Category Archives: Nature & Wildlife

The railway trek to Dudhsagar

If you have read my previous 2 posts- The railway adventure and Do’s & don’ts for a monsoon trek, then you’re sure to have had an insight to the adventure part of my trip to Dudhsagar waterfalls. This post is more on the trip and the sightseeing part of the story. I elaborate on the beautiful vistas that we came across as passed tunnel after tunnel, walking along a railway track, in the middle of a National park and finally seeing the beautiful Dudhsagar waterfalls.

17 of us boarded ‘MAS-Vasco express’ from ‘YPR’ on a Friday night and alighted at ‘Castle rock station’ on the following morning at 9.15.a.m. ‘Castle Rock’ is cute little station that divides the village into two- on one side is the railway colony, school, hospital, offices etc. and on the other side is the town(if at all it is called so) with basic amenities like a grocery store and a few petty shops. Since we were travelling in monsoon, the station was all green and a treat to all the eyes that had just landed from a concrete city.

With no facilities available anywhere around the station and even the basic offices closed on a weekend, we all freshened up in the washroom of the railway station itself. This is a point from where our railway trek starts. It is less of a trek and more of a walk along the railway track, all the way to our destination: The Dudhsagar waterfalls. But like they say, its is the journey more than the destination that matters, the entire stretch of this trail is what makes the trip all the more special.

We couldn’t and just couldn’t ignore the gazillion scenic spots that we come across for which we had to stop after every minute or 5 minutes of the walk for a photo. The Castle rock railway station itself was so good looking. This green moss laden station is located in the midst of the Braganza Ghats, in the heart of a National park. Take for example, this ART (Accident Relief Train) parked by the side of the tracks. It is adding so much colour to a photospot.

@Castle rock station- in the midst of the Braganza GhatsART a.ka. Accident Relief Train is parked by the side
@Castle rock station- in the midst of the Braganza Ghats
ART a.ka. Accident Relief Train is parked by the side

We continued to walk in the direction of Dudhsagar, but were unable to ignore the numerous waterfalls we encountered on our way. We stopped every time for photos. We had to walk through a total of 11 railway tunnels before reaching the main waterfalls. The first one can be approached by crossing a girder bridge laid over a scenic view of the valley.

The 2nd tunnel is the longest-at 624m. and the most beautiful one. It resembles an entrance of a Castle.

After crossing tunnel no.3, we walked slightly off the track, into the woods to see another large waterfall. Then came another waterfall, plunging down inside a vault kind of a structure built into the cliff.

Top: The vault by the trackside; Below: The waterfall within the vault

The 4th tunnel is special. After crossing this tunnel, we would be setting foot in another state altogether. This tunnel marks the border between Karnataka and Goa.

Top: The first tunnel on the Goa side of the land; Below: The location marked where the actual Goa territory starts

After a long walk from there, we crossed tunnel no.5. While still navigating our way with torchlights on the tracks, inside the tunnel, we heard the hooting of a train approaching us from behind. There wasn’t much time for us to get out and hence, we all decided to get down from the track and stick as close as possible to the wall of the tunnel to stay safe. When the goods train arrived, we literally held onto our dear lives. It was dark inside the tunnel and no place to move.

Run for life..!!
Clockwise from top left: A train passing over the girder bridge before tunnel no.1; Exit of tunnel no.2; Light between tunnel no.6&7; A train inside tunnel no.5

The 6th and the 7th tunnels came together. The 7th one was nothing more than a small arch. Then we walked through tunnel no. 8, 9 and 10.

The 10th one was long and dark. And with exiting it, we saw Light at the end of darkness.. We had arrived at the ‘Dudhsagar station’. This is a de-func station and hence, neither the trains stops nor any tickets are issued for passengers who board from here. However, some lucky visitors manage to get a stop here but, they take a risk with a ticket-less travel. But, this is where we all realized that we were all tired by walking along the tracks. But, the fact that our destination was nearby gave us energy.

The DDS station
The DDS station

Then, we proceeded towards the 11th tunnel…. When we were exiting it, we were all hooting and clapping in joy. That’s because we all got our first glance of our destination. The mighty Dudhsagar: “Ocean of Milk”. The feeling was inexplainable. It was a great sense of contentment after a long tiring walk that was alllllll worth it..!! There was now a sudden spike in our energy levels and we all hurried towards the waterfalls. We dumped all our luggage right there, in front of the waterfall and crashed down in awe. As we were basking in the glory of the waterfalls, it had started to get dark. We looked out for space to unpack our luggage and our tents.

