Vibes from Pondicherry

A laid-back and serene place, where the efflux of time is slowed quite a bit, buildings reeks of history and every street corner make you meet a motley crowd of people in jocose and where cycle and cycle-rickshaws still find a place in people’s life as a mode of transport – that is Pondicherry for you.

Mind you, what I am talking about is may be 10% of Pondicherry by the beach side the  places which were built by French settlers during 1740s – rest of the city is just as rambunctious as it can get typical of any Indian city. Thankfully that 10% is preserved till date without any alterations and walking those cloistered streets metamorphoses you at least 30-40 years back in time.

The best thing to do in Pondicherry is to walk – yes you need to be a peripatetic to enjoy the each and every nuance of Pondicherry – to visually devour it’s vibrant colors, doors, windows and gables of its heritage French and Tamil buildings and also the French streets like Rue Da La Marine, Rue Campagnie etc. It would be any photographers delight to take a promenade along vintage Pondicherry and click away it’s beauty.

The next best thing in Pondicherry is it’s beach. But unfortunately the stupidity of the Government has robbed Pondicherry of a genuine beach experience. In the name of preventing Tsunami tones of boulders are laid on the beaches running kilometers along the shoreline. The boulders are well below the ground level and I don’t think it serves any purpose of preventing any kind of sea erosion let alone a Tsunami, they are not even forming a wall. So the best thing you can do is sit by the sun bathed footpath by the sea or find a nice boulder to sit and relax and listen to the breeze and watch a distant boat sailing into horizon. Even though a genuine beach experience is robbed it’s still a nice place to loaf around and especially if you can hit the beach early in morning to watch sunrise. The whole sea front is covered in a mélange of red and orange and typical of Pondicherry you get to see a motley crowd around, making the whole milieu bubbling with life but still maintaining the trait of tranquility which I feel is the trademark of this place.

If you want a real beach experience and intend to stand by the waves, then you have to travel 15km either towards the North to Auroville beach or down South to Paradise Beach. I went to Auroville Beach and careened myself along the long shores of Auroville awash by the waters of Bay of Bengal. If you are ready to walk a k.m. or so from the beach entrance from the roadside, you can get a pretty calm and pristine beach front. We got a good collection of shells from these undisturbed parts of the beach – including star fish, oyster shells, and snail shells etc.

Apart from a Photographers delight Pondicherry can also boast to be Gourmet’s delight. From Indian to French to Italian you get every rubric of food here. We had a typical Tamil break fast of Pongal, moved for an Authentic Italian Pasta in an Italian restaurant for lunch and then for French Pan cakes with strawberry syrup for snacks. There are quite a few French and Italian restaurants all along the heritage area. Notable among them is the Le Café in the beach front. Head there in the early morning for a French Coffee and Sandwich or cakes. We had a nice French Latte at Le Cafe early in the morning witnessing the day break in eastern horizon.

In Pictures

From Vibes from Pondicherry

What to do at Pondicherry?

  • Take a heritage walk and enjoy the heritage buildings like Raj Nivas, Legislative Assembly, Aurbindo Ashram and plethora of others. You can cover the entire heritage area in about 3hrs
  • Have Google Map in hand, Pondicherry is a small place, with Google Map in hand you can easily walk through the streets
  • Try out different options of food
  • Hit the beach early in the morning, witness the day break, jog along the footpath through the entire beach [I jogged was 30mts there it was awesome]
  • Take lot of pictures if you are a shutter bug

Stay

We stayed at Hotel Corbelli in Mission Street, the advantage of this hotel is it’s very near to the beach and heritage area. You can walk down the street and reach heritage walk ways and further down in 10mts you hit the beach.

That is it from Pondicherry. “Give Time a Break”, as they say in Pondicherry Tourism promotions, true to its ad, give Pondicherry a try to escape from hubbub of city life and travel back in time for some serenity and copacetic break.

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Kanha Travelogue Day 3

We made an early start at 5.30AM, to enter the park first ahead of the throngs of other visitors. Luckily being Monday it was not that crowded like the previous day. The idea was to cover as much area as possible in the first few hours of the morning. So we decided for no stopping on spotting spotted deers, no stopping for Langurs, no stopping for parakeets, herons, cormorants, lapwings, kingfishers, ducks. This summed up our mood in this cold morning – a desideratum for seeing the tiger in prowl.

