Friday, June 6, 2008

Nagerhole National Park, Madikeri

Nagerhole National Park, Madikeri

Wildlife Photography------ A Passion To Pursue: Aftermath of NGC Exhibition!

I owe the idea of wildlife photography much to National Geographic Channel, especially, the programmes like Nat Geo Wild and Nat Geo Classics that used to capture my imagination since the days of its inception in Indian television. In addition to this, my love for pets and wildlife initiated in me by Jim Corbett and Kenneth Anderson has gone a long way in making this hobby a passion to pursue.

I am grateful to many persons and organizations who have helped me and off course the relentless enthusiasm I received from my mother were a constant source of inspiration. I have also got an able school friend, Subhas Roy, who shares the same view as me. Our mental wavelengths match and both of us share the same opinion. It’s better to shoot by a camera than by a gun. Our partnership has grown from the day we ventured in this new game that is catching on pace in the Indian subcontinent.

My association with NCBS/ GKVK (National Centre for Biological Sciences/ Gandhi Krishi Vigyana Kendra) at Hebbal, Bangalore started during my B.Sc. days where I had done a DBT project as a part of my curriculum. My childhood interest drew me closer to the Centre for Ecological Sciences, IISc, Bangalore where I am still a member and volunteer. Later in 2008, my association with one of India’s most renowned “Tiger Biologist”, Dr. Suhail Quader came to me as a ‘dream come true’.

My association with him as a photographer has taken me to some of India’s richest and densest forests, blossoming with the goodness of its natural flora and fauna, like Bandipur (Our present centre at Project Tiger Census 2007-11), Mudumalai, Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Thane (Mumbai), Jim Corbett National Park, Himalaya foothills at Almora, Sunderbans, Naamkhali Tiger Reserve in Sunderbans, Kaziranga in Assam and the latest addition to this growing list are Nagerhole National Park in Madikeri (Coorg) and Wayanad Sanctuary on Kerala/ Karnataka border.

As a part of Project Tiger at Bandipur, I have got some of the wonderful opportunities to film the wild at its supreme best. It has lend me opportunities to culminate and hone my photographing skills and perhaps that is the reason and with God’s immense blessings my photographs were selected for exhibition by National Geographic Asia at Bombay Natural History Society at Mumbai, this Sunday on 18 May 2008.

The photographs that were selected along with some of my best photographs are here below:




I am grateful to BBC Wildlife, WWF India, BNHS (Mumbai), GreenPeace and NGC Asia for selecting my photos for exhibition.

I am also equally grateful to Empower Research Knowledge Services Pvt. Ltd. to have given every weekend holidays that helps me in pursuing my passion and keeps me at right pace with my job, my second hobby. Its refreshing break from the busy schedule of ones life to spend 2 of the seven days in the lap of mother nature. Its exhilarating to such an extent that the break can pump up your cylinders and you are right there raring to go and start a new beginning of a new week. Perhaps my article can inspire others to broaden their love for nature.

By Arunava Das, Media Analyst, MM Team. 21-05-2008

Nagerhole National Park, Madikeri

Nagerhole National Park, Madikeri

Nagerhole National Park, Madikeri

Two Nights and One Day in Harmony (May 16-18, 2008)

Weekends to some are meant for partying, discos and liquor. They are of the opinion that these are vehicles that relieve tension from their fast-paced life. As one of the millions of fast paced Indians working relentlessly towards attaining a bright future, I do have a different opinion.

Weekends to me are opportunities to explore the mystery of nature. Spending a few moments in the lap of nature, though not a long holiday, can be equivalent to small doses of tonics that boosts up dropping shoulders. Nature’s exhilarating freshness, the calm pleasant surroundings lending an aesthetic touch and the 99.9% pure fresh air that you inhale can do more wonders than contemporary medicines that contain liberal doses of caffeine.

This is what takes me twice or thrice a month to different natural locations in and around Karnataka that are easily accessible in one and a half days. Moreover, my association with Project Tiger Census 2007-11 at Bandipur Wildlife Sanctuary, Mysore has come as a boon to a nature-lover like me.