Top: The first glimpse of Dudhsagar waterfall out of tunnel 11; Below: Different views of the Dudhsagar waterfall

The only shelter (a small roofed structure) available to pitch a tent was already occupied by a large group who had arrived before us. We had no choice but to camp in the open, just by the side of the railway tracks. We put up a small campfire sort of a thing so that we had enough light to see each other’s face. But mind you, we were in the middle of a monsoon season in the western Ghats. The rain gods who had been kind on us during the entire hike were now playing spoilt sport. The campfire was put off too soon and we managed the rest of the night with our torches.

It poured cats and dogs the whole night.. The roaring noise of the waterfalls in the backdrop and the loud hooting sound of the train that passed atleast once in every half an hour, the tent pitched right next to the track with the waterfalls on the other side, it was indeed a night to remember..!!

Next morning, we all rose with the sun and spent some peaceful time in watching the water gushing down violently. Apart from freshening up last at Castle rock, it was already 2 days & 2 nights since we had last seen a decent restroom or a bathroom. We looked around to find a little place where we could finish off our stuff in peace. A small waterfall nestled deep inside the woods is what we found instead. All the girls in our group jumped into the water while the guys kept a watch for any trespassers 😉

Mythology says that the “DevaKannikas or the Apsaras are often seen bathing in the midst of the woods, before sunrise.. and if one is lucky, he can see them walk by in wet clothes” to think of it from a strangers’ perspective, I guess the scene that morning must have been something similar to that. We couldn’t find a place near the waterfall where we could change into dry clothes. Hence, we all wore our jackets over wet clothes and walked 1.5kms towards our tents. On the way, we came across tens of trekkers who desperately stared at us.. I understand the natural human instinct to drool at divine looking girls who are walking wet after getting all soaked in pristine water. Nobody could help the sight.!!

The waterfall where we took our morning shower at Dudhsagar

We were told that the passenger train would cross the waterfalls by 9.15.a.m. This meant that we had to be at the view point by that time to get that perfect internet photo..!! It took us to cross the 2 more tunnels to reach the viewpoint. After reaching there and waiting for a few minutes, we finally got the wallpaper worthy photo that we wanted.

Finally.. We got what we wanted..!!
Finally.. We got what we wanted..!!

After a long photo session of the large group that we were and before the crowd who had just arrived in that passenger train would spoil the peace, we headed back to our tents.. We had a round of heavy brunch (carried from home) and slowly packed up. The initial plan was to walk the track all the way to Kulem, but owing to the cruel sun and the tiring walking experience on the tracks on the previous day, we decided to wait to find a train ride, either to Kulem or Castle rock. We missed the goods’ train to Kulem by a few minutes and so, we had to wait at the Dudhsagar station for the passenger train going towards Castle Rock.And with that.. Curtains down to our trip to DDS falls..!!!

Update as on Year 2019:
• Trekking on the tracks in prohibited as it passes through a National park. There is a risk of a human-animal conflict.
• If you wish to visit the Dudhsagar waterfalls, you can sign up with one of the organisers based out of Londa in Karnataka or Kulem in Goa. They can take you through an authorized trail or a 4WD ride to a nearest point can be arranged.

Monsoon retreat- Jog falls

‘Jog’ is a charmer on all Karnataka tourism promotions. Why not? It’s the second highest waterfall in India after all! A glimpse of the mighty Jog at least once in a lifetime is an unwritten rule for every person born or living in Karnataka. And why not see it take a plunge in all its might? This exclusive visit could happen in no better time than the monsoons. So, my mother, brother and I planned this weekend trip to see the Jog. such that we could reach Shimoga by 6.00.a.m.

Our itinerary:
Day 0: Leave Bangalore to Shimoga (Overnight bus)
Day 1: Shimoga to Sagara (local transport), visit Linganamakki dam and hydroelectric project, The Jog falls, Tyarekoppa Lion & tiger safari. Return from Shimoga to Bangalore (overnight bus)

The details:
When we reached Shimoga in the morning, it was pouring not just cats & dogs, but also cows & buffaloes. A jeep’s ride had been arranged by my mother’s colleague to take us from Shimoga to Sagara town. The rains were so heavy that we could barely see the road ahead. With that, we would fall into just every other pothole that was covered under the flooded roads. Finally, we had managed to reach Sagara, the nearest accessible town to Jog falls.

