The Jungle Book


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August 12th 2015
Published: August 12th 2015
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Jungle WalkJungle WalkJungle Walk

Mudumalai Tiger Reserve
Dear All

Greetings from Mysore, in the Indian state of Karnataka. Just arrived here a few hours ago, and other than saying this just seems so far the most comfortable, swankiest hotel I’ve stayed in so far, I will save writing about my time here until my next. The reason is I think there is plenty to relate already about these last few days, and I will add my afternoon in Mysore on to my next blog entry.

So last up, I believe I had just arrived in Ooty, at the most unusual Mount View Heritage Hotel, wonderful faded colonial grandeur with absolutely zippo on the service-front. It’s a shame, as I think they could do so much for the place if they spruced it up a bit and added a few friendly faces, what with its stunning rooms and top-notch view over Ooty. Still, if they had done that, then it would have been way out of my price range...! I had a unique stay in the hotel, and indeed these last few days have been quite different to anything I had experienced previously in India. These were days of relative peace, away from the hustle and bustle of India, cool temperatures with no need for air-conditioning, and a glimpse into the more natural side of India. At the same time, they have been a bit unusual in being off-the-beaten track, with barely another tourist in sight, and travelling around has been a little bit trickier. It does feel good now to be back on the tourist trail once again though, but nevertheless, I have had a fascinating few days indeed, and here I will tell more.

First off, I have to admit that in the Mount View Hotel, when evening came, my excitement at being in the largest room I think I’ve ever stayed in, with its antique furniture seemingly dating back to the colonial days, seemed to fade away with the light. The lodge is at the end of a 200 metre dirt driveway from the main road, with no lighting along it whatsoever, making for a very spooky walk to the nearby resort hotel for dinner and back again. But my first night there was even spookier. I had not thought, upon checking in during the light of day, that the place might be haunted, but as dusk approached I could think of nothing
Gaur, or Indian BisonGaur, or Indian BisonGaur, or Indian Bison

After squaring us off, this buffalo stood to the side to let us pass in our jeep. As we passed, we only then saw the other buffalo hidden in the bushes to the left getting read to charge us - jumping around in a circle and snorting like crazy. Very very scary...
else. For the first time since sometime in my childhood, I had to sleep with the lights on! And even then it was a light sleep, as I kept waking up every couple of hours or so to check that there was nothing there in the room with me. All that stared back at me was the smile of a traditionally-dressed Indian girl in the one painting, eerily hanging over the fireplace. It’s amazing what tricks the mind plays on you when night falls in a place like that, and I was glad when the dawn came again the next morning. My second night was a bit easier there, and I could make do with sleeping with only one light in the vestibule area on. There also checked in two other foreign travellers in the room opposite me, both from the North of England, and the gentleman actually being the Headmaster of a private school in Sheffield, not far from where I grew up – what a small world! The fact that I was not so alone in the hotel did make the second night a bit easier to sleep through.

Perhaps it was this first night of light
My TreehouseMy TreehouseMy Treehouse

Deep in the jungle!
sleep, or the fact of rising to an altitude of 2500 metres so quickly, that my second day in Ooty was pretty drab and perhaps the first naff day I’ve had travelling. Still, one naff day compared to twenty fantastic ones is a good ratio to my mind, and it all adds to the experience. My first day in Ooty I had gone straight on a hike out of town, but my second I thought it might be nice to wander around town and see a few of the touristy sights, this being a tourist town after all. It was interesting to take in Ooty’s beautiful lake, marred by a serious fun-fair type of atmosphere and hundreds of vehicles and tourist minibuses, St Stephen’s Church built by the Brits in 1829 and housing a number of fascinating tombs and gravestones of many a British colonial army officer and his family, and the central area of town centering around the main junction known as Charing Cross. Lunch was also taken at the plush Savoy Hotel, and dinner at Domino’s Pizzas (more Western comforts…!), but I couldn’t help thinking I might have had a better day had I arranged a day excursion
Udagamandalam (aka Ooty) Train StationUdagamandalam (aka Ooty) Train StationUdagamandalam (aka Ooty) Train Station

No sign of the Toy Train...
somehow into the beautiful highland areas out of town, home to stunning lakes, forested peaks and traditional tribal villages. Ah well, not to worry. The day was interesting at least, and it was still a refreshing change being up in the mountains.

