Bisle/ Gundia: When it pours in the rainforest...

This story is based on a real adventure in June 1997 on a trek to Bisle hanging bridge and nature camp built over Addahole stream (tributary of Kumaradhara/ Netravathi river) in Bisle Reserve Forest (Yesalur Range, Hassan District, Karnataka). This is located deep inside the evergreen forests of Western Ghats. 

(An edited version of this article 'When it pours in the rainforest...' , was published in Bangalore Times, The Times of India, on 21 July 2001)

Bisle hanging bridge over Addahole stream
(Pic from Jun 1997).
What began as a small drizzle turned into a torrential downpour within minutes. The bio mass rich ground sunk in a few inches, on being stepped upon every time. From the high canopy to the leaves on the under storey through which we were trekking, there was water pouring down everywhere. To reach back to our four-wheeler, we had to cross a swollen tributary of the virgin Kumaradhara over a narrow hanging bridge and climb the steep slopes of this deep valley. The sound of the roaring river to our north was ideal enough for us to navigate over the bridge, back to the road. But the monsoons poured cold water on our idea…

Now, there was sound of water everywhere. The tall rainforest clothed river banks were attracting the clouds like powerful magnets, which in turn were emptying every drop of water they had, into the valleys below. All these converted the subtle meandering waters into a river in rage. Rising like tall towers, each tree seemed to be the same, their canopy devouring in every ray of the hiding sun. With rainwater all over the ground, we had no identifiable landmarks or surrounding features to help us find the way back. This was enough to get us lost. Even though we were hardly about a hundred meters from where we started, it seemed we were miles inside this unknown rainforest. My little sister and myself were isolated from the four others of our trekking party. While leeches turned our feet red with blood, the rest of our bodies were soaked in water. My sister could hardly hide her fear on this first ever trek of hers. And it was difficult to make out whether it was the tears or the raindrops that drenched her eyes. For her, this was nature at its brutal best. As we stopped in our tracks pondering on the next move, a feeble voice from behind pierced through the rain. A senior member of Wildlife Aware Nature Club, which comprised of the trekking party, saved us from the uncertain moments that lay ahead.

Click here for a larger map
Click here for a larger map
Walking back towards the bridge again, the view from over it was a sight to behold. The raw power of thundering down stream the mighty Western Ghats. Just as we crossed the bridge and started to ascend the riverbank, the rainfall ceased abruptly. For some time again, the sun regained an upper hand in its war with the clouds, as it radiated its brightness all over the place. The mist over the river cleared and the sun rays kissed the waters, turning them into milky white. Suddenly a huge butterfly rose amidst the mighty trees. The golden of its wings would have turned the brightest gem in a jeweller’s shop pale. It was southern birdwing, twenty centimetres from one tip to the other, the largest butterfly in India! Unable to suppress its joy for long, a whistling thrush broke into its melodious whistle. Moving up into the forest, a Malabar trogon, the fluorescent orange on its chest dimmed by the rainforest canopy, was still to come in terms with the ceased rain. A giant wood spider was attempting to reconstruct its 25 feet wide web in between two towering trees. The previous one devastated by the spell of monsoon fury, minutes before. Before we touched the road, we could see tens of other creatures around us; small frogs, strange insects, giant spiders, snails and many others that we were unable to recognize. We were in the shadow of the towering Pushpagiri mountain ranges. In a remote corner of Western Ghats, the name of the place was Bisle, located in Sakaleshpur taluk of southwest India’s Hassan district.
Bisle hanging bridge over Addahole stream (Jun 1997).
A view of Addahole stream in the monsoons (Jun 1997).
Rainforests in the Indian subcontinent are seen in the Northeast and the Western Ghats. Western Ghats or Sahyadris as they are also known are a 1600 km long mountain chain, which start in the state of Gujarat and end near Kanyakumari, the southern tip of Peninsular India. These mighty ghats are home to some of the finest forests in India. Karnataka has a large chunk of these forests and Bisle occupies a pride in this priceless natural heritage.

About Bisle:
A massive evergreen in Bisle Reserve Forest, March 2001.
Spread over an area of 3135 hectares, Bisle reserve forests in Bisle range consist of lowland evergreen forests. They are located in Sakleshpur taluk, famous for its coffee and forests, in the southwestern corner of Hassan district. Bisle on all sides is surrounded by dense rainforests. To the north and east are the Sakleshpur and Yesaluru range forests of Hassan division and to the west Bhagimale reserve forests of Subramanya range (Mangalore division) are contiguous with it. To the south, the spectacular forests of Pushpagiri Wildlife Sanctuary, Kodagu (Coorg) district merge with it. Together these forests are among the largest stretches of contiguous rainforests throughout the Western Ghats, spreading over two hundred thousand hectares. Being lowland rainforests, the diversity in the wildlife here is immense. Among the carnivores present here are the wild dog, leopard and tiger, apart from the lesser cats. The carnivores feed on many of the herbivores found here like gaur, sambar and barking deer. But the place is rich in smaller wildlife like flying squirrels, giant spiders, colourful butterflies, flying lizards, and of course tons of leeches. These forests are the proud home of the king of all snakes: king cobra, the largest poisonous snake on earth. But much of the wildlife of these unexplored forests is yet to be documented.

The Pushpagiri massif seen from the Bisle-Subramanya road (Bisle Ghat road) in Jun 1997.
What to do: Bisle is among the best terrains in Karnataka to trek. Apart from trekking the area offers excellent opportunities for watching birds and amphibians.

Where to stay: The forest department has a well-maintained nature camp including dormitory facilities at Bisle on the banks of Addahole stream. For those into camping, tents can be pitched inside the forest.

Approach: The Bisle nature camp is about 60 km from Sakleshpur on a metalled road via the villages of Lakshmipura and Vatla. The easy way round is to drive to Kukke Subramanya via Shiradi on the Mangalore – Bangalore national highway and then trek or drive 14 km to reach Bisle.

A note of caution:
a) Entering a reserve forest in Karnataka is a punishable offence under Section 24 of Karnataka Forest Act. Please take prior written permission from the forest department before entering Bisle or any other reserve forest.
b) Extreme caution has to be exercised while venturing here during monsoons. Leeches and pouring rains can make camping a futile exercise in heavy rains. There have been instances in the recent past when adventurers have been swept away by the turbulent streams.
c) Also during summer, trekkers need lots of water and salt to beat the energy sapping heat and humidity.
d) Never enter the forest without a guide, preferably from the forest department.
e) Also check with the forest department officials about the outbreak of the deadly Kyasnoor forest disease or Monkey fever, during late winter and summer.

Permission to enter the forest has to be taken from either of the following:
1) Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF)
Karnataka Forest Department,
Aranya Bhavan,
Malleswaram 18th Cross,
Bangalore 5600 03

2) Deputy Conservator of Forests (DCF)
Hassan territorial division,
Office of the DCF,
Hassan 5732 01

3) Assistant Conservator of Forests (ACF)
Sakleshpur territorial sub-division,
Sakleshpur town 5731 34
Hassan District

4) Range Forest Officer (RFO)
Yeslur Range
Yeslur Village
Sakleshpur Taluk
Hassan District
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