Many years ago, my partner had asked me if i was scared of Ghosts. I remember telling her, " no, i don't believe in Ghosts,.. but if a wild animal like, say a, Tiger or an Elephant were to appear, i will run for my life and so should you". The conversation had ended with how unheroic i was and... etc... ;-)
"The moonlight reaching the earth seems buffered by the monsoon clouds, creating an eerie greyish dark night. Though the monsoon rains are intermittent, a sudden gentle burst of rain drops scatter all over the river bank on which we are perched. In front of us flows the mighty Kaveri, with the unbroken sound of the cascading rapids, surrounding us in the silence of the night. A small fire burns at the edge of the bank, where the river skirts along, gently touching the firewood once in a while. Most of what is visible are the dark curvy silhouettes of the hills that stand across the river and the near by bushes and tree branches. The inner eye seems to be wide open. I am a little tense, fearing an elephant charge from behind us, or a sneaky crocodile just by my feet."
At approx. 100 Kms from Bengaluru, Galibore is a place tucked and well hidden, in the wilderness of the Kaveri Basin. We wanted to take a quick escapade for the weekend and booked ourselves a cosy tented cottage at Jungle Lodges and Resorts, Galibore Nature Camp. Once upon a time, this camp was famous for Fishing as a sport, but now fishing has been banned. The camp sits along the river and offers the perfect place to spend hours in solitude.
We started riding by 7.30 AM from Bangalore. The breakfast left my fingers with a thin layer of fresh butter, that was plonked generously on to the hot batter, spread on a sheet of cast iron, fired up by wood and coconut shells. The burning hot Davangere Benne (Butter) Dosay, was accompanied with a simple Potato onion side dish and spicy garlic coconut chutney. Two such dosays, shallow fried in butter, switched my mood straight into Riding mode.
The planned route took us to Kanakapura, about 50 Kms from Bangalore. From here, we had to deviate left to reach a place called Sangama, where the two rivers Arkavathi and Kaveri unite and flow towards the famous Mekedatu. The road passed through a few villages and then through a very nice patch of Jungle. The last few kms to reach Sangama presented a few opportunities to swing the bike through some amazing but dangerous curves. The road coiled down, reaching the Arkavathi river banks on to the left and headed straight towards the junction, where the two rivers united.
For us, the actual ride started here. I never expected this trip to drag us into such stunning, unexpected, adrenaline packed moments. A board on the right hand side indicated the directions to Galibore Nature Camp. The distance was 9 Kms. The first few meters started off with a worn out metaled road, after which, it was just a game road taking us through the forest all the way to the camp,..
".....curving and twisting gently, heading west, upstream of river Kaveri...."
The bike would slide on the sandy road and hold on to the jutting natural rubble at its edge. We were very excited and jokingly called it our official bike safari. I guess what we had uttered was heard by mother nature, who probably did not find it funny.
As i finished taking a video of ourselves with one hand, and accelerating gently with the other, a huge mass of elephant dung was visible on the road. I casually mentioned it to my partner. Few more meters ahead, several tree branches were stripped and thrown on the sandy road. My mind was on red alert. Very calmly, i expressed my concern to my partner,
"what can we do now, if elephants are there... they are there... " ....was what she had to say ,with aplomb that there was no way we would encounter the pachyderms..... indirectly hinting at me to stop overreacting.
My mind kept going back to the elephant charges that we had encountered during our safaris in Bandipura and Kabini Forests. Normally peaceful, these gentle giants aren't very gentle with their little ones around, or when it's a Tusker with increased levels of testosterone.
We travelled for some more time and my nerves calmed a bit and the grip on the handle loosened, but only for a fraction of a second.
"The first sign of a moving trunk, about 150 meters, dead ahead on the road, under a tree. The elephant is busy stripping branches and feeding only on parts of it."
My partner was stunned as the ride came to a grinding halt. At the sight of the elephant, the halo on her head vanished.
"What do we do now?" was THE question.
