We were hunched over next to the kitchen building, unmindful of the water dripping over our heads from a water tank which had just overflown, peering in amazement at the gigantic reddish growth in the ground. Was it a flower? A fruit? A vegetable, perhaps? It looked not unlike a cabbage. We had no immediate answers, and the staff said that nothing like this had ever sprouted before. Lying prostrate before the wondrous object, I could see beetles and ants move along the sinuous folds of the reddish bulb, and between the cabbage-like leaves at its base, emerging coated with fine, yellow pollen. I soon discovered that I had seen the flower of an Amorphophallus sp. for the first time.
When I decided to visit Sakrebyle, I had no expectations other than that I wanted to get away from the city for some quiet time. There isn’t much to ‘see’ or ‘do’ in Sakrebyle, and that suited me just fine. A modestly sized campus, this Jungle Lodges’ property is a relative newbie, offering cosy log cabins across the road from Sakrebyle’s famous Elephant Camp. The smallness of the campus ensures that a holiday here is peaceful, barring the bird-calls that resound from bamboo groves at the edge of the property.
Allowing for backyard birding (literally), the property’s bird-bath offers birds some much-sought-after respite from the afternoon sun, while you sit behind a screen and enjoy their antics and birdsong. Even the shy Indian Pitta is said to be a visitor to this bird-bath, as is the Yellow-browed Bulbul, a Western Ghats endemic.
The on-campus flora is home to various butterflies, bees, beetles and other insects, and the resident naturalists are only too happy to take you on a nature walk. Some of these nature trails are longer hikes through the surrounding Shettihalli Wildlife Sanctuary, weaving though a mix of dense canopies, shrub-land and grasslands. Along one of these trails, I spotted a lifer, a Drongo-cuckoo, and was engrossed in observing it. The sudden trumpet of an elephant from behind us had me scramble away, briskly walking all the way back to the property. While having breakfast soon after, we saw the elephant emerge from the trail, a mahout astride it, and realised that it was a camp elephant.
The aforementioned ‘Sakrebyle Elephant Camp’ is located across the road from the Jungle Lodges’ property, on the banks of the Tunga River. Housing elephants which have been captured or born in captivity, some of them undergoing treatments for injuries, the elephant camp is fairly popular with visitors to the Shimoga region, especially with children. Watching the pachyderms being scrubbed clean in the river, sometimes playfully squirting their mahouts, I was left to deal with mixed emotions. However, understanding that matters cannot be looked at as starkly black or white, I ambled around the small camp, watching visitors interact with the elephants, sometimes apprehensive, but then, reassured by the mahouts, always enjoying the experience.
Having emerged from the river, the elephants were now being oiled to keep them cool, even as their food was being prepared. They are fed in an interesting way – chunks of coconut flesh and jaggery are wrapped into a bundle using hay, which the giants gleefully devour. A few of the youngest elephants were play-fighting and chasing each other, only to be firmly nudged by an adult if they got too boisterous.
With this playful sight as my parting memory, as I turned to leave, a loud trumpet from one of the young elephants made me jump a little. Just as an elephant’s trumpet had marked the beginning of my trip to Sakrebyle, this trumpet signalled the end of my short but memorable time in the land of elephants.