We took a new track for this tourney; it was different from what we had seen the previous day. It was very thick forest on both sides and very big trees lining the sides. At one point we came across a huge tree, which the localities claim to be the oldest in Kanha more than 300 years old. It was a very cold morning compared to the previous day and without protection of the gloves our hands were all numb and fingers were buttery while clicking the camera. After almost 3hrs drive the utmost close we came to the tiger was seeing some pugmarks.

Kanha is the only forest in India, where the probability of spotting tiger is high. Part of the reason is relatively healthy tiger population in the park (around 90 tigers are roaming around) and second major reason is the “Tiger Show”. Yes the Tiger SHOW. The forest department in Kanha has a stable of 30 elephants. The peculiarity of those elephants are that they are partly tamed and partly wild. Partly wild in the sense that they have to fend themselves for food and water. Every day after the morning safaris the elephants are left open in the wild and they start grazing the forest and the next day morning the mahouts go and track them in the forest and bring them back. Coming back to the “Tiger Show”, every day morning a group of 2 or 3 elephants start prowling the forests along with their mahouts from two main points in the forest – Kanha and Kisli. The mahouts scan the potential hideouts of the tiger and if they find one, they stay there and inform the central point about the catch through a walkie-talkie. Now other elephant’s sheperd the tourists on their back to the spot for the “Tiger Show”. Mostly what happens is that the elephants that spot the tiger try to lock the tiger in the spot by surrounding it and preventing it to run away. And quickly tourist flock the spot and witness the “Tiger Show”. Some day’s even mahouts fail to find the tiger and in those days there is no Tiger Show. It was really an absurd way of seeing the tiger, which we were averse and we had decided before arriving Kanha itself that we won’t take the “Tiger Show” (yes literally it was just theatrics).

Towards the fag end of safari we were left with thoughts if not in Kanha, where else are we going to see the tiger? Should we try for the Tiger Show? That were the questions weighing our minds? Suddenly we found something – a prized catch, well it’s not the tiger but a deer. Yes a deer – the Barasingha or the Swamp Deer. Well, The Barasingha of Kanha cannot be dismissed as just another deer with beady eyes and phlegmatic looks; it’s a unique pride of Kanha. The Barasingha of the Kanha have 12 horns in their antler and in the whole world such a breed is found only in Kanha. They were pulled off from the brink of extinction and now there are just 350 of them left in forests of Kanha. And as luck would have it we saw a solitary male with full-grown antlers and we could clearly mark the 12 branches the antlers took. Through its eyes I could read it saying, “I am Kanha, Kanha is mine”.

May be what’s left for us
is some Barasingha on a hillside
we can look at day after day
and the perverse affection of a habit
that like us so much it never let go

So with the jubilation of spotting the Barasingha, we prepared for the final drive, one last chance to spot the tiger and suddenly on the way a pack of wild dogs (Dhole) jumped in front of our vehicle. They were three of them. The wild dog resembles the pictures of fox, which we see in the nursery books. The three wild dogs really posed well for our cameras and were with us running in front of us for at least 10 minutes. I’m sure all of us have the maximum number of shots of these dogs than anything else of Kanha. May be the langurs near the canteen would give a competition to the dogs in terms on number of shots.

As we were making our retreat we came to know that the elephants, which had started from the Kisli point, have spotted some tiger and the show was on. But luckily this was not a trapped tiger, the tiger was just there resting beneath the foliage and we can go on elephant tops to the spot and see the resting tiger. Sounded exciting and we bought tickets for elephant safari and took the gypsy to the spot. As always we were the last to reach the spot and already around 10-20 people were eagerly awaiting their turn on the elephant. We patiently waited for our turn and hoped that tiger won’t run away and then the moment arrived. Off we went up the ladder and took our positions in elephant top. To reach the spot we needed to cross a narrow stream and do a steep ascend. The elephant slowly junketed in the path amidst thick growth of wild grass and shrubs and tooks us to the spot. It was the climax, the show down and the moment of truth. What we first saw a tigress sleeping lying down deep inside the bushes. The bushes itself had grown very thick and appeared in the shape of a den. We were standing in the mouth of the den and the tigress was sleeping barely 2-3 metres from the mouth of the den. It was unperturbed by the sound of the elephants. It was in a deep slumber and it had chosen this sweet spot under the thick cover to escape the soporific afternoon heat. Wait is there anyone else also in? Well yes there he is – a cute bubbly little cub. He was at his playful best, hopping around his mother, suckling milk from his mother then running deep inside the shrubs hiding away from us. Then again he runs out watches the elephant and the commotion outside with his twinkling eyes and then drinks some more milk and then start jumping around. What a wonderful sighting it was? In zoo we see tigers so lethargic and archaic fully covered with mud and dirt, and here in nature its just the other way, both the tigers were spotless, pristine golden yellow color with soft white in their underneath. The cub through its tawny eyes gave an innocuous and inquisitive flickering gaze that reminded me the gaze of the poet

