The next morning Hemant was on time and as usual we had our complimentary breakfast at Coorg International. As usual I was a bit disappointed with the fare dished out. There was a certain lack of professionalism in the hotel, but possibly that is what you could expect in a smaller tourist place. We got into the car and drove direct to Nisargadhama. There was this constant toss up between whether we wanted to go to Kushalnagar - to visit Veerabhoomi for a lunch, but we decided that we could do that on the way back the next day. We wanted to see Orange County as we had heard so much about it, and thought that it was a bit too expensive for us to stay there. Hemant assured us that we could go there for lunch, and it was not necessary for us to stay there to visit and look around the place. We were possibly the first ones to arrive at Nisargadhama. It is a quiet place with some cottages, and the usual elephant and boat ride. It possibly would have been a fascinating place to visit on a stand-alone basis, if we had not seen Kabini. But, I think it can at best be incidental in the tourist itenerary rather than be a destination. For booking the cottages, we were told that we had to contact their office in Mercara. The cottages looked small and the dining facility did not look very great. As we were entering we did buy tickets for a boat ride [none of us wanted another elephant ride]. We strolled around in the Nisargadhama campus. The entrance to the campus was through a wooden foot bridge.. an apology for the shape of the Golden Gate bridge. We spent an hour in the Nisargadhama strolling around. It is a large campus and possibly good for a weekend break. There were people trying to take a dip in the river that was flowing around. There was a small replica of talacauvery. It also had a fenced area where some deer - both spotted and samber were there, looking hungry and ready to accept any food to be given by the tourists. And of course, if this is the situation, could trade be far behind - there were some people selling cucumbers that could be offered to the animals. After being around for a while we decided to return. We even passed the boat ride as the waters did not appear very great and it was a bit of a let down after Kabini. I guess we had raised the bar a bit too much in the process...
From Nisargadhama we went to Dubbare. Dubbare was an important part of the itenerary essentially because the lady at JLR had strongly recommended that we should not miss it. Dubbare has an elephant training camp and we get to see elephants from fairly close quarters and the visit is much more than a simple elephant ride. When we came in we discovered that we had to cross the river for reaching the camp. It was a small ride in a motorboat. When we did go to the other side at around 11.30 we were told that we were late as the briefing session had already started fairly early and it was impossible for us to be accomodated in the day's proceedings. I was a bit upset because there was no prior information for me about the timing. We would have come to Dubbare first if that were the case. Hemant did not seem to know about it and I argued with the friendly official that even the Outlook book did not mention the timing [which I later discovered was wrong, I had not seen it properly].
Having come all the way we decided that we may as well explore the place a little bit. Dubbare is also one of the properties managed by Jungle Lodges and Resorts. So we thought it might be a good idea to check out how this place is managed. JLRs format in Dubbare was no different from that of Kabini - check in at noon, you would have a series of activities in the evening, including boating, elephant ride and so on. Have dinner in GolGhar [though the shape of the place was really not Gol - round] and attend the orientation session at the elephant camp in the morning and pack up. The rooms in Dubbare were more modern. There was no tented accomodation. The rooms looked comfortable. It also costs lesser - the rack rate being Rs.1750 per day and we were told that currently there was an introductory discount. However the staff in Dubbare seemed to feel that it was a wee bit expensive. They were however optimistic about the occupancy rates. We wondered if we would do a Kabini type of holiday in Dubbare, and the answer was an obvious no.. However, this might be a good and less expensive alternative to Orange County which is also in the vicinity. In either cases we need to have access to a vehicle of our own.
While we did not see the camp that day, we did return to Dubbare the next day. However, I think it would be good to break the chronology and look at Dubbare when I am on the topic. The camp is said to start at 9.00 in the morning sharp. For us it was a difficult juggling act to have breakfast at Coorg International - which was somewhat laid back and would not start before 7.00 and also reach the destination on time. The JLR person suggested that we be fairly early so that we do not miss out on any of the fun. The next day was also the day we were expected to check out. So, we had to wake up fairly early and pack up. We did that and had a hurried breakfast and moved in. Once we came in, we discovered that we could have actually taken it a bit easy. The advantage of coming in early is that the elephant camp signs off with an elephant ride and the order in which groups get a ride is in the same order of reporting in the morning. Therefore in a way it was good to have come in early because we were the second group to report.
