Thursday, November 25, 2010

A close encounter with elephants at ChikYelchetti, Bandipur

A year has passed since I posted the last blog. A close encounter in the wild on Sunday, 21st Nov, 2010 is what it took finally for me to sit down to write again. It all started with a chain of mails between us friends for planning a trek. Come to think of it, it has been more than a year since we all trekked together. Should we go to Kudremukh or Kodachadri was the question. Untimely and incessant rains however forced us to look for alternatives. Finally it was decided that we will go to ChikYelchetti. A troublesome back, a hand in a cast and a fire (the work kinds) in the office meant that the final strength of the group would be just four.

Having made the necessary arrangements we started off at 7.00 am on the morning of Saturday, 20th Nov 2010. We stopped at Kamat for breakfast. We then continued towards Bandipur when a tree full of kites and egyptian vultures made us stop for a few photographs.

Our next stop was just after Nanjangud to have a look at this abandoned rail bus.

The cloudy weather meant that we did not make too many stops along the way for birds and finally we reached Bandipur. Taking the turn towards ChikYelchetti we proceeded slowly owing to the road conditions. This was a blessing in disguise as we saw lot of birds including babblers, red vented bulbuls, swallows, asian fairy bluebird and the other common birds.

Ravi met us midway and immediately informed us of the elephants he had just spotted. Picking up the cameras we followed him trying to spot the elephants. Though the elephants had moved away Ravi informed us that the number of elephants in the area had increased and we surely would be seeing a lot of them. None of us had any inkling though of what was to come.

Mr Subbanna welcomed us at the home stay. We settled down and got ready for lunch after the refreshing lemon juice. Simple rural vegetarian food had us lazing around for a while. Sitting under the huge tree we were treated to a flurry of colors flying around. Red vented bulbuls, coppersmith barbets, small minivets, rose ringed parakeets, sunbirds, spotted doves, laughing doves, white browed bulbuls, cormorants, and a few others gave a good workout for our necks by flying in and out of the trees opposite to us right next to the check dam. A woodpecker had me running inspite of the heavy lunch. It was a copper smith barbet that posed for me though.

We were now ready for our trek cum birding walk. Ravi led the way and we walked along hoping to see some birds. Overcast skies put paid to our hopes though. Ravi’s excellent spotting skills had us squinting our eyes and craning our necks to get a glimpse of the elephants. And we did see quite a few of them. Thankfully they were all very far away.

Pretty soon the threat of rains loomed large. During my previous visit I had walked for about an hour or more in the rains and it played on my mind. After a short discussion we decided to head towards the pond which was at a shorter distance. Just as well.

It was getting dark already as we sat and enjoyed the raucous playing of the-did-you-do-its (the red wattled lapwings I mean). A lone grebe lazily swam around in the pond. The dragon flies hovered around in frenzy. Frogs lurked under the surface of the water showing just their eyes. Just then something caught my eye. As I looked at the tree branch I was thrilled to see a coppersmith barbet at such close quarters. Its antics had me clicking away with the flash on.

Darkness descended and we made our way back. The skies opened up just as we reached home. After the short spell of rains I ventured out to have a look at the fields. I was greeted by the beautiful sight of pearls adorning the wet leaves. Pretty soon we had the cameras glued to our eyes and we found ourselves struggling to get some steady shots. Grasshoppers, moths, bugs and flies had us sitting on our toes, craning our necks and bending in all possible directions.

Finally it was time for dinner. After the simple sumptuous dinner we talked for some time before retiring for the day.

The plan was to climb Thondal betta early on Sunday morning. Light showers and cloudy skies however had me thinking. To buy some time we decided to have our breakfast before heading towards the hill. Camera safely tucked away in the room I was walking around when a female asian paradise fly-catcher caught my eye. In a jiffy I was in and out with the camera hanging around my neck. Alas!!! It did not wait for me to capture it on camera. Feeling dejected I just wandered around. As if to make up for the missed opportunity a mongoose appeared and looked at me curiously. He seemed as curious as me if not more.

Upma and kesari bath filled our tummies. It was a struggle to stop myself from eating too much. The climb would then be so much more difficult. The skies cleared up a little and off we went towards Thondal betta. It helped a lot that the Sun hid behind the clouds most of the time.

It was an easy climb all through. Only at a couple of places was it slightly tougher. Very soon we were more than half way up the hill. A common jezebel hanging onto the underside of a leaf made me whip out my camera and this is what I captured.

On reaching the cave entrance we rested for a while. The cave entrance was very low and and had a very narrow opening. I wondered how people crawled into it. Luckily we didn’t have to go inside. Below is a photo of the cave entrance.

Walking along the edge of the huge boulder that we can see from below we finally scratched our way through to the top. Yes, literally scratched our way to the top courtesy the plants with lots of thorns. As we stood atop Thondal betta we were treated to some wonderful scenes. The squares of fields sprinkled with trees looked lovely.

Heavy clouds hung precariously close to the hills at a distance.

After spending a few minutes at the top savoring the wonderful view of the surroundings we began our descent. I am not sure how far we had descended but all of a sudden two of us saw something that made us freeze. Leaden footed, rooted to the ground we stared at two elephants to our left behind a boulder. They were barely 10 feet away. One of them was a tusker. I watched them without batting an eyelid. It must have been barely a couple of seconds before the elephants turned and ran. A little later Ravi told us that the villagers usually burst crackers or make noise to drive away the elephants in order to protect their crops. This could have been one of the reasons why the elephants ran away on seeing us human beings. Did they get scared of us? I am not sure. Were we scared? Definitely yes. None of us had our cameras out and if the elephants had charged we would not have been able to take even a single “The famous last shot”.

Negotiating the relatively steep, but very short, inclines successfully we very soon reached the easy part of the hill. Along the way we saw lot of elephants far away. A herd infact was right next to the road we would be walking soon. We also tasted the fruit of a cactus plant and it resulted in pink tongues.

We reached home well before lunch time. It had taken us only three hours to successfully climb Thondal Betta and come back.

The trek to Thondal Betta had helped us work up an appetite. All of us relished the simple lunch that was served. Finally it was time to bid farewell to ChikYelchetti till next time.

A slightly disappointing weekend in terms of the number of birds we spotted. The sightings of animals and the thrills on Thondal Betta however more than made up for it. Curtains down on yet another fantastic weekend spent with friends amidst nature.

For the rest of the photos from the trip kindly Click Here