For last three days, I had been to the most memorable trip. Myself, wife and son along with the family of my son’s friend had gone to stay in a forest cottage owned by a common friend of ours, a naturalist. The private house is nested inside a forest, secluded, near Bokkapuram Village, Masinagudi, on the outskirts of Mudumalai Tiger Reserve. A remarkable location it was – for city-dwellers like us, hearing our own breathing in late evenings was an unknown experience.
We went to Mysore from Chennai by flight, then drove down about 2 hours to Masinagudi. We passed through Bandipur Tiger Reserve in Karnataka state and then through Mudumalai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu state.
Once we settled down in the house, our host warned us; in the night if we hear (wild) elephants approaching we should run into the bathroom and stay there till they left. For someone who by choice has not installed steel grills for safety on their front door, to prevent animals from getting hurt, I was curious on her idea of building the bathroom door stronger – I asked her. For which, laughingly she replied, NO, the bathroom doors are as light as the other doors in the house. The reason we will be safer from elephants there is because the bathroom entrance opening is the narrowest – even a baby elephant can’t get through it . Needless to say I didn’t sleep a wink on the first day.
On the first day, we spent the time in the house and the stream near-by. Every day in the late evenings and early mornings, animals like deer, elephants and sometimes Leopards (we were told) come to the stream nearby. Being a naturalist, the house we stayed didn’t have any walls around the compound – they prefer to have the animals roam around freely, so they could silently observe them. The house had minimum furniture – no Television, no Radio, no ACs, no electrical appliances other than ceiling fans and a water motor – to keep the place noise free and be inviting to animals.
The second day, we went to the place to nearby temples and the kids were busy observing birds – they were everywhere and in plenty.
The third day, we left the house before dawn, so that we could reach the forest office of Bandipur tiger reserve, in time for the forest departments’ official tour inside the reserve.
Guided by a forest ranger, we were taken responsibly inside the reserve in a private Jeep (SUV). In the tour, we were treated to sightings of many animals in their natural habitat.
Near the end of the tour, we had a thrilling experience. The ranger had stopped the Jeep, deep inside the forest and was explaining about animal behaviour, when a young wild elephant that was staring at our vehicle, suddenly came charging towards us. I was sitting on the side facing the raging elephant – my breathing literally stopped. The ranger sensing my fear, whispered something to all of us. I didn’t hear any of his words, my whole life was flashing in front of me.
By then, the elephant had come to about 10 feet from our vehicle, it stopped on its track, stood there for few moments, gave us a commanding glare and turned away. That’s when I started breathing again and delayingly understood what the ranger had told us – “relax, nothing to worry, please keep absolutely quite, don’t make any noise or movements“.
On the last night of our stay, our host had planned a treat for the kids – she had organised a tent inside the house so that the kids could stay late night and observe the sounds.