Wednesday, June 21, 2006

River Tern Lodge



It had been quite a while, since we last went on a junglee trip again. Time and again, somebody tried to start the ball rolling, but the potential dates got pushed, and pushed further, because of various deadlines of different groups. Finally, 17th & 18th June weekend was the weekend, when we finally made it.

Sowmya volunteered to find the right place amongst a bunch of available options. River Tern Lodge, managed by Jungle Lodges, seemed to be the most attractive, in terms of prices, and the activities one can engage in. We went with that. With Tojo arranging for transport for the trip, at unbelieveable prices, we were all set for the trip. Twenty people made it to the trip.

We started off from Juniper office, on friday 16th, at 11pm. As usual, we commenced playing dumb charades - the favourite game of junglees, as soon as, the bus hit the road. Again, as usual, the group was divided into the front side of the bus, and the back side. The game would have carried on till morning, but then, the driver had to switch off the lights in the bus, when the bus hit the highway. After that, we switched to antakshari. The game carried on, for quite some time, before the teams began finding it tough to find songs with particular consonants. Then, Theo, a friend of Mukesh, who is on a work visit to India, and works for Ness Technologies, began singing a Greek song, which started with the consonant, that his team was supposed to sing a song, starting with. Pleasantly surprised at his enthusiasm, the rest of us listened to him in awe, for first couple of songs, which he came up with. After those first couple of songs, the other team felt something was fishy, and concluded that, Theo was just making up the songs! Theo was playing wildcards. To counter the attack, the team called upon Ramki to sing "Tamil" songs, starting with the consonants, starting with which the team was supposed to sing songs. The fun continued well, till late in the night, when people started to drop off to sleep.



The destination was not very far, as compared to the other trips, we had made previously, and we reached the place at 5:30am in the morning, despite of a break for a cup of hot tea. The Jungle Lodge people were ready for us, and alloted us five rooms, out of promised eight, and requested us to use those till the other three become available at around 9am in the morning. People got busy freshening up, and having tea, coffee and biscuits. The plan was to go for a short trek in the morning, come back, have breakfast and go for a swim till lunch time. The guide put us in high hopes, by mentioning that we might get to see elephants, on the short trek. Later on, he added a standard disclaimer, "Agar luck hai, to kuch bhi dikh sakta hai" (if you are lucky, you may get to see anything). Needless to say, we were all proved to be unlucky bunch of people. The most exciting animal that we came across was a multicolored spider.



But the trek was a good jump start to the weekend. The way up was quite steep, but was relatively easier than the way down. The way down, was incredibly steep, muddy and slippery. A few of us, Deepti, Rohit, Nilesh, chose to slide through the mud, than risk breaking their brow.



At the end of the trek, we were treated to a sumptuous breakfast consisting of idlis, vadas, and omelettes with bread on the side. As many of us found out, food always tastes better, after a good workout.



Post breakfast, people headed out to the water, for swimming and rowing canoes. The Jungle Lodge people had provided us with five canoes, and a giant inflatable "see saw", which was the prime attraction for the group. We had so much fun, trying to get onto it, and toppling over people, who had managed to get onto it. People rowing canoes were not spared either, and all of the canoes were toppled over mid way, by the swimmers. Thankfully, the lodge people had provided us with life jackets, which could hold afloat upto 120kgs. Even the non-swimmers had a lot of fun, because of that.



Time just flew by, and soon it was time for lunch. The lodge people did not let us down, again, and provided us with another very good round of eats. Post lunch, people retired to their log huts, and slept like logs. The half-awake bus journey, plus the morning trek, swimming and the heavy lunch, took it's toll.




At around 4:30pm, people gathered around again, for a round of tea and biscuits. The next on the agenda was to go for a safari in the wildlife sanctuary, adjoining the lodge. There was another group in the lodge, who were keen on the safari. Due to the paucity of vehicles that the lodge people owned, a few of us, had to share the jeep with that group. Tojo, Jojo (younger brother of Tojo), Theo, Nilesh, and myself, volunteered to join the other group. Little did I know that the decision to join the other group, would turn out to be an experience of a lifetime. Our safari guide, Gangaswamy, was pretty knowledgeable person and told us several facts about elephants. For instance, male elephants grow their tusks, around age of 20, after which, they leave the herd, and wander off in the wild. They choose to live alone. Once a year, they come back to the herd, mate with the female of the species, and then leave the herd again. So, the herd consists of only females and baby elephants. We came across the first tusker, all alone, near a watering hole. We kept a pretty good distance from the animal, who was pretty calm. Next, we ran into a herd of elephants. We were quite close to the herd, as compared to the distance, we maintained with the tusker. There were around seven or eight elephants, and a couple of baby elephants! We did not see them, till quite late. Four of the elephants turned towards us, and growled. Yes, they growled! I have never heard an elephant growl. Because of our proximity to them, and the baby elephants, they felt threatened. One of them, even started rubbing its right forward foot against the ground, just like dogs do, prior to attacking. Gangaswamy explained that, all that was part of the false attack, which elephants normally do, to scare away intruders. Suddenly, a couple of those elephants growled again, and moved a few steps towards us. Shit! I do not talk for everybody, who was there, but I have never felt so scared in my life. I know what people mean when they say, they shit their pants. Gangaswamy, quickly, switched on the engine, which was switched off, turned on the headlights and switched it off again. That scared off the elephants, who retreated. Gathering our wits, we managed to stand straight in the jeep, again, wondering what would be our options, if the other elephants attacked us, from behind us. Running away from the jeep did not sound too appealing. Thankfully, the elephants left us, a few minutes later. Phew! The second jeep with the rest of the group, arrived a wee bit late, and missed all the excitement. But they were lucky to have spotted a few bison, barking deer, in addition to the lone tusker, that we spotted earlier.



