My Travel Map

My Travel Map

23 November 2012

Madikeri, India


Another day trip from Mysuru.  This one pretty much due west, back into the Western Ghats only a couple of hours by bus.  The old hill station of Madikeri.

Coming into this part of the mountain range, which just pops right out of the flat plains of south-central India, you can tell pretty much immediately that there is a lot more money in the area compared to Mudumalai.  This picture doesn't provide very much evidence of that, what with the corrugated tin roof, cinder block butchers shack (on the left, notice the hanging chickens) and convenience store/pit stop, but there is one hint...note the very nice, clean, professionally made sign advertising the "Coorg Coffee Flower Resort stay".  Madikeri is in the Corgu (Coorg) region of the that is very well known for its coffee plantations.  Coorg supposedly produces the best coffee in India, and honestly, it wasn't bad (though I'm no aficionado).  As most people know, coffee is a cash crop, and it became very evident from looking at the quality of the cars, homes and plantations in the area that many industrious families had capitalized on those delicious, bitter little beans.

Just another reminder of how religion is everywhere in India...this was the mini-shrine at the front of the bus... yes, that is a mini disco light hanging above the picture of Krishna and Radha.

One of the plantations I was talking about...none of the pictures out of the bus turned out very well, since it was pretty bumpy, but still, it gets the point across.  So through the electric fence are the low-lying coffee beans.  They are shaded by taller trees, most of which are also cash-generating crops, like durian and other fruit trees.  The building that is just barely visible in the center here is one of many on the lands... this is a full out plantation, and I'm betting the family that owns it is very rich by Indian standards.  To further supplement there income, many of the wealthy families have set up "plantation stays", that is they have turned their plantations into peaceful guesthouses, where wealthy Indians and tourists can pay a premium (again, by Indian standards, really many are quite reasonable for foreign travelers) to stay on the grounds...enjoying fresh, home-grown and made foods, walks through the farm, the cool, fresh mountain air, and just an all around escape from the overwhelming Indian cities.

Of course, this is India, so the dwellings of the not-so-rich are literally just down the road from the obviously wealthy plantations.  I guess someone has to work the farms, right?  I am immensely frustrated by the ever-growing gap between rich and poor in general, but India magnifies that frustration by displaying such blatant, obvious cases of both extremes literally side-by-side.  these buildings are probably two separate one-room homes for two families of people.  Stark contrast from the complex of buildings owned and habituated by one family in the plantations.  And this isn't even an extreme case... In India, you can find the great many living homeless or in shanty slums just a few short miles from the elite few in their luxurious, massive palaces.  I respect Hinduism for many important reasons, however, it is disturbing how it just shrugs off such social differences as simply the result of karma.  That screams way too much of opiate for the masses to me...

After a couple hours on the bus, I arrived at the old hill station of Madikeri.  This is the scene that greeted me at the central bus station.  Indian cities are the prettiest places, but they definitely have character!  Madikeri is in the mountains, so it is blessed with some great viewpoints and buildings built right into the landscape.

The family that pees together, stays together. Welcome to Madikeri, to your right, you'll see the central bus station, and to your left, yes, a father and his two children all relieving themselves simultaneously in a public place.  Honestly, this is a serious problem in India, you see people evacuating their bladder and/or bowels in public quite frequently... a lot more frequently then most people want to see.  Yes, I saw people shit in the streets is disgusting.  Watch where you step.

