It was a pleasant morning in Ooty. The members of our family trip – comprising my parents, brother, uncles, aunts, cousins and grandmother tucked into a hearty breakfast. We then embarked on our sojourn to Masinagudi, a sleepy town nestled amidst lofty mountains, dense jungles and vast tea plantations. About two hours’ travel along the narrow, winding road saw our van rumbling into the Mahindra Zest Resort, where our accommodation had been arranged. A few metres from the destination, a long, silver- coloured snake slithering across the road into the thick bushes bordering the road welcomed us to Masinagudi. Subsequent to an elaborate lunch, we set out for a stroll inside the resort premises- clambering atop the tree house and enjoying the swings and hammocks fastened to large, sturdy trees. Soon, we were stepping gingerly into the clear, chilling waters of a gurgling stream flowing along the rear of the resort. As it was a spot frequented by wild animals coming toquench their thirst, we were cautioned against venturing into the opposite bank.
By evening, accompanied by a local guide, the younger members of our group, went on a trek to a nearby hill. The seasoned guide steered us along pathways with gentler slopes so that we could ascend without getting exhausted. As we approached the peak, the scenery became more and more glorious. The tall hills all around, shrouded in lush vegetation, with the silvery clouds floating beneath them, presented a magnificent sight. The steady breeze, coupled with the cool air, provided us with natural air conditioning. At the summit of the hill, there was a quaint temple, with Lord Muruka as the presiding deity. After we offered prayers, the priest, an elderly man with a matted beard, enchanted us with anecdotes of how the temple was often visited by leopards and how he sought asylum by bolting the sanctum sanctorum and crouching inside.
The wind was blowing with tremendous force, as if to sweep us off our feet. After the arduous climb, we relaxed, seating ourselves on boulders and taking snaps, drinking in the panoramic view. The calm prevailing in the pristine surroundings enervated us. After our descent from the hill, we halted for a cup of tea at a tea shop in Bokapura town.
The following day we awoke early and proceeded for a walk. There was a slight drizzle but that did not dampen our spirits. The imposing ghats were partially concealed by mist. Filled with apprehensions about being assaulted by wild beasts, but none quite voicing their fears openly, we strode ahead. Aside from dainty deer and monkeys hopping between trees, we caught sight of two giant squirrels with red, bushy tails scampering up a giant tree. Hiring two jeeps, we enjoyed a safari ride through the region, which constitutes parts of the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve. We spotted a few trained elephants (known as kumkis), deer and peacocks. Later in the day, the jungle safari facilitated by Tamil Nadu Forest department proved more fruitful. It was an exciting journey in a van through a rough path amidst the wild, undisturbed flora. We were fortunate to witness a majestic leopard prowling among the thick, tall grass. As the cameras clicked away, the young big cat gracefully vanished among the trees. We also sighted a herd of wild elephants filling their voluminous stomachs with large leaves, at a distance. Herds of spotted deer, lion- tailed macaques perched on trees and the charming peacocks put in an occasional appearance. Soon, a procession of wild bison crossed our path.
The elephant rehabilitation centre at Mudumalai was our next destination. Tourists from far and wide flock here in large numbers to behold the elephant feeding ceremony. One by one, the pachyderms were led out to their designated positions and fed with enormous balls of their diet- a mixture of ragi, salt, jaggery, rice etc. From 4-year-old baby elephants to 80-year-old seniors, the gentle giants of all ages gobbled up contentedly, the food proffered by their caretakers. During our return journey to the resort, we sighted elephants and wild bison among the woods lining the roads. A white rabbit hurried across the road, in front of our van. Since the inhabitants of the jungle roam freely after dusk, the roads in the region are closed to traffic from 8 pm to 6 am. Back in the resort, when I left the door of our room ajar for a short while, a monkey dropped in for a visit. As we hastily shooed it away, it swiftly grabbed sachets of milk powder from the table and sped away, much to our amusement.
We commenced our departure from mesmerizing Masinagudi the next morning. Our minds rich with memories of the beautiful mountains, the wildlife sanctuaries and their residents, we bid adieu to the captivating hill town.