Post safari, members of the BBG (Bangalore Bar & Grille) retired to Tojo's log hut, to discuss the problems facing the mankind, and how they could be resolved without disturbing the delicate ecological balance on the planet. The lodge people guessing the seriousness of the discussion, kept bits and pieces of succulent barbecued chicken flowing in. Sipping on your favourite drink, feeling the cool breeze, listening to the waves dashing against the beach, is an amazing experience.



Just before dinner, we debated the activities for the next day. Some people wished to go for another round of safari, and others wanted to go for a longer trek. At the end of it, thirteen people opted to go for the safari, and the rest for the trek. Gangaswamy was informed, and he started the process of procuring permissions from the forest department.

After an excellent dinner, the official game of Junglee commenced again around the campfire. There were a few memorable enactments by Theo. Abhiram suggested that we change the game to enact the characters in the movie, and/or the movie, instead of enacting out the name. Again, Theo ruled, belting out the best performances. Mukesh came close second, with his rendition of "Baiju Bawra". That was quite a lot of fun. Mukesh, who probably, had a wee bit too much of his favourite beverage, guessed the movie, "Chronicles of Narnia", as "Chronicles of Hernia". Ashish on the other hand, wanted to "distinguish" the fire.



People could feel the exhaustion taking them over at the end of the day, and one by one, people began retiring for the day. The final bunch of people retired close to 1am in the morning. With the kind of activities that we did for the day one, one might think that people would get up real late, the next day. Surprisingly, most people were able to get up with the 6am wakeup call. The lodge people served tea in our log huts. The people who planned on the morning safari, left hardly much time later than the decided time of 6:30am. The rest of the gang, had time till 7:30am, to get dressed and proceed on a trek.

The safari gang managed to spot a serpent headed eagle, amongst the other animals, which they had spotted the previous day. They had an opportunity to get down from the jeep, which is normally not allowed, and climb up a machan in the jungle.



The other group, went on a longer, but much less steep trek. As against the previous day, the group were able to see more birds. The group saw jungle fowls, peacocks, and parakeets. Amongst the animals, a few os us, were lucky to come across spiderman, trying to swing a web or two. Finding the amazing spiderman, and the multicolored spider, who was obviously, a very pretty female of the species - hmm, the mind wonders, if there is something more than, what meets the eye.



On the way down, the trekking group came across pugmarks which were purportedly by some animal from the big cat family. Somehow I could not bring myself to believe that. The pugmarks were pretty close to the village, and I was not too sure that the big cats can come out of the forest area, which is cut off from the rest of the world by high fence. It reminded me of the SBI credit card ad.

The safari people arrived at the same time, the trekkers returned from their trek. After breakfast, people had a second go at the water. A few people opted to take a motorboat ride around an island which was famous for it's river terns. That's were the lodge gets the name from. After the motorboat ride, those people joined the rest of the gang, swimming, rowing, and fooling in the water, in general.



After an hour or two, people trooped back for a quick shower and quick lunch, before we left for Bangalore again. Some people were so overcome by the scenic beauty of the place, after lunch, that they wanted to stay back yet another day!




The return trip was quite fun as well. Deva took away the prize for the most interesting enactment in dumb charades for the movie 'Munich'. He started with, what we thought was, some kind of socket, and plug pins, male and female connectors, and what not. It turned out, that he was trying to show us the NIC (Network Interface Card) on the Juniper routers! Soon, we got tired of dumb charades, and switched to singing and dancing in the bus. Deepti and Ramki volunteered to play DJ for us, while the rest of the gang shook the bus, with the dancing. I wonder, how come the driver allowed us. The most amazing dance moves were by Theo (again!), to "Zara Jhoom Jhoom" and a tune from Rang De Basanti. We reached Juniper office back, at a good time, at 9pm, unlike other trips, where we couldn't make it back to the office, before 11pm.



We had a jolly good time, thanks to everybody, who came for the trek. As Aravinth put it, it seemed like people were screened for the participation for the trip. Everyone got along so well, so much that the addition of non-Juniperites made it stronger in flavor than one would expect it to be. Jojo (Tojo's Bro) and Theo (Mukesh's friend) made the group livelier in their ways. To repeat Amit Shah from previous blog entry, to say, that we had fun, would be a gross understatement. Long live Junglees!