Despite the public defecation family of the year, Madikeri is actually a really, really pleasant town.  I was pretty hungry when I first arrived, so I wandered into the city center to get some food.  When I'm in a new place and don't feel like just going by what the guidebook tells me, I normally find a place to eat by either just asking a local (if I happen to get into a casual conversation) or employ the fail-safe method of just finding a place that is crowded with locals.  I wandered by a place that was obviously packed during the lunch hour, so I decided to go in for a taste.  It was a thali place, meaning the menu is fixed.  The Indian thali consists of a combination of curries and masalas, served with spicy pickles, yoghurt, papadums (flat, crispy bread), and a large helping of rice.  Often, they will have a veg and a non-veg option.  In Northern India, the thalis are served in metal trays, with each dish separated by either spacers in the dish or separate metal dishes in the tray itself.  In Southern India, your tray consists of a large banana leaf, with the rice in the middle and the various other foods just served around the rice.  Of course, the curries, masalas, and even the pickles all vary depending on the region, with the most distinct differences split by the north and south of the country.  The best part of thali meals is that they are all you can eat, all for only a few dollars (definitely less than US$5)!  Anyway, despite being in the south, this place along the main street was serving their veg thalis on metal trays.  It was delicious (as expected based on the crowd), and even though the owner and staff didn't speak any English, they were obviously concerned with my satisfaction with the meal and that I had enough to eat (I ate a kept coming and I had to literally push the tray away to convey that I was really finished!).  It was a great eating most were in India.

This picture really captures one of the best parts of Madikeri.  Unlike in the bigger cities, I found it quite easy to find yourself pretty well alone in Madikeri.  It was peaceful, and overall quite pleasant.  The mountain air wasn't too hot and felt relatively clean.  The colors were nice too...houses and buildings were painted a variety of bright and soft colors.  Most of the roofs were tiled as well...that always seems to add a nice feel to a place too for whatever reason.

There were plenty of hotels around town... showcasing again how the region is popular with tourists, both foreign and domestic.  Foreigners come year round, but Madikeri is most popular with Indian tourists during the summer months, when the low-lying plains just bake in the sun, experiencing soaring temperatures.  They escape to Madikeri and other mountain towns, where the air is always several degrees cooler and shade is easier to come by.

I hope this pic does some justice in explaining why it is such a great little town.  It's just pleasant and the surroundings are beautiful.  It seems at times more as if you're along the Mediterranean or in Southern California. I found myself just wandering around town, taking it all in and enjoying the relaxing atmosphere.

The people were very, very friendly too!  I stopped for a minute to watch this guy fill up the water tank on top of this roof.  He was hauling the buckets up one at a time, exemplifying how, often in India, it is simply cheaper to pay a person for manual labor than it is to buy a machine (e.g., a water pump) to do the same task.  Anyway, when he looked down and saw me, he got a nice big smile on his face and waved... it was great.

This was one of my favorite sites in Madikeri...this old, old Hindu temple that was in the act of being restored.  It was incredibly photogenic.

This was actually at a different construction site (I didn't see if they had one of these posted at the temple too), but it gets the point across.  I'm pretty sure this is the demon Shani, a Hindu deity of destruction.  As with on the trucks in the Mysuru post, these molds of Shani's head were found posted at most construction sites... I'm guessing to pay respect to the god in an attempt to ward off any destructive forces during the construction process (or in the trucks' mechanics).

Back to the temple site, the Anjaneya Temple... men were busy working on the new roof, while the group of women seen here were hauling supplies (roof tiles and cement maybe?) from the drop-off point by the road to the side of the building.  There were a couple of cows just hanging out as well.

This temple was it was great to see the restoration work in progress.  Its age also really added to its character too, from the dull tones and worn faces and features in the statues to the moss and weeds growing right out of the stone work.

Of course, the cows helped add to the atmosphere too.

Some homes along the lane leading up to the temple.  It is scenes like this (and the one below) that made me really, really reflect on everything I have and appreciate it so much more.  Similar to most people I'm sure, I often get frustrated about money and possessions.  Seeing this though, and just much of impoverished India in general, is a solid slap to my face, making me realize just how lucky I am compared to so many others in the world.

