Magadi to Masinagudi

Our Deepavalli weekend was beautiful this year. No crackers, no noise, no debris. Just happy dogs and lots of family and friends at Infinite Souls. Sad that Kiara had to stay in the city, but I haven’t as yet figured how to bring her to the farm and not have her freak out. She’s a city girl; used to her roof tops, spiral staircase, garden and full-on Cat Domination.

So there we were, a bunch of us, spread out between the El and both the cottages. Folks began to get in by noon on Saturday and by late Sunday it was full house. The oven had been packed variously with roasts, cinnamon biscuits, rosemary bread, spinach and corn au gratin and maki dhal. (You’ve never had maki dhal till you’ve eaten one that was cooked 12 hours in a woodfire oven)

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 :)

We took the gorgeous Savandurga Road between Magadi Road and Ramnagaram and then on to Mysore. There is something about that little 22km stretch past fantastic rock surfaces, ponds, old villages, temples, herds of goats, a barber’s shop, a timber yard, more rocks, forest. It’s worth the drive just to experience it. And leaving from Magadi, made it even better. We made our way to the Metropole in Mysore for lunch. Sat out on cane chairs beneath a slowly turning fan and everything felt just so.

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.


  1. Wow Kirtu you should send this to the news papers, just to make people aware of the beautiful animals around us and how they can help in letting them be.
    Your farm is a little jewel to be nurtured and loved for all the pleasure it gives you and all of us lucky people-thank you.
    Rame Gowda and Mark are special people too.

  2. Almost forgot, gorgeous pictures, congrats Ina,loved meeting you &Peter.

  3. Hi,

    Such a great experience you have had in one of the biggest eco hot-spots of our country!

    I had been to Mudumalai earlier but was seriously rattled by the 'touristy' environment everywhere.

    Am greatly excited by listening about such a place like Mark's which would provide the perfect setting for nature lovers. Is there a chance that you are aware of any contact no.s to get in touch with Mark?

  4. Hi Sharan,
    Sorry it's taken me so long to reply. This whole blogging thing is new to me. Mark's place is called Cheetal Walk and it's in Mavanahalla which is the village that you pass as you drive from masinagudi towards ooty. Just before Vazhaithottam. Watch out for the small pug mark sign. Mark is very picky about visitor's who stay (because of inumerable bad experiences but one can sit on his verandah and watch animals at Rs 200 per person.
    All the best with your forest wanderings!

  5. Hi Kirtana,
    Did you stay over at Mark's place? How did you get in touch with him? Share the details if you are willing to. I'd like this unique experience as well.
    Thanks a ton

  6. Gaphically written from the heart.

  7. Those of us who feel for life and nature and memories past must find a way to survive the zombies for whom forests are timber and ivory and tiger bone.