Thursday, October 16, 2008

Masinagudi - Into the woods...

It all started with our failed attempts of getting accommodation at Bandipur lodges maintained by the government for the last week of June just before when Bandipur is closed for monsoon in the months of July and August. Once again it was my mallu friend Joshua who came to our rescue and suggested Masinagudi as an alternative. Till then we had no idea where this place is! Masinagudi is rather a quite, secluded place at the foothills of the Nilgiris on the way to Ooty from Mysore. In a way its good that Masinagudi is not so famous as its neighbor so that the nature as well as the wildlife has enough space to themselves. This place is a pure wildlife hotspot (the luckiest ones even get to see tigers here) with good sightings of wildlife and numerous birds to keep one busy and on the tenterhooks, and added to this the pristine Moyar falls is quite ecstatic. Here cheap accommodations are difficult to find until and unless you know some place because it’s infested only with resorts and resorts. This time again, our help came in the form of Joshua who arranged accommodation for us at a rather secluded place right on the fringes of the forest, just what we wanted and thus started another of our adventure tales. 20th June 2008: Left Bangalore rather late in the night with uncordial notes ringing at all our homes for opting the night driving in our car; this was the best option for us as we could reach early in the morning and save precious morning time by this. The route to Masinagudi is itself a pleasure to drive for wildlife enthusiasts; after the bad stretch after gundlupet, took a much needed break at the CCD outlet at gundlupet,
at the CCD outlet, gundlupet
the road smoothens up and it’s a cruise right up to Theppakadu (mudumalai) through Bandipur. From here there are two paths, going straight leads to Ooty via Gudalur, and turning left from Theppakadu leads again to Ooty through Masinagudi with the much talked about 36 hairpin bends. Unluckily we couldn’t spot anything till Theppakadu because of the pitch darkness or rather due to our lack of knowledge of observing wildlife in the dark. As we turned left from the Theppakadu junction, our first sightings were in the form of two huge gaur bulls (forget 6 pack, they had 12 pack abs) staring right into our faces grazing on the bunds on the sideways of the road. The road on this stretch is narrow compared to the other highway and infested with wildlife as we realized later.
early morning views @ masinagudi
We reached on the scheduled time and checked in by 6am, quickly got ready for the forest trek organized by the hosts with guides. Its such a pleasure that you step out of your backyard and you are right in the forests and you often get to see many wild visitors right in your backyard. So almost all resorts / home stays here organize treks into the forests with the help of local villagers as guides who have this uncanny knowledge of what is what and can blindly take you through the terrain without getting lost in the wild. All five of us were excited for the forest trek and in spite of a sleepless night to our credit, we were all charged up and raring to go. The forest patch was dry and quite bald and we could spot langurs and sambar deer with numerous birds but luck still eluded us as we could not spot the biggies and we lost the trail of the wild elephants that we were trailing. The only solace was at a waterhole inside the jungle where we could spot footprints of many a wild animal which made everybody start guessing which is which!
pug marks found @ the waterhole - during the forest trek
Still, this being our first wild trek, we realized a lot of things of what to wear, what to carry and the most important thing “Silence is golden”. We spent the afternoon making a quick dash to the reserve forest area at Anekatti, which is accessible only with prior permission;
monster lizard at anekatti reserve area
later in the evening we went to Theppakadu hoping to get into the last safari, but as our bad luck continued, there was already a long queue and we had to return back without any safari ride for the day. So we just drove along the Gudalur route and luck started favoring us; we could spot quite a few huge bisons and many peacocks along the way.