A woman hauling water home.  Another thing we take for granted in the world of the wealthy is the immediate availability of clean, fresh water.  The majority of people in the world do not have such a luxury.  I mean, yes, things are drastically improving, with water delivery systems (tap water) being available in most major cities worldwide now.  This isn't true in many slums, though, and despite a tap being available in the home, in most places, the water that comes from it is not safe to drink on its must first be treated.  Then there are more rural or poor areas, where people must walk to the nearest source for their water, which again is most often undrinkable and outright unsafe in its raw form.  This water must be treated before it is used for cooking or drinking, or else people face the risk of water-borne illness and disease and outright poisoning due to hazardous chemicals.  Access to clean, reliable water sources is a major problem, if not THE major problem, in the developing world, and it is just deplorable that such a problem still exists in the world.  The international economy has the money and the technology exists to ensure that people worldwide don't have to be plagued by this hazard anymore.  If a wealthy country wants to help with international aid, perhaps they should start with helping to provide clean water systems throughout the developing and rural world.  However, the worldwide economy revolves on greed and the pursuit of wealth and power, and until that changes (though, I don't think it ever will goes against human nature) people will continue to suffer unnecessarily.  It's insane though, since ultimately, people suffering from the lack of clean, accessible water are ultimately hurting the worldwide economy.  By having to spend a very, very significant percentage of their time either collecting and treating water or suffering from water-borne health issues, they are not able to participate in the economy as generators and spenders of wealth.  I reiterate: it's outright deplorable.

Anyway, back to the brighter side of life.  Here is another shot down on Madikeri...with the two main buildings visible here being the new, large Hindu temple (in the central foreground) and the old fort (I think, back up on the hill in the background).  Madikeri used to be one of the old British hill stations during the Raj.  So it served as a military installation to ensure the native people living in the mountains didn't rise up against the Brits and close off major trade/supply routes.  The British found the hill stations particularly appealing due to the naturally cooler climate and beautiful scenery.  They poured significant amounts of money into development in and around the hill stations and many English expatriated to these towns further influencing them and promoting development.  So it is no surprise that some of the most famously pleasant places around India, those that are often particularly appealing to Western tourists, were former British hill stations.

Outside of the bigger, newer Omkareshwara Temple

I loved these painted lion statues outside of the temple.  The symbol in the background is the Sanskrit for "Om", which is what Hindus and Buddhists believe to be the fundamental frequency of the Universe that ties all things together.  Ooommmmmmmmm is also the the chant so often associated with Eastern monks.

Looking out of the temple at yet another construction site.  These women were hauling these baskets of gravel.  As I mentioned in the previous seemed like there were construction sites all over the place, but nothing was ever new or finished.  It was as if certain places and things were in a perpetual state of construction, simply to show that the government or whoever was working on improvement.

 I had planned on getting out into the surrounding hills for the afternoon...maybe to visit a plantation or just take a hike.  But nature had other plans.  By early afternoon, the pleasant skies had turned dark and ominous and I was treated to a pretty epic thunderstorm and downpour.  So, changing plans, I just went and found a nice little cafe (turned out to be a Chinese-Indian fusion restaurant, which are absolutely incredible, such explosively delicious food, and pretty popular apparently) and had some small plates of heavily spiced and sauced, stir-fried vegetables and some nice hot chai.  I sat the storm out there, just watching out the screened window as it rolled over town.

18 November 2012

Srirangapatna, India

Just to the north of Mysuru, ~40 minutes by bus from the city center, is the religiously, culturally, and historically important island and community of Srirangapatna.  This makes a great half or full day trip from Mysuru.  It offers a brief glimpse of some Indian countryside, gets you out of the hustle and bustle (and filth, noise, crowds, etc.) of the city, and lets you experience some very interesting Indian history and culture.  When you get there, the bus drops you off at the edge of town, just inside the old fortress walls, which provide your first glimpse of the historical significance of the place.  Just inside one of the old main gates, I enjoyed watching these two older ladies haggling with each other over those oranges.  They obviously knew each other and had done that many, many times before, and they both took it very seriously, each trying to get the best deal!  