Last week as it was nearing Thursday, I made up my mind that I will be spending my weekends at a rather unheard location, Nagerhole National Park that is also adjacent to Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala. Getting a forest stay is not a problem for me as I have a pass that allows me free and unprohibited entry into all National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries throughout India till 2011. The only problem for me was my childhood friend, Subhas Roy, an engineer with First Source Group, who also shares the same wavelength as me.

We decided to start after office hours on Friday and be back on Sunday evening so that we do not miss our office on Monday. This meant I had to be ready with everything on the same Thursday night. For me entry into a forest is easy and also getting a night stay and other necessary arrangements were not a headache. My friend had to get a pass. Right at 6:00 in the evening, I left office and headed straight to Aranya Bhavan, 18th Cross, Malleshwaram, Bangalore (# 080-23341993). Office timings are 9:00am to 7:30pm. I reached there, braving the evening traffic, at 7:15pm, right on time. Luckily the Head Project Tiger, Mr. Srinivasan was still there and getting a pass for my friend hardly took 10min.

While coming back, I booked our tickets from the KSRTC Office at Malleshwaram. Airavat (A/C) bus fare approximates to 306/- per head. Bus starts at different schedules but we had preferred the night last slot at 11:10pm. from Kempegowda Bus Stand at Majestic. If one books the return ticket along with the journey ticket, one can avail a discount of 10%.

As usual we kept our bags ready beforehand and at 7:30 in the evening next day we left for KBS, Majestic. From Majestic, the bus left on time and we reached Mercara (Coorg/ Madikeri) without any hassles.

Our bus touched Mercara at 4:45 next morning. The climate, as usual, was cold (nearing 16° C). We had already booked a homestay in advance. The cold early morning greeted us with a sense of gratitude and humor. Still dark, our estate manager was waiting for us at the stand and within half-an-hour we reached our homestay, strategically positioned on the top of a rising hill. The morning was cloudy and misty and as we reached the door steps we could see cottony swarms of cloud enveloping us. This offered us some of the beautiful photographs of the mountainous countryside full of forests and surrounding greenery. The birds started to chit chatter, bringing natural music, soothing our ears.

We had approximately 2 hours in hand to refresh ourselves before we embarked on the long journey of 96kms. to Nagerhole. We started in a rented forest jeep at 7:00am and reached Nagerhole by 10:45am., right on time. On the way, we had stopped for half an hour at the picturesque Irrupi Falls. Here we found the most abundant and one of the most beautiful butterflies that are endemic to this region and the Western Ghats, the Malabar Banded Peacock (Papilio buddha).

The vast expanses of deciduous forests were awesome. This forest is quite different from Bandipur at Mysore, which is dry and scrubby, with thorny bushes reaching a height of 6-7 ft., providing ideal hideouts for tigers and leopards.

Soon we were ready, equipped with my old Kodak 6mm and my friend, Subhas with his Sony Digi 8.1 x expandable camera. Right at 11:00 am we reached the forest house, 1.5 km interior from the main entrance. Here we had availed ourselves a VIP suite with all modern amenities. However, it would not be correct to call it a housing complex or a hotel. The complex comprised of 8-9 tents with 2 concrete buildings. The tents served as forest housings, 6 of them meant for tourists and the remaining two were of VIP mode. One concrete building housed the Forest Guard Complex with all the ammunitions and vehicles and temporary living bunks for the officials, the other was the Forest Ranger’s Office. There are a total of 25 forest guards with one forest ranger. The forest houses are partially run by the Government of Karnataka, Division of Forests and by privately owned chain of resorts, The Jungle Inns. So there were also a handful of people belonging to the Jungle Inn as well as some foreign tourists.

Our tent had 3 divisions: one part was the sitting cum dining space with a large round table capable of accommodating 5 people, the inner chamber was the master bedroom with two double beds and neatly laid cots and blankets and the third portion on the right hand side was the western style loo. The floor of the tent was the wet damp forest floor. So, the whole inner circumference of the tent was laid out with a red glossy carpet. This was a natural air conditioner and the temperature inside the tent hovered around a low of 14- 21° C, depending on the outside climate.

