Dhole packs and bathing elephants at BR Hills

We had been looking forward to this trip for a while now. Divorced from the pressure of big cat sightings, the BRT Tiger Reserve in the BR Hills offers up a wide array of wildlife – from a wide variety of bird species to elephants and tree shrews. The trees here are greener unlike the bare bones trees of the deciduous forests in Bandipur or Nagarahole. The guide said that there were four varieties of forests in those hills – from shrubs and deciduous to moist evergreen and evergreen.

Despite the short distance between Bandipur and here, the elevation gain changes a lot. There are no peacocks, which are so ubiquitous everywhere in Bandipur. The Langurs are also fewer. And despite being a drought year, there was a surprising lot of water in the waterholes. The elevation helps.

The camp itself is set in the middle of the forest, unlike JLR’s properties in Bandipur and Nagarahole. This means that there is no external power connection. What they had last year was a diesel generator running for 3 hours in the morning and 3.5 hours in the evening. This time, they had installed solar panels which promised power all the way till 3 or 4 AM. It lasted till 1 AM one night, and I slept like a log the second to notice.

Being in the middle of the forest also means that you can be woken up by deer calls in the middle of the night, sounding the alarm over a passing leopard. You can stand around the camp and see spotted deer, wild pigs, and even one barking deer passing by. The birding in the camp is itself amazing, and we spotted both types of barbets, Jerdon’s leafbirds, a yellow-crowned woodpecker among others.

But the surprising thing this time was the safari. Unlike with the big two reserves where you drive around for a long time not seeing anything, and suddenly something big turns up, BR Hills has a lot more to offer. You are constantly noticing something every 5-10 minutes. The forests are noisy with birdsong – whistling thrushes, Indian and Hawk cuckoos compete to be heard above the din of horseflies. And of course, Crested Serpent Eagles!
Crested Serpent Eagle

Although we hardly seemed to have seen much the first evening, we came away happy. There was a lone elephant cow grazing on the side of a hill, and she looked very weak and bony. This being summer, and right at the fringe of the monsoons, this was expected. Hopefully, the monsoons will be good and there’ll be good fodder for everyone soon.

Elephant
Elephant

Continue reading “Dhole packs and bathing elephants at BR Hills”

K Gudi – In the wilderness

We had been slightly disappointed with the last Kabini trip. Only slightly, mind you. One naturalist was only concerned with tigers and leopards. There wasn’t any interest shown on birds or even elephants. It didn’t help that they seemed to be catering to a largely bazooka wielding crowd. At that time, there was some thought of trying out K-Gudi. This is another one managed by Jungle Lodges, and is in the Eastern Ghats, in the Biligiri Ranga Temple Tiger Reserve. Tiger spotting is pretty minimal, but it was supposed to have a lot more birdlife. The topography was also said to be more up and down – hilly – encouraging better viewing.

The first thing we noticed was that we had to drive into the forest to the camp. Unlike Kabini or Bandipur, it is not surrounded by hordes of private resorts or lodgings. There is just this one camp, which is also temporary. Apparently, they’ve been given some land outside the reserve, closer to Sathyamangalam, and will have to move out by 2018. After that the journey will be by jeeps that drive in from outside the forest, like they do with all the other forests.

The safari as such is in only one zone. Only one zone is opened up for tourism purposes, so all four safaris were about beating around the same bush in a way. Since we were inside the forest, their staff asked us to go driving on the road and do some spotting ourselves. A pack of dholes(asiatic wild dogs) had gone that side, so you might see them by the waterholes they said. There are waterholes on the road sides, but we could not see any dholes. But we did spot a pair of Oriental honey-buzzards and came close to one massive cobra which we couldn’t stop in time for.

The topography is a lot greener. While Bandipur and Nagarhole’s dry deciduous forests throw up a lot of dead dry trees, BRT was a lot greener. It had a more “forest” feel to it. The rains added to the charm and it looked like we were driving through the Western Ghats in the Monsoons.

