A journey into the wilds often takes me on a date with dawn . And I rose one morning to greet the sun only to find him lost somewhere amidst the many layers of clouds as I drove towards Tholpetty Wildlife Sanctuary in Wayanad. It took me however a little time to realize that it was the mist that played the central character here. Lending a mysterious aura to the entire landscape, at Tholpetty Wildlife Sanctuary it was teasing the traveller, revealing just itsy bitsy patches of green and wrapping the scenery in its fold. A temporary facade of white blinded the eye, until the mist just melted away . And then I saw it. Girdled by mountains, covered with dense forests, here was a landscape that a pantheist would write an ode to. And that is when you realize that the phrase “God’s own country” is not all marketing jargon.
I crossed into Kerala border from Kutta in Coorg in Karnataka just as dawn broke. The road was already brimming with traffic, as some of the heavy vehicles were heading into town. I have always found it a bit intriguing when I cross a border of the state and move into another. I crossed the mandatory check posts on either side of an invisible line and a handful of boards greeted me, but one could sense the immediate change of culture. The movie posters were the first indicator and then the tea stops on the way.
We drove through little villages that were all bustling awake and reached the forests. The mist was no longer a companion and the sun’s rays, stroked the cold damp trees that stood still in the breezeless morning. The plantations gave way to the jungles as the tall silver oaks were replaced by clumps of bamboo.And the wet smell of the earth took over from the intoxicating fragrance of the coffee blossoms, sparkling like little stars in the bushes.
I was in Wayanad, standing at the entrance of the Tholpetty Wildlife Sanctuary sleepy and silent. A handful of wildlife enthusiasts like me waited patiently to be allotted a jeep, as a naturalist joined us. We were given a choice – should we chase a tiger that had been spotted by a couple of jeeps ahead of us or head out to see the elephants that were on the road, a little ahead of us.
The driver wanted to forge ahead on the trail of the tiger, but the naturalist requested him to do a small detour, trying to get us a glimpse of both the elephants and the tiger. We were just in time to see the last of the flock disappearing into the dense vegetation. The driver was cribbing that we would have missed the tiger as well. The naturalist explained that most tourists do not come to Tholpetty Wildlife Sanctuary and they prefer Muthanga, as they do not get see the showstoppers here very often here ; hence the drivers do not like to miss the opportunity if a wild cat announces its presence in the woods.
The sky was a fusion of golden brown and crimson red as we headed out on a wild encounter. The weather was just perfect. I kept looking at the trees hoping to spot a leopard, if not the elusive tiger.We saw the Malabar squirrel jumping across trees but the tiger seemed to have escaped into the forests. The jungles however were lit by a beautiful light and the birds sang for us sweetly. Little streams were filled with kingfishers . The malabar parakeets rushed out of the branches.
A white bellied woodpecker, one of the largest of its kind posed for us reluctantly as we spent almost twenty minutes watching it play hide and seek with us. A lone crested serpent eagle looked dark and dusky, scanning the woods for breakfast, while an oriental honey buzzard flew ahead of us. I had a great time bird watching at Tholpetty Wildlife Sanctuary.
More jeeps whizzed past us as some of them stopped to exchange notes on wildlife encounters. Some tourists had a disappointed look on their faces when they stopped alongside us, only to realize that we were looking at the winged creatures.
The trees gently swayed in the breeze. The sun was getting warmer. I was hungry and had a long journey ahead of me. The forests were dark and mysterious and they seemed to mock at us as we slowed down, looking for the wild denizens . Finally a herd of spotted deer crossed the road, bidding us farewell, as we drove back towards Coorg.