Wandering in the white hills

Wandering in the white hills

TRAVEL

At the waterhole: The BRT Wildlife Sanctuary abounds in rich flora and fauna. Photos by the authorWe drove along the Cauvery, past flourishing fields and quaint villages. We drove into the countryside watching life amble by at its own pace. Plenty of signboards indicating ''the way to B R Hills'' ensured that we were on track to our destination. Biligiri Rangana Hills, better known as B R Hills is well known for a temple of great antiquity atop its highest peak. It is also a rare duet of a beautiful hill station and a wildlife sanctuary. In Kannada, ‘Bili’ means white and ‘Giri’ means hill. According to folklore, the hill with the shrine of Lord Ranganathaswamy looks white from the plains and hence the name. The hills and the temple lend their name to the Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple Wildlife Sanctuary.

This sanctuary has recently been elevated to the status of a Tiger Reserve.
We proceeded into the stretch of virgin forest after a brief stopover at the forest check-post. Pilgrims and tourists frequent these hills and the road through the reserve bears the brunt of heavy vehicular movement. Conscious of the fact that we were intruders here, we drove slowly, maintaining low decibel levels.

Lesser known temple of K Gudi

Embarking on the road less travelled, we avoided the hustle and bustle of traffic and hordes of people heading to the Ranganathaswamy Temple. We instead headed towards a lesser known temple, K Gudi or Kyata Devarayana Gudi.

The BRT Wildlife Sanctuary is contiguous with the Sathayamangalam Wildlife Sanctuary in Tamil Nadu, forming a corridor that connects the Eastern Ghats and the Western Ghats.
This forms a unique confluence of diverse habitats. The landscape appeared to be a picture out of an artist’s imagination. The luxurious green vistas that played out frame after frame looked unreal to city dwellers like us.

The dense canopy kept the scorching summer heat at bay. Butterflies flitted past.  Encountering a stealthy leopard, a herd of wild elephants or even a majestic tiger is not uncommon on this road, we were told. This word of caution kept us alert as we drove along. No elephantine adventures on our journey though; we had to be content with seeing spotted deer and wild boars grazing in the grasslands flanking the tarmac.

Waking up to birdsong, each day of our stay at K Gudi began with a refreshing safari into the forest. The hills were still under the cover of the overnight mist. The sun’s rays came streaming through to create beautiful visuals. As the jeep manoeuvred through the slithering roads, I wondered if it is the topping of mist or the white rock face that gives these hills the epithet of the ‘White Hills’.

Wildlife in the region

Tigers, leopards, sloth bears, wild dogs, porcupines, jungle cats, elephants, deer and antelopes roam freely in the sanctuary. The months from January through March witness the arrival of migratory birds like the Great Tit, Chestnut Bellied Nuthatch, Grey Wagtail and Blue Capped Rock Thrush. The forest is densely wooded with tall trees and bamboo thickets. It was shrouded in silence, which meant that our chances of sighting a big cat were slim.  While the tigers and leopards eluded us, the elephants did not disappoint. A little one snuggled between the protective feet of her mother as the entire family waded into a lake to beat the heat. We also spotted other herbivores like gaurs, spotted deer, sambhar and barking deer.

A Soliga village

We visited the Ranganathaswamy Temple and a tribal village inhabited by Soligas. The B R Hills are home to the Soligas, indigenous tribals who have, for long, co-existed with the wildlife.

They trace their origin to the mythical hero, Karayya Swamy and consider themselves to be descendants of Lord Mahadeshwara Swamy, the Lord of hunting.

Until about a decade ago, they used to practise shifting cultivation, and collected minor forest produce for a living. But they too are changing with the times. They are moving into mainstream living with assistance from the government and the NGO Vivekananda Girijana Kalyana Kendra (VGKK).

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