The Diary of a Jungle Holiday
Saturday, 04 September 2010
Taxi to Nampally railway station. Picked up sandwiches and muffins from Barista for dinner. Rayalseema express – 2AC – no third AC. Shared compartment with an old man who refused to take his coat off, and an old lady who refused to take her dark glasses off!
The old man was curious about the gadgets we carried, but what fascinated him the most was the route map of the stations we would pass – I’d printed this out from the IRCTC website so we wouldn’t miss getting off at our stop. He kept studying it every now and then ad finally asked us to leave it behind when we got off.
At 6:30 P.M., Vidya, noticing that the old lady was looking tired, offered to make space so that she could lie down if she wanted. But the old man turned down the offer, rather smugly remarking that it was merely 6:30 and no one slept at that hour. By 8:15 however, both of them were out flat, and we had to move to our upper berths and continue our conversations in a low voice so that the old couple could sleep.
We ate our dinners on the upper berths, and read for a bit before turning in – the reading lights were so comfortable.
Sunday, 05 September 2010
We awoke at 8 A.M., in time to get an idli-vada-chutney-sambar combo at Hubli. Typical railway food though. We left one plate untasted. After Hubli, as we passed through Dharwad on the way to Londa, the landscape gave us a foretaste of the greenery we were about to be submerged in – paddy fields in all shades of green, distant mountains wreathed in rain clouds, tiny towns of thatch. All of this was lit by a watery and diffused sunlight. We spent a lot of the journey after that literally hanging out at the door – I sat down with my legs on the steps while Vidya stood at the door. We both managed to get a few pictures. Needle-small raindrops were constant – like a cloud from an atomizer – but never enough to drive us inside.
We were just twenty minutes from Londa when the train was stopped for about twenty minutes at Sivathan to allow two other trains to pass. We passed the time by fretting and fuming a bit and then we started to enjoy the scenic views all around us. Many passengers had got down from the train and were amusing themselves in various ways – two grown men kept themselves busy by trying to hit a plastic water bottle lying a bit off with stones, a group of smokers were skulking behind a small tree, while a whole bunch of people were just standing next to the train and making idle conversation with the total strangers who were their co-passengers. Finally, the train moved and Londa arrived all too soon.
With a small new-looking railway station, Londa was all railway station and a little bit of town. The driver, Manohar, was waiting for us in an Indica and soon we were on our way to Ganesh Gudi. The bazaar road leading from the railway station to the highway was full of small shops selling vegetables and odds and ends. I wanted to buy some Duracell AAs for Vidya’s point-and-shoot, and asked the driver to stop at some shop, maybe a photo studio. He looked doubtful as he nodded, and as we made our way through bazaar road, I realized why. There were no shops which looked even approximately capable of stocking batteries of any kind, leave alone Duracell AAs. Finally, he stopped outside what proclaimed to be a photo studio, and I made my way to it. Now, right next to the photo studio was an unnamed shop of indeterminate nature, and as I approached the shops, a young man got up from the neighboring shop and asked me what I wanted. Pointing to the photo studio, I said I wanted batteries. The fellow thought for a bit and said that the studio owner had gone out. As I turned to leave, he called to me and informed me that the studio owner had gone somewhere to take photographs, making sure I knew that he was on the job and not goofing off somewhere. Maybe he was goofing off somewhere and this guy was covering up for him!
Anyway, the drive to Ganesh Gudi was a quick 30-minute one on a very good highway with the forest on both sides of us. Sounds from the forest were all around us till we reached the resort. Jungle Lodges’ Old Magazine House is just about half a kilometer from the turn off to Ganesh Gudi – a signboard on the highway points you up a rocky path which leads to the resort. The resort is a group of very basic cottages, a dormitory and a dining building. The whole setup is within a wooded area, giving you the impression that you are staying deep within a jungle. This, combined with the iffy mobile coverage, gives you the illusion of being very isolated.
As we alighted from our taxi, we were greeted by a long sustained melodious whistle. My first assumption was that it was someone so taken with the surroundings that they were expressing it with a tuneful, slightly off-key whistle. The people at the resort assured us that it was the resident songster, a Malabar Whistling Thrush, also called, and very aptly I might add, the Whistling Schoolboy. William comes to mind!
We checked in to our cottage – which was as basic as we had expected it to be. It was a spacious affair on stilts with a thatch roof – one large room with an attached toilet/bathroom. Two single wooden cots pushed together and a cement platform covered with a cloth served as the only ‘furniture’. Two plastic chairs were doing duty on the balcony – these we used in multipurpose mode – indoor clothes-stands, daytime seating, night-stands, charging stations for all our electronics, and of course, balcony seating.
