south-western Karnataka’s Kodagu (Coorg) district, on a trail that connects the forester’s huts in the protected jungles that edge right up to the state’s border with Kerala. The trail broadly follows the Karnataka-Kerala inter-state border, usually between two and 10 kilometres within Karnataka, mostly running roughly north-northwest from the Karnataka state forest department office at Makuta near Virajpet for just over 90km up to Talacauvery, the source of the Cauvery.
Government policy has worked hard at preserving the forests here. Much of the area we’re trekking through falls under the Talacauvery sub-cluster of the Western Ghats biosphere that the Indian government hopes to have the United Nations recognise as a World Heritage Site, and is officially off limits to human exploitation. The climate also helps shape the area. Some parts of this stretch of the southern Western Ghats get between six and eight thousand millimetres of rainfall each year, making them among the world’s wettest places. The result is hills still cloaked thickly in evergreen forest; unlike much of India, teeming with non-human life. Even ‘trophy’ animals like tigers, elephants and gaur, hunted or harassed to near-extinction almost everywhere else, still hold out in these jungles, albeit in considerably reduced numbers
It has to be said, though, that it takes a certain mindset to really appreciate this jungle. If you’re the sort of wildlifer who rates their holiday by the number of tigers featuring in their vacation snapshots, you’re wasting your time here; crank up your car stereo and head to some decaffeinated corporate weekend getaway like Corbett or Ranthambhore instead.
The trek has no shortage of moments like this, because the forests support so much life. It’s hard to believe that what we’re seeing today is actually a considerably diminished version of the original, official protection notwithstanding. Even in these remote forests, where electricity, tap water and other such creature comforts seem a laughable dream, much of the most valuable forest produce, such as teak, rosewood and sandalwood has long been stripped away.