Coorg – Wayanad – Nagarhole

09/11/2010 § Hinterlasse einen Kommentar

15th January 2009
Looking on the map, I thought, Cochi and Coorg don’t look that far away – I get a taxi and will be there in no time. Luckily, my host convinced me that it is much, much longer, and I need to get a train at 6:45 this morning. It turned out that it took me 10 1/2 hours to get to th next destination: 7 hours train from Cochi to Calicut, 2 hours busride from Calicut to Kalpetta, from there 1 1/2 hour to Ramcad Estate.

When entering the train station in Cochi/Ernakulam, it looked like an invasion army had just taken over the station. The whole ground was covered with sleepers, all more or less uniformly clad in black – looking like peasant labourers from some other part of India on their journey home. These guys had no concept what queuing is, so I got my ticket only after some pushing and shoving and holding a 100 rupie note under the nose of the ticket seller (I had a longer armreach than them).

On the trainride, lots of rubbish along the tracks, but also some nice scenes: saw a herd of water buffaloes and two elephants on the road.

The busdriver from Kalpetta was just plain crazy. I mean crazy as in „Hannibal Lecter“. He made some interesting stunts with his vehicle and wouldn’t even stop for a class of schoolchildren at a zebra crossing, but in the mountains it was technically impossible for him to drive fast, and that was a good thing.

The taxi ride from Kalpetta went over some of the most potholed roads I saw in my life. It was more a collection of potholes with some road left around – so big they could swallow an elephant. I wonder if that is because the monsoon will damage the road anyway, so no point in repairing it, neglect by the state government, or a kind of racket of the jeep driver’s union so they can stay in business.

All in all the train-bus journey to Kalpetta cost me roughly 100 rupies, that is 1,50 Euro. Not a bad bargain. The taxi cost only 7,50 for a 1 1/2 hour ride, much less than an innercity ride in Frankfurt.

Ramcad Estate, my next stay, is a coffee plantation in a gorgeous landscape. Mountains and jungle all around. The donwside: I am the only guest and feel a little like Robinson Crusoe. The climate is much more agreeable than Cochi: fresh air, cold in the morning and evening and warm during the day.

16th January 2009
6:30 a.m: Got a new roommate, a big hairy spider. Spider, meet Michael. Michael, meet spider.
6:35 a.m. Lost roommate due to tragic „accident“ (crushed by bedpost).

6:45 a.m. Start off to a Jeep Safari in Wayanad National Park, and in the afternoon, Nagarhole National Park and the elephant camp in Mukale. Saw an elephant being washed, quite a sight. Also, a corral made from heavy logs with one „bad elephant“ in it, as my driver put it. „What has he done (shoplifting?)“ I ask my driver Vynod. He makes a movement with his foot as if crushing a burning cigarette. OK, spare me the gory details. What I cannot explain: The corral was pretty small but also very high: Did they expect him to fly out like Dumbo the Elephant ?

17th January 2009
Meet another spider in the bathroom. Chase my gecko room-mate into the bath, close the door, and let them sort it out. Like in Mad Max III, „two man enter, one man leave“. After I return from the safari, the gecko is still there, the spider is not.

This day, morning safari in Nagarhole and evening safari in Wayanad. To sum up the results of two days, they are pretty meagre. Wild boar, Barking Deer, Axis Deer, Langur monkeys, peackocks, wild fowl and giant squirrels and one elephant I saw, but with the exeption of the deer, most animals are shy and it is practically impossible to make a good photo.

Axis Deer, killed by tiger
I almost forgot – yes, I saw a tiger. But somehow I don’t think this counts as a tiger sighting. On my last holiday in Canadian national parks, I noticed that when I look for wildlife too long, I tend to hallucinate mildly and think that faraway objects could be bears or moose (only to find out that they are stones, treetrunks or cyclists). I was therefore cautious this time not to stop the jeep too often to keep some credibility as a wildlife-spotter. Almost at the end of the second jeep safari in Wayanad, I think I see stripes moving though the underbrush. I don’t stop the car, but look again -yes, confirmed, moving stripes „tiger!“. Vynod stops the car and gets on the top to get a better look – I see nothing. Vynod and the accompanying park ranger confirm that they saw the tail disappearing in the bush. So maybe this was half a tiger-sighting.

18th January 2009
This day, I am on a hiking safari through Wayanad together with two (unarmed) rangers. After 15 minutes, we come upon the carcass of an axis deer killed the previous night by a tiger, spilling his smelly intestines all over the jungle. Majid the park ranger confirms that as this is the fresh kill, the tiger must be 200 meters from here. We decide to wait if he maybe returns to the kill, so we wait and anticipate a tiger everytime a flock of crows is flying up from the carcass, but the tiger doesn’t show up

Though I was in high hopes, this was already the climax of the hike.

From 8:00 a.m to 2:00 p.m., after covering a huge area and marching 20 km, we only saw a pair of Indian Bison (Gaur), huge wild cows like fighting bulls after years of bodybuilding. The rangers get more and more desperate as it is unusual that no animals show up. But then, due to many dry leaves on the ground, it is practically impossible to move here unnoticed. At 1:30 p.m., we start the journey home like a beaten army. But it was nice hike and exciting to walk in an area where wild tigers, leopards and elephants roam – even if unseen.

I now set all my hopes in the visit to Periyar National Park and the Gavi Trail at the end of my journey.