Srirangapatna is one of three Hindu holy islands on the Kaveri River.  It's actually a pretty big island, around 13 sq. km (5 sq. miles).  I rented a bike while I was there, which I would definitely recommend.  There are a few places offering bikes at good prices for a daily rental.  Most of the area is relatively bike friendly (by Indian standards of course)... its not too busy and the roads are small and narrow, keeping the average speeds low.  You just have to be careful crossing the main highway, and fortunately, there are speed control gates at the main intersection, which help a lot with the crossing.

Another shot of the crumbling old walls around the town.  Srirangapatna has been a Hindu pilgrimage site for millennia, but it also played an important part in more recent political history.  During the British raj (colonial era), Srirangapatna was one of the last strongholds of Indian sovereignty.  This defiance ultimately boiled over with the capture of several British officers by the Indians that led to a very important battle in 1799, in which the local ruler of Srirangapatna, Tipu Sultan, was killed by the British.  After this, the British destroyed the palace at Srirangapatna and set up the future Duke of Wellington, Col. Arthur Wellesley, as the local dictator.  This history is not forgotten; many of the key sites in this series of important events can be visited around Srirangapatna.  And of course, the old fortress walls around the town serve as a massive reminder.

A classic example of an Indian arch and of course the ever-present rickshaw.

A shot in the center of town.  When I first got in, I went for some tea at a small local shop before picking up my bike.  The chai (spiced tea with lots of milk) in India is absolutely delicious.  It is dirt cheap (less than 10 cents per cup normally) and found everywhere.  Coconuts and bananas (also seen in the picture here) are just about everywhere too.  Coconut sellers set up at opportune locations, like railroad crossings and busy intersections.  Nearby these, you often find small mountains of empty coconut shells, which rot very slowly apparently.  It seems kind of gross at first glance, but they are completely natural and biodegradable, so I guess it isn't really hurting anything.

The old prison: it was here that Tipu Sultan kept the British officers captive.  The prison is actually down below here, and it would not have been a pleasant place.  The only saving grace was that it was out of the sun, though this kept it damp and cool, and probably outright cold overnight.  The prisoners were simply chained to the walls, and I'm betting they didn't have sleeping pads and definitely  not toilets.  Being so low, I'm betting that when it rained, the water probably pooled in places too. 

Srirangapatna is famous for its history, and is a particular point of pride considering its prolonged, outstanding resistance to the British.  Overall, though, Srirangapatna has, and continues to be, a major pilgrimage site for Hindus.  The current temple there is ~1200 years old!

This is the main entrance to the temple, which is just a short walk from town and the bus stop. 

Beware of scams and overzealous salesmen outside of the temple.  The scams involve people collecting money to "keep" your shoes while you're inside the temple.  It is mandatory to take your shoes off outside and enter the temple grounds with bare feet.  I definitely suggest tipping these folks, but just don't let them (particularly the younger ones) charge you, especially if it seems extortionate (anything more than 20 or 30 rupees, ~$0.50, is too much since they aren't official in any way).  Also, make sure you don't pay more than one guy.  If you pay one and another comes over to demand money, just insist that you've already paid and point to who you did.  As for the salesmen, they can be outright offensive and very, very annoying in their stubborn persistence.  Just remember to be polite but firm and respect your surroundings, they might not be either polite or respectful, but you still should considering it is a holy place and you are a visitor there.

Temple monkeys: monkeys are tolerated at India's temples out of respect for Hanuman, the monkey headed deity that was a faithful friend of Rama, one of Vishnu's incarnations.

Several of these beautiful carved elephants were found around the inside of the temple complex.  The temple was very, very busy too.  The people queued up quite courteously though by Indian standards, and the line moved pretty well through the temple itself.  Unless you are a devote Hindu, I wouldn't recommend the wait though.  The grounds are pleasant and much less crowded, and even inside the large temple itself, you can just step out of line and find a nice place to watch the devoted at worship.

There were some beautiful carvings around the complex.  India is famous for some of its more erotic carvings (for instance, check out the temple at Khajuraho), and of course, for the Kama Sutra.  This one looks like it could be something along those lines, but maybe it is just a wild yoga move.

