The good thing about the Sharavathi Adventure Camp is that it is not attached to a tiger reserve. This means that it does not attract the trophy-hunting variety of wildlife tourist. All JLR properties are well located but Sharavathi is perhaps the jewel in the crown. It hugs a forested hillside and gazes at the tranquil expanse of the Talakalale Balancing Reservoir and its numerous verdant islets. Watersports are a go here, and kayaking at sunset is the perfect way to end a day. There are other perks that come with the camp’s remoteness. No cellular network (the camp is provided with two wireless phones) and a newly laid macadam road that tapers off into a mud trail a short distance after the camp.
There is jungle all around but it is heavily disturbed. I was told by staffers that hunting and trapping were common before the camp came up. On a nature trail past a hamlet called Mallakki, I met villagers who claimed that the forest department had released leopards in the area. We found no trace of any, though a leopard could comfortably reside here and pick the odd village mongrel. Next morning I made a side-trip to Jog Falls and was lucky to see a Besra being mobbed by crows. I had seen a Besra the day before en route to Mallakki and I saw one again the following morning. No photographs, sadly.
I am a great adorer of the little life that lurks unseen, and so it was an absolute delight to poke around the cottage where I was lodged, looking for signs of the jungle. The wilderness never disappoints. There were spiders to watch, geckos to admire and sundry other creatures to occupy my interest. A medium-sized green mantis watched me as I opened the door to the balcony. Glancing up, I saw a brown knob – like the stub of a finger – adhered to the wall. This was the ootheca — the egg case — of the mantis. In time, it would hatch to release a number of tiny, ant-sized baby mantises.
Before sunup, I hauled my corpulent bulk up the hill trail from my cottage on a lung-taxing climb to the top of the hill to watch the sunrise. The temptation was to view the sunrise from atop the peak. There’s a pleasant little meadow up here with tussocks of auburn straw-dry grass. This vantage offered a panorama that was worth the effort of getting up at the crack of dawn and risking a slip disc. I was with a group of young software engineers from Bangalore who made enough noise to encourage the birds to go seek their fortunes elsewhere. On top of the hill, watching Streak-throated Swallows sweep past, I was informed by Anil, our guide, that he knew where the birds nested.
I savoured the sunrise and ruminated over the guilty prospect of violating a nesting site but after Anil informed me that the nests were under a bridge and not on a cliff where we might disturb the birds, I let him lead me on a walk towards the far end of the Talakalale Balancing Reservoir. A channel, cutting through the rocky hillside, links the smaller reservoir to the 300-square-kilometre Linganamakki Dam reservoir. The path was quite deserted early in the morning and, owing to its proximity to dense forest, yielded plenty of bird sightings. Yellow-browed bulbuls, Blyth’s Starlings, Flame-throated Bulbuls, a whole flock of Pompadour/ Grey-fronted Green Pigeons, and fearless Grey Junglefowl. The bridge under which the swallows nested passed over a weir under which the dark water swirled in ominous eddies. There must have been about five hundred Streak-throated Swallows clinging upside-down in their nests of mud and saliva.
Though there were no elephants or tigers in this neck of the woods of Sharavathi Valley, there was no dearth of wildlife. Malabar Grey Hornbills cackled mirthfully from the treetops. A rat snake slithered away from the deserted road where it was basking in the morning sunshine. A Forest Wagtail trilled and then went quiet at our approach. Asian Fairy-Bluebirds and Ioras set the canopy ablaze with colour.
On the last morning I visited Kathalekan, a tract of unbelievably dense evergreen forest on the highway to Sirsi. I spotted Myristica swamps here but couldn’t get out and look, as I was trying to spot the endangered Lion-tailed Macaques that are known to live here. No luck with a sighting but I heard them forage noisily in the canopy. A pair of Malabar Tree-Nymphs, large and graceful speckled butterflies, danced among the shrubbery, teasing me as I tried to capture a photograph. Of course, I failed. Things moved and rustled in the sunlight-stippled darkness of the forest floor. Everything smelled cool and fresh and alive. A Dark-fronted Babbler kept up a persistent chatter in the understorey. An iridescent, metallic green damselfly, probably a female Clear-winged Forest Glory, alighted inches from my face. Crimson-backed Sunbirds called insistently. There was so much to see and I wasn’t very successful at documenting my experiences in photographs but the mystery of Kathalekan stayed with me.
The Sharavathi Valley is about 350 km from Bengaluru and connected by an overnight train to Talguppa. It is recommended that you stay at the Jungle Lodges and Resorts Sharavathi Adventure Camp for an experience close to what I have described. Disclaimer: I was invited to write about the camp for jlrexplore. If you haven’t done so already, please read my article for jlrexplore at this link.