An Unexpected Trip to BR Hills

Back in December last year, my cousin came over and stayed with me for little over a month, making the most of the work from home situation. On the very first weekend of her visit, we planned a trip to Mysore. The plan was made such that we would be at Mysore Palace on Sunday evening. The reason being the entire palace is illuminated with about a lakh bulbs and remains that way for 15 min. It’s a spectacular sight and I wanted her to experience the same. (Thanks to the pandemic that didn’t happen, which is another story.)

Our weekend was sorted, we were all geared up to leave Bangalore on Saturday morning, and head straight to Mysore. Late Friday night, a friend called up and his casual recommendation changed our itinerary altogether. We were still going to Mysore but would go to BR Hills as well and spend a night there. Located about 90 Km. from Mysore and 180 Km. from Bangalore, it fitted in quite perfectly.

Pic 1: Stretches of Kans Grass right up to the entry gate of BR Hills made for a blissful experience.

Saturday morning, we left Bangalore at the stipulated time and visited Shivanasamudra. After that we headed for BR Hills or Biligiriranga Hills. Located in the border of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, at an altitude of 3500 feet above sea level, BR Hills bridges the Eastern and Western Ghats. It houses the BRT wildlife sanctuary, which is an official tiger reserve. BRT is just an abbreviation of Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple wildlife sanctuary. The temple of Biligiri Rangaswamy being the other main attraction of this place. There are hiking and trekking opportunities too, which we didn’t explore this time.

Pic 2: A pond at BRT Wildlife Sanctuary right where the Jeep Safari starts.

The native inhabitants of BR Hills constitute the Soliga tribe. They make a living by selling honey, gooseberry, bamboo and other non-timber forest products. The government has been trying to resettle them with a focus on forest conservation. The Soligas aren’t in agreement and have won a legal battle to continue staying in their homeland. Certainly, they know how to live harmoniously with nature. The battle is far from over though.

Another interesting trivia about BR Hills is that the notorious and dreaded bandit Veerappan, who had terrorized a large part of South India for a very long time, operated out of these jungles till he was killed in October 2004.

Pic 3: The small settlement at BR Hills as seen from the temple.

Driving through a green and soothing stretch of meadows and farmlands, we reached the entry point of BR Hills. The entrance is marked by a forest check post, where we had to provide details of our visit including duration of stay, place of stay, vehicle number, etc. Beyond the gate is a stretch of perfectly tarred narrow winding road with thick forests on either side. Gradually the car climbed up through the road as we remained engrossed in the heavenly marvelous surroundings. A drive of about 30 mins through this paradise, and we arrived at Giridarshini, the homestay we had booked the night before.

It was well past lunch time by the time we had settled down and arrived at the dining hall. Soon after, we proceeded towards Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple.

Pic 4: The home stay was surrounded by coffee estates and various trees of pepper, ginger, etc.

Located on a hilltop, the ancient temple provides a panoramic view of the verdant green valley covered by the thick forest down below. The temple was under renovation at that time but that didn’t affect its quaint little charm. The strong wind blowing across threatened to throw us off the edges, and that only added to the temple’s mystical magic.

A huge, handcrafted leather slipper kept reverently just outside the main temple piqued our interest. Asking around yielded no results, thanks to the language barrier. It was only later that we got to know it’s significance. The Soligas believe that the presiding deity of the temple, Lord Ranganatha, wanders through the forest every night wearing that slipper. The slipper apparently wears out every 2 years as a result, and then they present a new pair.

Pic 5: At Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple
Pic 6: The temple presents a panoramic view of the verdant green valley covered by the thick forest

We walked down from the hill and spent the rest of the evening exploring the narrow lanes and bylanes, sipping a coffee or a tea from the tiny shops here and there. As darkness fell, we retreated to our homestay. Dinner was over a bonfire that was arranged exclusively for us. The three sisters laughed and giggled talking about the antics and idiosyncrasies of our extended families, making this one of the most memorable times of our being together. “Now, this justifies all the money we’re shelling out!”, quipped my cousin. The homestay charge had seemed a little exorbitant, but the last minute plan had left us with no time to research any further.

Pic 7: Sunset at BR hills on a cold December evening.