Some mute animal
raising its calm eyes
and seeing through us
and through us
This is destiny….

Yes, this was the destiny for us in Kanha, the destiny of the seeing the tiger in its wild best. On the return were told that the above tigress had 4 cubs. With that our stint in Kanha came to a close and we packed our bags and bid adieu to this beautiful jungle in Central India. But its not over yet, jungle never fails to surprise you. As we were departing and were about to exit the gates of Kanha to Nagpur in our Indica, off from nowhere a huge Indian Gaur (wrongly refered as Bison) jumped in front of our car. It stared at us for a second and then made path for our exit. It was a huge beast easily 5 feet tall, this was the first time I was seeing such a huge Gaur. Maybe it was there to say us “Good Bye & Safe Journey”. And then started the long drive back and barely few minutes on course I was overcome by sleep and was napping sitting in the front seat. May be 2 more minutes had waded by then I heard a sudden squeak of the brakes and others behind started shouting snake, snake! By the time I woke up and peered out it had gone, seems like a cobra was there on the road. After that the whole journey sleep never evaded me, even though I tried hard for it and the rest of the drive was spent in reliving the moments spent in Kanha in my mind.

The next day we reached Hyderabad and departed with a resolve to be at Ranthambore next year. Lets see who all are game for it?

PS:- The two poems in this post are inspired from German poet Rainer Maria Rilke whose work  I read in the book “The Hungry Tide” – Amitav Ghosh.
The poem on Night in first post is also Rilke’s work which I found in Internet
And poem on Meadows is out my own wild imagination

Kanha Travelouge – Day 2

A long day awaited us – and it began at 6AM. It was pretty dark and the moon cascading back in the western sky bathed the milieu in its dim white light. I was really surprised to see the hive of activities as soon as I got off the dorm. Almost 30-40 gypsy’s had congregated in the front awaiting the access to the thickets of the forest. It was a huge crowd, but Kanha is no small jungle spreading over 1000 sq.km., once inside the park this crowd petered out soon in different directions. So in that way you never feel that the place is stuffed with too many people.

The first sightings in the forest were the mist- yes like white cotton rolls, mists muffled the entire jungle. From any point of vision, you see a layer of white mist floating 10feet above the ground and we were as if sliding below the umbrella of the white bodies. It was easily the best landscape that nature can offer.

In jungle its always like this – long hours of exploration in stoic silence with no activity and suddenly there is a burst of activity which lasts for a few seconds or may be a minute then the cycle turns back to long hours of inactivity. The key is to have patience, eyes wide open and ears too wide open. It’s not just the destiny; the journey itself is so thrilling and has lots to offer. So the first few hours of safari were just for assimilating the beauty of kanha, the mysteriously snaking game trials, the tall sal trees, golden grass and small creeks and rivulets. Amidst this drive at the background of our mind is the thought lurking out, will there be a tiger when we take the next turn? So in a sense its like a novel, where at the end of page is a suspense to be broken only in the next page, similar is the experience while driving through the winding paths of Kanha, where each turn of the track held us in suspense and anxiety as to what comes next?

As time waded by morning sun billowed in the eastern horizon, and rays of sun streaked through the branches of sal trees forming tunnels of sun rays piercing the trees and striking the ground. The scene was reminiscent of Robert Frosts Poem “Stopping By Woods”

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Safari is not just about Tiger spotting; there are many other things out there too beautiful, too artistic in nature to be missed out. Those lovely birds in chimerical colors whose morning ragas dazzle the settings. Be it Redwater Lapwing, Plum Headed Parakeet, Kingfisher, Black Headed Orieol, Herons, Whistling Ducks, Indian Roller we never allowed it let go. Every minute sound was explored and we made our guide stop the vehicle and ask which bird is that? Luckily the guides in Kanha are masters of their trade, even the faintest call made them aware of the birds.

