Wild Wonderful Karnataka

A Letter from Dandeli. by Ullas P. A. (ullaspa (at) sify.com)


  This was a long planned mail that I have not been able to post. I'd been to Dandeli during the first week of June. Here's the trip report...

  I stayed at the Jungle Lodges and spent about 3 days roaming around the place. What a trip this was! The highlight of this trip was the sighting of the three hornbills (Malabar Grey, Malabar Pied and the Great Indian), on all the days during my stay and a very exhilarating river rafting along the Kali river.

  There's a direct VRL bus from Bangalore to Dandeli. This costs about Rs.300 one way and offers a lot of legroom compared to the KSRTC bus. The Jungle Lodges campus is situated just outside this industrial town and is accessible by Auto-rickshaws by paying about Rs.15-20. The stay at Jungle Lodges costs about Rs.1500 per person per night and Rs.1350 on subsequent nights.

  The food is good and decent; my advice would be to stick to vegetarian fare. The rooms are real nice and offer good accommodation. The tents are a little tacky (a bucket of hot water on demand) and are not too good a value for the money. There are only 9 tents and 11 rooms. Make sure that you get into a room as these have hot-water geysers that you need the most after a hard day's outing. The campus is large and spacious towards the back, where it meets the Kali River. There are hammocks spread across the campus making it ideal to snooze with your bird book on returning from the field.

  The staff is really helpful and luckily this is one Jungle Lodges that is not like the ones discussed on the list previously. I can vouch for that. The check-in/checkout is from 12 noon, but usually there's enough accommodation around to stay those couple of hours extra. The breakfast and lunch, before and after the stipulated time is charged extra.

  The local naturalist, Pramod Nayak, accompanied us on all our trips and was extremely helpful. He is very enthusiastic and belongs to that area, knowing it like the back of his hand. My advice to anyone going there is to trust him and you'll get to see a lot of places that are off the regular Jungle Lodges route. You might need to tell in advance that you are interested in birds and make it known to him. He was largely responsible for me seeing the sheer number of birds on this trip. He'd make sure that the jeep stopped at every bush, if need be to see a bird. Another naturalist at the place is Basil and he too takes kindly to the ever-nagging birder asking for the jeep to stop every minute. Sometimes, I had to ask them to get a move on!

  On the first day, we started in the morning for a safari into the national park. The safari is about a 30-minute jeep ride from the JL campus before we reach the national park. It includes a brief stop at a forgettable forest department museum that has some pictures of orchids and some ill-maintained bones and skulls. The most pathetic display is what must have been a once glorious 14ft King Cobra, rotting and missing large chunks.

  The park offers good viewing and took some time getting adjusted to in spotting birds for city slickers like me. I could spot the Malabar Grey Hornbill and the Malabar Pied Hornbill all along the drive. This ride also took us to Sykes point and the Shiroli peak. You can clearly see the effects that mining inside a forest can do here. I had the first sighting of the Great Pied Hornbill, on this trip, right at this place.

  The evening was a visit to the famed Syntheri rocks. This is a 300ft tall monolith that has a huge number of beehives hanging from the rock face. I spent about 2 hours just watching the Blue bearded bee- eaters actively foraging on the hives. They used to fly from their perch and actively `hang' on the hive, probing it for a morsel. There were about 20 of these birds. This was the first time that I have seen these birds at such close quarters and for such a long duration. The rocks are also inhabited by the Blue Rock Pigeons.

  On the morning of second day, I visited a nearby Forest called Molangi in the morning for a nature trail and could again spot all the three Hornbills!! This is a very interesting place and has a lot of Bamboo thickets. We could spot a lot of birds and butterflies at this place. The evening was spent going for another safari ride.

The third day morning was an early riser for the river rafting. We started on the river at about 4:30 am and rafted 10kms down river. All the participants were split into two boats. This is one experience that should not be missed. The river flows through the forest and you can spot quite a lot of birds if you are looking out.

The rafting is at an extra cost of about Rs. 900 per person. There are skilled instructors who'd take you thru the steps and train you before setting off. Just make sure that you don't carry your binoculars or cameras into the river :) We happened to miss a lone tusker by about 100ft and had to back-row very hard to stay from ramming into it! The evening was spent visiting a Siddi tribal village.

The third day saw us going to the Kavalla caves in the morning. These are caves formed by volcanic activity ages back and are situated deep with-in the forest. This is a religious place and known for the Stalagmite linga.

The walk inside the cave is exciting and is full of surprises. I saw some Millipedes that were pure white in color. These were congregated on the Stalagmites on the floor. The roof is covered with Stalactites and bats. The whole cave is pungent with a strong smell of bat guano!

The drive to this place is wonderful and takes you thru the heart of the park. I spotted the Rufus Woodpecker during this ride and observed it for over 10mins. The evening was spent visiting a huge tank having large numbers of Cotton Teals and Jacanas, before catching the bus back to Bangalore.

Some of the animals seen were...
1. Muntjac
2. Spotted deer
3. Sambar
4. Gaur
5. Elephant
6. Malabar giant squirrel
7. Wild boar

I missed the Black Panther, for which this place is famed, by a Safari trip. The batch that went between my two safari trips were able to spot it!

~Ullas P. A.   
ullaspa (at) sify.com