Dandeli - Close Encounters of the Wild Kind

Thursday, February 13, 2014

[Stalking the Flying Squirrel]

Stars moving over the forests of Dandeli
Here is a GIF loading, please be patient! :)
This is what the stars were doing while we were busy finding the flying squirrel in the tree you see lighting up here. 

In the hinterlands, even 10PM seems like the dead of the night. It was pitch dark and three of us were out in the open in potential Black Panther teritorry.There was an eerie glow to the jungle path in front of us as parts of it were illuminated from the ambient light escaping from the camp next to us. Then came the heart-stopping noise that startled us, and had us running towards the camp gate - the sound of rustling leaves as if something big was lurking behind those trees in the dark. We flashed our torchlights but nothing comforted the paranoid mind. We stopped and I continued shooting the stars. Again, the same noise. Meanwhile another loud rustle came from the huge tree next to us, something was surely creating a ruckus above there. The local boy who accompanied me and my friend quickly, and thankfully identified it as the Giant Flying Squirrel! In the excitement that ensued we comfortably forgot about the noises from the other side. Giant Flying Squirrel is a nocturnal rodent and it’s eyes glow in a brilliant orange under the flashlight. It moved around the branches and we moved under the tree trying to spot the orange glow. The camera was busy capturing the stars moving and we were busy stalking the squirrel - a perfect night in the jungles of Dandeli, where wild things are!

***
[Running after Jackals]

Enchanting forests of Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary

One morning we were walking in the forests of buffer zone adjoining Anshi National Park. The trail was wide and passed through dense forest. The early morning sunshine was painting the forest in a bright light. The vines were hanging from the tall trees and the fresh green leaves glowed while shafts of light pierced through the high canopy painting a magical scene. The loud machine-gun sputter that reverberated in the forest stopped us in our tracks. Later that morning I learned that it was the call of a Giant Malabar Squirrel. On our way back, we joined the joined the jeep track that leads to the forest and our guide who had gone a little bit ahead of us came back running to ask if we were up for a chase. We said yes! He had just seen three jackals [or could be foxes or dholes, we couldn’t identify] crossing the path and we went after them into the forest through the bushes. While they skillfully evaded us, we only could see them whizzing past in the bushes - just the ears or the bushy tail or a quick glimpse or a fleeting eyecontact was all we got but it was exhilarating to be in wild with its wild inhabitants. 

***
[Black Panther is just a Leopard]

One evening, after the joyride in the Dandeli WLS, on our way back through the beautiful countryside of Dandeli, we stopped for a while to see the setting sun paint the sky red. Discussing about Black Panther sightings, our very experienced forest guide told us they were nothing but Leopards! I had no idea, I always imagined the elusive Black Panther to be some exotic species but turns out it is just a leopard. But it is a melanistic Leopard, meaning it has excess of melanin that makes the Black Panther look black. If you look closely, you can spot the rosettes(rings like markings on the fur) too. This was a revelation to me. Later, talking to an expert naturalist, Karthikeyan Srinivasan, I learn that the very dense and dark forests of Dandeli might have caused the evolution of Black Panther as a camouflage mechanism. I was even suprised when I found out that Black Panthers and normal leopards mate as well and depending on the dominant gene, the offsprings are either melanic or normal. The forests of Dandeli and Anshi are one of the few areas in India that are home to these fascinating creatures! Someday I hope I spot a Black Panther.

***
[Breakfast with Malabar Giant Squirrel]

Malabar Giant Squirrel, Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary

I woke up to the hushed tone of Anuradha(fellow travel blogger) calling out to her son to see something. I looked out of the window to see a Malabar Giant Squirrel having its breakfast on a Acacia tree right oppsite our rooms at Dandeli Jungle Camp. I woke up in a frenzy, grabbed my camera and ran out of the room. Turns out I didn’t have to rush because the squirrel was in no hurry to leave. Covered in a bright rusty red coat and with its long bushy tail, the large squirrel looked very beautiful in the morning light. It moved through the branches and was busy eating for more than an hour. I had seen these shy animals before but it was always just a quick glimpse before they disappeared. In Dandeli, however, they are abundant and not easily disturbed. I guess they live peacefully in harmony with the humans in these forests. Over three days we spotted these squirrels many times and every single time, they were a treat to observe - playful and irresistibly cute. 

***
[A date with the gorgeous Hornbills]

Malabar Pied Hornbill, Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary

I was told by our forest guide that the presence of Hornbills indicate the presence of dense and healthy forests. Considering they are so huge, their nests are even bigger and they need a lot of food which is why it is a good sign if you see hornbills in your forest. One afternoon we were kayaking over River Kali surrounded by dense forest, I was alone as I went upstream away from the resort. The water was calm, it was a clear sunny day with blue skies and the only noise was that of the jungle. When I turned back I saw Malabar Pied Hornbills fly over the river from one side to the other. It was a zen moment, being all by myself in the middle of the river and seeing those huge graceful birds glide towards the tall trees, if I had to keep only one memory from the trip, this would be it. Later that evening in our camp, many hornbills would stop by at the trees but surprisingly, the crows would manage to chase them away. On the last evening, boating over River Kali for one last time, we saw crocodiles and hornbills, both Malabar Pied and Malabar Grey, amble by the river, eat fruit and fly from one side to the other. Our necks were strained tracking their movements but what beatiful birds and when they fly, it is pure wondrous magic! I was very glad Dandeli had so many hornbills, our forests are healthy and safe, at least for now. 

***

I’ve always felt we are in a sad state that forests are not public property anymore, not so that they could be pillaged but so that everyone could have had easy and free access to this magical world.  Today they have to be protected and the only way you can have a wild encounter is from the restricted confines of a jeep during a safari. But being able to experience the wilderness in such close quarters is what makes Dandeli truly special. It is indeed a wild place where the wild things are free to roam, including you and me. 

Dandeli is a small town in Uttara Kannada district of north Karnataka. The closest railhead is at quaint village called Alnavar Jn, which is 40kms away from Dandeli. Adjoining the town are the dense forests of Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary and Anshi Tiger Reserve. Already known among adventure enthusiasts for rafting on the rapids of Kali River, Dandeli has many things to offer to the birding and nature enthusiasts as well. 

Note : I traveled to Dandeli on-invitation from www.dandeli.com. They can organize your trip to Dandeli starting from travel and hotel bookings to customizing your itinerary as per your interests. I stayed at Dandeli Jungle Camp, which is a very basic place but I loved it for the location, right in the middle of the jungle. 

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11 comments

  1. Sounds like a lot of fun. Good read, great pics.

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    1. Yep, lots of fun and a photo-essay coming soon, stay tuned! :)

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  2. Dandeli seems to be a well protected dense forest... and loved that peeking hornbill. We have the grey hornbills here in outskirts of Hyderabad, but not these colorful ones.

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    1. Yes, Prasad, very wild and beautiful. I had no idea hornbills are found in the outskirts of Hyd, so much to see in AP. I so want to start exploring that side, my home state!

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  3. Those are some interesting encounters!

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    1. Yes, thanks Niranjan, the fact they happened outside the designated National Park area makes them more dear. :)

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  4. That was a terrifying night (for me at least.), but it seems you enjoyed it, cheers! And by the way, the photo of the night sky is amazing!

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  5. Wow i must say that you have created a beautiful blog, especially the first pic which is lovely. Did you make the gif youself? because it’s really beautiful Neelima you are an amazing photographer. Thanks for sharing this blog with us.

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