Two hours of criss-crossing the tracks of Kanha, took us to the meadows. Meadows the easily the most beautiful part of Kanha Park.

O! the meadows the beautiful meadows
Natures filigree at its best
Revealing a platter of colors
Bathed by golden sunlight
Crimson, Gold, Yellow, Green
All had its shade in the steppes.
The deers grazing at a distance
Bringing a brownish tinge
The groups of peacock

Adding a bluish hue

O! the meadows the beautiful meadows

It was in the meadows that we spotted a family of Jackals, warming itself in the first rays of sun. Kanha Meadows – the astonishing landscape of nature, the drive through it was easily the best part of morning safari. We rounded up the morning safari around 11.30pm, without seeing our stripped friends, but our spirits high after seeing the nature’s beauty and ofcourse all those colorful birds and deers – and at the end the first stint in forest was aptly named the “Morning of the Jackals”.

After a quick bite (rather heavy ;-)) we were off again, on a trek through a walk-trial. We set out with idea of a 2km walk, so avoided taking any guides with us.  But the walk really prolonged and we just started exploring farther and farther. On the labyrinth paths the first sighting was bone of some animals, perhaps killed by the predator. Unperturbed we further walked down the track chattering idly. This was when we first encountered signs of a big cat. The pugmarks of a leopard is what we chanced upon first. But pugmarks weren’t quite fresh so we just casually analyzed it and further went on and found a set of relatively fresh tiger pugmarks imprinted on the sand laden track. An intent dissection of the pugmarks made us realize it was a male tiger on prowl. In a herd, somehow we get a sense of false confidence, which again made us go in further. Further down the line again we saw more pugmarks, this time there were two tigers one male and a female. It was marked all around the place. Were they mating? Mating tigers can be dangerous if we cross their path and antagonize them. This was the time when fear congealed in our minds. Frankly for me it was not a stomach churning experience. After reading enough of Jim Corbett and Keneth Anderson, I believed that tigers and leopards never attack humans unless they are man-eaters. Also tigers and leopards never walk around that much in the daytime and their hunting hours is well after the sunset, even for maneaters. The only animal I really feared was the sloth bear, a stupid creature that attacks anyone whom it comes across. But again bears are nightriders and it was very rare to spot a bear in the heat of the sun. But you cannot be complacent in the jungle; the written rules and norms, which you may have read from the experts, can never be vouched as 100% true. For instance my friend Kunal seems to have spotted Sloth Bears in the heat of afternoon sun in Srisailam. I was really puzzled to hear that tale. At the moment we had two choices either to turn back or just take a chance and complete the rest of the trek as fast as we can. We decided for the latter (yes, we are in the herd) and walked further. There we came across two people repairing the track. We asked them about our findings and they said there was a tiger in that area and the pugmarks, which we saw were from the morning-walk of the tiger. So quickly we asked him for a shortest path to get out and he guided us on a path to take us out.

After coming out of the walk sound and safe, it was time for the evening safari. A long journey criss-crossing the tracts of Kanha amidst the hubbub of the birds and deadpanned looks of Cheetals at various junctures. Our friend – the King was still elusive. Then came something which really lifted the spirits and set the mood for a showdown. A passing jeep from Forest Department told us that they had seen a tiger 1km further down. It was just crossing the road when they spotted it. Off we went, at a blaze. I nearly made up my mind the moment has arrived and thought we would be the first to reach the spot, but on reaching the location a pall of gloom set in instantly. There were about 15 jeeps already crowding the spot. Seeing the sight of so many people I was shuddered, I knew the hoodoo of missing the big cat is going to continue. There were a group of people who were really there shouting on top of their voice and cheering to see the tiger. The tiger it seems was hiding in some near by bushes. I knew it would never come out and try to avoid this mad crowd. Stupid people don’t they know that the first rule in Jungle is to maintain absolute silence? I was really perversed by the sight I lost all hope of seeing it. Then there was a sudden excitement in the air and crowd started giving wild exclamations. I couldn’t see anything, all I was watching was the big Indian Ghost Tree which stood there blocking my view to the spot where tiger was supposedly be. It seemed tiger had moved away from the bushes and went deeper inside. My friends Alosh and Mohan saw a silhouette moving, which they were sure to be that of the tiger. I said may be it was just the wind moving the grasses ;-). Then there was sudden commotion in the air caused by incessant barkings. It was the wild dogs barking, I guessed may be the wild dogs came in vicinity of the tiger and started barking panickly and tiger might have left seeing the dogs. Again I didn’t see the wild dog either, Mini (4th member of team) saw 2 of them running around. In jungle the only animal capable of attacking a tiger is the Wild Dog. They come in packs and their team work is their strength. That was the end of the tiger show, we returned still with our eyes wide open to see the same tiger on the way back. But that was not be and by 6pm it was pitch dark and we retired to our dorm.

