Written by 5:51 am History

The Tale Of “Tusker Trails”

visha-maam

The Tale Of “Tusker Trails”​

Writing this piece was not easy, because she was gone and was not there to see this script in pen and paper. It now is a “A Memoir of the Wild” of Maharajkumari Vishalakshi Devi Youngest daughter of His Highness Maharaja of Mysore Shri Jaya Chamaraja Wadiyar. People know her as a Royal, who loved animals. Who was generous and courageous in her ways. I shared a bond that was too intense, in no time, like we were meant to meet, and lo the chords struck!

What better way to remember her? May be read about how her dream place was built from the scratch, Tusker Trails.

My wish is to stay always like this, living quietly in a corner of nature. 

Claude Monet

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Visha maam

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Visha with Prithviraj

Like the quote, she wished to stay in the quiet of nature, just like her tender heart of gold, she wished everything serene, calm and tranquil. Yes, this is Visha for you, though of Royal Blood, dreamt of a less glamorous, rustic, fulfilling life; in the lap of nature, among all green, with smells of the raw earth lingering.

The piece, on the story of how Tusker Trails, from seed to the present, was thought over, there was a sense of doubt in the head, capturing the true essence was the game. Can justice be done to any amount of good vocabulary, great writing skills? To pen the dream of a frantically creative and everything wild person? Well, we sought her divine intervention and hoped to bring her passion on paper!

It was a royal story of match making, Visha was to be affianced to the jagir of Awwa, Thakur Gajendra Singh. And lo, it was a match that saw the two sharing each other’s dream; of forest dwelling. We have a secret to tell, she had first understood and sought connivance from Gajendra Singh, if he loved dogs, even before the talks of the nuptials could further!

Ganjendra Singh, sat opposite us, his conduct, tough as a tooth, relived their life, of Tusker Trails…. Their dream home! Awestruck at how he knew from very mite to the mountains, with enthusiasm of great degree, he rattled off, not a pause, nor a break. With dates accurate and timelines well chronicled in his head. And what better place than, the oldest cottage of Tusker Trails (this was the cottage that had its foundations laid first among the others), could this interaction be more replete?

Visha and Gajendra Singh, regulars at the Dog Show in Ooty, chanced upon an idea to make their reverie of owning a piece of Land in Bandipur. And why not? Her father his Highness Maharaja Jaya Chamaraja Wadiyar, had declared this area as “Venugopala Wildlife Sanctuary”. It may have been that divine intervention, they ended up buying 8 odd acres of land in 1993, out of that Tusker Trails occupies 5 acres and the rest left to “just be” (untouched). The only other resort in the surrounds was Bush Betta owned by Saad Bin Jung, of the Paigah family of Hyderabad, former Indian Cricketer turned wild lifer. 

Having got the pedigree from her father, of loving the wild and lessons from her grandmother (who we learnt, used to advise HH Maharajaja Jaya Chamaraja Wadiyar, stop hunting wild animals for sport), who was a lover of wildlife and forests, Visha could set up the Resort with a natural tendency of inculcating good environmental practices. Be it the structure blending with nature, of using earth colours to the infrastructure or keeping the landscape of the resort intact, by not cutting trees. They had ensured to implement what they thought was appropriate the ingredients necessary for a nature-based resort.  With all this in place, the Resort made a soft opening in the year 1996, with 12 rooms (6 cottages).

Gajendra Singh vividly recalled, of the days spent in a tiny cottage (which could not even house a cot), on the construction site of Tusker Trails, eating simple frugal meals and surviving the harsh environs. Every bit of the construction and setting up was overseen and every detail looked into. They credited two Station Wagon Jeep for safaris into the Bandipur National Park (Now Bandipur Tiger Reserve) and employed two local youths as drivers. Thus, were their early beginnings and a lifelong tryst with the villagers of Bandipur, who from then till now used the borewell dug at Tusker Trails for their water needs

Initially, the marketing strategy was just to write letters to travel agents and hardcore wildlife enthusiasts offering 2 safaris a day on American Plan for INR 1500 , for this they had permissions from the then PCCF U. T. Alwa of the Karnataka  Forest Department.

“There is an interesting story behind choosing the name Tusker Trails” exclaims Gajendra Singh, a sense of excitement prevails, and he goes on to relate. “Once, in the year 1994, if I remember well, there was a cry from the villagers of a cattle kill, an animal of course had strayed into the village limits and taken to their calf, with exhilaration, we headed to see. We were about 50 meters away from the kill, when we chanced upon a huge Tusker, a Makhna! Leaving behind a trail, he had walked from the resort side to the kill, thus in spontaneity, we arrived at naming our dream resort, Tusker Trails”. He also goes on to say that the names of the cottages, of the resort, are after the rivers of India, viz., Ganga, Yamuna, Narmada, Cauvery, Sindhu and Godavari. The couple had consciously decided to recruit the village folks as their employees. 

It was the attachment of evolving Tusker Trail as a people’s resort, that ensured, Visha and Gajendra Singh to recruit community members as employees/associates of the resort.  At any given point, 90% of the employees in the resort are from the local community; who have been trained ‘in-house’ and ensured that the services provided are of International standards and the repeat visitors to the resort was ever on the increase. This was confirmed by Visha herself, in a discussion in 2018, “that recruiting local community members and training them will ensure, the push factors towards, cities will surely be arrested.”  She believed that this was a sincere effort from her end.  Gajendra Singh too, echoes the same words, “It was the locals, the flora and fauna of Bandipur that ensured, I get anchored to landscape.”  

Tusker Trails for sure is a story of labor of love for Visha and Gajendra Singh.

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Rudra and Shrutikirti, their growing up days

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Visha as a Teen

“I was a gross outsider, and Visha was easily accepted by the local community…..I had to be accepted as a Kannadiga, I adopted to Kannada and its culture. I always feel and felt, that I belong to Bandipur…………Tusker Trail belongs to Bandipur.” “At a point in time, with the leopard cubs (Baby and Bully), the elephants, our growing children – Rudra and Shruti, we forgot the Tusker Trails……but our attachment to the Bandipur landscape continued.” “Bandipur is an emotion”, and it is, “part of my soul” concludes Gajendra Singh and slowly walks away to his nest, where he and Visha wove the beautiful story of their Wild Life!

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Visha and Me at the Mythic Society

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