , whiteheaded babblers. How many members of this family did I meet? Well , I need to visit and revisit this reserve time and again before I can say I met them all.

Date: December 2015
Place : Bandipur Karnataka

Tip: Jungle lodges all the way!
First:  Crested Serpent eagle with kill
The Travel connection: "All good things are wild and free"- Henry David Thoreau

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Destination Coonoor to Mettupalayam

My favorite mode of transport is undoubtedly the rails! Give me one any day. Unfortunately with the limited time we have, travel by rail is always secondary. Consider a railway line that's been around since 1899. How about a meter gauge carriages being chugged on by a steam locomotive along the 208 curves,16 tunnels and 250 bridges. Make it a little more exciting by making the tracks the steepest in Asia. And there you have the Nilgiris Mountain railway. And finally I was going to travel from Coonoor to Mettupalayam on it!

If one is interested on more facts about this old man rail, then here you go...

Not everybody's cup of tea, this slow moving monster is a pleasure for enthusiasts like Sheldon. For the others, the ever changing surrounding landscape could seal the deal. No, does it not, maybe then you are a history buff and want to be  transported to the time when these carriages carried folks in their finest and discussed the current events of 1912. Forget that, how about the child in you getting excited every time the train passes a dark tunnel . Or would you prefer the perfect selfie the curved tracks offers with the Nilgiris - both the train as well as the hills in the background. Ok , i know, the adventurous you, would like to hang out by the door, maybe dangle your feet high above the many bridges the train crosses. Let's step out at one of the stations for a cup of tea and a quick bite. We don't want to leave the food enthusiast behind! There is a bit of everything for everyone! If the ride still does not excite you, then there is always the options of falling asleep and missing out on an opportunity to experience something worthy enough to be part of the UNESCO heritage list.

Date: December 2015
Place : Coonoor to Mettupalayam rail, Tamil Nadu

Tip: Book two months in advance to avoid disappointment
First:  Heritage train
The Travel connection: "There isn't a train i wouldn't take"- Edna St.Vincent Millay

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Destination Kurumbadi

The place Kurumbadi might not ring a bell to most. But if one wants to get away, then there is no place like Kurumbadi and its lone resort middle of nowhere "The Kurumba Village Resort" . This resort has been on my list for last 8 years and I finally made it here in 2015. Was the wait worth it?

Over the past few years I have been visiting different parts of Nilgiris. But this resort just 14 kms downhill from Coonoor is a breath of fresh air not just literally!! Set amidst spice plantations  of cinnamon, nutmeg clove and pepper, the short drive towards the resort away from Conoor Mettupalayam road will give one the clue on what lies ahead. If one ever had a list, this is how it would look
- Panoramic view of dense jungle on rolling hills - Check
- Gurgling and gushing stream - Check
- Morning wake up call of sweetest song by the resident Malabar Whistling thrushes - Check
- Sound of your relaxed breath over the calm and stillness - Check
- Fun time playing donkey catch ball at the infinity pool with view of multiple waterfalls - Check
- Trek across the forest listening to stories including the appetite of elephants for jack fruits and do we see jack fruit trees around us- Check
- Your attention grabbed by  book to take you into a world you desire- Mine was filled with murder and multiple personalities - Check
- Clean fresh air that energies you into playing sports after a long break - Check
- A trail of footsteps left behind morning evening night going up and down the hills- Check
- Cut off from outside world without the crutches of cellphone - Check
- Pamper the soul of taste buds with the most appetizing cuisines from across the world- Check
- Minivets and Thrushes galore- Check
- Cozy comfortable clean cottages for good night's rest - Check
- Friendly support team always around to help you-Check

Yes , It was totally worth the wait! It is now one of my favorite resorts!

