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The tourism and forest departments of BJP-governed Karnataka plans to launch terror tourism, based on the life and trails of forest brigand Veerappan, shot down by a special police team in 2004.

Veerappan with his band of men Image courtesy: Wikipedia

Tourism Director K Vishwanatha Reddy said construction of ecotourism facilities, including solar electrification, is at an advanced stage in Veer-appan’s village, Gopinatham, 200 km from Bangalore.
A trekking scheme, called Mystery Trails, will be part of the package for high-end and mid-rung tourists.

“Mystery Trails aims to explore the myths surrounding the brigand, his hideouts, escape routes and harsh living conditions,” said Deputy Conservator of Forests Narayan Swamy. “People would surely like to know what were the incidents that took place.

The “incidents” during Veerappan’s 20-year reign of terror across 6,000 sq km of forests in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, included the killing of 184 people, many of them police and forest officials, smuggling of sandalwood worth Rs 103 crore, and poaching of at least 200 elephants.

Western Ghats bordering Karnataka, Kerala & Tamil Nadu was dominated by Veerappan until his death

Source: Hindustantimes.com

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Well, this was probably the 30th time in two years that I was heading to Masinagudi, one of my favourite getaways from Bangalore. Being a wildlife enthusiast (who unfortunately had never seen a tiger in the wild), I was livid with the fact that quite a few first-timers to the forest had encountered a tiger while, I, with all my frequent trips had never seen the big cat.

A group of friends and I decided to spend two nights at my regular haunt, Wild Haven, which is located a good distance away from most other ‘commercial’ resorts. This place, located in a clearing, is a fantastic place to watch wildlife pass by from your porch.

The first day and night were pretty uneventful but what we guys were gearing up for, was the morning after the second night – a trip into the jungle at 5:00am. We worked overtime, used all our good offices with locals, and finally got permission from the forest department to drive into a restricted area.Tiger pug marks deep inside madhumalai forest

That morning, we were up early. It was dark and cold outside and as mentioned earlier, the driver (who was one of the few to be allowed into that part of the jungle) was ready with his old jeep. After a short drive, we entered an area that I have never been to earlier. The tar road was increasingly getting scarce and at one point, the driver pulled the jeep away from the main road and from here on, it was total off-road driving in the wild.

The entire group had gone silent and I am sure all of us were wondering what would happen if we had a flat tire now or encountered an elephant head on. Our thoughts we suddenly interrupted when the driver screeched to a halt. There was a python right ahead of us and the guy looked like he had just fed himself. I could see a big lump in his middle and I guessed it was a rat or something he had gotten hold of. We made sure we didn’t get too close to him as these pythons, though lazy-looking, can be lightning fast when required. We stood a good 2 meters away from this long guy, clicked snaps of him and got going.python-spotting

Next, we had to cross a river and it was absolutely thrilling to do so sitting in the jeep. We saw huge elephant foot marks and could also hear a heard trumpet nearby. All across our path, we could see huge, deep pug marks – they belonged to a tiger and were pretty fresh. I started getting desperate to see a tiger and was cursing my luck when we suddenly came face to face with an elephant. What happened thereafter is a little difficult to explain, but it would suffice to say that one of the males was not really thrilled on seeing us, and decided to make his displeasure known. We turned around and scooted while he chased us trumpeting and throwing sand on himself to appear fierce. I managed to get a good snap of this sequence and patted myself. This was supposed to be a mock charge. I wonder what the real one would be like.

We got down, walked to a cliff and spent some time there watching distant elephant herds but there was no sign of the elusive big cat. We got back into the jeep, got onto the tar toad and were heading back and that is when we saw him. A big fellow, sitting on a rock at the top of a hillock overlooking the road. The sun was behind the tiger, so we had a clear view of him. He sat there for 5 minutes, moved his neck around a couple of times and then got up, and majestically walked away. I was dazed and was totally mesmerized by this sight. I came back to our resort but I could not shake myself out of my daze. William Blake’s words kept coming back –

Did He smile his work to see,
Did He who make the lamb make thee.

Tiger Tiger burning bright,
In the forest of the night,
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry.

Wild cat spotted deep in the madhumalai forest range

Wild cat spotted deep in the madhumalai forest range

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Chikmagalur is a fantastic weekend getaway from Bangalore – far from the madding crowd and a perfect refuge from the hustle bustle of the city. A couple of old friends and I wanted to experience a ‘good drive’ and spend the night at a place with ‘no mobile range’, a little bit of monsoon showers and nature.

We left Bangalore by 7AM. Taking the “NICE road’ – Kanakpura road – Mysore road route and finally connecting to Tumkur road, we beat the traffic and saved a good 45 min. By 7:45, we were really hungry and ready for breakfast. 20 minutes after taking a left turn at the Nelamangala junction we stopped at a ‘open air dosa restaurant’. The food was fantastic and well rested, we took off again….

I’ve driven around most of South India and I can say that the road we took was arguably one of the nicest stretches to drive on. As you near Hassan and then Chikamagalur, what will strike you is the number of water bodies – lake after lake on both sides made this drive doubly pleasant.

We finally reached our destination – a coffee estate -cum- home stay tucked away in the mountain ranges on the slopes of Mullayanagiri hill (highest peak in Karnataka). Reaching this estate (15 km from Chikamagalur town) was a challenge as we needed to pass through three other estates on slippery monsoon-hit roads. However, the Maruti Swift we were in stood up to the challenge…
The estate is basically an ancestral bungalow that belongs to a family staying in Chikamagalur town. Having travelled extensively, I am accustomed to the ‘star-hotel-service’ – but the experience here was a class apart! There was this ‘caretaker-cum-cook-cum-guide-cum-everything’ who welcomed us with a glass of fresh lemonade and got a heavenly 7-course South-Indian meal ready in no time. A heavy nap followed and evening saw us enjoy estate walks, fresh coffee from the estate, more snacks and a quiet drink. The dinner we had (again a 7 course!) was definitely the best I’ve had till date and the pepper chicken was to die for!

We were off to sleep after a couple of games of carrom. The ever smiling caretaker made masala dosas in the morning and we took leave after thanking him for his wonderful hospitality. I dare say that no 7 star hotel can match up to the warm and honest hospitality displayed by these unassuming mountain folk.
On the way back we stopped near a lake where we saw a couple of water snakes. We also stopped at Belur and Halebidu – another fascinating experience (more about that in another post!). Lunch at Hassan and back to Bangalore by 7:30 PM. This was a perfect 1 night – 2 day getaway. The stay at the estate cost us Rs. 1500 per head, which included 3 meals, coffee and snacks fit for a king and a smiling host, on the house!

ur escapist

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