Much as we are terrified by wild animals, our fascination for these creatures makes us want to make wildlife tours every now and then. Today as I sit and recall my expeditions to Mudumalai, Bandipur and Thekkady and the many journeys between the forested borders of Tamilnadu, Kerala and Karnataka, there is one that clearly stands out from the rest.
It was a couple of years ago that we made that weekend visit to Masinagudi a quiet little town in Tamilnadu, but my memory of that place is so vivid that it feels like it was just a few days ago that we made that trip. Hubby had done his homework and made a booking at a resort that looked very interesting but we did not know how interesting it would be until our first and only night there. Called Forest Hills, the resort is situated in a place called Bokkapuram, which is a few kilometers away from the sleepy Masinagudi Town.
As we made our way to this resort, which — I have to add — is a destination by itself, I remember passing several resorts so much so that the place we were headed to seemed to be in one end of the world. I remember the place where we took a left turn and passed a stream to see a guest-house-like building, surrounded by several little bamboo huts. I am sure I breathed an exclamation at that scene.
After the front office formalities were completed, we were ushered into one of those cute little huts but that was not where we had plans to stay. Our room was just being checked out and the housekeeping job had to be done. So we were led to one of those bamboo huts for a little relaxation. Anyway, who was complaining? This was like the appetizer before the entrée. That reminds me; we had a room serviced lunch while we waited.
Sometime later, we drove past those little huts and further away from the resort. Into the view came a perfect looking twin tree house and I wished I could stay there. However what was in store for us was something even better. What could be better, you might think.
|The Machaan. Pic courtesy: Forest Hills
There, beyond the tree house was what Forest Hills probably takes most pride in – its Machaan. The Machaan is a watch-tower-room, built on four stilts, so to speak. The Machaan had a modest yet invitingly cozy room and a tiny little bathroom to go with it. Above that wooden room on stilts was that big bonus – a roof top seating area where we could sit and look into the forest that surrounds the place.
The Machaan is the farthest room of the resort, next door to the wild jungle. There were no trenches. There were no electric fences.There was no intercom and absolutely no signals in our cell phones. There was only danger lurking around.
No telephones meant there was no room service and so we had to head back to the main part of the resort to have dinner that evening. It was dark outside and we had heard that this was a place where the wild animals frequented. That was when we realized we should have carried a decent flashlight. All that we had then was something like a pen torch that we had to make do with; flashing it in the balcony outside, the staircase and the space below the room (remember it was on stilts) before we made our way to the car outside. I was only hoping I would not have to see the glowing eyes of some member from the cat family. It was only when we got into the car and almost reached the reception area that my heartbeat resumed its pace.
Just as we got there our headlights fell upon a breathtaking sight: some three scores of beautiful spotted deer crowding together. We soon figured out that these poor creatures had chosen to come and stay near this lighted place to save themselves from the predators that roamed the area.
We walked into the warm dining room where we were served with a spread of homely food that literally made us feel at home. Just then a group of youngsters rushed in and were having an animated discussion about going over to see some elephants that had come calling at the stream near the resort. This only added to the excitement Forest Hills was already packed with.
After dinner we were on our way out, when we bumped into the manager who was trying to be friendly by having a word with all the guests. Later that night I was not sure we did the right thing when we decided to stay back and have a chit chat with him. He had many wild tales to tell us: of totally wild encounters with bears and elephants and many other wild goings-on around there. Some 20 minutes later, we were saying our goodnights when he generously gave us some expert advice on how we were to deal with the elephant, if we were to come across one, on our way to our lonely Machaan.
These directions made me feel no better, but we did have an uneventful but wary drive back to our room. Then came the worst part of it — having to get out of the car and run up the stairs and having to depend on that faint light from that wee little flashlight. My heart was in my mouth till were we got ourselves into that safe haven on stilts.
The online reviews of the place had many accounts of guests who had spent a night at the Machaan, of experiences and animal sightings. Now that we were in the safety of the room, we hoped we would actually get to see some animals. We even saw ourselves waking up many a time during the course of the night hoping to see a pachyderm or a big cat quenching its thirst by the little tank beside the Machaan. Alas! It was a quiet night or so it seemed.
Next morning we were up and getting ready for a tour of Mudumalai when I took my toothbrush and went out to the balcony; just below it, I saw a gorgeous peacock doing his morning walk. What a sight to wake up to! People, listen to this: there was yet another thing that we spotted that morning – pug marks on the bonnet and windshield of our Wagon R. To this day, we wonder what animal walked that way.
Later that afternoon when we were back and checking out of there, we witnessed a few cows that were grazing nearby make a sudden dash towards the more populated part of the property. Fortunately or unfortunately, we didn’t get to see what it was that made them run for their lives. Whatever it was, a shiver did run down my spine that moment.
Anyway that trip to Forest Hill came and went, but the memory remains. When we were done with it, I remember saying, “That was one helluva stay but I am not sure that I want to do that again.Now that it has been a few years and sadly our pictures of that trip are gone forever, I think I would not mind going on trip no 2 to Forest Hills and staying in that very same Machaan.
(Between you and me, I don’t really regret listening to the manager’s anecdotes. Without that thrill, this visit to that exotic place where the wild comes visiting, would not have been quite complete. )
[To see pictures of this property, visit Forest Hill’s website – Forest Hills.