peacocks, gaur @ masinagudi; evening view of masinagudi
Dinner at the rest house and then we had the option of driving along again or just retire for the day. Young blood, always wanting more and always willing to take chances and with no fear of roaming the jungles in the night we set out for the night drives with the hope of catching something big and wild. Well wildlife can be spotted all around Masinagudi – on the way to Theppakadu, Gudalur, Bandipur, just about every other road. We were recommended the Moyar road and the Singara road by Joshua, which as we found out was indulged in eerie silence and absolutely cut off from the rest of the world. We took the Singara road first, this roads ends up at a private estate and all along the way is pristine forest, we went ahead driving slowly, our car headlight being the only source of light. We spotted a male tusker having dinner just beside the road; with no mood to confront him in the jungle, we moved ahead till we reached the fringes of the estate, we turned back and passing by the same tusker reached Masinagudi. Now we took the Moyar road, this road leads up to Moyar village that is around 10kms away and we can cover as much distance as we want. 4kms into the road, without spotting anything, we were disappointed and turned around to our way back to the rest house, but the lady luck was reluctant to send us just like that, because the next 5minutes of sighting was all that we were waiting for anxiously from the time we reached Masinagudi. Just on the fringes of Masinagudi as we were inching ahead, we could see something big crossing the road right in front of us. Long tail, hefty body, spots all over, we instantly recognized it was a leopard which we were seeing and in a quick dash it crossed over the road and vanished into the bushes. Those few seconds of wow was all that we required keeping us in high spirits for our entire trip irrespective of what was to unfold the next day. Came back to our resting place in high spirits and were eagerly waiting for the next day's events to unfold. 22nd June 2008: Early morning we had two options, another trek in the forests or safari at mudumalai, we chose the latter as the forest trek the previous day was unfruitful. We could spot herds of deer along with many birds on the entire stretch from Masinagudi to Theppakadu.
deers, hoopee, peahen enroute theppakaadu
@ mudumalai (theppakaadu)
The deer’s cross the road in such a systematic way; two of them stand at either side of the road keeping guard until the herd passes from one end to the other and when they sense any vehicle coming, they back off into the bushes with the herd; surely they have a lesson for us on basic road sense. Being a Sunday, the safari at mudumalai was full with many people coming over, still the sightings were good with herds of deer, elephants, wild dogs, wild boar and many peacocks to see; still the big cats eluded us.
tusker family @ theppakaadu; posing near mudumalai forest office; tusker on roadside,masinagudi
roadside tusker encounter @ masinagudi
Even the safari route inside the Mudumalai Park is quite different from the others with dense green forest cover and the jeep track winds through the forest. We started to chug along the path back to our resting place for the much-needed breakfast, some way ahead we found a huge male tusker bringing down branches at the roadside. We stopped and luckily he was very quiet and went about his munching activity even in our presence. We gave him company for almost 15-20 minutes with occasional vehicles stopping and passing by, till a van full of guys came along and started shouting in excitement irritating him. We sensed trouble and moved ahead; later all that we heard was a loud growl from the tusker that made the guys scamper for cover! After the sumptuous breakfast, we went ahead to our next destination Moyar falls on the same stretch of the Moyar road where we had seen the big cat the previous evening. Here permission is required as the viewpoint is in the reserve forest area and wild animals are sighted very frequently here.
@ the reserve moyar falls & group photo @ the hosts place
The place was entirely empty (maybe because of the permission); we sneaked in and had to walk for about 15 minutes till we reached a dead-end; Phew! From there it was a majestic sight of the falls that is in between the woods. Milky white water falling like crystals in between the green cover of the forest area and the surprising thing was that rains were yet to start; still this waterfall was in all glow. We rested there for quite a long time, satisfied our appetites with n number of photographs and left with no mood at all to budge from there. We came back to our nest, bid goodbye to the hosts and started on our way back to home only to realize we were running out of Petrol! Ouch! The nearest bunk was some 30 kms away; we somehow managed to reach there with heavy rains accompanying us and then trudged on our way back to Bangalore taking the same route by which we had come. Recently read a news article stating Masinagudi area will be declared a buffer zone as it is on the fringes of mudumalai sanctuary; that means less human interference. Well, that’s good news for wildlife but what about the people who are surviving purely on this? Quick notes: Distance: Approx 250 kms from Bangalore Route: Bangalore - Mysore - Gundlupet - Bandipur - Theppakadu (mudumalai) – Masinagudi - Ooty Accommodation: Plenty of resorts available (info on the net) Ideal time: All round the year except monsoon season Food: Mostly included in your resort packages, otherwise smaller hotels available at Masinagudi. Petrol: No bunks at Masinagudi (Essar bunk is now defunct), nearest is either Gundlupet or Thorappalli. Tips: Respect nature, maintain silence in the forests, don’t irritate the wild animals, conserve forests and leave no traces of your visit behind. Wear light colored clothing during treks / safaris, avoid bright colors. Drive slowly when driving through the wildlife zone (from gundlupet up to Gudalur). care for the nature and the nature cares for you!
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