The elephant camp has four parts to it - the feeding of elephants, the scrub and a bath, a briefing about asiatic elephants and a ride. The kitchen in Dubbare spends the morning in preparing Ragi Balls - elephant sized - and the tourists are encouraged to feed the elephants themselves. Of course apart from the Ragi Ball, there are also the sundry bananas that could be fed to the elephants. A list of elephants that are there in the camp and their age is displayed and there were also a few young [Ranjan] and very young [Parashurama] elephants. The animals are used to toursits and are generally friendly and nice. As we were waiting for the food to be ready some elephants were brought in Arjun in particular was fascinated by both Ranjan and Parashurama. A bunch of college kids arrived wading through the shallow part of the river and started invading the place. Obviously they had not purchased tickets for the briefing and the camp, but had the tickets for the visit. They were noisy, and some of them were ill-behaved. One of them in particular tried to fool around with Ranjan the young elephant. It was obvious that Ranjan was irritated. The first thing he did was he let out a heavy fart and turned around and threatened to chase the boy away!! I guess these animals have also learnt to deal with unruly tourists in their own way. We participated in the feeding programme with me and Gowri feeding the elephants a ragi ball each. There was always some nervousness as to how deep in the elephants mount we would place the food. It was an interesting experience. As we were doing this, the local guide told us that what we feed the elephants was only a token food, a snack, but they actually needed tons of food for survival. Therefore after the morning programme of entertaining the tourists, these elephants were let into the forests for their regular grazing. After the feeding programme was the scrub. Elephants were brought to the river for their daily scrub. Apparently the elephants like water and enjoy the scrub. All of us were invited to participate in the scrub, but somehow we were not enthused enough to actually go down and do it. The first thing that put us off was that all the elephants - one after the other let out large farts and possibly decided that this was their time for letting out their excreta. So there were pieces of elephant shit floating all around the area. And of course when an elephant farts in water it puts a motorboat to shame!! This was followed by a briefing by a Dubbare naturalist. He told us the difference between an African elephant and an Asiatic elephant. He also told us that the elephants in the camp are trained and used in processions and ceremonies. Elephants are no longer used for purposes of logging and Khedda operation is no longer permitted. [The movie Gandhada Gudi, a much talked about hit movie, while having the basic message of conservation also has two contradictory issues dealt - one the hero wants to establish a zoo with captured animals and wants and indeed gets a Khedda operation done to capture wild elephants and domesticate them for use in the heavy work to be done in the forests]. The naturalist however told us that the herd was augmented by the progeny of the domesticated elephants who actually grow up being tamed.
The male elephants are apparently tied up when they are in heat as they could be very destructive. The female elephants are always sent into the forests. Apparently the wild elephants do not harm the tamed ones and the mating actually happens with the wild elephants in heat.. That possibly explains the presence of Ranjan and Parashuram!!! Having been briefed it was our time to take an elephant ride and move on. The elephant we got was named Indira and after a brief ride we were back in the car.
We started our drive towards Orange County. The road from Dubbare towards Orange County is not great, but we could only see greenery all around. We went past the Cannoncadoo Estates and through the narrow lanes reached Orange County. Orange county is really a beautiful place. I thought it was a bit too commercial, but with so much of tourist attraction I guess the promoters would like to make the best buck out of whatever was possible. It seems to be a destination for several celebrities - we saw a tree planted by Aishwarya Rai - hopefully it lasts longer than her stardom!
There were two restaurants on the campus - one an exotic buffet and other a south indian meal. We decided that we would go to Banana Leaf the restaurant that served the south indian meal. At Rs.400 per person it was a bit expensive, but they said that they would allow us to share the meal with Arjun. Thank god for good waiters who have small mercies! The meal was good. The only irritating thing I found about Orange County was these small quotes that popped up in every conceivable place. For instance one quote said "Love is Selflessness, Selfishness is Lovelessness"... so much for the profound message to be given for the honeymooning couples that were there in the place. Given the opulance of the place I guess their pricing is in order [nearly Rs.10,000 per day for a simple cottage]. They have golf cars to transport you within the campus and a good variety of trees. Abundance of nature and the variety makes it an interesting place. We did end up doing some shopping there - bought some green pepper pickle, dates pickle and a couple of T shirts - one for me and one for Arjun. They had indicated that a Rs.1,000 spend on the campus will fetch us membership to the Orange County Club [a loyalty programme] with possible future discounts. As we had in any case spent the amount, we decided to fill up the form. The card is yet to arrive, but if it does, it adds to the wide variety of loyalty cards I possess - establishing the fact that loyalties in this modern age is wafer thin and widely spread! We were satisfied with the Orange County visit and it was time to drive back to Coorg. Back to Coorg International and later in the day for the local Madikeri visit about which I have already written. We came back to the hotel. Arjun was keen that we play table tennis in the hotel and we did that for a while for setting out. There was one more day of travel back to Bangalore and apart from Dubbare, we had to figure out how we would spend the rest of the day - just travel or visit something more...