I turned off the engine and we decided to wait. The forest was filled with birds chirping and frolicking and the pachyderm stood there, feeding. I saw her, (i presume the matriarch) stop feeding and look down the road at us. Immediately, i turned off the pilot lamps which were ON. She continued feeding and just when i was about to lose my patience, a miniature trunk appeared from behind her. The little head of the calf was now visible. Then came another subadult from the thicket from the left and joined the calf. They fed with a very relaxed demeanor, as time ticked for us. I decided to turn the bike half way around, and wait for some more time. Inspite of the situation we were in, deep inside, i enjoyed being there, but fear had laid its blanket on the pleasure. I kept looking all around, just in case the Bull appeared, from some other location, to take a closer look at us.
The Matriarch now started moving along the road casually, heading towards us for a few meters, before she moved to our right hand side. The distance we maintained was enough for us to make a quick escape. After all, it was we who had intruded into their territory and it would have to be us to leave.
But the pachyderms obliged, and the other two also followed the female and moved off the road. Then came the surprise. 5 more followed the line and slowly moved towards our 2 O' Clock. The last one stopped on the road, quite indecisive whether or not to follow and waited there for another 3 to 5 minutes, before largest one joined and they both walked away, into the thicket. I started the bike and waited for a while till i was sure we could quickly pass by the pachyderms and when i was sure of making it safely, we went for the dash. The pachyderms looked at us as we passed at a safe distance. My partner made the most memorable video in recent times, as i kept a look out on the road.
My palms were wet and my head in the helmet felt more like it was in a pressure cooker.
We slowly rode over the terrain which now became rough and passed over mounds. We crossed a concrete bridge and plains with huge rocks.
"You can never guess, what could be around the next big rock or around the next curve.... or am i confusing another elephant for a rock? "
I was relieved as the Jungle Lodges board came into my field of view. We entered, met the Manager, Mr. Sunder. A humble talkative man, who was more than willing to help guests in every possible way, to ensure their comfort. Seeing the elephant video, he expressed his excited happiness at such a great sighting. Our bike safari had ended.
Too much adrenaline had entered my system. We checked into the tented cottage, freshened up and sat outside, absorbing the timelessness of this place, served with cold beer. We had loads of time to just relax and i took a very refreshing nap, listening to the calls of the Grey hornbill, the Crested Serpent Eagle and the Asian Paradise Flycatcher. The lunch was heavy and fulfilling, followed by another hour and a half, spent inside a cozy, dreamless, silent sleep.
By 5 PM, we were woken up, and invited to go for the coracle ride by one of the JLR staff.
"Banal Coracle rides, ... how many times have we not done it.."...was our thought.
We politely informed him to carry on, and slept for another half hour. At that point, we were unaware what would knock us down in the near future, on Day 2.
By 6PM, we reached the open banks of the river, where chairs were being set up for the eveing barbecue and a huge bunch of dried wood was placed, touching the waterline of the river. First time i had ever seen a camp fire placed almost on water.
I spent some time making images of the flowing river and the still green banks. One of the JLR staff came over and we had a very friendly chat regarding the wildlife around the region. He mentioned that bears arrive in this season, on the opposite bank to eat the fruits (Nerale Hannu or Jamun fruit), that would have fallen off the trees. I didn't take it seriously then. As the sun vanished behind the clouds, the evening became cooler and the gusts of breeze put me at ease on the banks... for a few moments only.
"Saar, Kardi ..kardi.. (Bear.. Bear)..."
OMG, 2 bears were foraging the bank on the opposite side, feeding on the fallen fruits. A big one walked ahead followed by a smaller one. I could not believe my eyes, as the bears went behind their priceless quarry. Some guests tried to make images of the far away bears. Undisturbed by anything, the bears continued with their routine for this season and took their own time, before vanishing into the thicket. This place was really wild, with elephants, bears, birds and most importantly Crocodiles (which had eluded my watchful eyes so far).
After the sunset, a beacon was made of wooden logs at the river's edge, and guests sat on the chairs on the bank, with minimal chatter. The barbecue had begun to smoke up with burning ember. The first round of gentle shower suddenly scattered around us. Me and my partner had placed ourselves on the opposite end, away from the barbecue corner, facing the river, as it was much more serene there. I was surprised when one of the staff members walked up to a small patch of land behind us, and lit up another bunch of firewood and made a slowly burning flame. Upon enquiry, he said..
"Elephants Saar, ... Some time ago, a tusker stood behind the barbecue counter behind the trees. When we shined a torch to see if there was something there, it charged at us. Luckily, it was a mock charge and it turned around and left."