I don't know which deity this demon-headed one is.  Though it is seen all over the place... quite the mouth on it there.  I'm pretty sure it is female too based on the breasts and hourglass figure.

As I mentioned before, the temple grounds are peaceful and quiet.

Srirangapatna also has another beautiful religious building, but this one is for India's other dominant religion.  The Jumma Masjid mosque is literally on the other side of town from the Hindu temple.  It is an impressive building, with plenty of geometric architecture and two of these large, intricate minarets.

Outside of town and the old fortress walls and across the highway, you can find Tipu Sultan's summer palace, Daria Daulat Bagh.  This place is pretty neat, with pleasant gardens and a deceptively impressive palace right in the center of the complex.

There are several massive, old trees that provide shade from the oppressive sun.  This was also the first I saw fully covered Muslim women in India.

After the British took control of the area and killed Tipu Sultan, they turned the summer palace into the administrative center.  It was here that Col. Wellesley lived and ruled.  These old cannons are a reminder of this role and also of the area's bloody past.

So the palace looks quite drab and actually kind of ugly from the outside (see below).  The reason for this is the presence of hanging shades that block all views of the details inside.  Once you get inside, you find an intricately detailed paint job on just about every surface.  The shades are required to protect these paintings from the sunlight.  Pictures aren't allowed inside, so I took the above shot from outside looking in through a gap in the shades.  It does little justice for the sheer magnitude of the details painted throughout the interior, but it at least gives you an idea of what I'm talking about.  There are also a couple of giant murals inside, one depicting the battle where Tipu Sultan captured the British officers and another showing Tipu's army in full parade.  Srirangapatna is really an impressive place when you let yourself be immersed in the rich history of it all.

04 November 2012

Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary, India

I had a few day off from the conference mid-week, so I took the opportunity to hop on the local buses and do a couple of day trips.  The first was out to Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary just across the state border in Tamil Nadu.  There, I got to see wild elephants for the first time... amazing.

This was what I needed to truly start loving India... pleasant, quiet, beautiful rural areas and countryside.  The bus ride out was beautiful as soon as we left the city limits.  The flat areas around Mysuru are dominated by farmland, but as we approached the Western Ghats, it gave way more and more to patches of forest.  We had to drive through Bandipur National Park before crossing the state border into Tamil Nadu, and that was where it hit me that India wasn't completely full of people.  The national park was beautiful, and there were plenty of signs posted prohibiting any unauthorized stopping or hiking in order to protect the animals.  Despite all this, tiger numbers in India are still catastrophically plummeting; it is almost inevitable that the wild tigers will soon be extinct.  Poachers still figure out how to get what they need, ivory and tiger carcasses, to sell to markets in East Asia, who are just as guilty if not even more so for creating the demand for such slaughter.  I also heard an interesting rumor about a cutthroat gang of female loggers, who are illegally harvesting wood from the national parkland in the area.  These are the problems of overpopulation, in which the last pockets of pristine wilderness cannot be protected from the increasing onslaught of humanity looking to extort natural resources at any cost.  India is just a warning of what is to come throughout the rest of the world soon enough if we keep allowing our population to expand exponentially.

Anyway, on to more positive things.  Common langurs...these guys hung out just like a group of mischievous youths.  This is a picture of the group at an information building at the entrance to the wildlife sanctuary, right by the bus stop.  They are obviously very used to living in close proximity to people, as they showed no signs of fear.  As soon as I was off the bus, local businessmen started inquiring into whether or not I was interested in a jeep tour through the area.  Of course I was, so I started negotiating.  I found a very nice man, who was quite willing to share information about the official tour through the park service.  Since the official tour is direct competition to these guys, and it only runs at set times in the afternoon, I figured I could hop in one of the jeeps and see what I could see.  We negotiated a deal I think we were both happy with, and I set off for a jeep tour around the outside of the park (the locals can't go into the park either, but there are many animals outside of the park too).

