Wednesday, July 4, 2012

BRT Hills Tiger Reserve – ‘Gaur’ se dekho



The tiger roared. We could hear the ‘aaaoongh’ loud and clear, which means he was reasonably close, but it being pitch dark, we had no idea where he really was. And this was a walk back to the log hut post dinner. Never a dull moment at BRT Hills!

The next morning, we estimated that he must have been about half a kilometer from our rooms, in a valley directly in front of us. Without any fencing to keep us out of the animals’ hair, he could have been walking with us in a couple of minutes had he so chosen.

That was the closest we came to seeing a big cat at BRT Hills. Its legendary leopards were otherwise occupied and the tiger was a hearing and not sighting (thrilling all the same though). But that was more than made up by the elephants, barking deer but specifically by gaur. I have never had better sightings of these muscular giants of the Indian jungles. Add to that a spot-bellied eagle owl, changeable hawk eagle (my favourite bird) and night-jar and it was overall a super trip.


Changeable Hawk Eagle


The BRT Hills Tiger reserve (recently upgraded from a Wildlife Sanctuary) is around 90 kms South East of Mysore and is named after the ancient Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple located on a hill within the forest. We drove there from Coimbatore, a pleasant 4 hour drive through the Satyamangalam forests, famous for being Veerappan’s hideout.


The Jungle Lodges resort, K Gudi camp is set well inside the forest, with a sequence of log huts and tents which overlook a picturesque valley, the same place where we would hear the tiger roar. Ours was the last room in the sequence and beyond it was only jungle. We were shown a rock less than 50 feet from our room and told that the staff had seen a leopard on that very rock a few days ago. Over the 3 days, we saw several spotted deer and wild boar walk around our hotel rooms, heard the odd elephant trumpet but no more.

Mother Elephant charging
Our first safari yielded an elephant charge and some great barking deer sightings. We probably startled a female elephant as we rounded a bend and she let her displeasure be known rather vocally. She ran 8-10 steps forward and then stopped suddenly, still trumpeting angrily. We saw why when the little calf stepped out of the bushes on the other side of the road. We then left the angry mother well alone as we moved further on.


The Gaur who wished to charge
The next day was all Gaur. We must have seen around a hundred of these amazingly muscular cattle; big males, females and calves all grazing peacefully next to the road. Except one big guy who seemed to take a fancy to us (or not!!) and from a distance he started towards us, head lowered and horns pointed. But he either ran out of steam or didn’t really feel like it; whatever it was, he stopped about 30 feet from us and shuffled off into the bush. And stared at us as we passed. And it wasn’t a friendly stare, I can tell you!

We then proceeded to visit the ancient temple of Lord Biligiri Rangan, after whom the reserve is named, on a hill deep in the forest. It is a beautiful temple, with amazing views of the forest around and we spent a lovely two hours. Not in solitude though, there were a fair number of tourists even on a weekday afternoon.

Our last morning yielded some great gaur sightings again, in superb light this time. A whole herd at the side of the road, feeding in peaceful co-existence with our jeep. And the icing on the cake was a nightjar, in a little hollow next to the road. At first glance it looked like a thick grey twig, and we needed to look a lot closer to make sure that it indeed was a nightjar.

Nightjar
Jungle Fowl
Hill Mynah
Flame-backed woodpecker
Barking Deer
As we headed out of BRT Hills, the thing that will remain with me forever is the roar of that tiger and knowing that there were no walls or fences between him and us. He kept his distance, respecting our space and it’s about time that we as a race start respecting his. For Pantera Tigris to survive, there is but one simple (if simplistic) solution – leave them alone.

BRT Hills Trip Guide

Getting there
Chamarajanagar (36 kms) is the nearest town but Mysore (90 kms) is the best head, with excellent rail and road connectivity with Bangalore (140 kms). It’s best to hire your car and driver at Bangalore or Mysore.

Stay, food and service
The Jungle Lodges’ (www.junglelodges.com) K Gudi camp is the only stay option in BRT Hills. And it is a fantastic option. It’s right in the middle of the forest with nothing between you and the wildlife. The food and staff are excellent, in keeping with Jungle Lodges’ high standards.

Safaris and Guides
Jungle Lodges operate all safaris and the cost is built into your daily package, so it’s all taken care of.

People to Meet
‘Garland’ Gangaswamy – the manager of K Gudi camp. Great person and definitely someone you should seek out and spend some time with. Because, unlike most ‘resort managers’ he started off as a naturalist, so his knowledge of the Southern Jungles is second to none. Definitely ask him why he got his nickname ‘Garland’. It’s an interesting tale all right, though it doesn’t paint our political leaders in good light.