Bandipur - Gopalaswamy Betta trek
written sometime in the January of 2002
It has been one month after we actually went for the trip so some details may be missed out.
It all started when (or, "it was a dark and stormy night when") my cousin Kashyapa asked me whether I would be interested in a trek to Bandipur. My sister and I said yes after some indecision.
It was scheduled for December 21-23, 2001. There was a briefing session at YHAI north Bangalore office where we were told about what to bring etc.
On friday we started from home by 9:30 and reached the Majestic bus stand at 10:20 or so, and found the whole group waiting for Shashi - the boss - at the entrance of the bus stand, where the map of Karnataka is displayed. We waited for quite a long time, till about 11:30 when this guy turns up and again vanishes. The time is used to make acquaintances, especially with the only other lady in the group, whom my sister has been anxiously expecting, for company. We finally got into the bus at about 12:00 or so. There was a short roll-call during which I was reminded that Kashyapa had recently plagiarised my name, which is now his 'first name', his own name being the 'second name'.
A few minutes of Bangalore roads later we crossed the foul smelling outskirts of the city and then started trying various positions to sleep in, or not to. This was a red bus and so we had a lot of room for experimenting - perhaps not so much for actually sleeping. A couple of really enthusiastic cricket fans from MSRIT found this the perfect time to loudly exchange their respective bits of valuable knowledge between themselves. This added to the challenge of trying to decide whether to stay up or to sleep, and how. The exercise was so absorbing that I did not observe the places outside that we were passing through.
At about 6:20 we reached the Bandipur national park. We got down and were led into what looked like a guest-house. We stood around in the entrance passage, not knowing what we were expected to do, while someone in the local staff came around and opened the door to the main sleeping hall which had some 10 beds and the exit to the bathrooms and restrooms at the other end. We (the 3 of us) were the first to venture inside and make use of the restrooms. Then everyone else realised that it was time for business and got down to it, pleased by the clean and working facilities. We lay around for another hour, while almost all the rest of the group went for the 'safari'. Kashyapa knew that it was of no use so we didnt bother. The group came back some half hour later, disappointed. A bee-hive in the entrance passage went into a mild eruption and provided correspondingly mild excitement.
After another 10-15 minutes a breakfast of something like pulao (not meaning to say it was nondescript, I dont remember what it was) was served, accompanied later by tea. This was followed by a distribution of the load of rations among all the trekkers. I got a 4kg pack of rice, not as exciting as a pack of sugar or as safe as salt (they'll have to find me if I get lost?).
A short briefing again, this time strictly in kannada only. Then the trek started ... or did it ? We were only walking to the 'interpretation centre'. Something like a small museum, displaying photographs, stuffed carcasses, bones and droppings of the animals in this forest. We got out of there and there was a long photo session with everyong sitting in front of this museum. And now the trek started somewhat suddenly. Our forest guide (guard ?) was running away with some of our groupmates. We tried to catch up and that was what the trek was all about.
Shortly after the start of the trek we spotted a herd of spotted deer who had also obviously spotted this herd of not-so-spotted trekkers. This was right on the trek trail, they simply moved off by about 50 metres and stood there looking at us. Kashyapa got a photo of them who later appeared like cows or dogs to depending on who saw the photo. By the time we recovered from this dose of pleasant surprise we were separated from the head of the train and tried to catch up again. We saw them waving at us and could not make out whether they meant 'hurry up' or 'stop'. We hurried up, with loud murmurs that an elephant was around. By the time we got to the group it had moved away and we took turns looking in the general direction. Shashi came with the tail (of the group), asking us why we werent quieter, wasnt the smell of the elephant obvious etc. I remember sniffing, I dont remember whether I did smell anything. The rest of the trek before lunch only showed us the many signatures of the inmates, mostly in the form of droppings, sometimes in the form of pugmarks. Apart from this, of course, that part of the trek was some sort of an intro to trekking (as any first trek will), with the head of the train trying to run away from us and we trying to catch it, rushing through thick dry 6-foot-high grass, thorns, pothole-ridden and treacherous path. We stopped for lunch at a water hole, ate chapathis with tomato-onion sauce (curry?) and took a couple of photos. We moved on again, starting with an uphill climb. Apparently the rest of the trek that day was not eventful enough as to be resplendent in my memory. When we reached the Danada-hatti anti-poaching camp it was again sudden and surprising. It is surrounded by a small moat, possibly meant to keep the animals off, but it looked too narrow to me. We unloaded our rucksacks and got the ration packets out, and sat around.
The camp housed the forest guards and some three or four STF guards who were there to catch Veerappan. They were of about average build, a little taller perhaps. All of them were tamilians. A couple of them went around with sten guns (thats what I think it was). I took off my shoes and washed my feet in the stream that flows nearby. We had our little naps on the wooden sofa inside the camp. On waking up we had the task of cutting vegetables for dinner. Some of us pitched in while the others were enjoying themselves, to their own joy and others' relief. My sister tried to boss over me by telling me to cut much more karibevin soppu than required. I did it anyway, and it was followed by defibrillation of beans, cutting of onions and stripping of avarekaayi.
