Visiting Dandeli

A birder’s paradise.
By Brinda Ganesan
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. My mind started making wild guesses – a civet, crocodile, some nocturnal bird or Malabar flying squirrel. I was in Kali adventure camp of Jungle lodges and resorts, next to the Kali River in Dandeli and such moments were warranted.

Darter bird Kali River Dandeli
Darter bird Kali River Dandeli

Even arriving at the camp, covering a tiring journey of hours through the forests, from Yellapur, had its own picks – deer and a pair of civets had been a tick and some unrecognisable 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 the 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.

 A splendid place

The next morning 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 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 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 peckers proved too nimble for me. As I looked around to catch this beautiful panorama, adroitly painted, my ears picking 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 miliseconds to give a fleeting glance.

White breasted kingfisher

I was told by Vinayak that the presence of hornbills indicate a 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 the Kali River, I saw the Malabar Pied Hornbills, fly from one end to the other, their loud thud, silencing all other sounds of the jungle. Seeing hornbills ambling by the river, rummaging 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 mouths 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 molluscs, storks, ibis in sharing the same space – it was a pure wondrous magic!

Crested Nightingale Dandeli
Crested Nightingale Dandeli

The evening plan to Ganeshgudi further pepped the birder in me. Ganeshgudi is a famous spot for birders. As we crossed the Kali River dam and took a turn to get into Ganeshgudi, a couple of Malabar parakeets made loud noises. The grey metallic road, looking alien in the green territory, snaked through the woods before culminating in a muddy, rusty patch leading us to Ganeshgudi. The Jungle lodge 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 these were action packed hours spent there.

Birds say hello

There isn’t a need to wander about, birds drop in to say ‘hello’ to onlookers here. Jungle lodges have water pots on the other side, which attract birds for some play. The list is crocodile still long – from the lovely blue-tailed green bee-eater, munias, fulvettas, blue robin, magpie robin, yellow browed bulbuls to white throated blue flycatcher, blythes starling, jungle babbler, 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.

Little cormorant Kali river
Little cormorant Kali river

We headed back to the Kali resort as evening set in with the sky exploding into different colours, turning into painter’s canvas. 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 the 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 travellers was waiting for us. I was eager to hear from the group, which had gone for a wildlife safari in Kali Tiger Reserve.

Fast facts:

The nearest major railway station is Hubbali (some 65 kms) and nearest airport is Goa airport (some 110 kms).

Kali adventure camp by Jungle Lodges resorts is all about organic rush for untamed terrains – gorges, wild rivers, deep, dense jungles, frothing wild waters and tranquil evenings. Situated on the banks of Kali River, this JLR property inspires you to form a connection with raw nature. The camp is a perfect spot for white water rafting on Kali River. Other activities include kayaking, coracle ride, bird watching, nature walk, wild safari, sightseeing, activities etc. Tariff ranges from INR 4,000 to 5,500 for twin sharing.

Old Magazine House is a favourite among birders, a place to be, to catch one’s breath and evade the urbane madness to be among the winged denizens. Apart from birding, trekking, rafting and kayaking are on the to-do list here. Being on one solitary detour from the main road, deep in a jungle, Old Magazine House lends you the ‘never had before’ experience. Tariff is nominal at INR 2,120 (inclusive of the package).