Our forest guide was one Mr. Manohar Reddy, who is in the business for 15 long years. He told us that the ideal time to be in the forest in search of tigers is between 6:30 pm to 7:00 am. According to him this is the best time we stand a chance to witness the grace of the “king of the jungle”. Because of our tiring journey, my friend was in a spot of bother. I, however, have been a seasoned forest trotter. So, as advised by Mr. Reddy, Subhas took an early bath followed by a light lunch and went to sleep. He advised us to start at 4:30 in the afternoon so as to reach the watch tower at the southern end of Nagerhole by sun down. There we would be spending the rest of the night in search of the tigers.

In the meantime, I savored the idea of going round the forests on foot. So, accompanied by Mr. Reddy and one forest guard carrying a 1978 model 6.5mm Mannlicher, German made with only 12 bullets, I started my journey along with my friend’s borrowed Sony Digi. I clearly knew if a tiger made up its mind to launch an attack on us, our ammunitions would not be enough until and unless we had among ourselves a great hunter like Jim Corbett. A tiger, however, generally attacks only and only if it is injured or when it is challenged because of its age. The other reason is when one strays into a tiger’s domain. These beasts are highly territorial and will leave no stone unturned in defending its territory. One more interesting fact is that humans are not the tiger’s natural prey. They generally predate on deer, buffaloes and other mammals. The human deaths that are recorded in history are mostly responsible for the man-animal conflicts arising of the continuous depletion of the tiger’s natural habitat. I therefore see no harm when I hear of human deaths because it is us who are responsible.

However, we didn’t encounter any of the wild beasts that are known to harm humans; instead we got some delightful friendly chitals, Spotted Deer (Axis axis), who welcomed us from close distance. This was the closest I had been with these animals, who can actually warn you of an approaching tiger along with langurs and forest birds. We returned to our base after spending solid 2 hrs on foot.

DSC01082 to DSC01110

After returning to our tent at 1:45, I quickly had a warm bath followed by Coorg special lunch with steaming rice balls, spicy pork keema, and plain rice with sambhar. No lunch in Coorg is complete without tasting the home-made wines made of grapes and pomegranate. After a medium-heavy lunch, I pampered myself with a short nap.

At 4:30 in the afternoon, both of us were up from a good sleep with a fresh body and mind. The enthusiasm of my friend was something notable and we were ready in a matter of 10 min. After a quick tea with home-made coconut biscuits, we were back at our jeep. At 5 pm we started. This time, we made sure our jeep was covered from all sides except at the back, where a small window size opening was left for us to enjoy the outside scenery. This elaborate arrangement was done in order to protect us from the sharp claws of a leaping tiger. We waded through the winding, bumpy forest roads. Every moment we felt that a tiger might appear and block our way, but nothing happened and we reached safely at the watch tower that is also bordering the neighboring Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala.

These watch towers are typically at a height of 7-10ft providing an unobstructed view of the forests till your eyes can capture. These are stout steel-iron structures that are having a small room like chamber at the top covered on all sides by steel wires. It is connected to the forest floor by a flight of 20 stairs. The stairs are having gaps between them and one has to be extremely cautious while climbing up the stairs; the gaps are provided so that tigers or leopards can’t climb upstairs. The one in which we are planning to stay the night is strategically positioned near a mountainous stream surrounded on all sides by dense shrubby bushes along with silver oak trees that form the forest canopy. The stream is approximately 5-7 ft away from the tower and separates Nagerhole from Wayanad. Attempting to climb down past 6:30 in the evening will be a deliberate attempt of suicide as we were told that it is around 6:30 or 7:00 pm the tigers come to have a drink at the stream. The bushes are just 5 hand distance away and it was getting time for the sun to set. The driver quickly realigned the jeep so that the back of the jeep faces the stairs.

The guard at the top of the tower cautiously opened the door and with his gun was ready. The guard at our jeep was also ready with the gun in firing position. The sun was on the verge of setting and now is the testing time for us. Such elaborate arrangements wouldn’t have been necessary if we would have arrived even half an hour earlier. The guards were ready to ward of any approaching animals that might endanger us. One can feel while going through this article what was going through our minds at that particular moment.

