MM Hills to BR Hills via Dhimbam Ghat and K.Gudi - Travel through less traversed jungles and country-side (Part 2 of 3)

Captive elephant at K.Gudi, BRT tiger reserve, Karnataka
A mahout riding a captive elephant at K.Gudi
The drive on day 2
View Road trip Bangalore - MM Hills - Hasanur Ghat - BR Hills - Bangalore on google maps
We were glad to have left MM Hills early in the day as we could see hundreds of vehicles pouring into the village to take part in the jathra at its temple. Getting down the numerous hairpin bends we crossed the narrow road in Kowdhalli village after which the road again passes through Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary for a couple of kilometres. As one approaches Hanur village the hill ridges that mark the northern limits of Biligiri Ranganathaswamy Temple (BRT) tiger reserve become prominent. 

Ant near MM Hills, Karnataka
The MM Hills region is rich in wildlife, from lesser creatures like this ant to the jumbo Asian elephant
At Hanur village, the fresh fruits and vegetables in the bustling bazaar made us take a small break to buy a few of them. Just after the Police Station in the village we took a deviation south (turned left) towards the small Hubbe Hunse dam. For about 10 kilometres the single road travels amidst agricultural fields and joins the Kollegal - Hasanur Ghat road just before Lokkanahalli village, from where the boundary of BRT tiger reserve is just a stone's throw distance. The Kollegal - Hasanur Ghat road lies parallel to the 539 sq km BRT tiger reserve and driving south along this road one can see the entire length of the eastern slopes of the hill forests of this tiger reserve.

Forested hill slopes of BRT tiger reserve between Lokkanahalli and Bailur villages on the Kollegal - Hasanur ghat road.
Forested hill slopes of BRT tiger reserve between Lokkanahalli and Bailur villages on the Kollegal - Hasanur ghat road. 
We continued our drive along this picturesque road and were pleasantly surprised to discover a Buddhist monastery, Dhondenling near the wilderness. This settlement of Tibetian refugees is apparently spread over 3,000 acres and has a population of over 5,000. 

The Buddhist monastery of Dhondeling at the foot of the hills that form BRT tiger reserve, Karnataka
The Buddhist monastery of Dhondeling is at the foot of the hills that form BRT tiger reserve
Crossing Bailur and Germalam village limits took us to the forests of Sathyamangalam tiger reserve of Tamil Nadu. Sathyamangalam is the largest terrestrial protected area in Tamil Nadu. First notified for an area of 524 sq km, an additional 887 sq. km  of surrounding forest was added to it in August 2011 making it over 1400 square kilometres big. The formation of the sanctuary has helped these forests get the much needed funds from the central government to conserve them. The sanctuary was proposed to be upgraded to a tiger reserve in the 12th Five Year Plan of Tamil Nadu State. According to reports in national media it was accordingly notified 2013. This sanctuary forms a critical connection between the tiger forests of Mudumalai, Bandipur and BRT tiger reserve. It is also contiguous with the terrestrial forest division of Kollegal which further connects to the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuaries of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. A recent study by World Wide Fund for Nature - India and the Tamil Nadu forest department found over 25 tigers roaming these hill forests fearlessly. 
Germalam village, Kollegal - Hasanur Ghat road near BRT tiger reserve in Karnataka.
A view from Germalam village along Kollegal - Hasanur Ghat road. The forested hills towards the left (north) are of Kollegal Division (Karnataka); the region to the right (south) I believe is Satyamangalam tiger reserve (Tamil Nadu). Behind me as I took this picture lay BRT tiger reserve (Karnataka). 
Along the road, the habitat was a mix of private plantations and forests. This must surely be a good track to spot wildlife early in the morning or late in the evenings. We were not disappointed as we were lucky to sight a stripe necked mongoose looking for food on the main road right ahead of us. 

Wildlife like this mongoose can be seen in Satyamangalam tiger reserve, Erode District, Tamil Nadu
A mongoose greeted us as we crossed over to Tamil Nadu and entered Satyamangalam tiger reserve
Driving down the densely forested slopes of the Hasanur Ghat towards south, we touched National Highway 209, a few kilometres before Dhimbam village in Tamil Nadu. This area falls under Talamalai Reserve Forest, a part of Satyamanagalam tiger reserve. It consisted of many bamboo trees, a favourite of the Asian elephants, which are found here in good numbers. 

