The car screeched to a halt immediately after a sharp curve. The bewildered monitor lizard stared for a while, undecided whether to retract or cross over. After a couple of seconds, it crossed over, only to go back in a flash to where it came from. It gave one final glare before scurrying into the bushes. Interesting curtain raiser to what lay ahead for the next two days, I said to myself as the car crossed the forest entry gate into BR Hills (Biligiri Rangaswamy hills). The harsh summers had taken the sheen off the forest and almost all of it stood withered under the blaring sun. Another screeching halt and this time it was an elephant head that popped out from the bushes by the side. Luckily, this was a few meters away. However, it was reluctant to cross over completely, the reason for the same appeared shortly. A baby elephant with its mother followed soon and they swiftly walked into the bushes on the other side. Had the monitor lizard not crossed over, I would have happily driven quite close to these pachyderms. Even a few seconds make a difference. It is adventure time, I said again. The drive from there meandered through leafless tress, intermittent green patches, past loitering langurs and a couple of deer.
|Monitor lizard hurrying across|
The blooming rhododendrons at Jungle Lodges resort at Kyathadevara Gudi (a.k.a K.Gudi) was a beautiful welcoming frame. BR Hills is known for its biodiversity, wildlife and a variety of avian fauna. K. Gudi is a small forest clearing in BR Hills, where the western ghats meets its eastern counterpart. A forest camp so typical of the Niligris, lined up with a few houses, a school, a dispensary, a lake and a resort. Serene life! Nice cottages adorn the premises of K.Gudi Wilderness camp with numerous trees, hammocks beside them and expansive vistas of the distant hills. An ideal place to sip some coffee and gaze at nature or read a book and doze off on the hammock.
|K.Gudi wilderness camp|
However, my naturalist had other plans. A heavy meal, a power nap and a hot cup of coffee later, we were on a jeep that grunted beyond the resort premises and the tiny houses into Biligiri Rangaswamy Tiger wildlife sanctuary. This wildlife sanctuary is home to more than 200 species of avian fauna apart from a host of mammals such as tigers, leopards, bears, wild dogs, deer, boars and monkeys. We went past a few more houses which I was told belonged to Soligas, the local tribe. A blend of the summer brown and the faded green was splashed all across like a canvas. I clung on to the handrail as the jeep lunged forward through the mud trail deep into wilderness. Out came cameras, binoculars and avian guide books as we spotted numerous birds one after the other, a few perched atop a branch and many happily chirping around. As we went deeper, mud trails turned into foliage, intermittent ponds showed up, alert deer gave a long gaze, langurs gave a chatter and wild boars ran around gleefully.
|A tree pie|
We did stop by a few half dried up water bodies, and waited patiently for more exciting wildlife. All that we spotted by the ponds were the camouflaged tortoises. I however love such moments, patiently waiting amidst the silence of the forest with peering eyes and sharp ears in search of a glimpse or a sound. Even though we were disappointed that nothing popped up, that blissful ambiance more than made up for it. As the jeep retracted, we spotted a barking deer peacefully grazing, but slid away into the bushes quickly. Never spotted a barking deer so close before. More birds flocked over us as the sun went down the horizon. The light slowly faded and we drove back through the mud trail to the main road. We enthusiastically still looked out in the hope of spotting wild dogs or a lonely gaur. None appeared and we were almost near the resort when at a curve the jeep stopped. We spotted a white colour on a flat rock 20 meters away from us. In a second, my naturalist whispered, "It's a leopard". It was lying on its back, and hence the white colour of its belly struck us. It twirled, twitched, rolled and we gleefully gazed at each other for long. In quite a playful mood, it happily posed for the lenses. Usually a shy creature, this one was least bothered about human presence within its short vicinity. Another jeep joined us and we spent more than 10 minutes staring at the leopard which absolutely had no qualms about its audience. It got pretty dark soon and we left while the feline rolled over and bade us good bye. It seemed quite ironical that while we drove all over and waited patiently inside the park, this fellow was happily enjoying himself very near to the resort. The safari couldn't have ended in any better way.
|Twirling and rolling|
Darkness had engulfed the whole premises of the resort by the time we had evening tea. I was told and did even read that wildlife was frequently spotted near the cottages at night. That sounded exciting, and the fact that there is no electricity in the premises after 10 P.M. made me more anxious. Would the leopard stroll by? My thoughts ran amok as I finished dinner and walked back to my cottage, 100 meters away, swaying a torch. 10: 15 PM and the lights went off. Though I did stay awake for a while in the hope of seeing some gleaming eyes in the dark, nothing turned up and I slept peacefully in the lap of BR Hills.
I was up before the wake up call for the morning safari and continued my gaze into the woods. A few colourful birds chirped and flew around happily. Soon we were on the jeep again for the morning safari. We went past the rock where the leopard was spotted last evening. Nothing there, the leopard was true to its nocturnal character. We were yet to enter the park when a couple of wild dogs or Dholes as they are also known as, crossed our jeep. Seeing us they ran into the near by bushes. We waited for them to come out and they in turn waited for us to leave, as they vigilantly stared through the bushes. We gave in shortly and drove ahead to spot a larger pack playing by the road. The sun had by then spread its colours, the fog slowly cleared up and the dholes trudged off together in a perfect line. Undoubtedly a beautiful frame. In between the two packs of dholes, we missed out on a lonely gaur that was peacefully grazing by the road. We traced back to have a closer glimpse of it before driving into the sanctuary again.
|The lone gaur|
More deer, monkeys and numerous birds were sighted as we drove around the park. The dry ponds had packs of wild boars roaming around. Spotted deer were found locking horns and a few young ones were rubbing the velvet off their horns. A lone barking deer seemed puzzled as it posed for the cameras. We stopped by a water body in the hope of that elusive wild sighting. As the wait continued we spotted malabar squirrels jump from one branch to another, a lonely tortoise strained its neck to give a beautiful frame and more deer and fawns sprinted across. Beautiful sightings, I said to myself. These too are a part of the forest and am a firm believer that there is more to the jungle than just that elusive wild cat or elephant sighting. We drove around through the mud trails for long taking in the fresh air, the wonderful sightings and the blissful ambiance of the forest before driving back to the resort. We did find some bear droppings on the way back, sighting the bear was probably meant for the next visit.
|The mud trail deep into the forest|
|A lone tortoise|
BRT wildlife sanctuary is one of the least explored sanctuaries near Bangalore and undoubtedly has loads to offer for the wildlife enthusiast. A short drive away lies the popular Biligiri Rangaswamy temple atop a hill.
Getting there: K.Gudi is 200 km from Bangalore. BR Hills is about 15 km before K.Gudi. From Bangalore take the Kanakapura road which leads further to Malavalli. Take a left at Malavalli and drive past Kollegal to Yellandur. From Yellandur signage boards lead to K.Gudi.
Accommodation and Food: K.Gudi Wilderness camp is the best option for stay and food. There are a couple of eateries near Biligiri Rangaswamy temple.