First Trek – Part II

Continued from part I

Snakes Seen: 0
Other Animals Seen: 0
Leopards Seen by Sammy: millions (at least)

After starting up the incline, we left our guides behind. The ubiquitous tracks of domestic animals also disappeared, so I guess the cows were not into rough terrain. The kids probably also thought better of actually making the long trek up the hill.

From there on, we saw nobody! Not a single soul was on that mountain, which is pretty amazing for India. We heard small animals in the brush a few times (mongoose? civets? monkeys?), which Sammy always insisted were leopards. Naturally, he “saw” them as well. Daniela was concerned about leopards. The region does have them in abundance. Last year, a school in the outskirts of Bangalore had a family come onto its grounds and another wandered into a shopping complex in Hosur on a Saturday morning, just to the east of where we were. It is hard to estimate how dangerous they could be. I reasoned that they are essentially mountain lions with spots. The two species are the same size, weight, inhabit the same ecological niche and have the same “performance envelope”. Mountain lions – technically being small cats – can purr, while leopards can roar. So we used the protocol for hiking with kids in mountain lion country; no wandering off alone and keep the kids close (no more than 15m/50ft away) and visible. In the future, it might be wise to ask the locals if they have lost domestic animals to leopards recently.

About halfway up, we stopped for a break on a rock overlook, where we relaxed for a while the kids turned themselves into naturalists, studying the local insects and flowers. We debated having lunch there. Eventually, we decided that if we had lunch there, we’d not make it to the top and the top was just a short distance away. In fact, it took over an hour to reach the top from there. As Nitya later said, if we had known how far we were from the top, we’d not have tried it. As it was everyone was glad we did. Tara’s three year old legs gave out and Ram stoically carried her on his shoulders. I also took her for a while to give him a break. It has been a while since I carried a talkative three year old up a mountain on my shoulders. They are heavier than in my idealized memory.

Near the top, we found dung from a large herbivore. There was some debate about whether it was elephant or gaur (Indian bison), but none of us really knew for sure and had left my Indian mammals field guide at home.

On reaching the top, we were treated to the Ranganatha Swamy temple, one of several in the Cavery river basin. This is a small one, built under a gigantic boulder at the top of the mountain. It only operates on Saturdays and is otherwise deserted it seems. We enjoyed the solitude, ate lunch, lounged and explored the temple grounds. Eventually, we took the hint of gathering wind and thunder in the distance as our cue to descend.

When we got back down to the village, we had one last interesting encounter. There was an old woman who had a burning question in her mind; one that must have been bothering her all day.

Why did you go to the Ranganatha Swamy temple on the wrong day? Today is a Laksmi fewstival, not a Ranganatha Swamy festival.

I’ll make a mental to always hike to remote temples on the “wrong” day.

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