Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Tiger Road

             Tiger roads were tracks across tiger infested woods, used by the then rulers, for game, and occasionally to get rid of man eaters. The sport gained momentum towards the end of 19th century and carried on to mid 20th century. In fact, India witnessed a massive wipe out of sixty thousand to seventy thousand of these gentle animals, in a short span of fifty years across 1875 to 1925. And the southern part of the big country, had its own contributions. In 1971, tiger killing was banned by Supreme Court of India and in 1973, 'Project Tiger' was launched. The hunting tracks were abandoned and left to the woods.

        And this story is about one such track, that still remains distinct, in the southern part of the country, and eventually on a tiger encounter, at close quarters...Let's start with a small history on the hunting ground...
               Be it the Wodayars of  Mysore Dynasty or the Tippu - the tiger himself - were all fond of the sport of tiger hunting, and the sector, then under the grip of Mysore strong hold, had these majestic cats in abundance. To the south of Mysore, the regions of Sathyamangalam, Nilgiris, Bandipur, Muthanga, Kabini, Nagerhole etc, were the hot spots, as these contiguous sectors then boasted of the pristine greenery, booming with all resources, the tiger population was in need.

            The first tracks ever, across these woods, should be credited to Hyder Ali, who rose to power in 1760 AD . He descended the Ghats, invading the Malabar region, now part of Kerala and of course, he would have widened the paths used by tribal people, messengers and hunters, as he had to take his cavalry along with. History says that the Vythiri - Thamarasseri segment, of the present NH 766, connecting Calicut and Mysore, was invented by Hyder Ali, which was later developed by the British.

      Hyder Ali Khan was succeeded by his elder son, The Tippu Sulthan, in 1782 AD. Then onward, Tippu crossed the Ghats, many a times, either to defend Malabar or in effort to invade Travancore, until his death in 1799. The British, killing Tipu Sultan, reinstated the Wodayar reign, which continued until independence of India. Thus during the second tenure of the Wodayars, the plot was clear, with several tracks crisscrossing the Tiger country, providing ample access to their gentle population.

     Among the then rulers, Krishna Raja Wodeyar and the last King, Jayachamaraja Wodeyar, were known patrons of tiger hunting.

Krishnaraja Wodeyar in whites                *This image is copyright of its original author
                      Jayachamaraja Wodeyar is known to have sought to hunting, only on reports of  a rogue elephant or a man eating tiger, and later he gave up hunting and served as the chairman of Indian Wildlife Board. He may be the last, who would have lead a hunting trail, along the tiger roads...

Jayachamaraja Wodeyar in the middle                    *This image is copyright of its original author

                Actually I came to know about the Tiger Road from Heeralal - a good friend of mine - who then served as the Officer in charge of  Muthanga Wild Life Sanctuary, of Wayanad district. When I rang him up finally, by around midnight, the delegation consisting of Biju, Gireesh, Sinesh and myself, had just crossed Nadukani, on Nilambur - Batheri route. On his directions, got to Muthanga, by around 1 in the morning and we were led to the mud cottages close to the Range office. Though late to sleep, woke up early to the chirping of birds and a short birding session followed.

Velvet Fronted Nuthatch
        Soon after break fast, set out to explore, storing sufficient to drink and eat. Traveled along NH 766 up to Mulehole and took the right deviation,32 into the Tiger Road. The mud track cut across NH here, and the left deviation leads to Kabini. The initial part went event less, apart from the sightings of Sambar deers and spotted deers, occasionally. Then we approached a junction, where the track forked. Took the right deviation which climbed to the camp named Gemmanahalla. It was a small old building on a hill top, with an attached watch tower.

        Once up the tower, you have the green vista surrounding, all beneath you. This would have served as midway rest and watch house for the game team. Spent a while there and left to hit the track.

            Noticing bird activity, drive went slow and had stop overs, where ever we sensed motion. Could spot Blue faced Malkoha, Darter, King Fishers and that kind, and I swapped my wide angle lens with 300 mm, F4, block telephoto lens, which is my favorite, for birds in action.

               At another such stoppage, as we were all out of the vehicle, I saw the guard who was with us, walking farther, sensing something ahead. Confirming the camera settings, we followed suite. We were moving in a line, the guard leading, myself closely behind and the others following. We stepped on a culvert over a small rivulet and as we crossed it, the man in front, in a quick move, drifted aside. And I found myself, directly in front of the tiger....

             He stood on a flat rock, by the side of the rivulet, staring at me, nearly 10 meters away. I am not a guy that brave; but still I wasn't in panic. As I watched, he turned to the left and had a gentle walk towards the thick bush on the other side. Then I thought of clicking. I slowly lifted the camera and as the vision cleared through the view finder, what I saw was his face, in full frame. He had just stopped.... Then, grinning wide, he delivered a thick growl. We stood there frozen....

     After a second warning, much more intense, he continued with the stroll, got into thick cover and laid there. His hind quarters was still outside the thicket, clearly visible.

 Feeling the thickness in air, Heeralal presented a lighter face, and soon we got back to the vehicle, not to disturb the animal further. As we drove ahead, up the incline, I could have one more glimpse of that magnificent face, through the thicket, cautiously watching.

               Had food on the way and took another track, back to Muthanga. Though there were many sightings, on return, which included Sambars, Gaurs and Dholes, shutterbugs were on the hang over and hence didn't attempt elaborate photo sessions.

         From my side, it was a kingly affair - Shooting a tiger, from the tiger road, neither up an elephant nor on a cart; but on foot, not shedding a drop of blood, neither his nor mine...

     From the tiger side, the king of our woods, the scenario is pathetic. They were more than a lakh, a hundred years back..... The kingdom on strain. The dynasty on decline.  And just about 2200 of them remain in this noble land.....

    Hopefully..... Let them stroll, fearless...Along The Tiger Roads.....




  1. Wow Fantabulous experience!

  2. you are back!!! Excellent!

  3. Hi Shinu,
    Your travelogue are quite fascinating and enthralling. I was able to explore some unknown places because of your blog like mudalayar oothu, Aralam, Siruvani, KMTR which are either not so popular or inaccessible to the commoner. The above article is quite gripping and always gives you an extra kick when you see a tiger on foot. Keep it coming. Best wishes..
    Deepu Cyriac

  4. Great trip beautiful photos thanks for the post

  5. Lucky you. Happy that you are back with a bang. Keep writing.

  6. Awesome blog... I felt myself there


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