He requested us to sit closer to the other quests. I wondered if fire at the water's edge was to keep the crocs away. We willingly obliged and moved in closer to the others, but only for a few minutes. We had to run with all the party materials in our hands as rains poured heavily. We took shelter under a tree, higher on the banks while most of the other guests were now in the dining area. Luckily, the rains ceased after some time leaving the banks empty for us. A couple walked down followed by us, and we sat there, enjoying the night. The manager joined us for some time as we spoke about his experiences in wilderness. I was intrigued as to why the other couple kept shining their powerful torch across the river. Finally they left for dinner.
It was when the vodka had kicked in well and we were to move for dinner, a JLR staff member walked down to the river's edge and sprayed his torch light onto the opposite bank. There it was, only the shining eye visible, just peaking out of the water surface from the opposite bank.
The shining eye kicked the vodka out of my blood. It was adrenaline again which was in place. Half the float in my head vanished. It was indeed mesmerising to watch this beautiful sight, the shining eye, with the sound of the rapids adding mystery to the scene.
We had a great dinner and sat in front of our tent for some more time, absorbing the night and its sounds.
We woke up overwhelmed by the previous night's experience on the Great Kaveri river bank and how wilderness had a magical effect on us. On the previous night, the manager insisted on not missing the coracle ride. Though we were not too keen on the slow coracle ride, we did take the Manager's words seriously and decided to leave at 7am. The road got worse as we sat in the bouncy jeep, with a carriage attached, onto which a coracle was tied.
Once we were on the river, the 3 of us including The Coracle Master, we could not blink, as the beauty of nature unfolded all around us, pristine and untouched.
I knew it was a perfect decision to take the coracle ride. We had chosen to go upstream from the resort, and ride down the river to resort. What we did not know, was this stretch was better suited for River Rafting. The coracle travelled faster than usual and finally we hit the rapids.
When you steer a car, it turns and you know how much it will turn. Do you know how to steer a coracle? Well the coracle itself is a steering. So if you were to sit on the steering, how do you steer it? without making a turtle out of the coracle... This man was a genius at his job as he solved the labyrinth of rapids, with a single oar gripped in his deft strong hands. He told us the name given to the rapids at some places, asked us to hold on to the coracle frame tight and enjoy the ride. The coracle swung at The most awkward that angles you can imagine. To add to the swing, every time it entered a rapid, Mother Kaveri blessed me. I was almost completely wet, at the first rapid itself. Larger swings were to be mounted as we floated quickly over the waters. I was not at all prepared for this, and neither was my partner.
Again, no blood in my veins,.... only adrenaline.... clinging on to dear life were my palms without any efforts from my side. My camera was completely wet.
Though i had done river rafting several years ago, there was a very basic difference. There, we got into an inflated rubber raft to go rafting. Here, we got into a humble coracle, to go rafting.
The Master would give out a veteran's laugh after a rough ride and parallely share his humble experience in these pristine forests as a young boy, as a youthful adult and now, as a middle aged adventurous man. My heart went out for him as he shared bits and pieces of his life with us.
A Grey Headed fish Eagle, called from somewhere far away. We were at ease mentally, yet extremely alert and active physically. Like a newborn who clings on to his mother, confident that she would not drop him, i clung on to the coracle and its Master's stories, as he steered the coracle around the rocks amidst the rapids, showing us the deadly ubiquitous whirlpools.
Atlast, we reached calmer waters and after a while, landed on the banks of the resort. I found my palms shivering due to the continuous hold it had subjected itself to, without my permission. We thanked him well for his time and skill. We headed to our tent with rejuvenated exuberance, freshened up for the day, packed and headed straight for a wonderful breakfast.
We rumbled out of the resort by 10 AM. I was extremely careful and cautious as the elephants had been sighted around the same region, previous evening by other guests and JLR staff. We finally reached Sangama, and headed uphill, towards Kanakapura, on the winding roads.
"4 days after this experience, as i write this blog, i can still feel the power that surged into my body, prepared for anything that would be thrown at me in the middle of wilderness. I guess Mother Nature has spared me there, in the forests of the kaveri basin, by only chipping in with what's needed for my imagination, to strike out a string of feelings in my heart,.. that made me feel both fear and overwhelming emotions, all in their purest form. Most importantly, i did'nt abandoned my partner and run for my life ;-)"