Friday, January 16, 2009

Soliciting your opinions

With the weekend around the corner, its time to plan a quick outing again. We're heading to Chennai for the weekend, to catch up with a few friends.

We'll be driving down and we plan to see Mahabalipuram as well on our way back.

We were shocked to find that, Times Food Guide only covers ( Pune, Delhi, Hyderabad, Mumbai) and a few Firang Capitals.

Please help us by providing suggestions on places to eat in Chennai. (Authentic food pls)

Any info on specific places to be seen/avoided in Mahabalipuram / Chennai are also welcome.

If you have noticed, I have began to post topics beyond just nature trips here. Pls take part in the poll and let me have your opinion on this.

And, What are your plans this weekend?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Makara Sankranti

iForNature wishes everyone a very Happy Sankranti!

Happy Sankranti

Being brought up in cities ( Mumbai / Bangalore / Dubai ), the harvest festival meant a holiday, sleeping in late, yummy food and visitors who would drop by with packets of 'til' (sesame) and 'good' ( jaggery ).

Brief history
The day on which the sun begins its journey northwards is referred to as Makara Sankranti. Sankramana means "to commence movement". It is about transition of Sun into Capricorn (Makara) on its celestial path.

Interestingly, this is the only festival in Hindu calendar that follows a solar calendar and is celebrated on the fourteenth of January every year (all other Hindu festivals are computed using the lunar calendar)

In Hindu belief, a person dying on this auspicious day directly goes to the heaven. Bhishma, an elder in the epic of Mahabharata, is said to have waited for this day to breathe his last. He had obtained a boon from his father Shantanu that enabled him to choose when he wanted to die.


The common practice in most villages is to do a thorough cleaning of the houses, decorate the cattle, buy new clothes and ornaments.

Hoping to do something similar, Keshav and I went shopping yesterday (ok, I confess, I just needed an excuse). We also spent some time cleaning our camera equipment which was dusty from the BRHills excursion.

In light of the festival, I have also decided to harvest my small crop of coriander that I'm growing on our terrace. :D

As I write this post, there is a gentle drizzle outside, and this, after I just watered the plants!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

BR Hills

Call of the wild

If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then our road to BR Hills was paved with great expectations. I can imagine that most will now know where this is heading. We did not go to BR Hills with hopes of seeing Tigers and Leopards; I have given up all hopes of ever seeing a South Indian Tiger. We went to see some raptors that BR Hills has become famous for.

History & Facts
Biligiriranga Hills is in south eastern Karnataka, the area is called the BRT Wildlife Sanctuary, which is a protected reserve forest. The area has several unique eco-systems (such as the hill forests) and serves as a bridge between the Western and Eastern Ghats. Our guide there, Narayan informed us that the area is doubly special since it is the only route that can be used by the Elephants to travel between the two ghats.

A New Dawn
On the Trek

Where to Stay
There is not much by way of choice, when it comes to accommodation here. Jungle Lodges has a resort here which can be booked online.

Note however that "booking online" means precisely that, your room is only temporarily booked. It doesn't mean that you can pay online. To pay, one must visit the JLR office at Shringar Complex, MGRoad. Booking ahead is not just advisable, it is mandatory, since BR Hills, like all Jungle Lodges is nearly always fully booked during holidays.


We decided to book for 3 days to maximize our chance of sightings, surely no respectable serpent eagle could hide itself for 3 days. I had last been to BR Hills with my parents nearly 7 years ago and we had taken a most memorable safari there. Then, we were the only people at the resort.

Times certainly have changed, when we got there after a rather frustrating drive on some of the worst roads on earth, reaching nearly 2 hours later than scheduled, we found it packed to capacity with guests and loud, unruly children.

Id help Pls
Jungle Owlet

After a nice lunch ( food and service at Jungle Lodges is always good, thank god ) we explored our Tent and its surroundings. Denied a log hut since all were booked, we had settled for a Tent. ( This, after booking a month in advance )

The BR Hills resort is more of a rough-it-out kind of place, unlike the other JLR resorts I've seen (Dandeli, Devbagh). Our Tent (named Hoopoe) was clean, with a huge white-tiled bathroom with all the facilities.


Our first safari yielded the usual chittal-sambar-barking deer sightings, so we moved on at a rather bone rattling pace, might I add. We tore through the jungle in search of the elusive tiger/leopard/sloth bear/wild dog; finding none. We shared our jeep with a brightly colored family of four who kept reminding the driver that his only duty on earth was to show them a glimpse of a big cat - spotted or striped.