But these last two days have been just incredible, and as soon as I descended from the upland Nilgiri Hills area, I felt uplifted again (perhaps, then, it was the altitude…?). Taking a taxi from Ooty to a tiny forest outpost called Singara around 30km away took me down from the hills again, down the even more spectacular Sighur Ghat road. The road comprises 36 hairpin bends, and as soon as it left the upper plateau area around Ooty, there were spectacular jungle wilderness vistas as far as the eye could see. The lower the road took us, the more the sounds of the Indian Jungle took over, and I realised that this was going to be a very special couple of days. I just have to briefly mention two more of the memorable signs glimpsed down the mountain road. On every hairpin bend, there was an advertisement for an ambulance company reading “For a free ambulance,
"Charing Cross""Charing Cross""Charing Cross"

The name given to the main junction of Ooty
call…”. On just one of them, there was a sign that read “For a free mortuary van, call…”. I have yet to decide whether this was as a joke, or was deadly serious. Was it also for the dangerous road which negotiated extremely steep valley sides, or was it for the dangerous animals which inhabit the jungle? I am still uncertain. Indeed, stopping for a quick toilet break, a monkey tried to get inside the taxi but fortunately I had rolled the window up. Monkeys initially look cute, but when they bare their fangs you realise just how nasty they can be. And then a few minutes later after driving again, an elephant crossed the road merely metres in front of us! This was actually really quite scary, it just came out of nowhere, and then disappeared again as soon as it had crossed, before I had chance to grab my camera, or even to say “elephant!”. It was just huge, a male elephant – contrary to African elephants where both sexes have tusks, it is only the male Indian elephant which has them, females don’t, and for this reason the male is also called a “Tusker”. This was certainly
Ah, the Cow Chilling Out in the Street!!Ah, the Cow Chilling Out in the Street!!Ah, the Cow Chilling Out in the Street!!

Been looking for one of these for a long time...!
a huge Tusker, and my first sighting of an Indian elephant in the wild. Very exciting indeed!

The taxi driver dropped me off in the jungle outpost “town”, or huddle of shacks, called Singara, at the edge of the tarmacked road, and already deep in the heart of the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve. Mudumalai is only part of a huge protected area called the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, comprising Mudumalai in Tamil Nadu, Bandipur and Nagarhole in Karnataka, and Wayanad in Kerala, UNESCO protected and said to be one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. It also has one of the best chances in India of spotting the ever-elusive tiger in the wild, with Mudumalai being home to around 50 of them, the highest population density in the whole of India. So I was certainly hoping to see a tiger during my visit, and this was one of the main reasons I included it on my itinerary. At Singara, the owner of the lodge I had booked into, The Wilds at Northernhay, met me in a 4x4 jeep and drove me the final two kilometres to the lodge, along the bumpiest road I think I have ever experienced.

My goodness what a lodge! Straight out of a romantic safari-based novel, The Wilds at Northernhay is based in a(nother!) former British colonial bungalow, and also doubles up as a coffee plantation. I had booked myself into the lodge’s stunningly sited Tree House, about ten metres up a huge tree away from the main building, with stunning, unparalleled views over the Indian Jungle. This place was straight out of the Jungle Book, and the first time I have ever been in proper jungle. It was different to the rainforest type of “jungle” which I have experienced in South America, Africa and South-east Asia, though I can’t really explain how – I guess the trees were not so tall, more spread out, and the undergrowth bush was much more dense. I could never really describe the rainforest as a jungle for some reason, but this place I could. I just spent my first couple of hours there on my Tree House balcony, just staring out at the beauty of the landscape, and wallowing in the wondrous sounds of the wild – the exotic birds singing, insects chirruping and monkeys howling, along with various other sounds in the background, particularly at night, which I have no idea where, or what, they came from. This was just pure, how can I put it, jungle…!

