Monday, August 17, 2009

Masinakudi - Call of the wild

I have been planning this trip for quite a few months. I had asked lot of my friends to have a decent gathering to venture in to Bhandipur forest region. After I was tired enough asking friends to join me, there comes a meetup message from Hyderabad Adventure Club ( organizer Diyanat Ali, that starts with "Masinakudi is an exotic locale situated a few kilometers before Ooty, on the Karnataka - Tamil Nadu Border" . I jumped on it and did RSVP immediately and got couple of my colleages RSVP as well. I and with fellow club members did a weekend trek in the masinakudi jungle to find out the reality.

Day 1, 13th August (Start at MGBS at 6 PM on a KSRTC bus to Mysore):I and my colleagues - Vishal and Tulsi reached the meeting point right on time just before the bus was to start heading towards Mysore. Rajan who is managing this trek in the absence of Diyanat, called us almost for every 5 minutes to ensure we are there. It was a 12-14 hours long journey with some video entertainment. I am glad to mention that we were 18 normal persons + 1 wild man in the bus. He made the journey very easy for many of us. I have company of Tulsi, Vishal, Rajan, Vibha, Sundar, Ranjan, Komal, Naren, Manisha, Maria, Mamiko, Vibha, Rachna, Padmaja, Piyush, Kranti(the singer), Vineet, Prasad and Rama. I made it a point to sleep at least for 6 hours in the bus to make sure I have enough energy for the next day light treks. I am blessed with ability sleep in the bus for as long as it does not stop.

Day 2, 14th August - Mysore to Gopalswami betta to Masinakudi, light evening trek in Masinakudi. We got of the bus in Mysore around 8 AM and boarded another bus towards Masinakudi with a short detour via Gopalaswamy betta. (Picture to the right that shows temple is copied from HAC website). The hill was amazing and tempting to hike down and up. We learnt from the bus driver that trekking is prohibited in this zone. We got off the bus near the temple to see a beautiful view from the hilltop. We still ventured for a short trek and captured quite a few photographs. This is worth a halt for couple hours but we only had 30 minutes to get back to into the bus to reach masinakudi in time for an evening trek. We got back into the bus in time. The bus ride turned into a safari the soon it entered the Mudumalai forest. We spotted a deer and an elephant on the way. What disappointed me and the other frekkers was that the elephant's legs were tied so that it stays there for the visisters to look at. You can notice even a bell tied to the trunk. We had smiles back on the face when we saw a herd of elephants very soon, bus driver slowed down a little bit for us to take a look at it. I was busy watching it, couldnt focus my camera quick enough to capture the picture. We reached Wisherping Meadows around 2.30. Suresh & Padmini, the owners of the resort, prepared a very good lunch with their helping staff. Ali with his son and two of his friends - Gauhar and Javed Razzak joined us here. Ali did fantastic 'field work' for our stay and further trek. Suresh along with Ramesh, one of the proffessional guides, took us to the water front for a short wild walk where we posed for a group photo.The water front was gorgeous, I took tons of photographs of the river, one of them is below.

