KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
Bandipur and Madumalai
We decided to take the bus to Mysore, not the local bus but one operated by a private company. We were picked up by car at our hotel and taken to a central point where passengers all assembled and we boarded the bus there. We were disappointed that the bus was pretty old, the driver's seat was a folding chair that had been bolted to the floor and there was a nest of wires under what should have been the dashboard. I wanted to "bolt" myself, but stuck with the situation and off we went to face the 36 hairpin turns on the way down the Nilgiri hills to the plateau.
We stopped for gas just as we were leaving town, the driver had waited until he collected the fare from all the passengers before having enough money to fill the gas tank. There is a signpost at every one of the turns and I occupied myself with trying to get a good photo of one of them. This distracted me from the scary ride and from looking straight down to the abyss. We were the only foreigners on the bus and no one else seemed the least concerned about the safety of the route we were taking. It is considered the "short-cut" as the turns are too tight for the big buses to maneuver so there was little other traffic on the road.
The vegetation changed dramatically as we descended, from evergreen forests to drier conditions and noticeable fewer trees and underbrush. The temperature began to rise and we descended. After a short time, we passed a sign that we were entering the Madumalai National Park. At this point the view out the window changed dramatically. We were on essentially flat ground, but the narrow road was edged on both sides by a wide space of burned ground. Beyond that, the trees and underbrush were completely dry and I could see that the tops of the trees were just beginning to leaf-out. There was just the slightest hint of the green leaves that would soon cover the tops of the trees. I read in the Lonely Planet that the National Parks in this area are closed during March and April because of the threat of forest fires. I imagine that this is why the brush on either side of the road is burned off. The road is very narrow through the park and the deliberate burning would create a more effective firebreak if there were a forest fire. The upside of this burnt path through the park was that we managed to see a few animals along the roadside, they surely would have heard our rattletrap bus approaching, but they seemed unconcerned.
The first animals we came upon were a group of chital (spotted deer). The Indian tourists on the bus were really excited, but we were nonchalant because of the large number of chital we had seen earlier at the Kanha National Park. As I watched from my window seat, I suddenly spied a solitary wild boar on my side of the road. Now I sat up and took notice! This was the one animal I had expected to see at Kanha, but never did. The forest guide told us they are very shy animals and are rarely seen. We roared passed so quickly that Anil missed it. I kept my eyes glued to the roadside in hopes of spotting another one, when suddenly Anil shouted that there was a whole family of wild boar, four of them, on the driver's side of the bus. I quickly snapped a shot but only managed to catch a glimpse of the lead animal as the bus passed. I have included this photo on this entry even though it’s not a great shot. I'm sure you'll appreciate how pleased we were. Before leaving the park, we were able to see plenty of monkeys and some wild peacocks. I also spotted two adjutant storks near one of the few bodies of water in the park. All, in all, it was exciting as the park was closed and we were just driving through.
The state border between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka lies between the National Parks of Madumalai and Bandipur. As we crossed into Karnataka, we realized that we were venturing into another culture with yet another language - this time "Kannada". One has to continually remind oneself that although India is one very large country, it is comprised of peoples speaking at least sixteen different official languages and thousands of dialects. Language is not the only distinctive difference, as clothing, customs and foods vary widely throughout the sub-continent. These changes can be a little disconcerting at times, but it is all part of the challenge and is what we are looking for in our travels.
The landscape in the Bandipur National Park was much like we had seen at Madumalai and it too was quiet at this time of year. We did pass a large number of open forest jeeps at the Park headquarters, ready and waiting for the next busy tourist season. Just twenty minutes outside of the park gates, I began to notice a definite greening of the scenery and then I saw signs of human habitation and agriculture. I took a photo of the scenery so that you could see the contrast with the area inside the parks and was very pleased to get a large purple jacaranda tree in the picture as well. This is much better than the photo I took of this beautiful tree in Ooty. We passed through acres and acres of sugarcane fields along with the associated villages and people working in the fields. For the first time that I can remember, I started seeing flocks of sheep grazing. I was surprised to see these woolly animals in Southern India where it is so very hot much of the year. Perhaps they have raised sheep for woolen clothes for the cool temperatures in the Nilgiris or for the Muslim population of the region. A puzzle.
At last a signpost by the side of the road indicated that we were on the outskirts of Mysore, the city of palaces and sandalwood, and we prepared ourselves for the onslaught of urban life once again.