A jungle trail
Lesser known but still remarkably verdant, Karnataka’s Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary is an enviable repository of diverse flora and fauna that is as lush as adrenaline pumping
The Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary hosts a wide range of flora and fauna – yet, this biodiversity hotspot remains off the beaten track for most tourists. Having visited Nagarhole and Bandipur on a previous holiday, this year we decided to visit this lesser-known Tiger Reserve of Karnataka.
From Mangalore Airport, the drive to Agumbe goes past Karkala, which is known for its rich Jain heritage, especially the single stone 41.5 feet high statue of Gommateshwara or Lord Bahubali. We took a halt for filter coffee at Srisathyanarayana in Sitanadi. This shop-cum-eatery is a good place to buy local products like jack fruit chips and pickles. Sitanadi, also spelt Seethanadhi, gets its name from the Seetha river, which flows primarily in Udupi district, passing through the Agumbe forests and flows near Hebri, Barkur and joins the Suvarna river, before flowing into the Arabian Sea. Boat trips are possible and, during monsoons, when the river rises higher, white water rafting is popular.
Soon after Seethanadi, the road began to ascend the Agumbe Ghat, passing the rich tropical wet evergreen forests of Someshwara Wildlife Sanctuary. We saw troops of bonnet macaque; but the highlight was spotting a pair of lion-tailed macaque, who spend a majority of their life in the upper canopy of tropical moist evergreen forests but seem to have come down to feed on the roadside. We got a view of the waterfalls plunging down the hillside, before coming to the village of Agumbe, about 643 m above sea level. We took a stop for an early lunch at Dodda Mane, a heritage house that is now run as a homestay by Kasturi Akka and her family. We were seated in front of wooden plank tables on a gallery supported by wooden pillars and facing a courtyard, with a banana leaf placed in front of us. The family members came around to fill the leaf with rice, saaru, koshimbar, vegetables cooked in local style, curd and accompaniments. After we had finished, we were told to voluntarily leave as much as we felt the meal was worth on a thali.
After lunch, we drove through Agumbe, which is a well-known centre for rainforest research – many botanists come here to study flora and medicinal plants, while herpetologists arrive in search of the king cobra and other reptiles. Though there are many viewpoints in Agumbe overlooking valleys and waterfalls, we decided to give them a miss and continued downhill towards Tirthahalli, crossing the Tunga river. From Tirthahalli, we drove through the agricultural countryside to Lakavalli, from where we could enjoy a view of the Bhadra Dam, located on the Bhadra River (a tributary of Tungabhadra River). The Bhadra Reservoir, created by the dam, is along the northern boundary of the Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary. The reservoir has a number of islands – in the spring and summer seasons, these islands become a haven for nesting birds, especially river terns. We checked in at the River Tern Lodge and selected a cottage on an island reached by a suspension bridge. The bedroom was spacious with a superb view of the water body from its window.
We were just in time for a late-afternoon jeep safari. A few minutes from the lodge, we entered the gate of Bhadra Tiger Reserve and drove through deciduous forests and grasses. Herds of spotted deer were grazing in the meadows, with langurs on treetops and peacocks or peahen nearby – a symbiotic relationship where each warns the other about the presence of predators. Our lady guide and our driver showed their spotting skills well by pointing a monitor lizard on the branch of a tree and a ruddy mongoose in the undergrowth. A few minutes later, the guide spotted a sloth bear – as we followed her directions, we saw that it was a mother bear with two cubs. As we drove onwards, we saw gaurs, better known as the Indian bison, and a majestic sambar stag. We also saw a jungle fowl, crested serpent eagle, hornbill, drongos and other birds. As evening approached, we started heading back – suddenly, the guide asked the driver to stop, she had spotted a leopard. As we scanned the trees through our binoculars, we saw two of them perched on different branches.
We reported our exciting drive at the reception and settled for dinner with a spread of delectable chicken, fish and vegetables cooked in local style.
The next morning, we rose early for the boat safari. The motorised boat covers much of the reservoir, whose backwaters lap the foot of the forested hills. From the boat, we could watch herds of spotted deer grazing the luxuriant growth of grasses along the waterfront. We saw the Indian darter, which has a long and slender neck (because of which it is also called snake bird) with a pointed bill, cormorants, grebe and storks, and even an osprey – a fish-eating bird of prey with a glossy brown body, white breast and greyish head. The boatman too had good spotting skills – he showed us an elephant among the wet deciduous forests covering the slope of a hill. The dreaded Indian wild dog, called dhole, comes to drink along the backwaters, and on the previous day, a tiger had been sighted during the boat safari.
We got back to the lodge where a steaming breakfast was awaiting us.