GRIN AND BEAR IT
Words: SHEENA DABHOLKAR
Photographs: ASHISH PARMAR
GREAT FROM Bangalore, Goa, Pune
GREAT FOR Stunning landscapes and sloth bears
“The bees are buzzin’ in the tree, to make some honey just for me. When you look under the rocks and plants, and take a glance at the fancy ants, then maybe try a few…” sings Baloo in The Jungle Book.
All the signs point to Baloo being a sloth bear – the insectivorous, honey-loving species, indigenous to India. And one place to spot sloth bears is the dedicated Daroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary in Hampi, that glorious testament to the Vijayanagar Empire, known for its spectacular ruins and striking topography.
It’s a shame that very few visitors come here for Hampi’s remarkable wildlife. Daroji’s scrub-covered terrain is ideal for spotting jackals, black-naped hares, mongoose, wild boars and even leopards. The main draw of course is the sloth bears, who usually come out to play in the late afternoon lured by the promise of sugar smeared (just to draw the shy fellows out) onto a stony hillock that sticks out of the forest.
It’s open all day, but drive over only after 3.30pm, bring a pair of binoculars and climb up to the watchtower. The view is splendid, and it’s worth the wait to observe the sloth bears in their natural habitat – their goofy muzzles and shaggy black coats emerging slowly from behind the boulders, curiously poking around.
At the fringes of the forest, Hampi Heritage and Wilderness Resort, better known as Sloth Bear Resort, is the perfect jump-off point for both the sanctuary and the sights. The people at the resort have crafted a sensible itinerary for visitors to maximise their time with these creatures. It includes a good mix of natural and architectural wonders. First-time visitors should make the most of the royal and holy enclosures – Hampi’s heritage monuments, palaces and temples during the day.
The rest of the time, you’ll want to stick close to Mahesh and Venkatesh, the resort’s two knowledgeable and affable naturalists. The duo will play a big part in your experience, accompanying you to the reserve, answering all your fauna-related questions and urging you to wake with the sun because early mornings are best spent bird-watching. Join them on a jeep safari to the high-level canal and keep your eyes peeled for various birds of prey, including the cleverly camouflaged Indian eagle owl, one of the largest of the species with a wingspan of upto two-and-a-half feet!
Then head further down to the banks of Kamalapur Lake with the murky pink-hued backwaters of the Tungabhadra Dam, where the river tern and the Asian open bill stork are commonly sighted. Unusual migratory patterns have seen flamingos and pelicans also making it their home for several months this year. Keen birders will also love the resort itself. Each cottage has its own private balcony surrounded by greenery, so you can pour yourself a cup of tea, take your perch and keep your ears open for the birds. Or stroll towards the back of the property and position yourself inside the bamboo hide to watch flocks of francolin, laughing dove and silverbill feast on millet and splash in the pool of water on the ledge nearby.
By evening, make your way to Malyavanta Hill, and stroll through the temple complex. It’s only fitting to end a day filled with sightseeing and wildlife-spotting with a quintessential Hampi phenomenon – a dramatic, golden sunset against its breathtaking, bouldered landscape.