Cheer up, I philosophically told Keshav that evening as we charged our batteries, how bad can it get? Next morning, at 6:00 am we were ready to go and scour the jungle for the holy trinity : Changeable Hawk Eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle and the Brown Fish Owl.


We finally spotted the Brown Fish owl as it flew over a lake. Unhappy at being spotted, it decided to sit grumpily on a distant branch and sulk. We were delighted at being able to see it, if only through binoculars. The Tiger hungry family, no doubt must have thought us insane to waste precious time on an Owl when there were 17 Tigers out there, waiting to be found.

With the brown fish owl being the only sighting that morning, we decided to take a nature walk instead of the Temple visit organized by JLR. We saw a few birds, with not many opportunities for photographs, but undoubtedly it was better to appreciate BR Hills on foot than on a jeep.

During our walk, our Guide chanced upon a small treasure, a pile of Tiger scat. Prodding it, fresh!, he declared. A little further, we discovered Tiger Pee! Our guide was beside himself, he collected the holy earth where it had pee-ed in his palm and asked us to sniff. No way! was my response. The brave men with us, stepped up to the challenge. Smells like basmati rice gone bad was the verdict.


Our driver for the evening, saddened that he had not been able to show us a single carnivore decided that he would show us elephants at least. His enthusiasm and sincerity gave me my only pictures of wild elephants till date. We spent nearly 20 minutes photographing them, grazing happily, in the splendid evening light, until one of the herd decided to charge the jeep.

Yes, I chickened out, this was all I could manage

We skipped the morning safari for a bird watching trek for the next two days. It was a good idea. Not only did it provide us with much needed relief from bouncing on the jeep, it was a great way to see the amazing landscapes of BR Hills. It was on these walks that we saw most of the birds on the list below and I was simply overjoyed at the displays put up by 2 adult male Paradise flycatchers as they set about catching their breakfast.

Gaur Spooked
Mom & calf

Nitty Gritties

JLR@BR Hills has no electricity but has a generator that provides power to Tents and Log Huts in the evening from 6:30 - 10:30 pm.

There are 2 lights, one in the bathroom and one in the tent. There are two plug points in the bathroom, an emergency light and an extension cord provided to charge batteries, phones and other appliances that you may have.

Each Safari lasts approx. 2 hours (4:30 - 6:30) A jeep seats seven comfortably.

What I liked

Our morning Trek with our guide Narayan and two friendly dogs was the most enjoyable part of the trip. The enthusiasm and courtesy of JLR staff is simply wonderful.

What I disliked

Majority of the guests at JLR were loud and noisy. We would often lie on the hammocks and think deep thoughts about changeable hawk eagles, only to have our pleasant reveries broken by people shouting at each other across the campus.

Despite guides briefing people daily on the need to wear forest friendly clothing, guests insisted on wearing their bright and shiny best.

Getting there: Distance & Directions
Distance from B'lore : 251 Kms
Our Route:
Blore -140km-> Mysore -16kms-> Nanjangud -45kms-> Chamrajnagar -40kms-> BR hills (Kgudi)

We stopped at Ranganthittu on our way for birds and breakfast. (Its the only bathroom break you'll get, make it count) Road till Chamarajnagar is good, it gets progressively bad as we cross it.

Notable Sighting List
1. Brown Fish Owl
2. Honey Buzzard (seen in flight)
3. Rosefinchs
4. Scarlet Minivets (M&F)
5. Velvet fronted nuthatch
6. Paradise Fly catcher (M&F, juvenile)
7. Bronzed Drongo
8. Spangled Drongo
9. Black Drongo
10 Racquet Tailed Drongos
11. Verditer Flycatcher
12. Lesser Flameback woodpeckers (Pair)
13. Jungle Owlets
14. Malabar Parakeets
15. Blossom headed parakeets
16. Great Tit
17. Blue Capped Rock Thrush
18. Black Headed Oriole
19. Unidentified flycatcher female
20. Green Leaf Bird - Jerdon's Chloropsis
21. Hill Myna
22. Rufus TreePie
23. Pygmy Woodpecker (fleeting glimpse)
24. Fairy Blue Bird (fleeting glimpse)
25. White bellied Drongo

1. Gaur (Herds, one with calf)
2. Spotted Deer
3. Barking Deer
4. Sambar Deer
5. Elephant Herd
6. Wild Boar
7. Gray Langoors (Glimpse as we drove by)

During our time there, we also drove to the temple ( for want of something to do ) - the road is good and the drive certainly is pleasant. The JLR campus is a great place to do some birdwatching as well, its better than sitting and contemplating ones poor luck and becoming the Incredible Sulk.
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