The most attractive thing about Mysore is that it is " centrally located" , to use the estate agent's jargon. It is a very convenient base camp for so many one- day excursions , trips of all description : pilgrimage, adventure, historic interest, what have you.
Bandipur Wild life Sanctuary has always been a favourite haunt of the family . Have enjoyed its really "wild " character ; and later despaired of its "garnished -for- tourists" avatar too.
Time was when all that signalled the begining of the sanctuary was a length of log , barricading the road, weighted on end with some precariously fastened stone blocks, the other end tied , by cattle-rope, to an iron post. When the car stopped, a sleepy man in roomy khakhi shorts emerged from a shack next to the post, peered in prefunctorily, enquired if we were smuggling rice, never waited for an answer and untied the rope from the post ; whereupon ,the weighted log swung up, allowing our passage.
Past this checkpost, the road undulated briefly before rising up towards an ancient tribal hamlet ensconced in thick vegetation. There was just one Pucca building and it housed the Range Officer's office. His permission was required for using the Circuit House upstream. A very primitive, barely functional House it was and that was the point from where the elephant rides began. Besides that, the only other structures were the thatched Machans put up at certain startegic sites. Absolutely no "amenities " for refreshment of any kind . Only people who were genuinely interested in watching wild life would camp there.
There are some memory snatches pertaining to Bandipur. Once, the whole extended family had chartered two elephants and at a point, the second animal stopped suddenly and wouldnt budge inspite of the Mahout's repeated coaxing. He stood hitting the ground with the trunk and only after the man had got down, patted his legs and uttered some gibberish, did he start walking again, most reluctantly. After the ride was over , one person who had been on the first elephant suddenly discovered that his wallet , which he had put into his pocket before climbing on , was missing. It had obviously fallen off, along the way.But the first Mahout said elephants are very sharp and will pick up any falling object. The second Mahout said nothing. Rs.2000, a pretty packet then, went poof !
Another time, we saw a large van, carrying noisy members of a Royal party, speeding into the jungle track with loud music while a jeepful of servants and cooks followed them with luggage ! Someone obviously mistook the Wildlife Park for an Amusement Park !
Another time, a surreal episode. A gang of 4 college boys, tired of waiting for the truck-trip, starts walking into the jungle swaggering like heroes. Three of them wearing white, a definite no-no in elephantland. The guard cautions them against the foolish adventures especially since a herd of elephants was near about . To that, one studious fellow says, with almost a beatific smile wreathing his face " They need not harm us. "...........
"Need" ? To this day i have not been able to figure out the philosophy behind that remark.
We usually took the elephant rides for the sheer pleasure of wading through the lush silent jungle at a langourous ,elephantine pace. The lumbering creatures took their time in ferrying us, stopping ever so frequently to snap off some luscious branch for a snack or tearing out clumps of the tall grasses just for some wanton amusement.
I have always loved that green silence, broken only occassionally by a sharp tweet or the quick yelp of a distant barking deer. A ride through the glistening jungle a day after rains is an experience to die for. The bright, washed look. The smell of just -drying earth. The woody fragrance of wet teak. Eden ! Of particular fascination ( for me) were the brilliant orchid varieties sprouting out of tall trees and the fan- like fungii , decked like shell ornaments on dead wood.
Spotted Deer, Bison, elephant herds, langurs, peacocks and hogs used to be almost taken-for-granted sightings. Tiger spotting has been rare. I have only seen a leopard once .
Over the years, Bandipur gained popularity and with that came "upgrading" measures. Cottages and cafes. And kiddie playgrounds ( !!!) And signboards. And music. And kiosks vending popular snacks packaged in foil and plastic. And brightly painted bunny- shaped garbage bins that are never used and never cleared , but serve as the focal point for package-tourists to aim and miss dunking crumpled wads of non-biodegradable waste . More visitors, more revenue, more jeep trips into the jungle on better roads and pathways. But, sadly, less animals. Bisons have almost vanished. There came a time when we had had to return home without sighting a single chital , feeling all excited if a mere mongoose crossed the road..............
Once, some years ago, while cruising in our car along the main road, we suddenly spotted a fairly well grown single elephant in a clearing very close by. Lazing by a little pond, he was spraying himself with sods of grass and mud. Every now and then he would turn this way and that, surveying the scene for possible intruders into his game. We were thrilled to get an opportunity to watch wildlife from such a close range. We had been sitting there ,enraptured, for quite a while, when a khakhi clad fellow cycled into view calling out " Jawahar ! Jawahar ! " The elephant snorted in disappointment, pulled out his leg from the pond and dutifully started marching in the direction of the voice. We then saw the chain tied around his hind leg, clanking as it trailed behind the giant. A tame elephant on an outing from the Elephant Camp ! Aw ! That was a real balloon-burst ! We could've just gone to the zoo instead !
There was some solace during the return journey as we saw a magnificent herd of spotted deer browsing in the golden glow of the approaching dusk..............further on, quite close to the checkpost, we chanced upon another elephant almost on the road. He had a handsome pair of tusks and seemed to be digging up some roots with his foot.
Aha ! Jawahar's batchmate, we thought. What could be his name ? Mohandas or Subhash ? The car slowed down and we had some silly fun waving to him and calling out: " Bye Jawahar's Dost ! Bye Mohandas !" He shook his head smartly in a nodding fashion and emitted a couple of high pitched trumpeting shrieks . We dint stop by. Who wanted another session with a trained animal ?
From the rear window we saw that the elephant crossed the road in a great hurry right after our car sped away . It dint occur to any of us to notice if there was a chain around his foot............
At the checkpost, as the attender opened the metal barricade for us, he said : " Good that you made it quickly out of the second bend. Just got a call that a lone tusker ( Vonti-Salaga) is running wild towards north and our people have just left to scare it away from the village there........did you see it ?"
There wasn't a peep out of us till we reached Chamarajanagar !