Words SAMARPAN BHOWMIK
Photographs T KRISHNA PRABAKAR
Out of BELGAUM (86km)
With the devastation wreaked by the monsoon almost behind us, it’s time again to hit the open road. Around 90km south of Belgaum in Karnataka, in the heart of the Western Ghats, lies the small town of Dandeli. Cut in two by the Kali River, this little town has garnered a reputation for two things – water sports and birdwatching.
The river, which can be a formidable beast during the monsoon, becomes a lot more manageable in the dry season, from October to June, and has rapids that rafting enthusiasts swear by. Then there are the four kinds of hornbills present in these parts, which draw birdwatchers from all across the sub-continent.
The roads leading to Dandeli get a lot more interesting once you get off the highway, cutting through lush farmlands and little villages. As much as you’d like to get to the destination, stop briefly en route and simply taking in the rich canvas presented by the Karnataka countryside. As you near Dandeli, you’ll come across several properties advertising “jungle stays”. Carry on until you get to the main town, and check the accommodation options there. Many of the properties offer rafting and other adventure activities, along with the promise of living “in the middle of the jungle”.
Pick, perhaps, Kali Adventure Camp, formerly a state tourism department guest house. The advantage of the government association is that this property, along with water sports and birdwatching tours, also offers safaris into the nearby Kali Tiger Reserve.
The camp is spread across a fairly large area, with rooms in one main building and cottages by the river. You might hear a few cars now and then, owing to its proximity to the town, but the gushing of the river and calls of the numerous local birds do deliver a bit of a “in-the-middle-of-nature” feel.
The safari comes as part of the package with the camp, and you could spot everything from barking deer and spotted deer to peacocks and flying squirrels. And then there’s the highlight – the big cat. Its elusiveness is part of its charm – you might manage only to see pugmarks, but the other local celebrities – the hornbills – do usually put in an appearance on a birdwatching tour. If you’re lucky, you might see all four – the great Indian hornbill, the Malabar pied hornbill, the Malabar grey hornbill and the Malabar hornbill. The birdwatching tours happen in the timber yards nearby and it’s quite the experience to see these birds hop from tree-top to tree-top, usually in pairs.
If you’d rather go rafting, you’re taken a few kilometres upstream and then given a couple of hours to make your way down the Kali River. Some of the camps also offer other activities such as ziplining. For those who like to take things a little easy, you could take a ride in a coracle, a circular boat that’s been in use since the time of the Roman Empire. While it’s a peaceful ride, with friendly chatter from the boatman and the calm waters reflecting the lives of Dandeli’s inhabitants by the river, the edge to the scenario is provided by the crocodiles that call these waters home. Their diet comprises fish primarily, and they are usually rather wary of humans. Your best bet of getting a proper look at one of these apex predators is with binoculars – because, every time you draw close, they disappear in a flurry of tail and water.
A weekend in Dandeli offers up the perfect balance of a getaway to the heart of nature – adrenaline-pumping action on the rapids of a roaring river, rare birds and animals in their natural habitat – and serene reflection to the tune of nature’s glorious melody all around you. And all this, after that blissfully relaxing drive there.