Last year’s visit to Corbett National Park blessed me with some very beautiful images and one of them even bagged a prestigious award! It was the image of “The empress and the gods” (pictured above) that won me an award in the “Dekho Apna Desh” – a national level photography competition organised by the Ministry of Tourism, India on the occasion of Parayan Parv 2017. I was one of the three winners in the contest and the prize was a 4-day holiday package for two, to any one of the destinations listed by the Tourism Ministry. The list included many destinations from North, South, East, West and North-East India, and the one that I chose to go was Ooty. Visiting the Nilgiris was in my bucket-list since a long time and it finally got ticked off!
The tour was scheduled from 3rd to 6th February. My Mother accompanied me and it was her long time wish as well to visit Ooty, and I am glad that I was able to fulfil it!
It was a short but a really wonderful trip, witnessed some spectacular landscapes, saw and photographed a few birds that were lifers for me and finally had an extremely memorable experience in the wild after a long time (keep reading to know more about it!). Right from the accommodation to the travel, the entire tour was very well managed. Our stay was at the Fortune Resort Sullivan Court, their hospitality and accommodation was absolutely brilliant.
I’d like to convey my heartiest thanks to Mr Parthasarathy Rangarajan and the Ministry of Tourism, India for giving me this opportunity to visit and explore the pristine wilderness of Nilgiris, and also thanks a lot to Cholan Tours for the perfect arrangements of the tour.
A memorable experience in the woods of Madumalai
On day 3 of the tour, I went for a visit to Madumalai Tiger Reserve and came across some commonly seen wildlife while going through the beautiful forest road of Masinagudi. I wished for Gaurs or Elephants but there seemed to be no luck. On reaching the Madumalai forest gate, I decided to go on the private car route that runs through the forest instead of going on a safari…and I thank the holy mother of god that I took this decision!
We were slowly moving through the Theppakadu main road, there were some villagers near the stream that flowed through the forest on the left and there was also a tamed elephant that was busy quenching his thirst. A herd of Spotted Deer were peacefully grazing in the forest on the other side of the road. My driver and guide had very little knowledge about birds but they were always scanning the forest floor and trees for any species that looked interesting. One of them spotted a bird on a tree ahead and thought that I’d want to photograph it. My driver took the car ahead for a closer view and this was when he suddenly said “Sir, Cheetah!” There were a couple of Spotted Deer grazing around, I thought he said “Chital” and thus, on hearing his words I replied “It’s okay, let’s look for more birds!”
He quickly stopped the car and exclaimed in a surprised tone “Sir, Cheetah! Leopard! In between the trees!” Now this time his words hit me like a bullet and I was like what the duck! I pinned my eyes towards the trees where he was pointing at and there she was! The spotted beauty walking through the bushes, she was flawlessly camouflaged and it did took me a few seconds to notice. But I was too late, it was just a fraction of seconds before she disappeared back into the forest. The excitement level had skyrocketed as usual and I wasn’t able to manage a single decent shot of the big cat. But the good luck was still there somewhere around the corner. After waiting for almost half an hour at the spot, good luck was finally back…the Spotted Queen of the Nilgiris revealed herself! She appeared out of the bushes, stared at us, and a lorry that stood on the opposite side of the road, right in front of her view, and then vanished back into the woods. The atmosphere seemed to have been filled with a sudden chaos and fear because of her movement. The herds of Spotted Deer that were peacefully foraging in the forest were now all alert. They continuously sent out alarm calls and some of them ran towards a farther spot.
This is how flawlessly camouflaged she was when I saw her first.
These few seconds of sighting was an absolutely out of the world experience for me. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine of seeing a Leopard on such a busy road. I felt really blessed and fortunate that day, and this short trip to the Nilgiris will never be forgotten because of this moment.