Wilderness of the white hills

Wilderness of the white hills

Wilderness of the white hills

Home of the wild BR Hills is a crucial link between the Eastern and the Western Ghats. Its unique geography houses a wide range of flora and fauna and makes for a must-visit destination, writes B V Prakash

At the southeastern edge of Karnataka, bordering Tamil Nadu, lie pockets of pristine forests among the moderately high mountain ranges. The terrain, interspersed with grasslands, plateaus and high mountains, is spread in Yelandur and Kollegala taluks of Chamarajanagar district. At one of the high points, is a grey-white coloured steep cliff, crowned with a temple of great antiquity. This shrine, dedicated to Lord Ranganathaswamy is more than 500 years old and the deity here is known as Biligiri Ranganathaswamy, referring to the colour of the cliff. The entire range of mountains is collectively called as Biligiri Ranga Hills or BR Hills.

The Temple on the hilltop can be reached by a very steep flight of steps. Lord Ranganatha is worshipped in this shrine while Ranganayaki’s idol is revered in the adjoining sanctum. Sadly, the premises is littered, reflecting the insensitive approach of human beings towards nature. A passage outside the complex leads to the edge of the cliff barricaded with railings. One can get a spectacular view of the hill range and the valley of dense forest from here.

Habitat diversity
Being at the confluence of the Western Ghats and the Eastern Ghats, BR hills encompasses a variety of climates and topographies. The heterogeneity of this range, constituting of scrub jungles, dry deciduous and evergreen forests, contributes to the significance of the forest, making it a conglomerate of diverse habitats.Considering the rich flora and fauna existing in the region, BR Hills was recognised as a wildlife sanctuary in 1972. More areas were included in 1987 and the sanctuary was declared as a tiger reserve in 2010. The forests of Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple Tiger Reserve are home to different types of animals with a sizeable population of tigers, leopards,
elephants, gaurs, deers and other small animals.

More than 250 species of birds and 150 types of butterflies are documented in this hill range, which remains blanketed in greenery for many months after monsoon. The salubrious climate makes it a pleasant getaway from the mundane city life.

Nestled amidst the hill range is a little hamlet called Kyathadevaraya Gudi, that houses a small population of the native Soliga tribe. The hamlet gets its name from the tiny shrine of Kyathadevaraya, a form of Shiva. In the past, rulers of Mysuru chose this area for their hunting expeditions. Now it has become a favoured destination for people who wish to spend their leisure in serene surroundings. A drive through this area is enchanting and gives you a glimpse into the wilderness. 

Safari tales
After landing here on a sunny afternoon, I get ready to head out for an evening
safari. Narayan, a trained naturalist and a local, gave us company, while dispersing his knowledge about the local flora and fauna. For two hours, we roamed the game roads, criss-crossing the undulating terrain of the wildlife-rich sanctuary, only to see spotted deers and jungle fowls.
Surprisingly, the peacocks seen so often with deer were absent. Narayan explained the reason behind this – these colourful birds prefer a dry, warmer climate while the sanctuary has patches of moist deciduous forests.

At six, the following morning we embarked on another safari in chilly  weather. Waves of melody created by the chirpings of various distinct birds, including the lilting song of the Malabar whistling thrush filled the calm morning with sweet notes. I was thrilled to see a Paradise flycatcher flitting amidst the bushes. With a deep blue crown and a flowing long white tail feather, the bird looked like an angel.

As the Sun rose, the mist started to clear. As we moved ahead in our safari, a lovely barking deer ran across the road. Called the Indian Muntjac, it gets its name from its call that resembles barking. These attractive denizens with soft, small, greyish hair are shy, alert and are often seen
stepping gingerly, carefully avoiding all signs of danger.

Back at K Gudi, the evening safari was waiting. Though the forest has a single
entrance, an intricate network of roads inside allows us to cover a large area. We all pinned our eyes on the roads, in the hope of spotting an elephant or gaur, if not the elusive tiger or leopard. The uniqueness of this forest is a large undergrowth of bushes that makes sighting smaller ground animals like mongoose difficult.

But we were lucky to spot a tree shrew, a tiny rat-like mammal, that galloped away in seconds. We also spotted birds like White-throated kingfisher, Rufous treepie, Racket-tailed drongos and different types of woodpeckers. Seeing a group of three sloth bears escape into the bushes was an added bonus!

Waking up to birdsong, the following morning, I waited for another safari, the last of the trip, to see some big game. Even as the mist was thinning slowly, we suddenly bumped into a herd of gaur. As we stood stunned, they were taken aback too. They stepped aside elegantly and looked at us for long before running away. To our luck, a bull and its three female companions even posed for a photograph.

As we moved ahead leaving the gaurs to their freedom, we encountered another fabulous sight. A herd of elephants crossed the road and then hurriedly disappeared into the woods, leaving us mesmerised and bringing the curtains down on a fabulous journey.

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