A gush of adrenaline regularly kept pumping through our feeble bodies (feeble when compared with the 90-120 pounds of muscle that a tiger possesses). Also tigers are known to leap to a height of 7-9 mts. easily without much effort and this made our task little more difficult considering the fact that we have to climb up the stairs right on the firing line belonging to the tiger.

It was getting dark and whatever has to be done has to be done quickly. It was decided that Subhas should go up first as he was new to the surroundings. I will be the last to climb up. Both the forest guard now took the firing position and Mr. Reddy advised us to move on. Subhas carefully completed the climb and just as he got inside the safety of the “cage”, the tower, we heard the alarm calls of the langurs and birds. They were warning the forest folk of an approaching tiger. The langurs were barking loud and vigorous, meaning the king of the jungle was nearby.

They were perhaps witnessing a circus, the plight of two inexperienced forest folks to climb up to safety, and thought it wise to warn us of the approaching danger. I was however quick to response and jumped out of the jeep in no time and in doing so had a bad fall. The Kodak camera that I was holding firmly in my hand now slipped as I fell and now was lying 3-4 inches beyond my reach facing the shrubs. Note: Tigers attack when humans stoop down. They wait for the right opportunity and then take the deadly leap such that they can strike the victim right on the neck. The crushing force of the tiger’s jaw will naturally crush the neck and the victim will be instantaneously paralyzed.

I knew this technique, but at crunch situations you tend to panic and forget simple things that might cost your life. It was not the time for me to nurse my injury and as I stood up and went to stoop down to pick up my camera, the guard at the top suddenly started firing followed by the guard who was standing near the jeep. The guard at the top later told me that he had seen the striped yellow hide of the tiger in the bushes near me and that his experienced eye can’t be wrong. Perhaps hearing the gun shots the tiger abandoned its idea of launching an attack on me and moved away. I was saved as the guard reacted instantaneously.

I, however, did not abandon my idea of stooping down and picked up the camera and ran upstairs. Perhaps the biggest mistake I committed in my life was this! Any ways luck always favors the brave and luckily the guard saw the “king of the jungle” at the right moment and let of his gun at the right time. For the few moments, I had my heart in my mouth.

For the rest of the night, we didn’t sleep and were on a constant guard and lookout for the tiger as it might appear again after it had failed to launch an attack. The sudden shock I received meant that I lost my sleep that night. However, the tiger chose not to appear again. I had missed on a wonderful opportunity, though we were handicapped in night photography, both because we were not experienced as well as we lacked proper instruments.

At 5:30 early morning, Mr. Reddy and others had already arrived. We had eventually slept of perhaps in the early hours of dawn. We realized when Mr. Reddy and others started frantically calling our names. They were also worried as I had a miraculous escape the other evening.

However, I had regained my confidence. At the break of dawn, at 6:00 we started our journey back to the base. Here they were really relieved to see us back. We were grateful to all the forest staffs and Mr. Reddy to spare little time for us in spite of their busy schedule. At 8:30, we started our journey back to Coorg.

Shocks can actually serve as energy boosters and even after an almost sleepless night under heavy tension, we were enthusiastic enough to attempt a small one hour trek on the rough mountain tracks of Madikeri. Perhaps that is the beauty and energy of youth.

So, at 11:30 after reaching our homestay, we quickly refreshed ourselves with a hot bath and a light meal and set on for the trek. Please find here the photos --- DSC01111 to DSC01152--- of the countryside, Raja’s Seat and the Fort and its adjoining prison areas that dates back to the 15th century and was owned by the Coorg Maharajas, Shivaji and eventually the British. We also took a 2.5 km joyous toy train ride there.

On our way back, I bought some of the finest honey and coffee from the government shop. Finally at 3:45, we were back at our homestay. Quickly we packed back our bags and refreshed ourselves as it was already late and at 4:00 in the afternoon we caught an auto for the bus stand. The bus was already there and at 4:45, we left the majestic environment of Coorg/ Madikeri for Bangalore. We were back by 11:00 at night.

Thus our fairytale tour to Coorg ended here and I eager to be back to Coorg and plan to visit the wilderness of Kerala, till then goodbye and will be back with other interesting narrations accompanied by breathtaking photos.

Arunava Das, Media Analyst, Media Monitoring