Monday, December 5, 2011

Jungle Adventure

Another trip to the forest. Everyone warned us that this was the wrong time of the year - there's plenty of water so the animals don't emerge from the interior. Moreover, a cyclone had hit the coast and it had been raining continuously for two days before we were to leave. But we always like to visit the forest; it's wonderful just to feel the wind, hear the leaves and the river, watch the birds flying and occasionally dipping into the water and to be enveloped by the ever changing mood of the forest.

The day we set out, it had stopped raining. The weather was cloudy and cool and it was a comfortable trip to Jungle Lodges at Kabini. The food was excellent, as always, and after a short nap, we were ready to drive into the forest. The roads were terrible, the worst we have seen so far in the area. It appears that the government, despite all the revenue that this national park brings, is completely uninterested in maintaining the infrastructure around. Our jeep developed a snag soon after we hit a crater in the road - one of the bolts of the wheel got sheared by the impact. Fortunately we had just entered the forest and were redistributed amongst other jeeps. This meant that we were seated right at the back and it made for a terribly bumpy ride. But a very exciting one!

We saw many of the animals we usually see in this forest - herds of elephants and a magnificent tusker walking alone, the large and powerful wild buffalo (gaur), herds of deer of all kinds, langurs leaping on and off trees, wild boar trotting along and suddenly, and unexpectedly, a large leopard that lay lazily across the road. It sat comfortably for a few minutes, ignoring the frantic jeep loads of tourists clicking away, then it stood up and slowly (and very majestically) strode into the bushes. It was an amazing experience. I could not take many pictures at this stage (with my tiny camera from the back of the jeep) and requested one of our co-passengers, John Keller, for some leopard pictures, which he has kindly sent and which are put up here.

The following morning we decided to go on the river in a small motorized boat instead of another jeep trip. It was a good decision, as it turned out. We began by following the curve of the river, past the village land and along the banks of the forest. Our guide was a ranger with telescopic vision who kept rattling off names of birds and beasts that we could barely see with our binoculars! We saw several rare birds and an otter swam alongside us as we slowly moved up the river.

In the distance we saw a pack of wild dogs (dhole) running up the bank, in search of food. They were very swift and we moved parallel to them, along the river and watched as they tried to isolate a single deer from its herd and attack it. They got quite close to killing a spotted deer but it suddenly leapt into the water and began swimming frantically - deer are apparently good swimmers. We followed the dhole as they ran along hungrily; they had split up into a group of four and another of two and tried various tactics to break up the herd of deer that was grazing ahead. Once in a while they would stop, peer into the river and get startled by their own reflections!

Eventually they caught an animal - it happened just round the bend and we could not see it. By the time we turned, they had ripped it apart and in a few minutes, most of the deer was eaten. Birds began approaching, the dogs snapped and sent them scurrying and then continued to consume the remains.

We turned back, towards something that looked just like a small stump, but our guide insisted it was a crocodile and sure enough, it silently dipped into the water as we approached. We saw many more birds, deer and wild boar, and on our return greeted the same otter that we had passed. It was still swimming and somersaulting in the water. Kingfishers were feasting on tiny fish and swallows flew in loops around us.

And that's where we left the river and the forest and returned to land, to a good breakfast, before setting off for the coffee plantations in Coorg.

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