Published: March 1st 2005March 1st 2005
Elephant in the wilderness
Although spotting it from far away, we did our best to bring it as close to you as possible
In Kochi we had booked a stay at the Pachyderm Palace
(sounds promising, doesn’t it?) Actually, it was the most expensive night so far, 1750 rupees compared to the usual 400, but it was full board and we had practically no alternative. Still, it was much cheaper than the better-known Nagarhole National Park, where the lodges really cost a fortune. In fact, Tholpetty is adjacent to the Nagarhole National Park, situated at its southeastern borders. We decided to travel there by our own means, a bit more complicated but much cheaper than arrangements by the Tourist Board. We did the distance in two parts, it might have been possible in one.
First we took a bus to Khozikode
(former Calicut, the place where Vasco da Gama landed). The city is of hardly any touristy interest, we just spent the night there. Next day, we headed towards Mananthavady
, the biggest place close to Tholpetty, changed bus there to go into the direction of Kutta. The bus-ride was very scenic and got us into the right mood for Tholpetty. We had entered the Western Ghats, a chain of hills (that is how the Indians call it, although some of the “hills” reach
Who is watshing whom? These two magnificient males seem to be fascinated by our presence
2000m). The road snaked its way up through densely wooded area and sharp curves providing breath-taking views downhill. At the end, we came to a plateau, where coffee- and tea-plantations are interspersed with frequent patches of water, juicy looking rice-fields and banana plantations. The scenery was fantastic. In addition to the beautiful flora, we saw two elephants from the bus, the second one even quite close! What a promising beginning!
We reached Tholpetty
without any problems at around 2:00 p.m. and were immediately served lunch by Venu, the cook, housekeeper and guide of Pachyderm Palace. The evening safari was scheduled for 5:00 p.m., and as we had spent another awful night in the company of mosquitoes, we had a little nap in our huge room. Due to the altitude, temperatures were a bit lower than the weeks before and we enjoyed the refreshment (when we think of all our friends in Europe freezing in the snow, we have the impression they are on another planet).
At 5:00 o’clock, the jeep was ready, and we were joined by two Czech men, Lukas and Paul, they had to take another jeep because there was not enough place in ours. The
Aren't they cute? They usually leave in groups, while the males normally lead a solitary life
jeep was open to all sides, but had metal bars on top, not to protect us but more to provide something to hold on to during a very bumpy ride. Besides the driver and us, there were Venu and another wildlife guide. We were so excited! Then the two-hour adventure trip began. It did not last long until we stood up to get an even better overview. We definitely did not want to miss anything!
The first animal we spotted was the samba deer
, very beautiful with its red brown fur and shiny white spots. The male animals displayed impressive antlers. Later on followed many groups of monkeys
, the common langur. It was wonderful to watch them climbing the trees or jumping from one branch to the next, making gracious use of their long tail for keeping the balance. Several small herds of bison
crossed our path, but like the deer they were quite shy and quickly hid between the trees. But due to their size, we could still spot and observe them easily. And of course, the three Indian men on board were of big help. Elephants
we did not see many, and if, they were moving in
This is a long-tailed monkey with a distinctive black face, hands and feet
great distance. Thanks God, we had binoculars with us, without them we would have missed a lot. We were driving through wonderful woods, full of unknown plants, giant trees and huge patches of bamboo. The driver turned the engine off as often as possible and simply let the jeep roll downhill in order not to chase the animals away. Myriads of birds were singing in the trees or fluttering around but it was impossible to take pictures, and we could not name them anyway.
We were quietly moving towards the end of the trip, when suddenly we spotted a big shadow crossing the road. Before we realised what was going on, the Indians shouted “Tiger, tiger!”
The driver stepped on the gas and drove as quickly as the jeep would drive, but of course the tiger had already disappeared in the thick undergrowth. The locals were extremely excited and also our hearts were beating faster. Yes, we had caught a glimpse of India’s mythical big cat, unbelievable but true! We have to concede that it was not basking in the sun waiting for us to take pictures, so unfortunately we cannot provide any proof, you have to believe us.
Indian bison or gaur
This animal can be up to 2m a the shoulder, both sexes carry curved horns
Venu kept repeating how lucky we were and that he himself had only seen tigers three times in all the years he was there. After our encounter with the tiger we did not see many animals, but who cares. Venu prepared nice dinner for us and although we should have gone to bed early - the morning safari would start at 6:45 a.m. - we were too excited to fall asleep easily.
The next morning was hazy and cool (well, 15 degrees, not like in Europe) and for a big part of the safari, visibility was quite limited. Still, we spotted huge amounts of deer, much closer than last evening, heard and saw even more birds and caught sight of a giant flying squirrel
and a huge wild boar
. In the morning the woods were almost serene, as if waking up slowly. Tholpetty Wildlife Sanctuary is a wonderful place, practically unspoilt with creeks running through densely grown areas. Whenever you are near or planning to see an Indian National Park, we strongly advise you to go there, it is a unique experience of wildlife.
After the morning safari, we continued our trip towards Mysore. This time, we were
This one was just waiting to be photographed. Thanks for the cooperation
not so lucky and had to wait long for a bus, but the trip turned out to be very scenic, crossing Nagarhole National Park. We also crossed the border into the state of Karnataka.
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Malabar giant squirrel
The squirrel's body can be 40cm long and the tail another 60cm
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