Sunday, January 16, 2011

Hampi Part 1 - A short visit to Daroji Bear Sanctuary

“Amma, there’s a frog on the toilet seat!!” That was Samhith, shouting loud enough for all the birds in the region to fly away in alarm. The cause of the ruckus turned out to be a tiny fellow sitting calmly on the toilet bowl, seemingly unaware of all the chaos he was causing. Much as I love wildlife, I was not in the mood to pick him up, so I suggested flushing him down, a suggestion which was received with severe disdain “Amma, how can you even think of murdering an animal? And you tell me that we should protect wildlife!”
Seeing the prospect of tears looming large, I gave up my apparently bloodthirsty solution, and hastened to call the reception, rather shamefacedly admitting that there was a frog, and could someone please come and deal with it? The summons were answered almost at once by one of the smiling young men on the staff. His smile grew bigger as he saw the tiny cause of the commotion, and he calmly pulled the flush, and the little chap disappeared almost at once. The young man left before Samhith found his tongue again, so it was left for me to convince him that the frog probably wouldn’t die, since it was amphibious, but that led to another discussion about whether the frog could live in sewage, a discussion I am sure you don’t want to hear!




We were at the Jungle LodgesSloth Bear Resort at Hampi, making the most of our Christmas vacation. Hampi had been on my radar for quite a long time, but somehow things never seemed to work out. I was also a bit doubtful about taking my hyperactive son to a place where there were nothing but ruins of old temples and palaces, wondering if he would be interested or bored. When Lakshmi wrote about her visit to the new Sloth Bear resort, it was like everything just clicked into place. Here was a place we all could enjoy, have a relaxed time and see not just ruins and temples, but much much more!



Our journey began on a promising note, as we woke up the first morning in the train, to a sun screened by the mist, and dew covered spider webs all along the track. This was something we had never noticed before, and spent our time trying to get a decent photo of one. However, the train chose to speed up exactly at those places where the best and biggest ones were, so we were unsuccessful! We saw birds galore on the road as we headed towards Hampi from Guntakal, but this time I was chastised by my son for being more interested in photographing the birds than seeing them, which made me keep my camera back inside! So now you know who calls the shots here J



Our foray into the Daroji Bear Sanctuary was with a group of enthusiastic people who had all landed there with the express purpose of seeing sloth bears in the wild. Almost every group was accompanied by kids making even Samhith appear quiet! I rather felt sorry for the few couples and enthusiastic photographers with us, who must have regretted the decision to come here during the Christmas vacation. Thankfully, the sanctuary was unlike any we had visited before. For one, it was a dry deciduous forest, covered with shrubs rather than the dense foliage we had expected. For another, it is one of the few places where a safari doesn’t mean a jaunt into the forest in a jeep, but a drive to a concrete macchan (observation tower) built at the top of a hillock conveniently situated to provide a good view of the rocks where the bears come to bask in the sun.




At first glance, there was nothing to see when we arrived, but soon, our guides spotted a tiny dot, which, through the binoculars, resolved into a sloth bear, fast asleep! For the next 15 minutes, all we did was speculate about whether it would wake up or not, while the kids ran around, refusing to believe that it was a real bear! Thankfully, a few more soon appeared, including some young ones which ran about, much like the kids with us. The calm was soon shattered by kids shrieking out “There! There’s another bear! There’s a small one climbing the rock!” The cries thankfully didn’t scare the bears away, but induced a few peafowl hiding in the shrubs to take flight, giving us a great view! Once again, I regretted not buying a better camera, for mine was hopelessly inadequate! Have firmly made a resolution this year to buy a better camera before the year is out! This is what the bears looked like, from where we were standing.





As time passed and the bears disappeared again, the crowd of kids left, the natural calmness of the jungle returned. Just Samhith and another kid remained, clambering over the rocks like the bear cubs, talking nonsense, and providing entertainment for the others while the bears were away. We stayed on, for the forest guard told us that the bears would be back in a while, for dinner. That surprised us, until the guard told us that the forest department provided honey and fruits for the bears, to ensure that firstly, the bears would come to the rocks for tourists like us to see, and secondly, because there were about a 100 to 150 bears in the jungle, and there wasn’t much left in the way of honey or fruits in the forest, thanks to all the mining in the area! What a sad situation, I ruminated, that the forest had bears, but not enough to feed them! As the sun set over the rocks, even the kids seemed to calm down, and the bears returned, coming down as far as the road. Unfortunately, it was too dark by then to see anything clearly, even through the binoculars. We finally gave up and came back down, just in time to see a flock of grey francolins parade past us on the jungle path.

The next morning, we set off on a nature walk into a portion of the jungle which abuts the forest department rest house. From a bird watching point of view, this turned out to be a disappointment, but for adventure, it deserves full marks. We wove our way along the well worn paths at first, and then deviated from them in the hope of seeing something interesting. All we managed to spot were, unfortunately, weaver birds’ nests and bulbuls, which we see even in Bombay. However, what we really enjoyed was making our way along bushes where there was no path to speak of. Samhith especially loved this, and wanted to continue, even when it was time to go back! For him, at this age, walking amidst thorny bushes definitely scores over keeping quiet and seeing birds!



Here are some more images from the walk….

A pair of doves looked at us curiously, perhaps wondering what we were doing in their territory…



While we saw trees filled with weaver birds’ nests and wondered if we would see any of the birds themselves…




Butterflies were everywhere….



And so were spiders…. Like this huge web made by the social spiders…..



And this signature spider, which we saw had made its home right in the lobby of the resort!



However, the best part of the nature walk was a snake – one which had appeared in the bathroom of one of the guests at the forest department’s guest house – which had just been captured. It was secure in a bottle, waiting to be released back into the wild, and hissed angrily when we came closer to take a better look. I couldn’t help wondering what would have happened if the snake had appeared in our bathroom!

Back at the resort, most of the crowd had disappeared, and we sat peacefully watching the robins and doves, when a rabbit suddenly bounded across the path and disappeared into its burrow. Samhith turned to me and declared, “We should have stayed here all day instead of going to the sanctuary. Then, we would have seen many more birds and animals!”





Incidentally, have you wondered how the sanctuary got its name? On the way to Hampi, we kept wondering who or what it was named after, considering that the word 'Daroji' sounded like the name of a person. It turns out Daroji is the name of a village near Hospet, which forms one of the boundaries of the sanctuary! We were intrigued when the passenger train in which we travelled from Hospet to Guntakal stopped at a tiny wayside station of the same name. A google search soon yeilded this interesting result!


"......the hills that stretch between Daroji of Sandur taluk and Ramasagar of Hospet Taluk in Bellary district have always been a host to the Indian Sloth Bears..."
Not all that relevant, but interesting, wouldn't you agree?


And this was just the beginning of a wonderful trip…. Keep coming back for more!

2 comments :

  1. Lovely post. Am also planning a trip here soon. After reading your post, I am now super keen.

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