Once there, we thought to see the Linganamakki Hydroelectric project that falls on the way to Jog. There also used to be a cable car ride down the reservoir that we were interested to go on. Unfortunately for us, our visit was timed just about when permission to visit the project was cancelled for some security reasons. Nevertheless, the view of the Linganamakki dam and the scenery around almost evened up for the miss.

Views of the Sharavati project around Jog falls
Top: the view of Sharavati valley; Below: The Linganamakki dam

And then, with an uphill drive of about six kilometers, we reached the place which was the sole motive of our travel from Bangalore. “The Jog”!! But, there was more disappointment awaiting us on our arrival. It was something that caused us total dismay…!!! The clouds paired up with thick mist had enshrouded the waterfalls completely. And our entire surrounding had just blanked out with mist. There was absolutely nothing in front of us except the mist and more mist… To top it all, it was raining cats and dogs. There was no Jog, nothing. ‘What an unfortunate day for us’, we thought and decided to return after a futile wait.

We turned our backs and started to walk towards the jeep with a heavy heart. As we did, I just happened to turn back and check on our luck with the waterfalls. And yes…. we were LUCKY…!! The mist was slowly clearing out… And we could faintly spot the Sharavathi streaming down in full action.

As we stood for two minutes more, the view was then all clear: The Mighty King (Raja), the Graceful Queen (Rani), the Thunderous Roarer and the Storming Rocket – YES… We saw them! We felt a great sense of achievement, very contrary to what we had felt just a couple of minutes ago. While we got some nice clicks, the mist enclothed the falls, back again. We waited for it to clear out to capture a few more photos because this time, we knew that the action was repetitive.

Jog falls in monsoon
Jog, from different view points

After a while we walked around to get different views of the falls. We went to the top of the waterfalls, walked down closer to the bottom of the waterfall, locatiosn from where we got the side view of the Jog, and so on… It was quite an adventure in itself to get around these difficult spots, especially considering the heavy rains and the slippery path. But, the excitement of getting to these locations was all worth the risk! After having an eyeful and heart full of ‘The JOG falls’, we decided to say good-bye to the place.

On our way back to Shimoga, we visited ‘Tyarekoppa Lion & tiger safari’. Along with spotting a lot of deer, sambars and peacocks, we also counted on the big cats like the lion and tigers on a safari ride. It wasn’t a typical safari you would have in the wild, but it was more like taking a ride inside a fenced enclosure. But, it is a well maintained place and great if you are travelling with children.

Tiger safari near Shimoga
Roarrr, a tiger at the safari

And that was all the time we had with us. We had almost reached the end of a fun day-Sunday and we boarded the bus back to Bangalore at night. We had to gear up for the crazy week that was awaiting us…

Conclusion: An experience of the monsoon in the western ghats and a glimpse of the Jog in the monsoon are retreats that should go into the bucket list of everyone visiting India.

The Western Ghats- To Save or Not ?

There is much ado about the Western Ghats getting tagged as a World heritage site by the UNESCO.

So, like everyone around me here, I too am excited about sharing my views on it.

Firstly the stronger points for consideration:

  1. The western Ghats is home to very rare species of flora & fauna- many snakes, frogs, birds etc. are critically endangered and also unique only to these Ghats.
  2. These ghats stop the wind from the east and bring rainfall to the south.
  3. The major rivers of the South are rain fed and originate here.
  4. I being an ardent nature lover would definitely support to save the ever lush green ghats.

Now, the points not to consider:

  1. There are a no. of tribes living in these Ghats like the Soligas, Kurubas, Maleya-kudiyas etc who will all be forced to vacate the forests and will be disturbed from their natural habitat though the government may promise them of providing alternate homes.
  2. The Coorgs (Kodavas)- by themselves are a very small community fighting hard against the “Jamma Bane” issue and now have yet another blow. Many localites holding lands in the identified areas will be forced to vacate and this will inturn force them out of Coorg.
  3. Myself being a hardcore Kodavathi, I would never be able to take this by my stride.