As soon as we checked in, we went to have tea in the dining area. The dining area is definitely one of the highlights of the resort. It is the top of a building and has a thatch roof. It overlooks a thicket on one side, which is lined with bird baths. A whole bunch of birds hang out here – we saw a couple of Purple-rumped Sunbirds and a Black-headed Munia as we had tea.
We freshened up, returned to the dining area for a good lunch, and then went back to our cottage to rest, only for it to start raining heavily. It was then that we discovered another fact about the resort – the monsoons are rainy. Non-stop rains, all the time. We had caught a rare dry window when we checked in, and were finding out what the monsoon at Old Magazine House was really like. In the evening, when the rain slowed down to a drizzle (it didn’t stop), we went for a short walk. We saw Langurs on distant treetops, a Malabar Giant Squirrel, a Yellow-browed Bulbul and a bunch of noisy Rufous Babblers. On returning to the resort, we saw a Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher taking an evening dip in one of the bird baths. As we sat around eating pakodas, we saw more birds take advantage of the baths – a Brown-cheeked Fulvetta (yes, it got fully wet!), a Malabar Whistling Thrush and an Orange-headed Thrush.
By this time, everyone else in the resort had left, leaving us the only guests for the night. After a peaceful dinner, we retired.
Monday, September 06, 2010
The itinerary at Old Magazine House includes an early morning bird walk. Today’s bird walk was taken by the rain – it was pouring bucketfuls early in the morning, allowing us to sleep in. So, instead of the pre-breakfast bird walk, we indulged in it post-breakfast.
We left at about 10:30 A.M., accompanied by the knowledgeable Joma as our guide. A word about Joma is in order now. A senior citizen in the prime of life, he has been birding for about two years now. Armed with a pair of Olympus binoculars and a bird book in Hindi (which he says was given to him by a guest who was impressed by his help), he has learned all he knows about birds from birders who have visited the resort. He was quick at identifying birds, and was an interesting companion for the bird walk.
In a little more than 2 hours, we covered a couple of kilometers. But those have been the most fruitful birding time we’ve spent till now. We walked on the Londa highway, and spotted a regular procession of birds. On the path to the highway, we came across red-whiskered bulbuls and a couple of munias. As we turned right on the highway, Vidya spotted a couple of Pied Malabar Hornbills on a distant treetop. As she pointed them out, and Joma identified them, they took wing and flew across the valley before us and settled on another distant treetop. We tried to get a better look, but failed. It was an awesome sighting, but a poor photo op. Much later, we saw them flying back way over our heads.
After that came all the other birds, which I tried photographing with varying degrees of success. In order of spotting, here are the birds:
- Greater Coucal
- Chestnut-headed Bee-eater
- Greater Flameback
- Red-whiskered Bulbul
- Golden-fronted Leafbird
- Bronzed Drongo
- Yellow-browed Bulbul
- Scarlet Minivet
Post-lunch, we decided to go on a coracle ride. The weather had held so far, and it was a fair assumption that it would continue to do so. So we set off, Vidya and I in the back seat of a Jeep, Joma and another guide in the front with a driver. We went through Ganesh Gudi to the Supa river. As we crossed the river on a tall masonry bridge, we saw a Brahminy Kite patiently waiting on a branch overlooking the water. At the riverside, as the coracle was being prepared, it started raining. By the time we got into the coracle, it was raining too hard for a camera – so we went on a wet coracle ride the old-fashioned way – with just our minds to record the experience!
For the uninitiated, the coracle is a large circular basket, waterproofed with tar. It is about eight feet across, and is surprisingly shallow – about two feet deep. In the middle of this was placed a circular platform topped with a waterproof cushion. To one side was placed a small stool. We (Vidya, Joma and I) got in, one at a time, and sat on the central platform – our backs to each other. Then, the small ‘driver’ got in and sat on the stool. He had a large paddle with a shortish handle, and with this he paddled and steered. The ride itself was very smooth – of course, the rain was pelting down, and we held a couple of umbrellas to ward it away. We went on a short ride along one bank and then the other of the river. We went after a White-throated Kingfisher. He was sitting on a branch of some submerged trees, and at our approach, he took off and settled down on another branch not too far away. We kept coming, and he hopped to another branch. That didn’t stop us, and as we neared him again, he hopped again. This continued for a while until he got very annoyed with us and flew away with a shrill cry. I assume it’s safe to say he was hopping mad at us! We circled back to the landing where we had got into the coracle – and were back on land very quickly. We were pretty well-drenched, but nevertheless it was a pleasant ride.
Back at the resort, we changed out of wet clothes and spent the evening on our balcony, eating pakodas, drinking tea and watching the rain. The time between tea and dinner, and slightly after dinner too, we spent writing up this report!
Continued in Part 2