It got dark and people got fires burning. We all sat around and started the campfire activities with the forest ranger (or whoever he was) telling us something about the place. Then someone said he would start a game and it turned out silly. Then other people did things like telling jokes and asking hi-funda not-so-general knowledge questions (of course the MSRIT kids). Then dinner was served, including obbattu and some other stuff that I dont remember - I do remember that neither curds not buttermilk was included. mimmediately after dinner Kashyapa and I reserved our beds on the sofa in the camp - the ladies had a separate room for themselves so we did not have to bother about my sister. The two of us tried to get into our beds when suddenly a flute started emitting music outside. We went out to find that Vani, the other lady in the group, was playing the flute and everyone else was silently listening. So we went out and sat down along with the crowd. Next was Shashi's turn, he sang 'yaare neenu cheluve'. At a point where the song goes 'mele nodidare alli ... chandranilla baaninalli', he sang 'mele nodidare halli' and that became the hit of the trek among the four of us. Then we had an anthakshari where my sister sang well and I repeatedly tried to sing, with eveyone else almost always ignoring me. Kashyapa proved a hit, with a good knowledge of many songs and a big voice that irritated my sister.
By 11:30 it was slightly drizzling, so we got up and went to our bed. The forest ranger guy was sleeping there, it was only later that I realised that it was him. Kashyapa went to him and said 'excuse me, we were sleeping here' to which he said 'were you?', smiled and closed his eyes. We took our bags down into a room inside and spread out the foam sheet that we had managed to keep for ourselves from the campfire furniture. Kashyapa was cursing the forest ranger who had encroached on 'our bed'. We used the rucksacks as pillows. I slept somewhat fitfully, a lone mouse squeaking every time I woke up. Sometime later all the MSRIT kids that had till then stayed outside wandered in as if they were back from a beer party and made themselves comfortable. My sleep was punctuated by short breaks which in turn were accompanied by the squeakings of the mouse.
I woke up to find others already up (nothing new to me), light outside and a drizzle. It was 6:30 so I went back to sleep, and woke up again at 7. Then we lay awake for half an hour. We went down to the stream to start the day, I did not attempt to take a bath. By 9 we were all done with ablutions, someone heard an elephant in the distance and so we all walked off in search of it. This was a better walk, with no rucksack to carry. However it didnt show us any elephants. We went round for about 8 kms and came back to the camp for breakfast. About half a kilometre away from the camp, one lone spotted deer ran across our path. Someone in the group found a porcupine quill on the ground.
We had breakfast and packed off after another long photo session. The trek looked like we were going back on the route that we took in the morning. I got a big aluminium vessel to carry, which I brushed along the bushes or wore on my head. We had many hills to climb and cross and the trek was mostly uphill. When we got on top of one particular hill where more of the surrounding hills were visible than before, the guard was looking in a particular direction and someone declared that he had spotted a panther. Nobody else saw it. Then all of us saw a herd of five elephants about a kilometre away on the top of another hill to the right. More towards our right downhill was a herd of gaur (Indian bison). I turned away to wear my specs (I dont know why I had to turn away to do that) and then by the time I wore them and turned back I had forgotten where I had seen that black spot. We looked at the elephants through 2 different pair of binoculars, then turned left to find an elephant cow and calf walking around half a kilometre away. We stayed at that place for about 10 minutes and then people scared us into pushing on, telling us that the place was notorious for bison attacks. Further on in a thinner part of the forest I saw a some creature with a reddish brown tail, bushy like that of a fox, jumping from one tree to another. After some more walking we got to Himavat-Gopalaswamy betta where we unloaded at the temple and had lunch.
Shashi etc got a Matador truck to take us from the temple down to Gundlupet. On the way downhill the guy who had earlier spotted a panther, now claimed to have seen more elephants. I did not believe him, looked out by leaning out of the tempo and saw another herd of very brown elephants. We got the tempo to stop at a curve on the road and watched the herd of eight elephants from the edge of the road. They were about a kilometre down below us, each of them very brown in colour, busy having lunch. There were two calves among them. after some five minutes of watching we resumed downhill and got to Gundlupet.
We had to wait for about an hour by the time Shashi and others got hold of a red bus to go to Bangalore. We came through Mysore and passed in front of the palace which was decorated with lights. Kashyapa got its photo taken by one of the guys who sat beside the left window. The bus dragged on to Maddur where we got off at a small hotel and thought of dining there, but someone in the group had different ideas and so we were hurried out of there. The bus then stopped at Channapatna in front of a Kamat highway hotel where the guys had plans of dining. Kashyapa and I had eaten up in the bus the part of our packed lunches that we could not finish at the temple because the tempo was in a hurry, so now we had a glass of buttermilk each. After we returned to the bus we had a long wait for the driver and the rest of the gang, while people not from our group were complaining bitterly to us about having to wait. After a really long time people finally turned up and we got back to Bangalore bus stand by about 12. As soon as I placed my aluminium vessel along with others on the ground, we were off in an auto.