I was also amazingly enough the only guest there for my two-night stay. The morning I arrived, a group of 12 had just left, and after I left this morning, they had five rooms booked up in total for the same evening. But for these two nights, I had the entire place to myself. The owner actually said I could have any of the rooms for the same price (still, not cheap – I consider it my “splurge” during this trip!), including the luxury suite with its two bedrooms, sitting room, and bathroom (with a bath!), or I could stay in one room one night and switch to another the other night. This was very tempting, as they had a good choice of interesting rooms, including along with the suite a separate cottage, and a traditional mud-built, but still luxury, hut. However, I was most satisfied with the Tree House. Even though it sloped slightly, and even though it creaked all night, and even moved when it became windy, I felt like a little boy again up there in the trees!
MeMeMe

Sorry, I just think this is really quite a cool picture...! Taken in the Mount View Heritage Hotel
A wonderful two nights were spent there, although the second night proved a bit troublesome to sleep again, as just as I was dropping off there came an almighty scuttling sound from the roof, and then in the bathroom. When I checked, a chocolate wrapper I had just put in the bin by the washbasin was lying in the middle of the bathroom floor. I believe it was a monkey that had somehow entered through the gap between a tree trunk and the ceiling, so again I slept with the bathroom light on and with one eye open… I also packed everything into my bags again before I went back to bed, as monkeys have also been known to take valuables such as mobile phones, and goodness knows what I’d do if one took my money belt. After a short while though, I did enter a deep sleep, and woke up the next morning with everything still there, which was a relief. Still, another night in which I was glad to see the dawn…!

Anyway, I fail yet to mention the amazing safaris I did from the lodge. The first evening, after a visit to the local (domesticated) elephant camp, I was taken to a place to the north along a tarmacked road, but still prime viewing area for wildlife. Spotted some beautiful beasts, including a herd of elephants hidden deep in the bush, chital (or spotted) deer, wild boar, peacocks, and my favourite for the evening: a small family of black bears, with a little cub riding an adult piggy back – very cute! A very rare sight apparently, and along with tigers, leopards and black panthers, one of the “Big Four” to spot there. Unfortunately the family disappeared very quickly, before I had chance to take a good photo – still, I include a blurry one that I took anyway, as it was such a great sighting!

My second day I had to wait a bit to see if it was possible to go on a “nature walk” as well as another evening safari, as it had been raining pretty much ever since I got there and including through the night. This made the area around the lodge, being untarmacked and undeveloped, very muddy indeed. I was told it would be unsafe to do either a walk or a safari when it is muddy, because if you have to run then you would most likely slip, fall over, and then…?! I was disappointed with the rain, but certainly didn’t want to find myself having to run away from something only to fall face down into a muddy pool and have the thing catch up with me. Also, safaris here were very different to what I had done in Africa. In Africa, the land was just so open wide, the wildlife was comparatively very easy to spot, and was also easy to drive away from quickly as you can just generally drive in any direction. Around the lodge, however, there was thick and dense jungle, criss-crossed by very muddy, very bumpy dirt tracks, which you can hope to travel along at an average speed of around 5mph. I wasn’t too sure of wishing to encounter something big and dangerous when the driver couldn’t get away too quickly, so when the rain did stop and we were given the go ahead I was most nervous to be honest.