Birding:

After we drove off from Kollegal towards the reserve, outside one of the villages was this huge congregation of kites. And a massive stench too! Apparently, this is where some kind of ropes are made from leftovers from sericulture. And the birds like to feed on them. We thought there might be a few eagles here, but there weren’t. They are all black kites or brahminy kites. The fancier ones are black kite juveniles.

Bunch of kites and a few eagles feeding on sericulture leftovers Continue reading “K Gudi – In the wilderness”

Face to face with darkness

A long time back, I ruminated on one of my biggest fears – Claustrophobia. I had written about having to deal with it in scenarios like being in a tent in the middle of the forest and waking up to total darkness, and feeling suffocated. Over a period of time, I felt that things had improved, that I wasn’t feeling it so much, that I might have gone past it, or just outgrown it. I couldn’t be more wrong!

Jungle Lodges’ K-Gudi Wilderness Camp is different from the rest of their resorts. It sits in the middle of the Biligiri Ranga Temple Tiger Reserve, well within forest area. (Rest of their resorts are all outside the forests, at the edge within 5-10 minutes’ drive from them.) This means there are no power lines running up to it. Whatever power is there is from a diesel generator which is switched on for 3.5 hours in the morning and again in the evening. The lights go off at 10 PM. After that, you are advised to stay indoors and not venture out as wild animals can possibly be moving around and you don’t want to end up in a tricky situation. For the toilet they leave an emergency lamp to turn on when needed.

Another quirk is that, unlike the rest of the resorts, they don’t have a bar. But they’re “alcohol friendly”, meaning they don’t frown upon people bringing their own bottles. And even make some snacks to go with it for you. Except that we did not know this. On enquiry we found that a “town” called Nallur, some 15 Kms away had a shop. So we set off right after lunch on reaching there, hoping to get back before the Safari. We found Nallur, which turned out to be a decrepit village. We continued further on to another equally decrepit village called Nagavalli. Beyond that, as if ostracised by the village, there stood a “wine shop”. The best we could find was Blender’s Pride, a “Premium Whisky”.

So when night dawned the first day, I had downed 3 rounds of this whisky, which somehow didn’t seem to be going well, was feeling high and had had a heavier than usual dinner.It had been a stormy evening with lightning, thunder and the works. Around 9:45 PM we crashed, and I fell asleep almost immediately.

Only to wake up within the hour. And feel the darkness envelop me. It was like waking up blind. I looked around, trying to latch on to any sign of light, anything that would make me feel normal and show me something that wasn’t pitch black, some shade of grey in that darkness. There was nothing.

I made my way to the bathroom. My head was spinning. In the dim light of the emergency lamp, I threw up. Like all throw-ups after getting high, it helped. The spinning reduced. I had no idea how long the emergency light would run on a charged battery. I left it on, left the door of the bathroom slightly ajar and went back to sleep.

Sleep eluded me. Rather, complete sleep eluded me. I knew I’d have to battle the next few hours at least. There’d be those phases of semi-sleep, of semi-wakefulness, never complete rest. That would come only closer to dawn. I flitted in and out. I tried to fight the urge to open my eyes and look for light, to make my mind just assume it is there. It never worked. But the light was there each time.

Around an hour later, Anand woke up. He saw the light in the bathroom and promptly switched it off. Almost immediately I jumped and asked him to turn it on. I had told him about my trysts with darkness, so a lengthy explanation was not needed. But this time, the door was almost closed. The light was still there, any little light is usually enough – the usual one is the one from the mosquito repellant.

I went back to the same mode of wakeful sleep. After a few hours, as expected, I went into deep sleep. The wakeup call from the staff came at 6 AM. I woke up to find that the light was still glowing. That was more than 7 hours of working off the battery! This wasn’t something you got in the old days with tube light based emergency lamps. Thank God for little mercies and LEDs!

The second night, I used Anand’s power bank which could also work like a torch. The LED light of that torch was kept against a tray’s side, emitting a glow on one side of the tent. I slept easy. There was this, and if this turned off, there was the emergency lamp in the bathroom. Of course, I had also laid off the whiskey, not going past one round.

For the next visit, a few things on the list – a simple battery powered night lamp, and some good alcohol that won’t cause so much grief.

(Photos and trip details next post)