Eco-travel

Inside the woodlands of Wodeyars -Part V

Inside the woodlands of Wodeyars 
 Part V
                                                          -Saraswati Kavula                                                             

 

On our way back to Mysore we stopped at Kushalnagar to visit the Dubbare

Elephant Camp and Nisargadhama. The highlight of Dubbare was a chance to take

part in washing the elephants. Dubbare is 15 kilometers from Kushalnagar on the

banks of Cauvery. The place was almost picturesque except for the mad blaring of

a song from the film happening nearby. One has to cross the Cauvery in a motor

launch in order to reach the campsite. There are 14 elephants in all. The fees

is 20 rupees,  for the river crossing and another 75 for the interaction with

the elephants which includes bathing the elephants, drill, feeding and briefing

about the camp. Those come to just take a peek can do so, paying just 20 rupees.

As people started to come in the little booking office also doubled up as a

sales counter, selling souvenirs. The wash was enjoyed by the kids and the

animals alike. But the drill turned out to be a demonstration of circus feats by

the elephants after reasonable raps on the

 forehead with a sharp edged stick by their “trainers”. Quite a few elephants

had chains on their feet. “Look at the feet, the skin looks so bruised, they

must be in so much pain” rued my niece. For the people who came there, this was

another entertainment. After having sufficiently performed for the crowd,

enabling us to take some good photographs, the big fellows were taken for the

feeding ritual. Imagine being crowded around by nearly 50 people staring at you,

as you wish to eat your first meal in the day! 

 

 

  

  When I mentioned this to Muruli from the Coorg Wild Life Society, who runs the

boat service at Dubare, he said, “This used to be the elephant training camp of

the Mysore Kings. Later it was taken up by the Forest department. Now, they

opened this to public for tourism purpose. We have been telling them this is not

a good thing for conservation; the elephants must live in the wild, not like

this. But they don’t bother. They want the tourists. And the tourists want some

entertainment!”  I told him about the denuded hills around Bandipur Safari

Lodge, and the claim that it was a semi-deciduous forest. “How the topography

change within a short span of few kilometers?” “No, most of this area is

tropical forest, a lot of it is gone, what you saw in the Safari area of

Bandipur is actually replanted forest by the forest department. Here in Dubare

also, out of the 13,000 hectares of forest area, nearly 8000 hectares is teak

plantation, planted by the forest department, after they

 cut down the natural forest. But still the remaining area is natural forest and

we are fighting to let it survive”, replied Muruli. “But in Bhagamandala, we saw

a lot of natural forest”, I continued my query. “Well, thankfully, teak doesn’t

grow in the cooler climates, otherwise our forest department would have cut that

forest down to make way for teak plantations!”

           

  Some people stayed back for a picnic on the rocks in the middle of the river.

And bits of discarded paper plates, plastic carry bags and soft drink bottles

were floating around them.

  

  The next stop was Nisargadhama, a little island on the Cauvery, with some

bamboo plantations grown by the forest department. A hanging bridge takes you to

the other side of the island, which has some bamboo cottages overlooking the

river, a small restaurant, some swings and tree houses and a deer park. One can

go for an elephant ride, pedal a boat in the river or just look at the miserable

deer behind the iron mesh boundary, fed on dry worn out grass. The elephant ride

was nice except for the occasional rap with shrapnel on the elephant’s forehead

given out by the mahout to prevent the animal from eating the bamboo shoots

hanging from the top. “Why do they hit so badly? And that too on its forehead,

where it hurts the most?” my niece asked. That reminded us of the incident of

our first elephant ride at Bandipur. There the animal was hit with a bamboo

cane, to sort of get it into action. As we finished our turn and were getting

down, a banana seller asked the tourists to

 buy bananas to offer to the elephant. That seemed like a good idea, which

turned sour, as one lady was just busy posing with the bananas next to the

elephant, in front of a camera. The animal was waiting and wanting to eat the

fruit. Meanwhile, the next batch of riders had climbed up and wanted to leave.

