Dandeli - A Foray Into Bagheera’s Domain
The beautiful Dandeli landscape
“The gladdest moment in human life, methinks, is a departure into unknown lands.” – Sir Richard Burton
Beautifully put. A foray into unknown lands is always special; however, for me, a foray into the deep wilderness of those unknown lands is what makes it truly worthwhile. An impromptu plan with decisions made as quickly as three phone calls and five e-mails (on the same day mind you; for someone as indecisive as me that is quite an achievement!) we headed into the deliciously dense jungles of Karnataka.
With limited knowledge of the flora and fauna of these havens of Southern India, all we knew was that these forests housed one of the most elusive of beasts, the shadow of the forest, the phantom of the teak plantations, the magnificent Bagheera, the Indian Black Panther. Our first stop was Dandeli, a forest full of Teak, Red Sanders, Rosewood, Jamun, Nandi etc. It fully lives up to its reputation of being a magnificent forest and a bird watcher’s paradise. Also home to forest communities like the Gowlis (mainly of Marathi descent) and Siddis, there are said to be approximately 12 villages within the reserve.
A beautiful sunset in place, passing the colourfully decorated villages of the Gowlis (in celebration of Janmashtami) we finally reached our destination - Adventure Camp Kali, established by Jungle Lodges and Resorts Ltd. Set on the banks of the serpentine Kali river, the compound of the resort itself is a wildlife Shangri-La, with Grey Hornbills practically sharing your breakfast to Macaques crashing through the morning glory bushes, to Sunbirds flitting past you the minute you get out of the tent.
However, it was the promise of an early morning safari into Dandeli forest the next day that really upped the excitement. After a helpful wakeup call by the extremely warm and hospitable staff and a cup of steaming hot tea, we raced towards the main gate of the park which is about 14 kms from where we were staying. With the pitter-patter of dew being handed down from leaf to leaf in our ears and the fragrance of wet earth and dead wood fresh ion the air (the best ever smell in my opinion), we entered Bagheera’s domain. We were welcomed by the relatively fresh pug marks of a leopard (or was it Bagheera playing hard to get?) and some fresh scat of Baloo the Bear, and we started praying for a chance sighting for any of these forest citizens.
Although we weren’t lucky with the bigger mammals, the birds gave us quite a show (an audio show to be exact), starting with the Blue Bearded Bee Eater (who was diligently cleaning his feathers, a lifer for me) to Scimitar Babblers issuing their piercing calls, to the cackling of Hornbills, to the Barbets and Coucals whose deep call echoed through the forest valley, and finally to the Yellow Footed Green Pigeons whose calls could give the World War radios a run for their technology. Our ears were at our alert best with this orchestra of forest calls when we suddenly spotted a vision in brown, a Crested Serpent Eagle, who on being disturbed by our excited whispering, took off gracefully, only to startle a peaceful Malabar Giant Squirrel who till now was gently tuning his vocal chords. The sudden presence of a predatory bird in its midst drove the ‘Malabari’ to hysterical levels of hyper activity and he issued a series of machine gun like ‘rat-tat-tat-a-tat’ calls. Laughing as we looked for our annoyed little toy gunner, our eyes fell on a series of beautifully spaced out holes on the trunk of a Nandi tree, the handiwork of some true artist. Our guide and naturalist explained that it was a colony of Woodpeckers that had made this their home, establishing a ‘woodpecker housing society’
The woodpecker housing society
Tired, yet exhilarated after the three hour safari, we trundled in for breakfast back at the camp, as hungry as bears. “A treat awaits you after breakfast”, said Mr. Mohan the Camp Manager. Wolfing down our breakfast, we rushed down to the path leading to the river where our treat, a coracle ride, awaited us. Armoured in life jackets, we sat in the coracle, which resembles a giant lily pad, to take a cruise on the river. Here too, on the Kali, many birds greeted us but what we were really looking forward to were the crocodiles that are seen on the grassy islands when the water level is low. Sailing along the river, we suddenly spotted a set of scales, a little sliver of olive green. “Crocodile!!” we hissed in excitement, while our coracle driver smiled and said ‘Lagta hai chota hai, shayad baccha’. The distance between us and the crocodile reduced and when we were barely two feet away, the croc perhaps sensed us and in the most dramatic way splashed and flopped back into water, disappearing completely from sight, leaving only some hissing bubbles and ripples in its wake. Thrilled with our success, we headed back into camp where we were told of another place nearby, which not only housed plenty of birds like the Gold Fronted Leaf Bird and Malabar Trogon but also housed that ochre coloured beauty, the big dad of them all, Sher Khan. ‘A tiger was spotted in the compound itself’, boomed the Camp Manager swelling with pride like a pouter pigeon. Before he could say anything else, we had already started packing, panting with excitement at the thought of another fabulous trip into another wilderness.
Want to know where we were headed? Well, just watch this space for more!