Talakaveri Wildlife Sanctuary: Mist covered hills, cloud-kissed forests

This story 'Mist covered hills, cloud-kissed forests' was published in the Sunday Herald (Deccan Herald) on Dec. 25, 2005

Rainforests of Talakaveri wildlife sanctuary in Karnataka's Kodagu (Coorg) District along its borders with Kerala in the Western Ghats region

Though the steep western and southern edges of Kodagu district seem eternally inaccessible to the ‘not so adventurous’ due to their remoteness, the very thought of exploring these cloud hugged, densely wooded slopes and valleys always runs a thrill down the spine of nature lovers. I felt no different as the jeep crawled over slippery stones on the dirt track. It was just a matter of days before wandering monsoon clouds would gather strength to lay siege over Talakaveri- origin of the revered Kaveri and its surroundings.

View on googleearth.com of the area being narrated about. Click here for a bigger map.
The valley of clouds
The hill peaks of Talakaveri wildlife sanctuary in Karnataka's Kodagu (Coorg) District along its borders with KeralaA sharp, sudden pre-monsoon outburst over head and all the valley wombs below were filled with clouds. Like cotton wool, they floated from one peak to another, the hill ridges piercing occasionally through them. As we got out of the jeep on one of those ridges, all around us were rainforests, dark and dense, clouds sailing over them. Occasionally, from far below, troops of Nilgiri langur would interrupt the soothing melody of flowing streams with their booming calls. The game road from Talakaveri down the Ghats to Mundroti forest bungalow is a driver’s nightmare. But the forest personnel here are no ordinary souls. They tread fearlessly in these high hills and deep valleys, only like men from the hills would do. And true, many of them were the sturdy Kodavas, born in the shadows of these hills. A couple of hours of slow inching downhill; we were forced to stop below the dark rainforest canopy. We had to try our skills at clearing the path off a small tree, wrestled down by the strong pre-monsoon winds.

The hill forests of Talakaveri wildlife sanctuary in Karnataka's Kodagu (Coorg) District along its borders with Kerala
Flora and fauna
Early in the evening reached the isolated Mundroti forest bungalow. Clothed with pristine rainforests and hugged by clouds, the hilly Kodagu (or Coorg) is among the few districts which still boast of spectacular wilderness. It encompasses three wildlife sanctuaries and the unrivalled Rajiv Gandhi or Nagarahole National Park. The core rainforests of this Western Ghats’ district are spread along its western slopes, roughly in the form of a crescent. In the north are the virgin Kadamakkal and Lingadahole rainforests of Pushpagiri sanctuary, connected by the Sampaje rainforests to the Talakaveri sanctuary in the centre. In the south of this crescent, the Makutta rainforests connect Talakaveri sanctuary to the Brahmagiri sanctuary. The common thing about all these three sanctuaries being the presence of very endemic and rich biological diversity in their rainforests and some of the most breathtaking sceneries in the entire Western Ghats. The
Rainforests of Talakaveri wildlife sanctuary in Karnataka's Kodagu (Coorg) District along its borders with Kerala in the Western Ghats region
forest guards waiting at the rest house informed us that elephants had knocked down the wooden poles supporting the wires that provided the single-phase electricity to this rest house. I could also see evidence of termites and woodpeckers lending their own small support in weakening these logs.

A magical sunset

As the sun went down behind the stream in neighbouring Kerala, it left behind a trail of colours and also unlucky photographers, dismayed by the dense undergrowth preventing them from capturing the beautiful evening. The unusual sounds that emanated from that dark and ‘powerless’ night, typified the man-animal conflict at this edge of Talakaveri sanctuary along the Kerala-Karnataka border. Early next morning, a small distance from the rest house, waves of mist could be seen passionately caressing the valleys. I picked up my field glasses and walked down the forested path on which the forest guards had gone out patrolling at dawn. Moisture rich leaves on the forest floor cushioned my boots as fine rays from early morning sun delicately sprayed through the canopy. Hundreds of fruit bats were returning back to roost on the high branches overhead, after a hard night’s work from somewhere far away. It was among the grandest morning any birder could ever have had. Many of the birds here were endemic to Western Ghats- found nowhere else on earth. From the bright yellow of the yellowbrowed bulbuls to the flourescent orange of scarlet minivets, there was a riot of colour.

Birdie num num!
While some, like small sunbirds, were flitting between flowers without noise, there were others, 

like rackettailed drongos, whose long, jet-black tails accompanied their loud mimicry wherever they flew. There were wood pigeons too, feeding in the rainforest canopy, all inviting me to walk ahead. Morning after morning, season after season, this scene is being repeated some where in these mysterious hills. When will I be there again, my eyes, heart and soul wandering in them, free from the social bonds…? There are ‘developmental’ projects, like river diversions and highways, dictated by ‘people friendly’ politicians and planners waiting to replace those wandering monsoon clouds. The beautiful face of Western Ghats might be scarred forever. Later that day, we drove through the narrow closed canopy forest paths of the sanctuary, helped by the fact that it was summer. For during monsoons, much of these forests are cut off from man-made vehicles, as streams pregnant with swirling waters rule the roost. This hundred and five square kilometre large sanctuary, named after the birthplace of Kaveri, protects the western slopes of Kodagu’s forests, bears the brunt of monsoons and forms an important source of life giving waters to hundreds and thousands of humans and beasts.

A feeling of nostalgia

Driving up the same track, we were back at Talakaveri by dusk. The walk from the scenic Talakaveri forest bungalow early next morning was memorable. The rising sun gave a golden yellow touch to the clouds resting in the valleys. The outline of the Ghats silhouetted against the mist in various shades of amber making it a heady mix. As we turned away from those hills, disappearing in Kodagu’s famed coffee plantations and their winding roads, my belief that this district still has some of earth’s best wilderness areas became more deeply entrenched.
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