Roughing it out in the wild had never been my travel style until a camping trip with friends had changed that perspective. Ever since then, I had been on looking for opportunities to get away from my creature comforts and experience the great outdoors in all its glory. So, when the good folks at Thadam Experiences invited my husband (Prashanth) and I to experience a night in a ‘Kaava Saalai’ (a Tamil word loosely translated as ‘watch shacks’) at Sethumadai, we jumped with excitement like eager beavers waiting to go on our next expedition.
The road trip from Bangalore to Pollachi was straight out of a dream. Neem, peepal and palm trees formed a tunnel-like canopy, shading the roads in pretty patterns. On arrival, we were welcomed by the Thadam team with a warm cup of masala chai. Soon, we whisked off for a drive along the Feeder Canal road through the farmlands of Sethumadai. Only accessible to local farm owners, this location provided us the ideal spot to go bird watching. While the others were exploring the sight with streams flowing by, I left them behind for a moment, but I was far from being alone. Gazing at tree trunks leaning tipsily towards others, watching red ants scamper on up and down; listening to the twitter of drongos and blending with the happy babble of brooks – ah! – the simple things of life that bring joy and make us feel alive.
As the sun set, trailing down the Anamalais, we made it to Bound Farm just in time to catch a glimpse of the sky turning a molten red, with clouds hovering over the distant mountain range . This scene reminded me of a still from The Lion King, as one of the peaks above the camp-site resembled the ‘Pride Rock’ from the famous tale.
Located at the foothills of the Top Slip range, The Bound farm, our camp-site was spread over 43 acres, buffered by the forests of Anamalai Tiger Reserve. Every year, before the first summer showers hit the ground (usually around the end of April or the beginning of May), farmers from the neighbouring Kaliyapuram Village start sowing groundnuts. The whole exercise from sowing to reaping takes about 100–120 days (depending on the maturity of the crop) hence, one is sure to spot farmers toiling here from May to August.
Since this takes place during the monsoon season in South India, the spectacle of watching farmers warding off wild animals at night was the sight we came to witness. Protecting farmlands against wild animals is no easy task. But before we began our quest for spotting animals and watching farmers in action, we set up our ‘kaava saalais’ which operated as makeshift tents for the night. Built with dry coconut and palm tree leaves, these sentry shacks, besides being sustainable also offer just the right amount of protection and insulation one needs when they retire for the night.
As we started setting up the space, fellow camper Harish started flashing his UV light to the ground as though he was trying to search for something. I wondered what one could possibly find under the rays of UV light at night. But to my surprise within minutes of doing so, he spotted a Indian Red Scorpion, the most venomous scorpion in the world. Trust me, this experience is not for the faint-hearted. However, I did muster up the courage, thanks to Harish who so calmly said ‘it’s fine, don’t worry. Go closer and take a look.’ I definitely got more than just a peak and ended up watching the scorpion crawl its way back into the firewood.
Carrying pots and pans, arrived Rohit, who dawned his chef’s hat, prepping to create an authentic South Indian style chicken curry. Meanwhile, Prashanth, Harish and I took out our torches in anticipation of sighting some wildlife. Torch lights beaming from one corner of the farm to the other meant that the farmers were still on duty, preventing animals from eating their pods. We gratefully accepted the small luxuries of devouring in barbecued chicken and paneer that was followed with heaps of rice slathered with chicken curry.
The feast had such a soporific effect on me, that all I wanted to do was sleep in the middle of the farmlands. But the thrill of a night safari was too hard to resist. So, off we went to explore the forest patches of Sethumadai, home to some of the region’s amazing nocturnal wildlife. It was my first time on a night safari and spotting the Brown Fish Owl, Slender Loris, Brown Palm Civet Cat and Indian Gaurs was just extraordinary! I, for once, lost my sleep, as the sheer excitement of spotting these spectacular creatures kept me on the edge of my window seat.
On returning, we huddled around the bonfire for one last time, thanking each co-traveller for the experience and stories they shared. The night at Bound farm will definitely go down as one of our best nights under the star-spangled skies. The lavendar and saffron tinted dawn that we woke up to the next morning formed the perfect ending to our adventure, and also raised the curtain for a new one as a wonderful trip to Valparai awaited us later that day.