And now, the strongest of them all:

  1. The Ghats are a rich source for mining, timber and a major hub for tourism leading to severe deforestation in the name of building resorts, nature sports and the likes.
  2. It is important to consider that our beloved elected representatives are frequently in the limelight for the mining scams. The major share of resorts in this region are owned by big names and are tucked away deep in the core area of the jungles which compete for providing the best tiger spotting, elephant spotting, wild hunting, etc. etc, activities for their guests. So there is a valid point for these scamsters to fight against the prestigious tag.
  3. The heritage tag limits the human entry to most regions. Let alone restrictions on activities like trekking, hiking etc. just walking around this place without knowledge would lead to high penalty.

But, what if this has an impact on a Coorg’s lifestyle: the tag has come as a much needed  respite for a nature lover like me. We are Coorgs at the end of the day. We have lived our way through thick jungles, heavy downpours, deep dark nights, wild animals in our porticos. And that’s the way we enjoy our life at it’s best. So we can definitely live strong with thick jungles. We want our Green cover to be saved…!!

I am frustrated of being helpless and just a mute spectator watching the depletion of green cover in the name of development. I can hardly see any development in my area other than the fact that big names (let me say powerful people) are buying properties by offering good money and settling down in Coorg, becoming stake-holders in resorts etc and turning all their black money white.

I used to eagerly wait for the rainy season to start so that I would get my monsoon holidays while I was in school. And now, I am even more anxious that this rainy season may pass by without even seeing a “rainfall”. Yes, only conservation of these ghats can bring us the rains that we need.

I am frustrated with the fact that the place where is grew up catching little fishes and crabs with my cousins as a little girl beneath big boulders is now nothing but a fully concrete platform for the tourists to rest on.

What I once knew as a beautiful waterfall and a place where my grandpa gave me my swimming lessons is now nothing but a pool of sewage flowing from the town littered by ruthless tourists. The stench of this mess gets tears streaming down my eyes everytime I stand on the very same concrete platform and try to recollect the good old greener and cleaner grandpa days…

The Bramhagiri hills
The Bramhagiri hills

And here I sum up (with lines from a famous song of a Bollywood movie):

Give me some sunshine, give me some rain
Give me another chance, I want to grow up once again…

– 3 Idiots

Up, close and personal with wildlife at Bannerghatta

I believe that we develop interests based on the environment and the social circles that we are exposed to. Born in a small hill-dwelling community whose lineage takes pride in hunting games, it once got me to think where my interests towards nature and wildlife conservation came from. Although I couldn’t join too many dots, one significant period was my high-school days where I would have long conversations with a friend, about animals’ health, their behavior, their habitat etc. Her father worked in the Karnataka forest department. I thus chanced upon once, to stay for a couple of days along with her, in the official quarters located inside the Bannerghatta Biological park.

A stay dating back to June 2007: Five friends and I embarked on this memorable trip (yeah, I can call it life changing too.. It probably changed my perspective about zoo keeping and keeping animals in captivity).

Day 1:
After bracing through long traffic jams and burping on our pre-booked lunch at the Jungle resorts within the park, it was Safari time for us. Even though I’ve been to Bannerghatta innumerous number of times in the past, this was a nice experience. On my previous visits as a normal visitor in the zoo, I would have to buy separate passes for each section. But this time, I was exploring the place with special privileges. The herbivores safari, tiger safari, lion safari, bear safari all done by sunset time and we unwound at the quarters.. You have 6 chatter-box girls in one house and what do you expect? A lot of gossip 😛 The evening thus passed by. The cook served our dinner and post that, we all geared up for one of the most memorable nights of our lives.

Photos of wildlife taken at Bannerghatta National park
Deep inside the jungle

We were all set for “The Night Safari”. The forest guards would go on their regular night beats in the forest and this time, we would accompany them. Apart from being the first experience for all of us out at night in deep jungle, what was more exciting was that we were going in an open pick-up vehicle. As the eeriness of the deep dark wild started to excite us more and more, we got a better understanding of such places at night. While we were being attentive and soaking in all the sensuousness of mother nature, we spotted some wild animal that crossed our path.. and then came back and stood infront of our vehicle. I thought it was some sort of a wild cat and my jaws dropped in awe. I shouted in excitement, “Cat, Cat!”. Then noticing the weird glances I received and the silence of others, I realized I had to shut up. A friend was quick to realise what it was. She shouted “Leopard, Leopard!”. Imagine a LEOPARD, totally untamed and WILD.. right infront of us…!!! The driver halted the vehicle. Another friend yelled out, “Don’t stop, don’t stop.. Move move..”. But the driver took the jeep in reverse and closer to the cat. The leopard had now walked past our jeep and come to the rear side. At a distance of less than 10meters or so.. Instead of pouncing on us and grabbing one of us, strangely the leopard ran away within a few seconds. PHEWWW… still feels like I just woke up from a dream..!!