The forested valley of Hasanur Ghat on the way down to NH 209 and Dimbam village from Bailur along Kollegal - Hasanur Road
The forested valley on the way down to NH 209 and Dimbam village
We took a sharp right turn (north) on this highway and headed to Punajur village entering BRT tiger reserve as we crossed back to Karnataka. There were tens of troops of bonnet macacques sitting besides the highway. It looked as if the monkeys were expecting food from passing tourists. The NH 209 is a well constructed road and with vehicles zipping at high speeds in the forest I am sure there are bound to be quite a few casualties of wild animals each day, unfortunately. 

A view of the forested south-western slopes of BRT tiger reserve, Punajur wildlife range near Chamarajanagar town in southern Karnataka
A view of the forested south-western slopes of BRT tiger reserve, Punajur wildlife range
Beyond Punajur village the landscape is enriched by the beautiful waters of Suvarnavathy reservoir which are fed by crystal clear streams flowing down the slopes of BRT tiger reserve. Beyond this dam, we left the boundaries of the tiger reserve driving ahead into Chamarajanagar town where we took the road to K.Gudi (short form of Kyatarayana Gudi) which lies in the heart of BRT tiger reserve.

Crossing agricultural land and sugarcane fields one gets to the see the western slopes of the BRT tiger reserve heading towards K.Gudi. Today being a bright sunny day, it was a sight to behold. We touched Hondarbalu forest checkpost, the main entrance to K.Gudi from Chamarajanagara town. At Hondarbalu, Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya, a residential Government school, is located right next to the jungle. With hardly any humans and vehicle traffic around except for the weekends and long holidays, I am sure the kids have all the space needed to focus on their studies. 

Backdrop of the western forested slopes of BRT tiger reserve on the drive from Chamarajanagar town to K.Gudi in BRT tiger reserve, Karnataka
A backdrop of the western forested slopes of BRT tiger reserve on the drive from Chamarajanagar town to K.Gudi
Each time I pass by Hondarbalu forest check post I recall my visit to these forests in December 2000, thanks to Mr.K.M.Narayanaswamy, then DCF - Wildlife, Chamarajanagar Wildlife Division. During that trip Veerappan was alive and roamed around these forests. Not many wildlife lovers dared visit the place then. During a drive through the forests we had interacted with a group of jawans of the Special Task Force (STF) stationed at Budipadaga forest rest house involved in combing operations to nab Veerappan. They spoke of their woes - being away from families, unable to take bath for days and their sweaty clothes causing skin rashes, their feet sore due to miles of walking each day on uncomfortable shoes and in unfamiliar terrain and wild animals roaming around them as they rested at nights. One visibly disturbed jawan said a tiger nearby begun to growl just as they retired into their beds outside the rest house the previous night.

Hondarbalu checkpost is the chief entrance to BRT tiger reserve between Chamarajanagar town and K.Gudi near Chamarajanagar town
Hondarbalu checkpost is the chief entrance to BRT tiger reserve between Chamarajanagar town and K.Gudi

Lush vegetation between Hondarbalu check post and K Gudi inside BRT tiger reserve in Karnataka
Lush vegetation welcomes the visitors as they drive towards K Gudi from Hondarbalu check post
Although K.Gudi is just about 10 km from Hondarbalu checkpost, nature lovers take a long time to cover this distance, thanks to the lush vegetation and the chances of sighting wildlife. The Hondarbalu check post lies at the foothills and ascent to the BR Hills begins a couple of kilometres from there. As one begins to drive up the hills the short 20 - 30 feet trees give way to taller trees of thicker girth, the canopy overhead closes in and the light reaching the ground decreases drastically. The road runs along a ridge, towards the end of which one gets to see picturesque views of the plains below with River Kaveri flowing a little before the horizon. And a little distance as one drives away from the ridge, the forest department complex at K.Gudi appears out of nowhere.

Forested hills near K.Gudi, BRT tiger reserve, Karnataka
The forested hills near K.Gudi as seen from the road that is on the ridge leading to the place

Mist covered hill valleys of BR hills, BRT tiger reserve, Karnataka
The mist covered hill valleys of BR hills. Biligiri in Kannada means white hill. The name is derived from the mist that covers these hills for most part of the year. 

Tourism reception centre at K.Gudi, BRT tiger reserve, Karnataka
A view of the tourism reception and forest office campus at K.Gudi
K.Gudi is the main tourism area of BRT tiger reserve. Here tourists can take safari rides into the forest in a forest department vehicle. Children can enjoy the sight of tamed elephants with fine tusks rode over by tribal mahouts. There are even some spotted deer and wild boars that are used to humans and roam without any fear of them. 

