A trip to BR Hills - The monsoon edition
There are some places which one can never have enough of in just one trip. And every time one makes the journey along the same roads to the same place, there appear newer and newer facets that were mysteriously hidden or overlooked in the previous visits. BR Hills is one such place. I have been twice to BR Hills and yet I crave for more.
Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it (my selection):
“The Biligiriranga Hills, commonly called BR Hills, is a hill range situated in south-eastern Karnataka. The area is called Biligiriranga Swamy Temple Wildlife Sanctuary or simply BRT Wildlife Sanctuary. Being at the confluence of the Western Ghats and the Eastern Ghats, the sanctuary is home to eco-systems that are unique to both the mountain ranges. The forests form an important wildlife corridor between the Western Ghats and the Eastern Ghats, linking the largest populations of Asian Elephants and tigers in southern India. The site was declared a Tiger Reserve in December 2010.
The hills are famous for the temple of Lord Ranganatha which is situated on the highest peak of the hill range, on the 'white cliff' which gives the hill its name. The local form of the deity is called Biligiriranga and is depicted in a unique standing position.”
We first visited BR Hills with my parents in September 2013. Parts of the 200-odd kilometers from Bangalore to BR Hills were a sight to behold. Karnataka had witnessed a good rainfall in 2013 after a drought like situation in the previous year. The erstwhile dry, parched lands on both sides of the road were overflowing with nature’s bounty and we could not help but halt every now and then to take in the refreshing vista. The fields were awash with myriad hues of radiant green, almost hurting our eyes with their fluorescence. The air was cool and everywhere there seemed to be an exuberance brought about by the rains.
Although we had not planned on birding on the way, concentrating rather on reaching BR Hills early, the camera and binoculars had to be taken out. It seemed like even the birds were celebrating the generous monsoons. Egrets and herons were having a field day while kingfishers could be spied with their beaks full. Crossing a bridge over a river, who should we find there, basking in the sun among the rocks, but several families of river terns cackling away. It was too good an opportunity to let go and we stopped our car for an instant on the busy bridge to click a picture of the happy birds.
We had taken the Bangalore – Kanakapura – Malavalli - Kollegal – BR Hills route and I must say that the highway is quite a quirky one. I mean, there we were, breezily driving past small hamlets on wide, wide roads and then the next instant we found ourselves trickily navigating through really narrow bottle-necks. The transition from broad roads to narrow ones and immediately back to broad, was quite interesting, for lack of better words. On that narrow stretch, I almost felt like we were trespassing through people’s front yards.
Finally, we reached the entry gates of BRT Wildlife Sanctuary and continued our journey onwards, or rather upwards, after signing ourselves in the forest department’s registers. That drive just took my breath away. The winding roads bordered by lush green shady trees will always remain in my memory as one of the best jungle stretches I have been to. We saw a number of leafbirds and minivets flitting about the canopies but did not stop as it was close to lunch time and our tummies were already making complaints.
We had booked ourselves in Rajathadri Hill Villa in BR Hills (although I had my heart set on K Gudi Wilderness Camp) and found it to be a good place to stay for our one night duration. The owner told us that the forest department had jungle safaris at K Gudi, some 20 km from BR Hills, twice during the day – one in the morning 6.30 am and one late afternoon at around 3.30 pm. We decided to go for the safari after lunch and a little snooze.
The drive towards K Gudi proved to be another beautiful stretch. The forest was deep and dark, the sunlight filtering in through the thick leaves. It is a forest where I would expect to stumble across a magnificent tiger crossing the road at a leisurely pace. We drove slowly in case we did come upon a tiger *insert sarcastic laughter*. Instead, we saw a barking deer, which was also a great find, besides the usual spotted ones. There were also small water holes where invariably we would spot a lone kingfisher biding its time, as well as several turtles.
As we crawled along the road, giving way to several zipping cars, I saw a bird on the ground by the road side. It looked odd at a momentary glance.
“Stop!” I cried to the husband from the back seat. “There is an injured bird!”
I have no idea why I thought the bird looked injured.
The husband hastily braked the car and walked up to the spot where the bird lay. Before he could even take a proper look, the bird flew off with a loud furrrr.
“A nightjar,” My mom pronounced quietly. Dad turned towards me. “I am surprised that you didn’t know it was a nightjar. Didn’t you see enough of them in Manas?”
I shame-facedly blurted out, “But I always saw them at night!”
The husband made a so-you-don’t-know-everything face in the mirror and we continued driving.
There were scores of people waiting for the jeep safari at K Gudi forest office. We whiled away the time rambling around a pond where a forest department elephant was tethered. Spotted deer and wild boars who had turned almost domestic grazed around us, delighting my little one. Soon, we came to know that there would be only one safari and instantly we knew that we were not going to be part of that, going by the looks of the impatient crowd. If it would not have been for my dad’s background with forests and his contacts, I am sure we would not have any glimpse of the beautiful BRT Wildlife Sanctuary. But that is for another tale.
We saw a number of gaurs and birds, but no tiger. As if it was so easy to catch sight of one. I think I will have to do some hard core penance in order to see a tiger in the wild in my life time. I am not too subtle with my frustration, am I?
Anyways, we returned to our guest house and had a pleasant night’s stay. The dinner was home-made and delicious. And then, it started raining in the middle of the night.
“There goes our morning safari,” the husband muttered sleepily.
The morning indeed proved to be a spoilsport. A thick, impenetrable fog laid itself over BR Hills, cancelling our plans for the morning jeep safari. The owner of the guest house saw us dejected and suggested that we should visit the Ranganathaswamy temple instead. It turned out to be an excellent idea.
The mist and a light drizzle accompanied us as we climbed up the steps to the temple. The temple was an old one but had been painted a gaudy yellow, perhaps in a bid to restore it. We paid our respects to the deity and made our way down the hill’s cliff where the temple was located. A breathtaking panorama awaited us by the cliff-side, making it known to us why it was called the ‘white cliff’. It seemed a perfect rendition of heaven on earth, if any such place existed. We stood on the walled boundary and silently absorbed the magnificence of nature.
Later, as we bade adieu to BR Hills after a sumptuous breakfast at the guest house, we knew in our hearts that we would be back. The hills and the forests of BRT Wildlife Sanctuary had taken such a hold on us that we just could not stay away for too long. We had to come back to BR Hills. And we did.
Coming soon: A trip to BR Hills & K Gudi Widerness Camp – the spring/summer edition.