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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

47. A Road Trip to Dandeli and Ganeshgudi

During the second week of November we decided to make the long awaited trip to Ganeshgudi/Dandeli – an armchair-birders’ paradise though I did not know it then (I mean the armchair part). I used to see these beautiful bird pictures on the net, all sighted at Ganeshgudi and wonder. Therefore, when Ajit our friend suggested we make a trip there this year I was quite excited. November is the start of the birding season, the weather is pleasant and it coincided with the Diwali holidays making it possible for our friends, who unfortunately still need to work ;- ) to join us. We drove down from Pune while Ajit and Anu drove up from Chennai. (The detailed route taken to and fro is given at the end of the post). 

The bookings for the stay arrangements were made online. Our first choice was The Old Magazine House – so called because of its history. In 1974, when the nearby Supa Dam was under construction, 2 lightening protected rooms were built in the middle of the jungle, far from human habitation, to store blasting material. One farsighted forest officer had the idea to utilize the space for a tourist resort.  Unfortunately, the 5 shacks in the Old Magazine House are not currently being rented out as they need renovation so they instead put us up at the Kali River Resorts (also part of the Jungle Resorts). However, for anybody who does not mind community living dormitory with bunk beds is still available.

We started at 7am from Pune on the 11th of November and, comfortably, reached Kolhapur around 11.30am. We had decided to stay the night with my nephew, Ravindra,  and managed to do some local sightseeing as well. After a rather oily lunch at a local restaurant we drove to Panhala Fort some 25 kms from the city and put to rest one of Rajeev’s long standing complains. We had missed seeing it a couple of times while returning from Ratnagiri and Ganpatiphule.


Built in 1178 by Bhoja II of the Shilaharas, the fort has had a chequered history, passing through many hands. In 1659 Shivaji took Panhala Fort from Bijapur which was in a state of confusion due to the death of its general Afzal Khan. The next year Adil Shah II of Bijapur sent his army under the command of Siddi Johar to wrest the fort back from Shivaji. After 5 months of siege Shivaji was all but captured but the bravery of his commander Baji Prabhu Deshpande and his barber Shiva Kashid, who impersonated Shivaji, saved the day. Ravindra told us a very moving story of how, while Baji Prabhu kept the enemy engaged, Shivaji made his escape. Though mortally wounded Baji Prabhu kept fighting till he heard the sound of the cannon which signaled that Shivaji had safely reached Vishalgad and only then breathed his last.

The brave warrior Baji Prabhu Deshpande

One of the largest forts in the Deccan, with a perimeter of 14km, it is in a relatively good condition. There are a number of things to see in the fort. Teen Dawaza, (one of the three double doorways) Andharbavdi (a hidden well), Ambarkhana,(consists of 3 granaries and also the palace), Rajdindi,( the third doorway to be used in case of an emergency), Wagh Darwaza, (Another doorway with a prominent Ganesh motif to elude invaders), Tabak Udyan, Sajjakothi, (viewing pavilion) Tarabai Rajwada, Shivaji Temple, Nehru Garden, Moropant Library,  Dharmakothi, Naykini Sajja (courtesans’ terrace room) are all important points to see. 

With Ravindra
Rittika posing in front of a solid inside wall of the fort

The symmetrical arches
The Fort looking deceptively small from outside

The Lion motif

The Lotus motif of Raja Bhoj who built the fort.

After spending Diwali evening with Ravindra and his family we started again around 7am on a route chalked out by my nephew and Rajeev after consulting Google maps (what else!). We flew! over the Bangalore highway at great speed till we reached the bridge overlooking the small town of Kittur. We got off the bridge with some difficulty after asking some passersby, made a U-turn under the bridge then got on to a tiny village road after taking a right from a small hotel called Gajraj. Rajeev complained a lot after coming to a single lane from a 6 lane road. In retrospect, however, it was not too bad because it hardly had any traffic.


We reached Kali River Resorts by noon, without much trouble even though we do not like using GPS and stopped frequently to ask the local people the way. All road signs were in Kannada only, thankfully the locals were helpful and spoke hindi. The last part of the drive was through a forest and quite lovely. The resort at first glance seemed a little dry and dusty but when we went into our river facing tents we felt rather pleased. 

Kali Adventure Camp and Resort

Our Tent

It would have been nice if we had the time to just chill in a hammock
Or even sit on the Machaan with a camera

We were informed that we would be treated like guests of the Old Magazine House for 2 days and only the last day we would be part of the Kali Resort schedule. Our friends from Chennai too joined us by lunch and so after lunch we were ferried 21 km by a safari jeep to the Old Magazine House for bird watching.  