Entry fee and other tourist fees on display at K.Gudi, BRT tiger reserve, Karnataka
A board displaying the various fees to be paid by tourists at K.Gudi, the main tourism area of BRT tiger reserve

Though many of our country's wilderness areas have similar wildlife, each of them are unique when it comes to photographing their wildlife. For example in the same season, the lighting on a game road inside BRT tiger reserve is different from that of a game road in Bandipur. Most of the game roads in BRT have closed canopy with the trees being closer to each other and the vegetation composition different from that of Bandipur or other protected areas. On the other hand Bandipur area has more light available for the cameras due to the spaced out natural growth teak trees. Also, the typical background of the dense lantana undergrowth which has proliferated more in the past couple of decades gives a unique identity to an image taken at Bandipur. In the wooded areas of Kabini backwaters, the teak trees are taller and more mature and much of them are from plantations raised a few decades ago, somewhat similar to some forest patches of Dandeli area except that the later is more undulating. There is a good chance that an experienced naturalist or a wildlife photographer is able to tell where an image of wildlife has been taken, unless the same is an extreme close-up. 

It was a little over 5 PM that we departed in the forest department vehicle for the evening safari ride. We were taken on the game roads in the forests to the south of K.Gudi. We crossed a hadlu (tribal settlement) as we entered deeper into the jungle. We came across many herds of spotted deer all along, an indication of the richness of this prey animal's density for its primary consumers - the tiger, leopard and wild dogs. 

A spotted deer with its young one at K.Gudi, BRT tiger reserve, Karnataka
A chital doe with its fawn

Spots of the spotted deer at K.Gudi, BRT tiger reserve, Karnataka
The spots of a spotted deer
It was winter and the shadows grew taller every passing minute and by 6 PM it was almost pitch dark. As the old forest department vehicle rattled along slowly on the uneven, pot-hole riddled game roads, we could see the magical night life of the BRT jungle come alive. There were owls flying around, starting their own fresh 'day'. We saw a civet cat that is known locally as 'punugu', although we were not sure which one of the many civet species it was. We didn't blame our stars for missing out on the regular wildlife here like gaur or elephant, let alone spotting a rarity like a leopard, as it was pretty late when we started off on this game ride. 

It was nearly 6:30 PM by the time we came back to K.Gudi. Although movement of traffic inside protected areas is restricted from dusk to dawn (6 PM to 6 AM) we were allowed to proceed ahead to BR Hills as we didn't have any reservation at K.Gudi and not doing to would have meant us sleeping in our vehicles! Proceeding ahead to BR hills on the dark road we saw fresh droppings of a lonely tusker as we approached BR Hills where we stayed overnight at the Public Works Department (PWD) guest house.

Early next morning we started off again to K.Gudi to take another safari ride. The morning beauty of the woods forced us to drive slow on the track and we savoured every single minute of our presence here. I thought aloud of what would happen to our lungs when we re-enter human habitations given the Diwali firecrackers being lit all around. 

The road from K.Gudi to BR temple, BRT tiger reserve, Karnataka
The road from K.Gudi to BR temple

Bio-diversity treasure trove at BRT tiger reserve, Karnataka
BRT is a bio-diversity treasure house

The isolated road from K Gudi to BR temple inside BRT tiger reserve
The isolated road from K Gudi to BR temple

Lichens on a tree inside BRT tiger reserve, Karnataka
Lichens on a tree bark

A forested stream between K.Gudi and BR temple inside BRT tiger reserve, Karnataka
A crystal clear forest stream

The forested valleys between K.Gudi and BR temple inside BRT tiger reserve, Karnataka
Forest clothed hill peaks and valleys
We slowed down occasionally to watch the birds around which included endemic species like Malabar parakeet. But what kept us mesmerised for long periods was the melodious calling by the hill mynas reverberating the canopy overhead. The hill myna is said to be the closest any bird can get to mimicking a human. Hence it was a favourite target for the bird trappers as well as in the pet trade not long ago. Fortunately, with stricter implementation of India's Wildlife Protection Act and also increased awareness among the common man there are hardly any of these as pets today. 

A small video clip of hill mynas calling in the canopy near K.Gudi, BRT tiger reserve

As we neared K.Gudi we could see many species of mammals including spotted deer, mouse deer and barking deer. At K.Gudi we learnt that the safari vehicle with guests had left for the forest and we had to wait for our turn. Not wanting to do so, we made an U-turn towards BR Hills.

A barking deer in the jungles of K.Gudi inside BRT tiger reserve
A barking deer

A crested hawk eagle in the jungles of K.Gudi inside BRT tiger reserve
The boss is watching: A crested hawk eagle
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