Shalini called one of her close friends who lives in Coorg and owns a coffee plantation to host us on a trip. We left Mysore on Saturday afternoon by bus and arrived 3 hours later at our bed and breakfast located among acres and acres of coffee plantations and forest trees. Viju, our guide, grows three types of coffee on his plantation with oranges and other fruit trees scattered among his coffee bushes… Aaron and I were extremely lucky to get the opportunity to experience a place like this. At night, wild elephants will cross the small main road from the forest to access the abundance of fruits available on the other side. While the primary motive for the frequent elephant visits is most likely food, Viju has said people have started to encroach in their territory by setting up farms in the forest. Many tribal people have been placed here by the government to maintain various projects.
The next morning I woke up rested and happy. When we left the room we were greeted with jackfruit, custard apple (a sweet fruit that is very creamy with large black seeds and looks like an artichoke from the outside), bananas, tea cake, and very fresh, local coffee.
Once we finished breakfast we exchanged email addresses with our neighbors, took pictures, then set out to see the tame elephants in Dubare. Our trip was slightly delayed by a road-closure due to a politician in the BJP party driving thru the village. He was ending a short holiday to “Orange County”, an upscale hotel located nearby. While we waited for the motorcade to pass Viju bought a plastic bag full of tiny bananas to give to the elephants.
On our way to the elephants, we took a 30minute off-road path to their feeding area.(A large portion of the natural forest we were driving through had been replaced by a teak forest that the government put there to support the growing demand for teak wood.) About midday, after bathing and feeding the elephants are released into the forest to mingle with the wild elephants. The next morning, the caretakers will track the elephants, sometimes for several kilometers, by the unique chain they wear and drag behind them. Once they find them, and while being cautious of any wild elephants they may be with, they will bring them back to the lake to get their bath. When we finally arrived at our destination, we stopped by the care-takers amazing tree-house and hung-out for awhile in the loft to have some tea. Afterwards we met up with the elephants and their caretakers halfway on the path to the lake. With fire-wood in their mouths, we turned to follow them back to camp. The 1-year old calf we were told “is very naughty”. He was very curious and would frequently turn the opposite direction to check out his new guests or leave the path to go pick up a branch to play with then throw it off to the side with his trunk. Both of the adult elephants took on the responsibility of being his mother and both supply him with milk. One of them lost their calf around the same time he was born and watches him even more closely then his birth mother. Once reaching the feeding area, I jumped on the opportunity to ask if I could touch them. As soon as I saw the beginning of the nod, I immediately went straight towards the baby. We eventually got to feed the elephants the bananas, which I have to admit, left my hand looking pretty gross. Whenever they grabbed the bunch with their trunk my hands escaped clean. As I was trying to get a picture of Aaron petting the calf with his camera, the calf suddenly began to slowly walk towards Aaron… then quickly shoved Aaron with his trunk! To my surprise, Aaron went flying backwards... luckily landing on both feet! That tiny little trunk packed quite a punch. After figuring out that he was okay, all of us just laughed. As we were about to leave, a local radio station (103.1) arrived to see the elephants. They have a 2-hour night section devoted to voicing the tribal concerns and finding ways to help them. Completely getting sidetracked from our next mission to hike to the nearby temple, I found myself sitting and conversing with the programming manager, the representative for the tribes (activist, not politician), and a couple of the other radio reps. A village elder showed up, with an extremely large knife and honey pot in hand. He was telling everyone how he recently ran into a wild elephant and had to scamper up a tree (you do this or if on a vehicle, you ditch the ride and run hoping the elephant will attack the thing making loud noise instead of you). After he ran up the tree, the elephant came up and stamped the tree he was in…then calmly left. The large group then walked to the tree-house area where a different village elder sang 3 tribal song’s while a radio rep. recorded it with a hand-held recorder. As I was sitting so close to the elder, I passed my camera to Aaron behind me and had him record the “Beekeeper Song”. Each tribe has a specialty; the tribe these two were from were honey collectors. Later, we parted ways and I passed along PHRI’s card to the radio programming manager with my email address. He emailed me yesterday with some pictures from the visit and mentioned he wanted to meet up in Mysore. We again passed by the same group on the return trip in the Jeep to the main road. As we stopped to say our final goodbyes the women with the team passed me a peacock feather she had found in the forest.
Afterwards, we hiked to the temple…up a very large hill. Huffing and puffing, I finally made it up the 30-minute steep climb up the tiny, tiny dirt trail up the forest hill to the temple. Aaron and Viju were very comfortable standing extremely close to the cliffs on the “hill”… me not so comfortable, but I was convinced that since this was a once in a life-time opportunity to hang-out on a cliff in India… why not? We ate lunch…warm chiapati and banana (the larger orange species) with jam, then hung out while Viju practiced his tribal ritual with some of the youth who were enjoying their day off at the temple. We were supposed to be on the 5 o’clock bus back to Mysore but found ourselves still taking it easy and relaxing on the hill until 5:15. On our way back down, Viju pointed out a few “amla” in a tree and had one of the tribal boys climb to grab some for us. I looked it up later on the internet and found out amla is the Indian gooseberry. Whoa!!!... Those things are super bitter on first bite… but 1 minute later it’s so wonderful!!! If you take a drink of water a couple minutes after chewing it tastes like your drinking juice or sugar water. The sweet taste in your mouth lasts for at least a good 5 minutes. They are also supposed to be super healthy for you as well. The boys kept finding amla fruit and kept picking them once they saw how much I enjoyed them.
By far the best trip since we’ve been in India!!! I've never been so relaxed and amazed by my surroundings(people and environment)!