Did I mention how eerily human-like these common langurs are?  This guy was just sitting by the side of the road...hanging out.

Just a little further down the road, the driver stopped again and pointed out these wild boars... and we saw plenty of deer too...its an atrocity that tigers are quite literally going extinct in India... was obviously clear that people were to blame since these boar and deer represent the abundance of tiger food running around.

And yes, elephants too.  The driver was quick to point out though that this elephant (and others like him that we saw) were tame.  There was an elephant sanctuary in the area and many of the elephants were kept to help with physical labor.  I was kind of torn on the situation: it is an ancient tradition for mahouts to work with tamed elephants in India, and they are probably safer with the people than in the wild too.  But  to have them so close to wild herds must be tough on the elephants.  Elephants are very intelligent and social animals...I just don't know about them being chained up their whole lives.

I also got to enjoy some of the local scenery from the jeep, something that was not guaranteed on the official tour later on.  The Western Ghats form the spine of the Indian subcontinent, running north to south along the southwestern half of the landmass.  They are old mountains, and thus not immensely high, unlike the Himalayas that form much of the northern boundary of India, but they are beautiful nonetheless.

As I mentioned in the Mysuru post, religion is everywhere in India.  We stopped at two shrines like this one, both unattended and seemingly in the middle of nowhere.  Miles from the nearby village.

Ganesh over the doorway, flanked by holy cows.

It really was a relief to see such massive areas of wilderness.  I kept dreaming of what was out there, with elephants and tigers dominating the themes in my wandering imagination.

We turned around at a very small community by a dam in the river.  These three ladies had just finished washing clothes.  The surroundings were very, very pleasant, but the people living around there obviously did not have much money.  It reminded me of the woman we met in the Li River area of China, who told us that "yes, we are lucky that our home is so beautiful, but we are very unlucky because we are so poor."

I don't know what this guy was up to, but he looked peaceful, as did the rest of the landscape surrounding him.

The river back down by the bus stop.  It ended up raining for ~30 minutes that afternoon.  I was in India in late July, during the monsoon, which was supposedly behaving pretty odd this year.  Despite that, I barely saw rain except for the couple of days I spent up in the mountains (which was good for my trip, but bad overall considering that farmers depend on those rains to grow their crops).

I can't stress enough how beautiful this area was...such a massive relief from the cities.  I found myself relaxing quite often and just enjoying the nature surrounding me.

Some monkeys hanging out by the river.  There really were animals all over the place here.  It was quite impressive.

The rain I mentioned was a pretty short downpour, but pour it did.  It was heavy and steady for 15-20 minutes.  Fortunately, I found shelter in a gazebo down by the river and enjoyed the wet, shedding atmosphere from there.

Speaking of those animals, here is the listing of sightings in the wildlife sanctuary (really like a national park... just a big wilderness area).  I was very excited about the tigers and leopard that had been spotted just a few weeks before I was there.  Note that these are animals sighted by visitors on the official tour, not by park rangers for the census.  Pretty cool and definitely a list that I was excited about!

Our tour bus... loved the camouflage too.  They packed this thing full, as is seemingly done with all the buses in India.  Just looking at the bus, I knew that we wouldn't be doing any extreme, off-road safaris here. 

Just a few minutes on the dirt road from the highway into the sanctuary and we came across these guys.  A wild herd of elephants is an incredible thing.  To see so many of the large animals together, and to know they are there naturally, is just such a wonderful thing.  There were about 8 of them total, over a variety of ages, from very young to old.

So the official tour in the bus (and on actual sanctuary land) only revealed these elephants and more deer.  I wasn't really expecting to see any of the top, classic Jungle Book predators, like panthers, leopards, pythons, bears, or tigers, but still, it would have been neat.  It was incredible though just to be in their natural habitat.

More deer...these things were literally everywhere.  It was interesting too that the adults were spotted.  This is unlike the white-tail deer in North America, which are only spotted when they are young.  The forest was very much like this all around too.

