Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Hot Summer Morning and Cursed Luck in Blackbuck Country

The lure of photographing the majestic Blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra) got me off my bed at 4:30 am on Saturday morning when the rest of the city was still lost in its dreams. The ride up-to Maidenahalli Blackbuck Reserve was about 145 kms through Tumkur (National Highway 4) and then a State Highway (via Madhugiri) for about 60 kms. I wasn't expecting too much traffic but as usual Bengaluru threw up a surprise. I was caught in an early morning jam just before turning into NH4. There were about 60 trucks, all fully loaded waiting in front of me. The first thought that struck me was why my favorite magazine The Economist keeps insisting that India's infrastructure is at best pathetic. After 15 mins I managed to make it to the highway towards Tumkur only to be met by a 100 diversions on the road. The first impression anyone would get looking at the construction work going on at NH4 would be a total breakdown on planning, coordination and execution. The Indian in me has just taken off cribbing about everything without doing anything about it so I shall stop.

The NH4 opens to an excellent 4 lane stretch after about 20 or 25 kms after entering the highway. The toll station collects Rs 23 for a one way ride. One takes a right towards Siri just before hitting Tumkur town. Another right after 4 kms into the Siri highway takes you towards Madhugiri which was about 40 kms. The document I carried said that the roads were bad but I was surprised to see that the road was recently tarred and the Swift didn't have too many problems except on couple of minor stretches. I reached the unpaved road that leads into the reserve area at about 8 and was pleasantly surprised to see the landscape. It seemed to be more like an African Savannah. A kilometer into the stretch and I spotted the first herd of Blackbuck. The females grazing and ever watchful while the males were busy fighting each other. I realized into the first shot from the camera that getting a close-up of these magnificent animals would prove to be extremely tough. A little further into the road, a male Blackbuck in all his splendor seemed to be posing for the camera and by the time I could get hold of him in the frame he jumped and ran! It was the closest I would get a fully grown male all day. Sigh!

I managed to catch up with the forest watcher, one Mr. Murthy who was heading home for his breakfast. I was told to call the Ranger at Madhugiri to get permission to photograph and roam around the reserve. I did make the call and Murthy promised to be back after his breakfast which reminded me that I had a cheese sandwiches packed (by dear mom of-course) for breakfast. There are several trails that go into the reserve which one could traverse by car or jeep and I was brave enough to take the swift into these tracks and the experience of driving though jungle track was the only fun part for I never got to spot any herd. I managed to spot a lone male in the plains in front of me and decided to track him on foot and after gingerly stepping through the scrub and grass vegetation I thought I had come close only to find the male realize my presence and bolt! Darn! I walked back to the car and found Murthy waiting for me. We drove to a patch where he had seen a herd a while ago and we began tracking on foot. I spent the next 45 mins tracking a herd, creeping, crawling, hiding or trying to in the midst of the undergrowth to get closer to the guys only to come up short every time. I wasn't too disappointed for I was enjoying the entire exercise. Nature you beauty! The only annoying part was that Murthy kept insisting that my Canon EF 70-300 mm zoom lens was not up-to the task when I told him that I couldn't get a closeup shot! Rub it in dude! I kept saying to myself.

As I mentioned earlier, I was fascinated by the landscape. Here I was, in the middle of the plains of Karnataka, a 700 acre piece of land that looked right out of Africa. I imagine the entire area was once covered with these grasslands before Homo sapiens decided to usurp it from Nature for their greedy (and needy) needs. We wen't off to another location and this time I spent another 15 mins tracking a male only to be denied by this wonderful creature whose sensitive hearing capabilities always gave me away no matter how hard I tried.

I finally said goodbye to Murthy at about 11 and headed back towards Madhugiri. I managed to spot a couple of males on the way and took a few photographs. When I reached the tarred road, I decided to head back to make one last attempt. This time I decided to use a track that would its way into the park just before the main gates. I spotted a huge banyan tree that housed hundreds of Mynas. I spent a few minutes listening to their chattering before heading into the grass and shrubs vegetation to track another herd. This attempt went in vain too and I realized that the heat was draining me completely. I headed back towards the gates and took another track and this time I met a bigger herd of about 15 bucks and I decided to track them on car and this turned out to be a whole lot of fun! I managed to get close to two male bucks that seemed caught in their own world but before I could get a good shot they went behind a few rocks and I missed out getting a nice clean shot. I went in further and managed to snap a few female bucks only to find that I had run out of film. I din't bring extra rolls as I did not expect to shoot more than a roll. Disappointed I was about to turn back when I spotted two males coming towards the car.

Darn! Damn! &*#*!@!#&#(#()#&*#(#(@!$$&&&&!!!!!! Both the males stood about 10 feet away from the car and were posing away and I was using the all the swear words I knew in the dozen or so languages I knew (only the swear words unfortunately) on myself. Damn! Lesson learned - Always carry extra film rolls.

I spent 5 mins watching the males fight using their beautiful antlers to perfection. I turned back promising to come back after the monsoons with more rolls and hoping for better luck!

For those wanting to visit this unique place offers all the information you need. The forest department has almost finished constructing a guest house that will allow people to stay overnight.

I reached the outskirts of Bangalore at 2 pm and it took me an hour and half to reach home thanks to our wonderful politicians who have managed to fuck this once lovely city beyond repair!

Now for the visuals:

Photograph 1: Female Blackbucks
Place: Maidenahalli Blackbuck Reserve

Photograph 2: Adult Male Blackbucks
Place: Maidenahalli Blackbuck Reserve

Photograph 3:Landscape
Place: Maidenahalli Blackbuck Reserve

Photograph 4: Adult Blackbuck (Male)
Place: Maidenahalli Blackbuck Reserve

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