The Mahout hit the animal asking it to move. Our lady tourist was still busy

with her poses, not getting the right picture, and the animal did not wish to

leave without eating the fruit. Our Mahout was getting worked up, for lost time,

means lost revenue, so he really hit the animal so hard, that it screamed out

loud in pain and of course had to move without eating the bananas.

  

  The second elephant ride which concluded with the shrapnel hitting the

elephant gave us a new resolve. “I will never ever ride an elephant in my life,”

my niece and nephew, said in unison. The restaurant, run by the forest

department, served tea in disposable plastic, and lot of packed foodstuffs. And

the surrounding area was filled with lots of plastic bottles, wrappers,

disposable cups etc, etc. As we left the place, I saw a board at the entrance

which read, “No plastic Zone”.

 

 

  On returning to Mysore, we went to see the migratory birds at Ranganatittu

bird sanctuary, certainly a much better maintained place compared to

Nisargadhama. One did not find any plastic lying around only a few used condom

packets under a bamboo bush. The sight of the birds all over the little islands

inside the river was really refreshing. I began to wonder at how little these

creatures ask for, even a little bit of green and some sort of a watering hole,

they survive some how. And how much we ask for, without giving back much to

nature? Do we have this right to bulldoze all the other inhabitants of the

earth?

 

  

  I suppose I am living in a fools’ paradise thinking these thoughts. As we went

past the once garden city of Bangalore, I realized that people thought

otherwise. Bangalore has a severe water problem, the city is terribly hot, the

roads are clogged with vehicles and of course no body can breathe normal. (Not

too different from Hyderabad). Yet one finds every day a new lake replaced by a

concrete structure and new forests cut down to make way for glasshouses. At one

time, Banarghatta National Park was some 20 kilometers from Bangalore city.

Today, the city barely leaves the boundary of the National Park in tact. The

sight at the Park itself was a revelation. A huge hotel was under construction

very close by, in addition to the existing little eating places, shops selling

various things like, packed foods, mineral water, camera rolls, knickknacks etc

etc, in front of the Park gates. Not to forget the huge parking area being built

to accommodate the great number of vehicles.

 We were lucky to have arrived a little early for the Grand Safari. An hour

later we would have been squashed in the crowds. The buses taking the tourists

on Safari roared around, while we waited in the queue for our turn. “Anybody,

just two or three people?” the man at the entrance asked us, and finally the

three of us, who were the last to climb in, squashed into the last seat. We did

see a lot of tigers, lions and bears, an elephant, some deer, bison; but when

one compares with the area of the Park, there were a lot many carnivores, than

the area would naturally support. I suppose, they must be fed by the Park

keepers in order to sustain them. Sure enough, the animals had to get back into

their cages after vehicle after vehicle of screaming tourists, had their fill of

seeing the animals. “I think the animals are looking better in the Bandipur

forest than here”, said my nephew. “I suppose, they are happier when they are

free”. “Actually, when they are able to hunt, they

 are healthier, rather than when they are fed by us. I read it somewhere”, my

neice replied. “I guess it applies to us too. As we begin to make life more

“comfortable”, we begin to get sluggish”, I replied.

  

  The zoo was something; smelly, small cages, in the hot stuffy climate. What

cruelty one can imagine. The worst hit seemed to be the Himalayan Bear, (which

lives in the cold climes of the Himalayas), now suffering inside a cage in

boiling hot Banergatta!

 

  Anyway, after our fill of bhelpuri and ice-cream, we too left the park,

feeling no better than the other tourists. Outside there was the usual scene –

an elephant ride, hankering tourists, frustrated mahout, in addition to the long

queues of vehicles, buses, people, shops, cat calls, nimbu pani, ganna ras,

mineral water…reminded me of the exhibition grounds of Hyderabad, where the

annual Numaish, was meant for people to sell their wares – crafts, food,

electronic gadgets, camel rides….

  

  For now, Bandipur is an island of peace and quiet. Only time will tell, if the

Mysore- Ooty road will begin to resemble the environs of Banerghatta in future.

 

                                                                                    -Concluded


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