Really a lot of deer...they were everywhere.  Tigers, not so much.  The guy that arranged my first jeep tour (his name was Krishna) told me about how local volunteers help with the tiger census by going out into the wilderness for days at a time and reporting any evidence of tigers, not just sightings, but prints, kills, and spoor.  That must be a pretty terrifying task, hiking and sleeping outdoors in the thick of tiger country.  Though at this point, tigers really know to avoid people... we're forcing that upon them, since only the ones that do have any decent chance of survival.

Back from the tour, and my next stop was up at the elephant center.  Here, mahouts work with elephants that are rescued from the wild for various reasons or are born to the already tame elephants that work with the mahouts.  There was a new baby, a juvenile, and several full grown adults.  This was by far the closest I was able to get to the massive creatures.  This inquisitive little guy wandered over to where I was standing, her bell jingling at her neck and her chains clanking at her ankles.  Amazingly, as soon as the mahout back behind the buildings realized she had wandered off and called her back, she went to him.  It intrigued me; what is it like to train a young elephant?  What happens when they don't want to listen?  How about when they want to play with you; do they instinctively know their strength and how easily they can kill a person, that is are they purposefully gentle when playing with people they like?  Questions like this just flooded my head while I watched the elephants at the center interacting with their mahouts.

The elephants gather the food they eat.  Here, one of the adults is bringing back a big bushel of fodder for dinner.  They gather during the day and then have normal eating times when all the elephants get together and are fed from what was reaped that day.  The way that the elephants and people work together is just amazing, and pretty inspiring actually.  It is a symbiotic relationship in many ways.  The elephants provide the humans with an immensely powerful vehicle and set of "hands" (their versatile trunks) and legs, while the humans provide the elephants with safety and shelter.  They also provide each other companionship.

It was scenes like this that made me really question whether the elephants are truly happy or not.  This big fellow was chained to the posts here, and was obviously a little restless.  So it isn't all fun and games for these elephants...restraint like this must get frustrating for them.  Like I mentioned above too, I wonder how aware they are of their wild counterparts in the jungle nearby (literally within only a few miles at times).  I'm sure they know they are there and can probably hear and communicate with them.  I guess if they really, really wanted to, they could escape.  I'd be very surprised if those chains and stumps would really restrain a full-grown elephant that was genuinely trying to escape.  Also, once unchained for their daily duties with the mahouts, there is essentially nothing stopping the elephants from overpowering the mahout and escaping.  The mahouts are unarmed other than a bamboo stick they use for guiding motions (like mounting), steering (tapping the hind quarters) and controlling acceleration (smacks on the hind quarters).

Unlike the big male in the last picture, many of the elephants were freely wandering around the area, and there were no gates or fences around the entire perimeter, so if these elephants really wanted to escape, they could.  I really hope they are happy and satisfied living there with their handlers, and also that the handlers are happy living with them.

Another elephant-mahout team returning with a bundle for dinner.

Looking down on the bridge to town: another colorful truck is making a crossing.

I can definitely suggest a trip down to Mudumalai if you are ever in the Mysuru area and have a day to spare.  If you have a couple days, further into Tamil Nadu state and the Western Ghats you can check out the hill station of Ooty (Udhagamandalam), which was on my list of things to see, but I just couldn't find the time for it.  Travel times in India are a challenge with public transportation, but there are buses connecting just about all towns and an extensive network of trains, which are quite effective for longer distances.  People are helpful too... transport employees and even total strangers will help to make sure you get where you want to go!  I really enjoyed traveling on the buses too...they got packed at times (several times I found myself standing in the door-well, pressed against the door, which fortunately had a very trustworthy additional security latch, a fail-safe for exactly that scenario), but the opportunity to stare out the window at the passing countryside and villages and towns is just priceless.  It was on buses that I realized how much more I wanted to explore India; it was there that I was truly enchanted and realized that I will definitely return.