I can only speak for the South Indian National Parks I have experienced, but from what I have seen so far (and later in Periyar), I conclude wildlife watching is a very different experience here than it is in – let’s say South Africa or Canada. Most animals are much more elusive, and the layout of the parks is such that if you see animals, you often see them only at a distant waterhole or hidden in the underbrush. It is a less spectacular nature experience than I hoped it to be, but the scenery is always very interesting, especially the large bamboo bushes, over three meters high. The important thing is that there are a lot of National Parks in India, well-managed and with some success in protecting the wildlife and environment and keeping poaching, human intrusion and pollution in check. Also, many tribal people of the area profit directly from the parks, for instance by employment as rangers or in tourism-related jobs.
Axis Deer
Golden Temple
19th January 2009
Visit to North Coorg: First stop is at Bylakuppe near Kushalnagar, where a sizeable community of Tibetan exiles live. Everywhere you see the monks in their red and yellow robes. They crack jokes with their fellow monks, use mobile phones and motorcycles and seem streetsmarter than you would expect. Monastery life does not seem so boring anymore if you look at these guys.

The main thing to see here is the Namdroling monastery and its Golden Temple with three giant golden Buddha statues. An awesome sight – can’t wait to upload the photo. Also, the walls are covered with colourful murals depicting Tibetan mythology, including cartoon-character-like demons with blue faces and multiple heads. Observing the prayer and meditation rituals is even more exciting, as this accompanied by an ear-splitting noise from cymbals and trumpets. I wonder how anyone can meditate to this soundtrack, but then maybe it is a challenge to shut off the outside world despite the noise and concentrate on your given task.

Next stop: Madikeri, capital of the Coorg area. While being praised in the Lonely Planet guidebook, I have difficulties finding the charming side of Madikeri. Just another dusty midsize-rural town, but nothing special. The LP can’t always be trusted: Sometimes worthwhile untouristy sights or areas are just non-existent in „the book“, and other destinations are plainly overrated by the LP guide.

The Omrakeshwara Temple is unfortunately closed as we arrive here. Next stop is at Raja’s Seat, a famous viewpoint in a small park with good views on a Coorg valley. As we are mostly finished with our sightseeing itinerary by now, Vynod the driver considers taking me to another spot (I don’t get the name due to his bad accent and my limited knowledge of the local lingo). As I inquire why we should go there he just says „Supaaaplace“. That is all I need to know. We take off on an even more potholed road and after 1/2 an hours ride arrive at Pushkapiri – second highest peak in the area (at 1712 meters), and a nice viewpoint. Indeed a „supaaaplace“.

Omrakeshwara Temple Madikeri
Film shooting
On the way back we arrive at a film shooting location. A Bollywood movie is being filmed, but the scene is not particularly interesting: Three girls and one boy going over a small bridge and teasing each other with long blades of grass. No „wet sari“ – dance scene. A pity.

We then call it a day and drive to the village of Ammathi, where I have an appointment with VT member Rowena (cuppadamoksha) and her family for dinner. The drive turns out to be complicated as Vynod is in a funny mood. I think he knows the way but he does not. We are to go to Polipetta road in Ammathi. Turns out that Vynod thinks we have to go Polipetta as he misread the adress. Imagine you are in London and the taxi driver does not take you to Oxford Street but instead to Oxford. I doublecheck the adress, ask a local and we finally find out where we have to go.

Rowena, her husband Vijay & little one-year old Sharan (who tries to flatten my toes with a spoon) turn out to be wonderful hosts. They moved from Bangalore into the Coorg area some years ago and became coffee planters because they were tired of the city, never regretting their decision. We have great conversations, many good laughs, splendid food and a sample of home-brewn coffee-cherry-liqour, apple-liquor and apricot-brandy. Also, Rowena shows me some photos of the coffee blossoming in march – looks wonderful, and I make a mental note to return someday during blossoming time. Thus ends a really nice first VT-meeting. Thank you, Rowena & Vijay, for your outstanding hospitality !

P.S.: They also explain to me the events of the 15th January (the peasant revolutionary army („Men in Black“) at the station in Ernakulam). It turns out that they are members of a Keralan temple cult who pledge once in a year to renounce all worldly pleasures for one month – no sex, no meat, no alcohol, no shave, mandatory black clothing, and each morning a cold shower with hundred buckets of water. The period of abstinence ends at the 15th January, so it is no wonder they felt a strong urge to go home and lost their manners at the ticket booth!

It is pitch-black now, and after 1/2 hour driving I notice that the fuel is almost empty. Just great, I will be stranded in the middle of the night miles from home without fuel or transport in the land of tigers, cobras, and thugs. Thank you very much. But then it turns out that even in a small village like Gonikoppa there are 24 hour service petrol stations. I am relieved and make it home safe.

20th January 2009
Off to Mysore today. A last time I endure the weird humour of Vynod (each time he drives right in the middle of a pothole he laughs madly and comments „JUMPING – hehehe“. I hold on to the handrail and don’t let go.
While driving through Nagarhole Park (the Mysore road leads through the park) I see my second wild elephant but don’t have a camera ready.

The landscape changes significantly when crossing into Karnataka. After the lush Coorg landscape, the scorched earth of western Karnataka is quite a change of scenery. For the first time, I see some areas where the living conditions and housing seem rather poor. Also, more wild rubbish dumps again.

My first VT meeting !
On the road to Mysore …
The motorway to Mysore is in excellent condition, but it is also shared by oxcarts, goat herds, and cyclists.

We arrive in Mysore. The roadmap to Gitanjali homestay is good, and I can actually navigate in the city, but Vynod doesn’t trust my judgement and virtually asks every 5 meters another pedestrian for the way. I tell him to drive on and not to stop until I say so, and we arrive safely at Gitanjali.

First impression: A great place. Very warm and hospitable welcome by the Achaiah family (from Coorg), a nice room, a clean bath, and a hammock again ! On a first trip into Mysore city I see lots of cows painted yellow (no kidding) – there has been an agricultural festival, and plenty of colourful cows (though no pink Milka cows) are on the loose.

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