Once in a while, if you’re very lucky, things turn out even better than you planned. This is the case with the first stop on our 3-week adventure with Rachel and Laurence. Our friend Kaveri connected us with her aunt Jagu, uncle Mohan, and cousins Hari and Aarti in Bokkapuram (between Masinagudi and Ooty for anyone searching on a map), who opened their home and made us welcome. Their property borders a national forest that is home to abundant wildlife which they love and respect, always maintaining an awareness that they are on the animals’ land rather than the other way around.
At every moment of the day, there’s something to see, but the property really comes to life at dusk. The moment we arrived, we sat on the deck, enjoying first tea and cookies and then chips and wine while gazing toward a pool fed by water pumped from an underground stream. In the space of two hours, we saw the resident herd of spotted deer, a large sambar, a powerful old bison, a trio of younger bison including a small calf, two wild boar, a bounding rabbit, a peacock, and rooster-like jungle fowl. We also heard a variety of distinct birdcalls and the “sawing” call of a leopard. It was thrilling. The next day we added to that list a giant Malabar squirrel scampering in the nearest tree, and the next evening a large elephant showed up just after dark, still visible with binoculars. Perhaps most exciting was our final morning when an 8-year-old elephant emerged from the forest and spent quite a while enjoying the water in the dappled sunlight. He also enjoyed shooing away the birds. Apparently, he’s a known bully who was forced out of his herd, a common occurrence at his age. When not actually seeing live animals, we heard stories from Mohan and Hari about their animal sightings: an elephant who broke a large branch from a tree by the house, a tiger who brought down a bison calf in the yard, a herd of wild dogs who rather gruesomely attacked a spotted deer, and a boar who used to visit regularly and knew Mohan’s voice. So incredible. And then, when it was too dark to marvel at the animals, we were awed by the stars.
Mohan and Hari also liked to talk about their unique philosophy of co-habiting with the animals. Bokkapuram is starting to fill with resorts serving tourists who take safaris in an attempt to have the wildlife-communing experience that we had in our front yard. They build amazing compounds with beautiful flora, some of which attract the elephants, bears, big cats, and other critters that show up regularly at Mohan and Jagu’s home. Then, when they realize that these very dangerous animals are coming around and threatening their guests, they go to great lengths to keep the animals away — electric and barbed wire fences, plants that are supposed to repel the animals, firing weapons, and all kinds of things that aren’t good for the animals. In other words, they invite the animals to come around, then threaten them with bodily harm when they do. A long time ago, Mohan decided he would be different. He built a beautiful home that also serves as a barrier when dangerous animals threaten. He planted a few things the animals like, and then sat back to watch the show every night. Over the years, the animals have come to trust Mohan’s property, so deer and bison sleep in his meadow every night, and the menagerie inspires Mohan to exclaim, “Who needs television?!” Also, he and Hari both are very careful to make sure their guests know that they are not to wander aimlessly — there are dangers out there.
Jagu outdid herself with the fresh, home-cooked meals. Each one was beautiful, varied, and so very delicious, with special meat dishes for Laurence, the lone meat-eater among us.
When we weren’t eating or animal gazing, we were either going for long walks or relaxing with books in this idyllic setting. The walks were simply lovely. We walked through Bokkapuram, a cute little village; we climbed a hill to a temple with an incredible view; and we walked through a gorgeous back lane by a little creek. In addition to reading, we even napped, something we never do, but which felt perfect here.
We may have set the bar too high with the start of this trip. It will be very difficult for anything else to measure up! First attempt at living up to the standard Jagu and Mohan set, Mysuru!