Published in DECCAN HERALD – In the lap of nature
Photographs by : Adityavikram More
In the lap of nature
With its lush greenery and the sparkling river Kali quietly flowing by its side, Dandeli makes for the perfect vacation spot. Whether you an adrenaline junkie or a nature enthusiast or just someone looking for a place to relax, Dandeli has something for everybody, finds Arefa Tehsin
What lifts our hearts with the flight of a bird or with a cloud hovering over a hill? What draws us to a riverside, or a mountain-top or a stretch of a beach to relax? What pulls us away from the bustling crowds of our own species? Perhaps it’s the forgotten bond with nature that refuses to fade away.
When my uncle suggested Dandeli for a holiday, my father just said, “Gaur and Paper Mill”. We were not sure of going there. But one look at Dandeli on the web – rafting, kayaking, fishing, jungle safari, boating, natural jacuzzi, trekking, rappelling, river crossing – and it cleared all our confusion.
Dandeli, a town on the Western Ghats running through Karnataka, is around 143 kilometres from Goa (Dabolim airport) and 60 kilometres from Hubli. We chose to drive down from Goa. The drive through Goa towards Dandeli in Karnataka passes through lush forests and ghats. Dandeli itself is a green heaven. A number of resorts stand on the banks of river Kali with the backdrop of the evergreen forest.
The sparkling waters of Kali and the biodiversity of the region attract many who want to relax amidst nature. White water rafting can be done almost all year round owing to the Supa dam on Kali. If you stay in a resort by the river, there are many activities to indulge in throughout the day. While kayaking, rafting and rappelling have your adrenaline rushing, fishing, bird watching or relaxing by the river soothe your nerves. There is enough to satiate the appetite of adventure lovers as well as those who prefer to laze around.
The natural jacuzzi is ideal for both types of visitors. When the water levels are high, they swirl and spin around the banks. One can also sit on rocks at certain places in the river and enjoy a natural massage from the playful, spilling waters amidst the wilderness.
The Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary is home to tiger, sambar, black panther, barking deer, gaur (Indian bison), elephant, flying squirrel, giant squirrel and a variety of birds. The Forest Department has a camping site near the sanctuary with eco-friendly tents, all basic facilities and attached bathrooms. Like many protected forests of the country, felling and mining mafia operate in this region as well, especially since it continues to be thick and lush. The only deterring forces are one or two dedicated forest officers who are merciless towards the defectors. There are many stories of their heroism — how they go at odd hours in the jeep, scanning the forest for any illegal activity etc.
The lush sanctuary and the entire region is a birder’s paradise. Dandeli is one of the best places to spot hornbills — Great Pied, Malabar Pied and Grey hornbills. We were fortunate to see a Malabar Pied Hornbill nesting. The way hornbills nest is not just unique but awe-inspiring. After the mating process is over, the female hornbill seals herself with her droppings and other matter in a hole in the tree. She leaves only a slit large enough to put her beak through. The male remains outside and feeds the female, making numerous feeding trips a day, till the time she lays and incubates the eggs and the chicks come out. It is the sole responsibility of the male to keep the female and the chicks alive. Once the chicks get too big, the female breaks the wall, comes out and seals the hole again. After that, both the male and the female feed the chicks.
Apart from the fascinating hornbills, the bird life is throbbing and diverse. The Old Magazine House forest camp, situated 25km from Dandeli, is one of the best places to see the bird life in its full glory. It is situated in a thick pocket of the forest. Flycatchers, shrikes, robins, emerald doves, woodpeckers, bulbuls, cuckoos, babblers, thrushes and many other flock the bamboo clumps. Many photographers hang around the place, especially at dusk and dawn, when the birds are most active.
You can spot some night birds if you go for a trek at night. The voice of the crystal clear, playful waters of the river sings you a lullaby, regardless of you staying in a tent or in a riverside resort. There are trekkers, naturalists and resource persons for water sports to guide you in your activities. Among them you’ll also find African-Indians speaking with a south Indian accent. They’ve been residents of Dandeli for generations.
One of the largest employers and landowners of the town is the old paper mill. It provides many facilities not only to its employees but also to the town as a whole. While this is a sustainable way of development, it also makes it difficult for environmentalists of the area to voice their concerns about the waste from the mill polluting the Kali or the smoke from chimneys polluting the air for kilometres. The polluted water passes through pristine forests on its downward journey.
The green heaven that is Dandeli has its very own demons too — dams. While there are already six dams on the river, there was a proposal for the seventh one — which would further submerge hundreds of acres of forested land. Local communities got together and fought for years to have the project called off. Umesh, activist and co-owner of Hornbill River Resort, says, “The seventh dam would’ve generated just 18 megawatt of electricity, submerging 200 hectares of forest! We couldn’t let the long hearing and procedures over the years deter us.”
The main dam on the river – Supa – is alone sufficient. Its backwaters are the perfect backdrop for a quiet evening with the pure and pacifying waters. They whisper and laugh with the breeze, forgiving us all our meddling with their free flowing ways. That was the perfect place to end the last evening of the trip. The waters splashing on the bank turn from blue to fire to scarlet to flame to rust. And then the waters merge with the sky, both a deep wine, to bid goodbye to a tired day and a refreshing trip.