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Dandeli A birder's paradise

Dandeli nestles an array of exotic birds that are a delight for nature enthusiasts. The beckoning sounds of the wilderness provide a soft respite from the cacaphony of everyday.

It was pitch dark and I had come out into the open and followed the eerie glow of the lights from the other side of 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. My mind started making wild guesses – a civet, crocodile, some nocturnal bird or a Malabar flying squirrel. I was in the Kali adventure camp run by the Jungle Lodges and Resorts, next to the Kali River in Dandeli, and such uncanny moments were only to be expected.
Even arriving at the camp, after a tiring journey of many hours through the forests from Yellapur, had its own high points – deer and a pair of civets had been clicked and some unrecognisable jungle sounds had been captured. Though located in Dandeli town, which hosts the largest paper mill in Karnataka, wildlife is never too far from this resort and the first warning was, 'There are crocodiles in the river'. Oh no!
Our safari started with a coracle ride in the river, quite a novel way of wildlife spotting. As you may have understood, it was difficult holding me back. Being allowed as an explorer to enjoy the sounds of the jungle, unfettered in the gathering of the night, was both soothing and inspiring.
The next morning we set off for our bird watching session near the Dandeli Timber depot. A quaint little spot, it was 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 the Common Indian and Malabar Hornbills differ in the shape of their beaks. Vinayak identified birds just by listening to their calls. And I was soon caught up in the bird play as I lurked surreptitiously, trying to avoid making any noise, chasing the Golden-Breasted Woodpecker for a nice shot. The Hornbills proved better models and the plum faced parakeets were as playful as expected. Woodpeckers proved too nimble for me. As I looked around, gazing at this beautiful panorama, superbly painted, my ears picked up a familiar, twittering sound. I knew it, us 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, only ears and bushy tail visible, turning for a millisecond to give me a fleeting glance. I was told by Vinayak that considering hornbills are so huge and choosy eaters, they need a lot of food, which is only possible in healthy forests like Dandeli. The next morning, on another coracle ride in River Kali, I saw the Malabar Pied Hornbills fly from one end to the other, their loud thuds silencing all other sounds in the jungle. Seeing hornbills ambling by the river, rummaging for fruits, flying from one side to the other, is a memory you treasure forever. The crocodiles gaping at you, with their mouths wide open, no movement other than the lazy blink of an eye, uncaring of your presence and then the graceful Brahmani Kite, hovering over you, in the company of wily cormorants drying their wings, the egrets busy rummaging for mollusks, and storks and ibis sharing the same space – it was all pure, wondrous magic!
The evening expedition to Ganeshgudi further pepped up the birder in me. Ganeshgudi is a famous spot for birders. As we crossed the Kali River dam and took a turn into Ganeshgudi, a couple of Malabar parakeets made loud chattering noises. The grey metallic road snaked through the green woods before culminating in a muddy, rusty patch in Ganeshgudi. Jungle Lodges has a dormitory here, a boundary is set for birders, and enthusiasts can be seen ready with their telescope sized lens and smaller zoom lens and binoculars. This spot, they say, is a birders' paradise, with the species spot count going as high as 70 a day. I wasn't that lucky in terms of numbers but surely many action packed hours were spent here. There isn't a need to wander about, as the birds drop in to say 'hello' to onlookers here. Jungle Lodges has water pots on its boundary, which attracts birds for some water play. The list is very long - from lovely blue tailed green bee-eaters, munias, fulvettas, blue Robin, magpie Robin, yellow browed bulbuls, white throated blue flycatcher, blythes starling, jungle babblers, and racket tailed droncos, to many others I don't remember or was too engaged to take notes on. Also, expect some great stories from the friendly staff over tea and biscuits and do catch up with other birding enthusiasts to share your experiences.
We headed back to the Kali resort as the evening set in, with the sky exploding into different colours, turning into a painter's masterpiece. I heard the birds twitter goodbye as we drove past the dark forests, now wearing a ghostly look. From a distance, the warning calls of Chital congregated, probably emanating from a water body from a deep corner in the forest, as perhaps they had spotted a tiger or black leopard. There's a sheer feeling of serendipity in the wild, you grasp the enormity of the forest as you hear the distant call of elephants.
If you can, do join a group on an elephant safari in Kali Tiger Reserve and you may be stunned to spot a Bengal tiger on your first visit! The reserve also houses black panthers, sloth bear, Leopard Cat, Indian Bison, and much more. Black-crested bulbul, crested serpent eagle, Malabar pied hornbill, Brahminy kite, can be seen on the Bird Trail. Do visit Syntheri Rocks near Kulgi Nature Camp or you can trek 20 kms to the lovely Dudhsagar falls.
Fast Facts:
The nearest major railway station is Hubli (some 65 kms) and nearest airport is Goa Airport (some 110 kms).
Kali adventure camp run by Jungle Lodges Resorts is all about untamed terrain – gorges, wild rivers, deep, dense jungles, frothing wild waters and tranquil evenings. On the banks of River Kali, it is a perfect spot for white water rafting. Other activities include Kayaking, Coracle Rides, Birdwatching, Nature Walks, Wild Safari, temple visit, etc. Old Magazine House is a favourite among birders, a place to escape the urban madness. Birding, trekking, rafting and kayaking are on the to-do list here. On a solitary detour from the main road, it is deep in a jungle. The nature camp at Kulgi has accommodation in tents for those who visit Kali Tiger Reserve. Local vegetarian fare is served.
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