When we got off the jeep the sight we saw took us by complete surprise. A row of tripods with high end cameras were lined up behind a green netting with people busy clicking pictures. We joined the group and saw the sight with absolute disbelief – small birds of all colours were alighting on some bird baths and frolicking with abandon. One would come and while I am focusing my camera on it another will take its place in the bath – spraying water and letting out loud cheeps of delight. It was such a delightful scene with just the sound of chirping birds and the rat-a-tat of camera shutters. The birds incidentally, were unfazed by the machine gun like sounds emanating from the cameras (Didi had a eureka moment and decided this was the reason filming was called shooting!). Many of the birds I was seeing for the first time. When a new variety came down a collective wave of excitement would pass through the group and the camera sounds would go a couple of notches higher. The ‘performance’ continued well into dusk. When there was a lull I asked Mohan Babu who manages The Old Magazine House, if it was over – he said, no, since the Orange-headed Rock Thrush had not made a second appearance yet. He has named the spectacle a Ramp Walk so that would make the Orange headed Rock Thrush a ‘’Show Stopper’’. Sure enough the peculiar little orange bird, with two black lines down its face, made a second appearance and only then everything went quiet and people got down to having their evening tea. 
We returned through the forest, now dark and a little menacing, intently listening to Mohan Babu’s stories of leopard and sloth bear sightings. The forest is said to have big game too, including tigers.

Filming the Ramp Walk

A couple of Yellow Browed Bulbuls tentatively eying the bath water

The Bath

Orange Headed Rock Thrush. The cutest "Show Stopper".
Rajeev preferred dreaming about birds rather than watching them! A monkey had to drop a huge bamboo from the roof, barely missing his head, to wake him up.

An interesting sculpture created by pebbles on a rain-washed heap of sand.
The lightening safe old magazine house now the admin block for the resort - also housing the dormitories
Bamboo huts under renovation


The Giant Malabar Squirrel thriving in these forests

The languorous Langur

When we got back, the lodge had a bonfire going with evening tea and snacks. The food at the Lodge is excellent without being too rich and spicy.

The SECOND DAY we went bird watching in the OLD TIMBER DEPOT with a guide called Shashidhar who is a Naturalist and an excellent bird spotter. We spent a very fruitful couple of hours and came back thoroughly pleased with the results of our tour. After breakfast we were again taken to The Old Magazine to spend the day there. As the bird had not commenced alighting yet we took a little walk towards the forest and had the sighting of the trip! We saw the Malabar Trogon, the rare bird, people specially come to Ganeshgudi to see. We went back and reported to the group and everyone to a man ran to the spot with their cameras. However, only a couple reported success. After lunch again the ramp walk commenced but that day for some reason there were fewer birds but we enjoyed ourselves nonetheless.  All in all it was a great arrangement by the very entertaining and helpful manager of OMH, Mohan Babu.

Our guide told us that Anil Kumble, the cricketer, patronises this spot for bird watching.
The Crocodile bark Tree stores immense quantities of water in its nodes. The Gowli tribals tap into it when they have to be on the move for days chasing their cattle. Manju Ritti showing how the water is oozing out.

"What bird is that?"

The Malabar Grey Hornbill seen eating a ficus fruit. The fig wasp has a symbiotic relation with this fruit. It breeds inside the fruit while helping pollinate it.

Our guide assured us these were naturally fallen tree logs.


The THIRD DAY we were officially guests of the Kali River Resorts. We would have liked to go for their river rafting excursion but this year due to poor monsoons there was not enough water in the river. So after another early morning bird watching session at the timber depot, this time with Manjunath Ritti, another excellent guide, we went Coracling in the Kali River after breakfast. It was fun floating in a basket on the water while egrets, brahminy kites and pied kingfishers swooped on unsuspecting fishes around you. The high point was seeing a colossal crocodile sun bathing at an arms distance.

A reflection in the still waters of the Kali River

An Egret, fishing

Coracling in the Kali River

The crocodile blending in with the rock


After lunch we were taken for a safari to the Dandeli-Anshi Tiger Reserve some 50 km away. Though not many animals were sighted our driver and guide Prakash managed to make it a memorable trip for us.

Abandoned Hornbill nests

Tiger pug marks - proof of their presence

A Barking deer as curious about us as we were about him

crested hawk-eagle sighted at a distance

Three days had passed without a dull moment. It was not without a heavy heart that we bid farewell to the place and started on the trip back. This time we came via Belgaum following our new found friend Kaustub up to the highway. All went well till we reached Karad when we landed into a nightmare of traffic jams and diversions. About 10 or 11 diversions on the highway due to construction activity and the returning holiday crowd made us experience the worst possible traffic snarl. To cut a very long story short we reached home well after midnight rather than sometime around evening. It took me a few days to recover from that and get back the fond memories of our trip and write about it.

The bird pictures can be checked out here
Pictures posted here are assorted from those taken by our group.