We walked over to Rame Gowda’s farm to see what the elephants had done. Not a lot actually, they’d been quite discreet. A few broken papaya trees and giant footsteps into one paddy field. In at about 2 am and out soon after. The only sure proof they were there – a few lovely, olive balls of elephant dung. The last time he had elephants was about 15 years ago. Rame Gowda's farm is the prettiest thing around. He takes impeccable care of it and is always there - pottering around, ploughing, sowing, cleaning. It is terraced in small multi-leveled pieces, like a jigsaw cum maze. A large, old Jackfruit tree keeps it shady. And then he has the hills closing in on him on his north-west border. Right now he’s trying lowland paddy, so it’s even lovelier – electric green and soft. He borders the fields with orange kanakambara flowers. It feels like a little jewel tucked away quiety and much loved.
On Saturday night I lit tiny lamps on the verandah and we sat out beneath the stars. Away from the light pollution of the city, the Milky Way was visible, a scarf strewn against the night sky.
On Monday morning while the rest headed back to Bangalore, we set off, with Peter and Ina, to Masinagudi. Peter had given Ina a Canon camera for Christmas, so we were ok for documentation! All the pictures in this blog are thanks to Peter and Ina. They took about 800 pictures in India - from crazy traffic in Bangalore to, well, crazy traffic in Masinagudi :)
When Zui was little, soon after we passed the little Hanuman temple and entered Bandipur we would say “Keep your eyes peeled” and one time we noticed that she actually did! So that’s now a family ritual except that Zui is now a Jungle Nazi and won’t let anyone breathe once we enter the sanctuary. She and Mark.
Anyway, we headed slowly to self same Mark Davidar’s Cheetal Walk. Passing all the beloved turns and bends. Strangely there were no herds of deer at the Bandipur Tourist Centre and we wondered about that. Mudhumalai, Theppekadu, Masinagudi township, Bokkapuram, Mavanahalla.
It was about 5.45pm when we made Mark’s turn off. The sun was low as we drove in and then lo and behold! There was a massive tusker in front of his verandah. We had heard earlier about his tuskers – Carlos and Rivaldo, but to think one of them was there on arrival! It was a trip. We just stopped and gaped. Then Mark came out and gestured us in. In seconds we were on the verandah and there, about 8-10 feet away was this majestic wild animal. Watching us, aware. It was scary enough to warrant we stayed close to the doors. Except, that is, for Jungle Nazi Zui who sat on a chair and gazed on bliss. “Back Rivaldo”, said Mark in a normal sounding voice, as he was saying “morning Zui”. And then as it got dark, “Go away now, come tomorrow.” And the 9 ½ foot wild Pachyderm turned away and walked towards the side of the house, stopped a moment, looked back and disappeared into the forest. It was an experience like nothing we’ve known, this liminality. Some sort of poignant meeting between two souls, wrought by years of fostering trust and trying a different sort of communion. What must it mean to communicate so subtly? How unspeakably beautiful. And in what contrast to the vulgar crassness of the forest department bus drivers – honking at a Gaur, yelling at others who have stopped. And in what painful contrast to the general traffic on the Sigur Road – speeding, honking non-stop, some Sabarimalai pilgrims holding flags and even yelling out the window.
That night we heard two massive, really massive, roars. A tiger very close by. Peter and Ina were sleeping in the open attic and Ina was terrified. The next day she told us that she seriously considered sleeping in the loo to keep atleast a little concrete between her and the tiger!
The next day, we drove to Vazhaithottam to pick up idlis and Murugan, Mark’s Man Friday. We sat in Basheer's strawberry pink shop waiting for breakfast to be packed.
In the short time it took us to get back to Mark’s verandah, another elephant walked onto the corridor. We couldn’t tell if it was a tusker – but there it was, rusty red in the morning light. Both the waterholes had cheetal by them and there was a large herd crossing the verandah. Sitting on Mark’s verandah was like being at a wild life traffic crossing. There were peacocks and langurs and wild boar. Then the deer. Then sambar. Then a medium herd of Gaur. At one point, a baby elephant stepped out of the shadows towards the water hole – no other elephants followed, just the little one.
We drove up the hill to Ooty and had lunch at Shinkow’s and then got back to the verandah. Around 5.30pm, a mother bear followed by a little cub walked across the corridor. It just went on and on. And I never get tired of cheetal. How pretty they are and how lovely the play of light on them.
But neither Carlos nor Rivaldo came by this day. Then that night, around 11pm, Zui asked Kuki to make sure the door was shut, so he went to the door and looked out on the verandah… In the velvet darkness, there stood Carlos, swaying gently on the sandy floor before the verandah. Not eating, nothing. Just standing close on hand. In a way this was even more beautiful a sighting. Black on black. The shadow of a wild boar near by and this big elephant just there.
Nothing more to add. Back in the city, I’m holding onto that image. An elephant swaying in the darkness, by the chair of a person who has spent 25 years seated there.