Tuesday 12 February 2013

Walking with the elephants

Trekking and Weekend Getaways

How about trekking with the elephants or more often than not follow in their path. Or how about listening to the roar of wild animals. No, I am not talking about any zoological gardens or a national park. I am talking about the forests of Bannerghatta.
By the way, this is not the Bannerghatta Zoo or the famous safari. This forest I am taking about is located right in and around the twin peaks of  Doddaragihalli Betta and  Chickkaragihalli Betta.
These two peaks are in the vicinity of Bannerghatta but they are not as well-known as  Bannerghatta. They are more known to trekkers and wildlife enthusiasts than visitors and even residents of Bangalore.
The Forest Department has two years ago thrown open the forests around Chickkaragihalli and Doddaragihalli for the public. These forests are home to a variety of animals, including elephants, and they are the perfect spot for nature lovers and trekkers.
What makes these twin peaks more alluring is that they are just 30 kilometres from Bangalore. I wonder in which City in India, apart for from the Borivile national park in Mumbai, you get wildlife and trekking trails so close to an urban conglomerate.
However, you have to obtain permission from the Forest department to enter these forests. You have to contact the office of National Park at Kalkere Koli (poultry) Farm. Once you take permission, you will be accompanied on your trail with trained staff from the Forest Department.
You can straightaway head to the Doddaragihalli Betta and  Chickkaragihalli Betta. You can get to hear animals roaring en route to the peak. There are two watch towers on the way which afford a spectacular and panoramic view of the forests and the surroundings.
Check out the bear caves along the path to the peak. However, if you are new to trekking, it may not be so easy as the path is full of thorns and also vegetation. If summers are not, the rainy season can put you off. The best time would be from October till March. After March, the summer begins to set in and climbing in the mornings becomes tiresome.
All along the way to the peaks, look up the many stone burial sites which belong to the Megalithic Age. 
These age old burial spots are called sarcophaguses by archaeologists and some of them are more than 3,000 years old. The local Irula tribes buried their dead in such a manner. They left their dead beneath these stones and covered them up with several other stones. You can still see remains of  human beings and pieces of clothes from beneath such rock shelters. These burial sites were piled up with small rocks stones and boulders to prevent animals from getting at the bodies.  
The Irulas discontinued this practice only eight years ago after the Government allotted a separate burial ground for them at the foothills of the hills. Treasure hunters have frequently disturbed such burial places.
Unfortunately even the Forest Department itself has demolished several such structures to build rubble walls to deter elephants from coming down the hills.   
The local Irula tribals used to leave their dead beneath these stone structures till as recently as seven years ago when they were given a new burial ground. Human remains and shreds of clothes can still be seen beneath some of these ceremonial structures.
Treasure hunters and tribals are not the only ones threatening these archaeological treasures. Several such burial spots have been demolished by the forest department which has used the rubble to build walls to block elephants.
You can easily make out these structures. They look like huge benches with a large flat tone supported on boulders placed
haphazardly. These slabs, some with a diameter of over 10 feet and as thick as two feet, are elevated three feet from the ground. They are locally called as Pandavara Gavi as another class of tribals called Pandavas too buried their dead in such a manner .
Apart from these two hills, such burial places can be seen across  Mettabande and Mirza Hills.
Coming back to these hills, there are many elephants and villagers of Ragihalli report seeing them frequently. Take acre not to get too close and please remember that a software engineer, Satwick, died when he was trampled by elephants near Ragihalli village. Anyway, hire a guide and take permission of the Forest Department before venturing into the reserve forests.   
If you are traveling by bus from City Market, take routes numbers  370/370A/370B. If you are in your own vehicle, drive down to Bannerghatta road. When you reach Bannerghatta Circle, traval a little further down here you are welcomed by a board or rather signpost saying way to Ragihalli.

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