At Bilikal Rangaswamy Betta, was the leopard watching us?

Off we went, my namesake Arun and I, early Saturday morning on the Diwali weekend. Our destination – Bilikal Rangaswamy Betta, a hill in Kanakapura taluk of Bangalore Rural district. At the top of the hill is a temple but, of course, our visit was a pilgrimage of a different kind. We were there for birding and to salvage some peace and quiet, which is impossible in the city during Diwali. 


Due to several unfortunate reasons we reached the foothills quite late. I tried to take the bike on the jeep track but soon gave up as I didn’t want it to end up in a garage the next day. Parking it beside the track we continued on foot. The first thing that greeted us was not something from the sky, but from the earth.


Fungi — pale, thin, strand-like filaments shooting up from the ground.

Curious fungi
Birding soon proved a disappointment that day. We didn’t see much except for a couple of unidentified raptors, bulbuls and some macaques on a rock next to some plantations at the top.

Macaques on the rock


After the trek we decided to crash for sometime next to the Rangaswamy temple at the top. The temple itself is an interesting structure with a rock roof. It looked like somebody placed the rock over the temple. The top of the hill is surrounded by electrified fences to keep out elephants, which are known to frequent the area.

The temple, a curious structure


The view of the landscape was breathtaking.

The view from the hill

We rested on the veranda next to the temple. It was so peaceful you could almost ‘hear’ the silence. Towards noon a sudden downpour made the place look even better.

Peaceful and beautiful
By evening, we headed back down and stayed over at a camp known by the interesting name of “Basic Halli”. In the evening, we went over to a lake nearby where we saw a River Tern and a flock of unidentified ducks.
River Tern in flight

A flock ducks, too distant to identify

After a long and tiring day, we crashed in one of the tents at the camp. Early next morning we went half way up Rangaswamy Betta again in the hope of birding. Other than Bee-Eaters, Robins, Sunbirds, Parakeets and, of course, the ubiquitous Bulbuls, there was nothing much to be seen. 


I was about to write the place off as a Bulbul sanctuary when we saw something that lifted our spirits – a leopard pugmark! A fresh one!

A fresh pugmark in the mud
With huge smiles on our faces we moved on, hoping for some more surprises. And we did get another pleasant one — amongst the Rose-Ringed (Psittacula krameri) and Plum-Headed Parakeets (Psittacula cyanocephala) were a couple of birds with bluish tails – Malabar Parakeets (Psittacula columboides)! Apparently there has been only one previous report of these parakeets from this area. Our earlier disappointment of seeing too few birds vanished in an instant.


Malabar Parakeet

We spent quite a while watching them, after which we walked around the village of Konnala Doddi, where I saw silkworms for the first time. They were white and quite large for caterpillars. These were kept out in the sunlight on cane mats with circular fringes. Some were moving around lazily while others were slowly building their cocoons.
Silkworm rearing
Spinning cocoons

Heading back to my bike after an interesting morning, we were in for another treat (well, I don’t know how many people would call this a ‘treat’). Turning around a corner on a path leading away from the village (the same path where we had seen the pug mark earlier in the morning), we saw some scat. It was jet black, semi-solid and very wet. The soil around it was just absorbing the moisture from the scat. It was exremely fresh; maybe just a minute earlier we might have seen the doer of the deed. 


Arun and I quickly ruled out dog scat. It looked too much like a cat’s. We dissected the scat using a stick and found traces of what looked like hair. It also had a tapering end which was characteristic of a leopard! The next second, we were looking all around us hoping for some sign of the cat but found none.

Leopard scat – the tapered ends offer a clue

Elated with our few but unique discoveries at BR Betta, we headed back into the madding crowd of the city with a promise to return again.


Text and photographs by Arun Menon. He blogs at Idle Mind, where a version of this post is published.

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