04.01.2009 28 °C
Our bus ride down the hill from Ooty was far quicker than and at least as spectacular as the train ride up on the other side. We descended over 1200 meters in about 18 km – with 36 hairpin turns. The passenger next to me showed me where a bus went off the road last month, killing 11 people. There were numerous caution signs and happily we had a very good bus driver who followed the advice on all the signs to drive slowly and remain in either first or second gear depending on the steepness of the slope. I didn’t feel worried; I was too busy enjoying the gorgeous scenery. The homes nestled onto the steep slopes of the mountains made me think of the Greek Islands – beautiful!
In the afternoon we made our way into Muthumalai Tiger Reserve. No one is allowed to hike there, but we went for a short bus safari and saw a giant squirrel, several spotted deer, common languor monkeys, a wild boars, a guar (Indian bison) and a few tame elephants. We got up close to one of the elephants being washed by his mahout, Emil shook the trunk of a two year old. We saw the neat piles of prepared elephant food and watched as 4 adults lined up to receive it. Unfortunately we had to catch our bus back to town before the feeding took place.
The next morning we got up at 5:30 and headed out with our guides shortly after 6. We had dreams of seeing a tiger or wild elephant… but instead enjoyed the dense savannah habitat and later the bamboo and tall trees along the river. We saw all sorts of beautiful birds including parakeets, bee-eaters, mynas, kingfishers, sunbirds, an eagle-owl, a crested hawk eagle and many more.
Our lodging looked out over the hills – at least as good a view as we had in Ooty - but it’s a very small town! The day we arrived there was a strike – the whole town was shut down in protest over the threatened eviction of all sorts of people from the hills. This is to improve habitat for the tigers and elephants. We’re having trouble really understanding what is going on – some people say residents had lots of warning and they have good relocation opportunities. Others say it’s the wealthier resort owners who put on a feast to draw all the poorer folks into the protest. We won’t be here long enough to find out how it all pans out.
We were here for New Years Eve, and decided we needed to have a bit of a party so we bought the lodge owner and workers each a beer, and one for ourselves too. We were the only guests at the lodge - we sat around the campfire with the five staff members, singing songs for one another (we wish we knew more and were a little less shy.) It was a very pleasant evening.
Both here and in Ooty we have had the pleasure of home cooked meals. Though the lodge has only 4 rooms, there is a resident cook who is EXCELLENT! His sauces were delicious, and we had a great time watching his expert execution of parothas – a very flakey flatbread.
On Jan 1 we had another early morning, driving off at 6:30 so that we would pass through Muthumalai and Bandipur National Parks while it was still early enough to see animals. We didn’t see anything new, but enjoyed the bumpy, squishy jeep ride. A little north of Bandipur we took a detour up to the famous Shiva temple, Gopalswami. The views from atop the hill were spectacular and we very much enjoyed the company of our newest friend, Hari Kumar, who had organized all of this for us. We’ll likely see him again in Kerala as he lives between the two states.