The day started with a flat tyre. Then I took the wrong road from Chikmagalur to Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary – drove 20 kms (13 miles) before coming all the way back.
A kindly cop gave me the correct directions the second time around – and also suggested I get some lunch packed from ‘Town Canteen.’ Thank you Sir, but I should survive till I reached Bhadra.
Checked into River Tern Lodge, a wonderful property – surprisingly since it is run by the Karnataka Government owned enterprise, Jungle Lodges and Resorts Ltd. More on this later.
After spending an afternoon in my balcony overlooking the Bhadra reservoir, I was off for the safari as the only passenger giving me space to move around in the jeep and have the attention of the guides all to myself.
The weather continued to be perfect from a perfect weather point of view – cool, overcast with clouds and the sun playing hide and seek, teasing me with possibilities of showers. Of course, rains would have ruined my safari but I was not worrying till it actually rained. A light drizzle early on in the safari was all that happened.
Clouds may have been bad news for photography but it did not matter – the thick deciduous forests with teak and other trees do not allow for much of sunlight to filter through anyway.
One of the first things I noticed were mounds of salt by the sides of the tracks we were driving on – these are left for animals by forest officials who consume these to make up for any deficiencies in their system.
The sanctuary has been included under Project Tiger, a Government initiative launched a few decades back to arrest the decline of tiger population and to conserve this endangered species. It is not easy to spot a tiger though here – I would not be lucky. Other guests at River Tern had been only two days back.
But I did spot many other species. I have noticed if you are not fixated on stars like tigers, other inhabitants of the forests are a delight to observe too. Including the commonly found Spotted Deer – you see them all over India very easily, but somehow I always love looking at these animals again and again. Especially their big eyes.
The Barking Deer is one animal less seen and more heard – he literally makes a sound like a dog barking, only it pierces the quiet jungles especially when warning others about a big cat around. They scamper away at the slightest sight of humans, but I was finally lucky to find some who stayed still while I clicked.
Also had ample sightings of the Sambar Deer, one of the largest in the deer family.
I was hoping to see herds of elephants and after a while I did – only, I could not sight all of them very well because of the thick forest. According to the guide, I could have seen all them around a water hole if only we had reached a few minutes sooner. Who is to blame for this?
Bird sightings included the Jungle Fowl, a Crested Serpent Eagle in the twilight zone, Black Drongo, Black-Headed Ibis, a Woodpecker (guide said it was a Golden Woodpecker – but this variety is not listed as found in Karnataka), Peacocks, Green Bee-Eaters, Kingfishers, White-Breasted Waterhen, Hornbill (guide said it was Malabar Hornbill – was it Malabar Grey Hornbill or Malabar Pied Hornbill? Could not get a picture to be sure later.) besides others.
I had seen a Red Squirrel in Agumbe but could not click it but managed to sight one very well here. Only it was high up on the trees, pushing my zoom lens to its limit and requiring me to do neck exercises after an extended period looking skywards.
Saw some Wild Boars scurrying away as always – and some Langoor monkeys too playing the fool as mentioned in their job profile.
We took a break at a clearing where forest officials have made dwellings and administrative buildings. Mobile signals were faintly working here – a forest guard borrowed my phone to make a call but could not get through. Did he have an emergency call to make or is he in the habit of borrowing guest phones just to call home?
Only guests at River Tern can go for a safari in this sanctuary – and I noticed this in many reserves in Karnataka. You have to be a guest of Jungle Lodges, or a few other hotels. Otherwise you can either not go at all, or will have to take those 20-seater canters full of hysterical tourists and kids. Works out expensive at times and, if these hotels are full, you cannot go in at all. This may keep the traffic low in the forests, but looks a bit discriminatory.
And Jungle Lodges should seriously consider doing away with their Mahindra and Mahindra jeeps – they are very uncomfortable. And invest in the Gypsy made by Maruti Suzuki.
It would also help if guides could speak languages other than Kannada – I did have a problem communicating with their sparse knowledge of Hindi and English.
Overall, the safari was great and the guides quite cooperative. Would like to go back someday.
Ajay Jain is currently on the Great Arabian Sea Drive, starting from Delhi and following the coastline all the way from Gujarat down to Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Follow all updates on:
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