On the morning of the second day, I went with one of the employees called Babbu on a nature walk around the lodge, asking in particular to see trees, plants and butterflies, rather than tigers, leopards and elephants, due to our travelling on foot (though I guess you don’t really get much choice out there…!). Another different thing about safaris in India compared with Africa is that the guides are not allowed to carry guns, they are prohibited in India. So, I must say I was rather nervous during our hour’s walk through the coffee plantation, but fortunately the only animals we did see were a spectacular group of at least a hundred chital, or spotted deer, and a family of langur, or Hanuman (black-faced) monkeys. And after a wonderful rest of the day chilling around the lodge all to myself, and on my Tree House balcony with the spectacular view, it had stopped raining and I was able to take the evening jeep safari around the muddy tracks of the plantation. Within five minutes we had made our first sighting, a gaur, or Indian bison. This was stood on the track ahead of us, facing us, and I was told it was male and showing signs of aggression. This is a massive beast, with huge horns which have very sharp points, definitely not something you want to get on the wrong side of. After a while, it backed down and stood to the side, so the driver decided that then was the time to drive past it. It was only upon approaching it that we realised and saw that there was one more even more aggressive-looking male hiding in the bushes to the side just metres to the left of us, and as we passed it began to jump and toss itself in a circle, making very loud snorting noises. This was very very scary, I did not enjoy it at all, and the time it took the 5mph jeep to pass this snorting beast and its companion, both ready to charge at any minute, seemed to last forever. My goodness it was such a relief to pass by safely, and to be honest I was most thankful that for the rest of the safari we were only able to spot one male, antlered chital deer standing very peacefully on the side of the track, generally minding its own business. That was just about enough excitement for one evening for me. Unfortunately my viewing of a tiger in the wild will have to wait for another time. We at least did see tiger paw prints, apparently only an hour old or so. When we got back, I realised we had pretty much done the safari in the area that we had walked on on foot (without any kind of weaponry protection) that very same morning. Wow. Perhaps I’m getting old, perhaps I’ve an overly vivid imagination, or perhaps I watched the “tiger attacks man on elephant” video on YouTube too many times before coming to India, but I think I feared the safaris at the time more than I enjoyed them. I do enjoy reminiscing on them now, however.

Anyway, and overall, an amazing two days spent in the jungle. This morning I said goodbye to my Tree House which had been home for two nights, and caught a bus to my third and final Indian state during my travels, Karnataka. In a place called Mysore to be exact, in the most wonderful and comfortable hotel with an array of fantastic hotel freebies including talc, matchsticks, “skin jelly” and a superb souvenir bottle-opener/key-ring (which I shall be using very shortly to help me open my newly-arrived, from room service, large bottle of Strong Kingfisher beer!). Still, I
St Stephen's Church GraveyardSt Stephen's Church GraveyardSt Stephen's Church Graveyard

The tombs and gravestones of British colonials
will save writing about my time in Mysore so far until my next one.

For now, I sign out, after some very enjoyable, often quirky, days of travel off-the-beaten tourist track in Southern India. I spend two nights here in Mysore, before moving on to Bangalore on Friday, and back home on Sunday to arrive at Gatwick late Sunday evening. I will most likely write once more, to conclude my trip, on Monday, from the comfort of my very own spare bedroom in my beautiful little house in Croydon. No doubt after having unpacked, stuck everything in the wash, had a beer or two, and a long, stinkingly hot bath J

So, until then, thanks for reading, and bye for now!

All the best



Alex


Additional photos below
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Nilgiri HillsNilgiri Hills
Nilgiri Hills

From the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve
Nilgiri HillsNilgiri Hills
Nilgiri Hills

From the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve
Nilgiri HillsNilgiri Hills
Nilgiri Hills

From the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve
Cheeky Monkey...!Cheeky Monkey...!
Cheeky Monkey...!

Taxi down the Sighur Ghat road from Ooty to Mudumalai


15th August 2015

The Tree House
The Tree House sounds cool; but the Mount View Hotel sounds like the hotel from The Shinning! You were lucky to see the Black Bear family :)The Tree House sounds cool; but the Mount View Hotel sounds like the hotel from The Shinning! You were lucky to see the Black Bear family :)
15th August 2015

The Shining!
Gosh you're right - The Shining! Glad I didn't think of that at the time, would've got even less sleep...!!

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