Day 2 pictures from here to here.

Kanha Travelouge – Day 1

As my friend Proto said today “I’m Lucky to explore wildlife”. Yes “I’m Lucky” to have a wonderful bunch of friends and great family support to venture out in the wild year after year for the last 5yrs. Yes it all started in 2004 with Corbett, followed up with Gir, Sunderbans, Melghat and finally this time the dice was cast on Kanha for 2008.

Life is lived in Transformations. Yes Transformations ephemeral or eternal. I always believe spending time in the wild is a transformation – an ephemeral one A total shutdown from the materialistic urban life a climb down from coziness and comforts of modern life. Time well spent in rustic forest shut out from electricity, mobiles, phones, tv, news paper and other paraphernelia of modern living. With this transformation binge in mind we set out to explore the wild in percincts of Kanha.

The journey to Kanha was an ordeal in itself, a 250km drive from Nagpur. A back breaking drive, where highways were literally mud tracks strewn with stones, where each passing vehicle would bolster up a stand storm hitting you hard remniscent of the satellite landing in earth in Wall-E movie. But this is what is the soft underbelly of India, where we harp on making foray into the innards in Moon, at the same time we fail to make a decent road line for numerous people living in our villages. Luckily we had a great driver who manevoured the torturous tracks with much panache and pious and made the ride bearable and took us to the destination safely, inspite of the hiccups on the way.

The stay had been arranged in Tourist Hostel run by MP Tourism. It was coming at a paltry rate of 490/= per head for a night, including all food. We were given beds in a dormitory, the dorm itself comprised of a room with 8 beds. For the rate and ownership the service was just amazing, the rooms and bathrooms were spic and span, food was mouth watering yet simple. This is the only property inside the forest; rest all private resorts (read costly) were located in the peripheries of the park well outside the wild. The Hostel itself was set in a picturesques locale, overlooking it was a vast meadow and a distant small pond where birds were frequenting for quenching their thirsts. The building itself looked like an old bungloid from outside. On reaching there itself we were given strict instructions not to venture out around the building and the only path thrown open was a brief walkway to the canteen.

Late evening we checked in and freshned up. Later in the evening the moon rose and the waxing bright light from the moon bathed the milieu. It was just after the full moon day and finding the moon amidst tall sal trees bathing the forest with its white light was a mesmerizing sight. Known as we are the Shutter bugs, we lost no time in capturing the moon amidst the trees and in a jungle setting. The night sky in jungle is pristine devoid of the pollution, presented a good time to graze the stars and shooting stars and ofcourse the moon. The setting reminded the poets words

Night, full of newly created stars that leave
trails of fire streaming from their seams
as they soar in inaudible adventure
through interstellar space:

How, overshadowed by your all-embracing vastness,
I appear minute!
Yet, being one with the ever more darkening earth,
I dare to be in you.

8.30pm time for dinner, pangs of hunger had conquered us and it was excaberated by the day long starving (on way to Kanha you don’t get any food apart from samosas in Tea Stalls) after consuming just morsels of Samosas. It was time to commit the sin of Gluttony, a sin, which left the Canteen staff awed and dismayed, and what not? A 4-member team eating 40-45 chapathis and quantities of rice spiced with dals and curries that too without paying anything? Adding to the assault was demanding sweet in the end. At the end of the eating binge, the only feeling we had was probably this was the last time they were going to offer this plan of 490/= rupees with unlimited food.

As time waded by the cool breeze of the forest wasped by our faces and it was becoming colder by the hour. With nothing much left to do it was time to doze off the night and jumpstart early the next day in the expedition to venture out in the woods.