To a wildlife lover, Devarayanadurga state forest which surrounds this village and the hill is a local biodiversity hotspot where rare mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, amphibians and trees and shrubs thrive in plenty. This wonderful woodland is home to mammals like Hanuman langur, spotted deer, leopard, wild boar, slender loris as well as nearly 250 species of birds and more than 50 butterfly types.
Over 200 species of plants and shrubs have been recorded here by botanists. It is an oasis of forest species – some plants and animals mainly found in the moist forests of Western Ghats can also be found here unlike the surrounding plains. There are accounts of tigers roaming in this jungle ever since their presence was first documented here by British officers in the 19th century.
Apart from the significant emotional and recreational quotient, this forest gives birth to many streams that quench the parched throats of thousands of residents surrounding it. It forms a major catchment area for streams like Garudachala as well as the locally well-known Jaya and Mangali. Beyond their place of joining, the Jayamangali is dammed at Irrakasandra irrigation project and Teeta Dam near the well-known Goravanahalli Lakshmi Temple, both inside Tumkur district.
Downstream, it flows east of the Jayamangali Blackbuck Reserve and near Parigi village in Andhra Pradesh, it joins the Uttara Pinakini stream which originates from Ghati Subramanya and Nandi Hills. The waters ultimately empty into the Bay of Bengal near Nellore, after a journey of nearly 600 km.
Though this hill forest is a popular destination for people from surrounding human settlements including Bangalore, few are aware of its rich conservative history that rivals some of India’s best known national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. It is among the earliest protected forests of the Indian subcontinent.
Devarayanadurga’s name as a forest spread far and wide attracting the attention of well-known birdwatcher Dr Salim Ali. In 1939-1940, he welcomed the New Year here in a unique way – studying birds. This visit was part of his study of birds of the State of Mysore from November 1939 to February 1940 funded by the Government of Maharaja of Mysore. He recorded 56 species during his five-day stay here at the old forest bungalow at Namada Chelume.
The list of birds included hill myna which is not to be found here today. The yellow-throated sparrow was spotted again by members of the local wildlife NGO Wildlife Aware Nature Club (WANC) in 2007 after a gap of 69 years.
Apart from the centuries’ old two Narasimha Temples, Devarayanadurga is dotted with many structures dating to a few decades or centuries. While the old stone stairways and kallu mantapas (stone shades) for travellers leading to the hill top from the village are in a fairly decent condition, the Dobbs Bungalow, the old British forest bungalow where Salim Ali stayed and the Devarayanadurga Fort are in need of urgent attention.
Harm is on its way
Like forests everywhere else in India, the woods here face threat from forces of unregulated development despite protection measures of the forest department and support by local conservation groups. In the past couple of years, the construction of an illegal road inside this forest to Chinnaga Betta, the source of an important perennial stream of Jaya Mangali stream was stopped midway through persistent efforts by local wildlife activists using RTI and seeking the help of Lokayukta.
But the forest may undergo drastic reduction in its area thanks to plans by the successive state governments to build a dam to store water brought in from Yettinahole stream in Western Ghats.
About 700 hectares or 7 sq. km of the notified forest along with many more hectares of non-notified forests on the adjoining revenue lands will drown forever if this proposed project goes ahead. Unless alternatives are found, we may lose a rich part of human and natural history forever.
Over a hundred and fifty years into its official protection, the woods of Devarayanadurga continue to fulfil their ecological functions of priceless economic value assigned by nature like giving pristine water and pure air, without taking back anything in return. They have inspired numerous young minds to delve deeper into the world of nature and wildlife.
It is important to leave them untouched as they serve all our ecological needs. We have to keep in mind the contribution of such dense forests. Instead of cutting short their lives, we need to make a dedicated effort towards conserving them. After all, a diverse wildlife also depends on them for their survival.