Bear mountain blues: Meghamalai

Does the journey really matter more than the destination? It sounds like a consolation prize to me. Why must I emotionally invest in a process when I can figure out what my goals are, and do what I can to achieve them? Last week’s visit to the Meghamalai mountain range left me with some answers. A lot more questions too.

The drive from the foothills of Chinnamanur to this esoteric paradise is a rocky but calming one. Only bird calls and cicada songs interrupt the quietude. Yet there’s excitement in the air. Always the promise of rare fauna lurking by the roadside. But for three winters, Meghamalai had me on a streak of bad luck. As bio-diverse as the range is, it had seemed barren to me.

Last weekend, things changed. I spotted a large Sloth Bear on a balding cliff side. He saw me too. And nobody got hurt.

I was trekking, with a 60-year-old man, near the upper section. It was 4 PM and the sun began to yawn in deep orange. Nearing a tea estate, the old man tapped my shoulder and pointed towards a family of elephants. The adults weren’t pleased with our presence. Sandwiched between the calves, they were watching our every move.

And so we decided to quietly wait and watch.

Minutes later, he coolly directs my attention to the adjacent side. He told me that he saw something move about 500 meters away. My eyes darted back and forth before bulging like ripened fruits.

There he was – a fully-grown Indian Sloth Bear.

Indian Sloth Bear, Meghamalai

He was sitting down, looking towards his right. Within seconds, he began staring down at us, taking turns to intimidate both – shaking his head and grunting.

So thick were his legs and so pointy – his head that he looked like a five-headed monster. It was an incredible privilege, to be in his presence. I felt his strength in my bones, and his magnificence – everywhere. He walked away – unwilling to waste his time over feral matters.

Upon returning back home, I was thinking about Meghamalai’s benevolence. How my three-year-long journey to find her most secret treasures has come to one of its possible conclusions. How there were so many more left to spot and fall in love with. Leopards, Tigers, Nilgiri Martens, Malabar Spiny Dormice, Brown Fish Owls, Changeable Hawk Eagles and White-Rumped Shamas.

But I can’t be sure if I am going to see any of them. The funniest and saddest theory about existence is one that takes into account the sheer randomness of it all. A simple notion that irrespective of what I do or how much effort I put in – whatever will be, will be.

Indian Sloth Bear, Meghamalai

Maybe one day I will realize that I should have tried harder to be happier, richer, healthier or kinder. Just more connected. By that time, I would probably be hospitalized, with a tube running through my nose. I would be gasping for air – with pain see-sawing between my throat and abdomen. It would hit me then.

Why I didn’t lower my socio-economic expectations and retire early. Find a quiet and safe house on a hill or by the ocean. Water fruiting trees. Put a lawn chair on a bed of grass, with a polished snag to rest upon a hard copy of Wuthering Heights. Find a stray dog to love. Watch birds every morning. See a sloth bear again.

Love them wildly,
but leave them – wild

Indian Elephants, Meghamalai

(Photographs: Meghamalai)

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27 comments

  1. Lovely read as always. I have grappled with the journey versus the destination question only to come to the conclusion that it doesn’t really matter. What matters is our sense of wonder, our insatiable curiosity and our unbridled enthusiasm to experience the delights of this wonderful wild world. The day we stop looking, whether in the journey or at our destination, is the day we die.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Indeed – I was just discussing this yesterday with a friend of mine; we don’t have control, whatever will be, will be… it really is the case, and one can’t fight it. To me, it just makes an adventure of life – you make a decision, then see how it ripples out around you. Sometimes it’s dangerous, especially if I want to see the repercussions of what a shock statement would ripple out like – but that’s my naughty monkey side speaking. Most of the time I’m a good girl, promise! 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hehehe nicely nutshelled. I agree about seeking solace in these unstoppable ripple effects. They are going to happen anyway, why not succumb and stand by with conviction.

        And seek danger not, dear friend, for when it finds you, grab a stick and play fetch with it (giggles).

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks doc!

      I am more than just scared of elephants, I am terrified. They are moody fellas. Also, I’m in awe of their power and persistence.

      As much as I love them, and feel thrilled to see them in the wild, my knees always feel a little weak.

      Like

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