We were then told that the leopard had littered cubs somewhere in the vicinity and hence, ran away. The forest guards know their forests and its inhabitants. The leopard was frightened about a threat to its babies and hence ran away to protect them. They are usually in defensive mode during these time unless attacking is an absolute necessary. The Safari continued.. We spotted bisons, antelopes, spotted deers, neelghais, wild cat, black bucks, mongoose, rabbits, so on and so forth… The nigh safari was indeed an experience in itself!

Day 2:
Next morning we all woke up before sunrise and again, headed towards the jungle. This time, it was a morning ride with a hope of spotting a few wild elephants. As we travelled deep, deeper and deepest into the forest, the terrain got more bumpier and rocky. The painful ride however, did not yield any good sightings apart from fresh elephant dung everywhere. But, some wonders of the jungles that we had missed in the darkness of the previous night, made up for the disappointment of our morning ride. Picture these little scenes: hundreds of butterflies flying out of a bush, all at once; the glittering clear waters of the lakes lost in the deep jungle; many more.

After reaching back to the quarters, we immediately headed to a pond located behind the quarters. It was bathing time for the pachyderms at the zoo… Two majestic sweethearts walked past us, with a calf: Vanaraja, Darshan & Baby Nisarga (Those are the names of the elephants at Bannerghatta). We too stretched ourselves to give them a scrub and in the process, got all wet with the ever playfull little Nisarga.

Photos of elephants taken at Bannerghatta National park

It was our zoo time post breakfast. In a separate area, an elephant calf named Geetha was in deep slumber. The calf who was barely as old as a month-and-a-half was guarded by her mother. We accompanied the mahout to feed them and spent. During this, the little one woke up and we got lucky to spend some time playing around with her. She would nod her head and playfully chase us. We would run around the tree until both of us got tired, and then start the cycle again. While at this, the vetinerary doctors of the zoo welcomed us to the backyard of the Vet-hospital. Under their supervision, we got an opportunity to touch, carry and care for wounded or sick animals that were being treated there. Among them were an alligator, civet cat, guinea pigs, rabbits etc.

Later in the afternoon, we visted the SOS centre. I didn’t even know such a place existed within the premises despite coming to the zoo several times in the past Special privileges! This is a rehabilitation center for wounded lions, tigers, bears etc. These animals are mostly rescued from circuses, bear charmers etc. treated here before letting them into the actual zoo area. This is a public prohibited zone. The handsome Siberian tigers were my favourite.

Sloth bears at the SOS center in Bannerghatta National Park
At the SOS centre

Next was the drive uphill- to Udige bande. We got a nice view of the ‘Bannerghatta National Park’ from here. You can find innumerous dolmens here, believed to be the place where the local tribes once laid their dead ancestors to sleep. There is also another large rock, called as the Barber’s stone which is believed to have been featured in Dr.Rajkumar’s ‘Gandhada Gudi’ movie.

Views of the forest cover at Bannerghatta National park
From Top left: 1.The view from Udige Bande, 2. The Barber’s stone, 3.The Dolmens atop Udige Bande, 4.View of a small check dam constructed by the forest department as a watering hole for the wild animals.

Day 3:
We were taken to the tiger and lion conservation area. The pictures taken here are something that I would be flaunting for the rest of my life. Not all get a chance to touch and play around with tiger cubs 😉 The big cats that are ready for their breeding / mating are brought here. After the cubs are born, the parents and the cubs are nurtured here until the cubs are of a suitable age to go back to the wild. Here, there is no wild as such. They are let in the safari area to mingle with the other cats in a controlled space, which is also another form of captivity.

A tiger cub at the animal breeding center at Bannerghatta National park
Playing with a tiger cub at Bannerghatta lion and tiger conservation area

We took a walk around the museum and got a few insights into preservation and conservation of our natural heritage. We then headed to the last part of our long weekend. The butterfly park was newly set back then and it was a good crowd puller among the public.

To my experiences of going on wildlife safaris and what I had watched on discovery & Nat-geo, I guess this trip gave me a new insight into wildlife conservation. Until now I had only been hearing and watching it. This trip gave me an opportunity to EXPERIENCE it. You cannot connect with nature unless, you get up, close and personal with wildlife.