Everybody has loads of excitement for the next day. Suresh told that there was an incident in the morning around 7 AM in the trek route that we were going to take next day. A french lady was stamped by an elephant on a rage when she was taking photographs of the baby elephant. Forest officials have stopped all the treks in that region indefintely. He said he is working on an alternate trek trail that he would let us know next day. After that we got into the jeeps to another nearby water stream where swimming and playing in the water is "reasonably safe". I decided to put off my camera and just have fun, did not take any pictures. Then we got off the water and played on the bank for a while, got back to the resort. When I thought its all over for the day, there comes another surprise from Rajan and Suresh - a night safari. I didnt even imagine that I will be as close as two to three feet away from a wild elephant! It was freightning excitement. The driver of the jeep stopped just beside a wild elephant he was ready to pump up the gas as soon as the elephant reacts. I was sitting on the front seat where there is not even a door. Earlier I took elephant rides however they were properly trained not to harm but these mammals here are wild and not trained.
Day 3 - the real trek - Call Of The Wild: All of us got up really early with excitement. Rajan was last to wake up and get ready. There is no lack of excitement though. We started the day as usual with lot of jokes and pulling each others leg and Naren being as wild as he can be. He was firm footed to introduce hyderabad hindi and chindi to all the group. We hoisted the flag early in the morning, sweets were distribute after the national anthem and had our breakfast after that. Suresh got our lunch packed in two small boxes each to fit in our backpacks. Its confimed that we are taking an alternate trekking trail (actually there is no such trail, we followed elephant trails) where there is less of wild life and more of hiking. Many of us are not very keen on the animals, we just thought we will be lucky(?) if we could spot any wild animals on our way. We finally set out to trek with a group photo before the start and wondering what would it look like after the trek. I missed this movement on the camera, I am sure I will fill that pretty soon with a picture from others cameras. This is where we started our trek - start of no mans land(picture on the left). We had three guides with us - Laxman (the lead), Magesh and another assistant.
After almost 45 minutes of trek, we had was our first teaser (image on the right). We wanted to get further up in that direction, guide restricted us stating that it is not a safe zone. We had no choice but start walking behind him :(. After we walked on the hill top for about half an hour more, we had a glimse of our hiking location. Everybody had their high adrinaline to venture in various directions but Laxman and Rajan put on sheppard's shoes to contain the crowd in one group. There were quite a few clicks I heard the moment we had a slightest view of the valley. After 15-20 minutes of almost flat descent, I spotted elephant movement in the stream between hills/valley. Laxman initially denied it but in few seconds Magesh confirms the movement. Now everybody took different positions as if they have found an enemy and trying to find ways to approach and capture. Laxman did few feats there climbing down a huge rock almost without any support and figured this is not the easiest, then he chose a different non-existant trail to climb down. Meanwhile cameras roared with pictures as the spot where we were was awesome. On the right is the part of the group with Rajan sitting on the rock with Vibha, Rachna, Maria and Ranjan. On the left is The Photographer. We started our descent in a shortwhile for about 500-600 meters down. There was no pre-existing trail. We were just climbing down with grass support and stepping into elephant trails while we walk across them. Elephant trails are almost flat with very little elevation lost. So, we decided to walk across and make our own trail. On the right is Vibha looking up the hill to see how the rest of the crew is doing in hiking down. We still ahve a long way to go (image on the left shows what is waiting). Few guys literally crawled down with both hands and both legs actively engaged. It rained ealrier in the night to make the trek little slipper and offering very little grip. In a short while, everybody started enjoying the fun of hiking down on slippery hill. Rajan even tried sliding down the hill for couple meters on the grass. All the time I was worried about how my ankle would perform during and after the trek, I decided to it slow and watchful. After almost 2-3 hours of hiking down, we reached the stream in the valley where the elephants were spotted relaxing. By the time we almost reached down, herd was hiking up in a different direction. We took two different patch to get to our lunch place. One of the paths was rocky where passed through a small section where there is no cover for slippage, we would end up straight the water and likely drift down in the water for 10 ft for another two meter fall further. We took a short ( 1 hr? ) break down there. Everybody played in the water for while. Some of spotted a small snake up stream that was holding on to a tiny rock in the middle. There was a debate if that was a baby spectacled cobra or some sort of water snake. No one really ventured to take any closer look at it to find out.
Picture on the left was captured on Manisha's cam. I could only find this photograph without her on the camera :). Manisha and Naren probably had few hundrads of photos each with them in the middle of the scenic beauty all the way in the trek and at lunch spot. I have captured one of those moments of this species down here. Naren took video of all the movements that we had that were revisted laterat the cottage. I am looking forward to a short youtube version. We started hiking up around 2.30 PM hoping to get to the cottages by 5 PM. It turned out to be a two hours hike up and an hour and half walk to reach the cottages. One of the guys had a shock when he looked down half the way. Tulasi supported him till mid way until we reached a mid way halt. Then Rajan decided the slow trekkers to be kept in the middle sothat they know they are not the last which worked like charm. Whoever was trekking slow so far started trekking little faster without they noticing it. Vibha is one of the ace trekkers and was ahead of everybody. Her group stopped when they realized they are following a herd of elephants and waited for the guide Laxman to lead the way. Meanwhile I and Ranjan joined the group. Subhansu had a magic spray that helped Ranjan and me to prevent a cramp. We started hiking up when Laxman joined. We had couple of more pit stops on the way up. It was overall a two hour hike up. By the time we reached the hilltop, almost everybody ran of out of water and started sharing the backup engergy drinks that many had carried with them. Guides rushed us to get out of the forest. They were worried that this is the time that several herds are going to be on the hilltop. There are many bushes as well for wild animals to hide and attack that guides feared. Finally we entered into a villlage nearby in alternate path. We were stumped by the scenic beauty. Rajan requested for the scenary to be captured. I have set my camera for tungstun light and ISO 400, f/8.0, exposure 1/100s. Here is how it was confined on the camera:

We returned to the cottage and walked into the masinakudi town/village shopping place. Some of us bought chocolates, fruits and other stuff. We got back in time for dinner followed by campfire. Couple of pictures from campfire site(From Manisha's camera):

Group photo of all the "Frekkers" (Freaking trekkers):

I have lot more that I couldnt get in this post. It was very well organized trek with lot of research done by Ali. Looking forward to see more of these from Diyanat and Rajan.