Date: December 2015
Place : Kurumbadi, Tamil Nadu

Tip: Watch out for the Natural inhabitants and respect them by keeping a distance.
First: Infinity Pool
The Travel connection: Let's find a beautiful place to get lost

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Destination Jalamangala and Ramadevarabetta

On our way to one of the many trips to Mysore, I happen to spot a board by the highway which said Vulture sanctuary. Thus began the desire to visit the sanctuary. Armed with the vague information we found on the internet, we set out on our favorite Mysore road one early morning. Mysore road has multiple choices of restaurants and break out spots. Among the popular ones are the shiva thatte idly and kamat loka ruchi.But on this particular day , we stopped at the over crowded Adyar Anand Bhavan as it is closest to city and we were hungry by 7.00am. Next to us we had a senior couple who were well into their 70s and 80s  traveling with a younger companion and their Indian guide/driver. The old man needed help of elbow crutches but here he was holidaying in a difficult country like India with his wife far far away from his home country.The three of us could only sit back and admire this adventurous couple and wish and hope we would be doing the same in our old age.

With our belly full, we set out towards the sanctuary. We had an idea that the sanctuary was  around the Ramadeverabetta but the conflicting information in the blogs had confused us and to top it,the goggle map had no information of the sanctuary.Close to Ramanagaram , we kept a look out for the board which read Vulture sanctuary.But when we hit the main cross road of the town, we knew we had missed the all important right turn.We used the GPS and directions from the locals to get back on the path. After what seemed like a long drive, we hit the end of the tarred road and the mud road ahead did not seem to lead to any place. We asked some kids out there if there is any sanctuary around and they said there was nothing ahead on that mud road. Disappointed and assuming we were on the wrong side of the hill, we went with the directions mentioned in one of the blogs. The blog mentioned that vultures were spotted near Jalamangala. Thus started our drive to a new destination which did not exist on our list till few moments before.

A 35km drive and the fact that we were going away from the hills made it certain that we are not going to spot any vultures that day. We decided to drop the trip as a bird watching rendezvous and make it a drive into the country side. Some turns here and there after the Jalamangala village and lo behold a beautiful expanse opened up in front of us and we could hear the sweet sounds of different birds. The small little lake surrounded by hills was a surprise gift like none other. Active with different birds and unspoiled by visitors, we camped there for a while much to the amusement of the local villagers. Vultures long forgotten, we feasted upon little grebe and their chicks,lesser whistling ducks, bronze winged Jacana,Pond heron, flower pecker,green bee eater, laughing dove, grey headed swamphen, sun birds, indian robin, great egret and many more!

Pale billed Flower pecker?

Laughing Dove
Little Grebe with chick
Little Grebe
The local villagers

The local villagers

 The hidden gem - Jalamangala lake

After having our fill with lakes' inhabitants, we decided to give the elusive sanctuary another try. We had contacted our other birding friends for the directions and decided to once again take the same road as we did in the morning. So here we were for the second time on the same day, taking the tarred road  towards Ramadeverabetta. This time around the mud road did not stop us. We proceeded  ahead ignoring the kids this time around. And what did we have here less than half a kilometer but an entrance gateway proclaiming it is Ramadeverabetta Vulture Sanctuary. We felt ecstatic and foolish at the same time. A short drive into the sanctuary and my fellow birder spotted the endangered long billed /Indian vulture high up on the Sholay rocks.  These scavenger's number dropped drastically due to  Diclofenac contaminated carcass. Hence for a birder , it was nice to see them perched high on inaccessible hills and doing alright.

 Ramadevara betta

Long billed/ Indian Vulture

Long before the vulture made this hill their home, the legend associated this place with Ramayana. There is a temple honoring Lord Rama and Sita atop the hill. A short climb up of about 300 -350 steps was only broken by the sights and sounds of nature. Spiders at home on their web, the elusive paradise fly catcher and calls of few other birds pushed us to climb the steps in the middle of the afternoon. The beautiful quaint little temple surrounded by rocks carved by nature over millions of years with a small pond by its side is a sight that let us forget the lunch we had forced ourselves to skip. By 3.30 pm the hunger pangs forced us to leave behind all of this and head back to civilization. A good day to get lost !! I hope we have many days like this one !!!

Date: December 2015
Place : Jalamangala and Ramdevarabetta, Karnataka

Tip: Local language helps while navigating unknown rural paths
First: Vultures
The Travel connection: All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.- Martin Buber

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