It was pitch dark and I had come out in the open and followed the eerie glow of the lights from the other side of the River Kali, to get to the river. The water gleamed under the spell of the full moon. There was a sound of rustling leaves as if something was lurking behind the trees in the dark, a startling heart-stopping sound and then queer silence. My mind started making wild guesses – a civet, crocodile, some nocturnal bird or Malabar flying squirrel. Such moments are ephemeral and the transience of these moments makes them worth packing with you, a token of nostalgia that is destined to grow more memorable with repetition. I was in Kali adventure camp of Jungle lodges and resorts, next to Kali River in Dandeli and such moments were warranted.
Even arriving to the camp, covering a tiring journey of hours through the forests, from Yellapur, has had its own picks – deers and a pair of civets had been a tick and some unrecognizable jungle sound had been captured. Though located in the Dandeli town, which hosts the largest paper mill in Karnataka, wildlife is never too far from this resort and my first intimation has been ‘There are crocodiles in the river’. Ah! So safari starts with coracle rides, quite a humble way for wildlife spotting. You must have understood, it was difficult holding me. And being allowed as an invader to enjoy the sounds of the jungle in the gathering of the night was both soothing and inspiring.
The next day I woke up early to the sound of a whistle, a similar sound which had woken me in Sharavathi camp in Jog falls. I knew the sound; it was a Malabar whistling thrush. The day was on and we set off for our bird watching session near the Dandeli Timber depot. A little quaint to know, but a splendid place to spot some rare and beautiful birds, including three species of Hornbill – Malabar greater Hornbill, Indian Grey Hornbill and Malabar Grey Hornbill. My guide Vinayak told me that Common Indian and Malabar Hornbills differ in the shape of their beaks. Vinayak identified birds just by listening to their calls, I wasn’t bad too and proved my mettle as a fast learning birder by finding coppersmith barbets and the grey fronted green pigeon (both endemic to Western Ghats). And I was soon caught in the play as I lurked around mysteriously, trying to avoid noise, chasing the Golden breasted wood-pecker for one nice shot. The Hornbills proved better hosts and the plum faced parakeets, as playful as expected. Wood-pecker proved too nimble for me. The early morning sunshine was painting the forest in its golden light, piercing through vines and high canopy, it created magical panoply. As I looked around to catch this beautiful panorama, adroitly painted, my ears picked a familiar, teetering sound. I knew it, having met years ago; it was time for our second meeting. My limbs followed my ears. It was Shekharu – the giant Malabar squirrel, high on the canopy, just the ears and the bushy tail visible, turning for mili-seconds to give a fleeting glance. So familiar and so exhilarating.
I was told by Vinayak that presence of hornbills indicate healthy forests. Considering they are so huge and choosy pickers, they need a lot of food, which is only possible in healthy forests. The next morning, on a coracle ride in River Kali, I saw the Malabar Pied Hornbills, fly from one end to the other, their loud thud, silencing all other sounds of the jungle. That was my Zen moment. Seeing hornbills ambling by the river, rummage the fruits, flying from one side to the other, is a piece of memory you could keep for yourself. The crocodiles gaping at you, with their mouth wide open, no movement other than a lazy blink of an eye, unafraid of your presence and then the graceful Brahmani Kite, hovering over you, in the company of wily cormorants, drying their wings, the egrets busy in rummaging mollusks, storks, ibis sharing the same space – it is pure wondrous magic!
The evening plan to Ganeshgudi further pepped the birder in me. Ganeshgudi is a famous spot among birders. As we crossed the Kali river dam and took a turn to get into Ganeshgudi, a couple of Malabar parakeets made loud noises indicating their presence, which was followed by a slow call of Chloropsis and cries of a group of Jungle babbler. The grey metallic road, looking alien in the green territory, snaked through the woods before culminating into a muddy, rusty patch leading us to Ganeshgudi. Jungle lodges has a dormitory there, a boundary is set for birders and enthusiasts can be seen ready with their telescope sized lens to smaller zoom and binoculars. This spot, they say, is a birders’ paradise, with species spot count going as high as 70 in a single day. I wasn’t that lucky in terms of, number of species spotted, but surely it were action packed hours spent there.
The feel of the place, the greens, the songs of the birds and the feeling of seeing human life so entranced by the magic of nature, occupied my heart. There isn’t a need to wander about, birds drop in to say ‘hello’ to onlookers here. Jungle lodges has water pots on the other side, which attracts birds for some play. The list is still long – from lovely blue tailed green bee-eater, munias, fulvettas, blue Robin, magpie Robin, yellow browed bulbuls, white throated blue flycatcher, blythes starling, jungle babblers, and racket tailed droncos to many I don’t remember and was too engaged to take notes on. And this doesn’t get over with photography, expect some great stories from the friendly staff over tea and biscuits and do catch up with some birding enthusiasts to share knowledge.
We headed back to the Kali resort as evening set, with the sky exploding into different colours, turning a painter’s canvas. The dark, lonely, shrill of the forest gave way to a flurry of activities. I heard the birds twitter as we drove past the dark forests, now wearing an apparition look. From a distance warning calls of Chital congregated, probably emanating from a water body from a deep corner in the forest. There’s a sheer feeling of serendipity in wild, you grasp the enormity of forest as you reach closer to it. With a medley of thoughts, emanating and evaporating in my mind, we drove back our way to the resort. Probably some good chat with other travelers was waiting for us. I was eager to hear from the group, which had gone for wildlife safari in Kali Tiger Reserve. The dense forests and heavy undergrowths don’t offer good sightings in Kali Tiger Reserve, although sightings have improved and sightings of big cats (including the enigmatic black panther) and even the sly Indian wild dog are now not so uncommon.
Well rest that’s part II of my Dandeli trip – till then it’s my way into wilderness.