Early next morning, we headed towards the sanctuary for a wildlife safari. We jumped onto the Forest Department jeep with a lot of anticipation and excitement. The two hour-long safari was a great disappointment. All we saw was a couple of sambar deer, one or two mongoose, a couple of birds, a wild boar or two, and that was all. We did spot a bison too.

Pic 8: A pond inside the wildlife sanctuary, seen during the safari.

After a while, we just wanted the safari to end. Even though we were driving through the jungle, everything felt dull and monotonous. Our expectation was a little over the top having heard of people spotting elephants and leopards. It certainly wasn’t our day at all.

Pic 9: Very unlike us, but we couldn’t wait for the safari to end.

Back in the homestay, we had a sumptuous breakfast and headed towards Mysore. On the way, we stopped at the magnificent Somnathpur Temple.

Deepor Beel – A Morning Done Right

“We’ll leave at dawn”, announced my brother-in-law (BIL) in his usual style as we were getting done with dinner. BIL and I are partners in crime when it comes to exploring nature and have our tiny little adventures each time we meet in my hometown, Shillong. This time we were at Guwahati, about 100 Km. away from Shillong as I had accompanied them – BIL and cousin sister – for some work they had in the city.

Whenever in Guwahati, BIL never misses an opportunity to visit Deepor Beel, which is quite understandable given his hobby of bird watching and bird photographing. It was my demand that he takes me along sometime, which he was acceding this time.

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Pic 1: Fisherman are already way into their day’s chores even as morning just breaks in

I was up before dawn. The anticipation and excitement of going for an early morning drive was incentive enough to get me out of the laziness of a cozy bed on a chilly December morning. It was Christmas Eve and the dip in temperature was as expected.

Soon we set off towards our destination, which was a good 45 minutes away. We drove along the well tarred road with easily navigable twists and turns, chit-chatting in the warm coziness of the car accompanied by a light music in the background. The darkness of the night was gradually fading away with the sun peeping in the horizon spreading its soft and warm glow.

A perfect start to the morning it was!

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Pic 2: The sun peeps through giving way to morning light

Located in the south western part of Guwahati city, Deepor Beel is a freshwater lake that is surrounded by highlands on the northern and southern side. The word beel means lake in the local Assamese language while dipa means elephant in one of the indigenous dialects. So, Deepor Beel literally translates as Lake of Elephants.

With a total area of 40 sq.km, it is considered to be the largest lake in Brahmaputra Valley and is fed by Kalmani and Basistha Rivers. A part of the lake has been declared as a wildlife Sanctuary and that is where we were headed that morning.

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Pic 3: A tiny island of a place somewhere in the vast lake

As we drove along, I noticed the lake making its appearance on the right side of the road illuminated by the soft rays of the morning sun. We parked the car and stepped out when I noticed a railway track right in front of us just on the other side of the road. So focused I was on the lake that I hadn’t noticed the railway line until now.

I wondered just how nice it would be to see a train pass by and instantaneously, as if by magic, along came a train chugging away. Taken by sheer delight, BIL and I cheerfully waved at the passengers and made our way towards the lake.

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Pic 4: The train that delighted us

The beel is a natural habitat to many varieties of birds and aquatic vegetation like water hyacinth, aquatic grasses, water lilies and other submerged and floating vegetation. On the entrance was a signboard that mentioned about the lake providing direct and indirect livelihood to fourteen indigenous villages comprising of about 1,200 families that are located in its precincts. Woah! Quite a number I thought!

Another signboard mentioned about this being an elephant corridor making me wish to see a herd pass by right then, which sadly didn’t happen.

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Pic 5: Aquatic vegetation submerged and floating

At the lake, I stared at the vast expanse of water trying to figure out if I could see land at the horizon; I watched the fishermen diligently cast their nets every now and then, wondering what kind of fishes they were catching; I followed BIL trying to make sense of the various birds he was photographing while he tried explaining some of the species to me; and most of all I enjoyed the peace and quiet of the early morning hour with nobody other than the two of us.

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Pic 6: The train line continues as a bridge on one side of the lake

With our Christmas Eve started right, we soon headed back home where my sister greeted us with warm tea and hot breakfast.

Leaving you with pictures of Kites, Swallows, and Herons that BIL clicked that day.