What can nurture and please you at the same time? How can one simple experience in the wilderness be both exhilarating and soothing? These emotions sum up the way I felt on one of my recent weekend getaways to a rocky water-land: Bheemeshwari.
The sweltering heat, the dusty roads and the no–network zone didn’t deter us from exploring this vast scape that lies on the banks of the river Cauvery. A 90 km drive from Bangalore via the Kanakapura road towards Malavalli, a sharp left at Halaguru, and a few kms from there will land you at Bheemeshwari. This was not my very first trip to Bheemeshwari, though; years ago, on my first visit, I still remember how the river swelled up after a sudden spell of rain and how the rocky coracle ride scared everyone to bits!
This time around, however, many friends were sceptical of our visit to these parts as it was summer, and the heat is bound to carry nothing but dry luck! As a naturalist, I am always eager to learn and explore; something seemed to suggest that this trip would be one to treasure down the memory lane. Not over-thinking the ‘seasonal’ visit and reminiscing about old times, we set out anyways. The evening drive was enjoyable as the temperature dipped, and it was nearly late evening as we reached the Jungle Lodges camp at Bheemeshwari.
Walking through darkness with hints of light across the camp, we could already hear crickets, Spotted Owlets, and grunts of a Spotted Deer from across the river. “This is exciting!” I exclaimed to one of the staff members who was walking with us. “There’s a lot to explore inside our camp itself, madam.” he promptly smiled. We got to the tree house, dropped off our bags, and requested him to help us explore the camp at night. He gladly obliged and took us on a walk.
The patch we walked into seemed woody, with large trees like the Hole Matti – popularly called Arjuna (Terminalia arjuna), Jamun (Syzygium cumini), Pongam (Pongamia pinnata) etc. towering over us. Just as the torchlight hit one of the tree branches, we saw a Spotted Owlet glance and fly by. We continued to walk and found many tiny creatures like the Orb Weaver Spider, a Giant Wood Spider’s web, beetles, crickets, mantises, centipedes, etc. – all this just around the dining area in the camp.
The Morning Saga
‘Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads’ – Thoreau
We were up early for the morning trek and chose to walk along the river in the hope of catching a glimpse of discreet otters or Marsh Crocodiles and add more names to our bird list. This stretch was a perfect example of a ‘riparian ecosystem’, where there is an interface between aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, which brings a diverse range of plants and animals across the habitat range.
We knew this walk was bound to surprise us often, as we spotted pug marks of jackals, crocodile dung, pellets of owls, and a few discarded fish skeletons on the banks.
The river Cauvery flows through Mandya taluk, forming several tributaries through its course. Here, it was brimming, in spite of the blistering summer, but our guide said that crossing the river on foot is never recommended; Marsh Crocodiles lurk under the surface of the sparkling water.
Our walk from semi-arid to completely green patches along the river gave us ample birding opportunities with the likes of Jerdon’s Leafbird, Asian Koel, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, Orange Minivet, Purple Sunbird, Green Imperial Pigeon, Spotted Dove, drongos, Oriental Magpie Robin and kingfishers, both Common and White-throated.
All along the walk, our guide, an excellent tracker who knew and understood the habitat very well, kept us engaged in some interesting stories on how things have changed for good in the surrounding wilderness, and how these changes have enhanced the lives of locals like him after the Bheemeshwari camp was set up. At one spot, he suddenly pointed out to something that flew overhead with a whoosh! It landed on a large tree nearby, and there it was, the Lesser Fish Eagle, a raptor we had been waiting to see.
We walked ahead and our guide pointed to a tree just adjacent to where we stood – a large bird flew away and I instantly knew it was an owl, but which one was it? We continued walking silently, hoping to find the owl, and then we saw it – a Brown Fish Owl sitting in perfection. It looked straight at us and seemed to be in no way perturbed by our presence, until a flock of drongos on the same tree realised that they didn’t like the visitor. They began to mob and peck the owl to scare and drive it away. We watched the entire episode unfold just a few feet away; it went on for close to 10 minutes and the owl finally gave in and flew away.
We also came across a deer herd and one of them, to our surprise, decided to take a mighty leap into the river, and swam to the other bank so flawlessly, that the rest of the herd followed eventually.
As the sun began to burn in full strength, we took one or two pit-stops to quench our thirst, eager to taste the precious waters of River Cauvery, and also managed to capture some of the smaller creatures that interestingly posed for us.
As the cicadas began to call on our walk back, we realised there was so much to explore in this short walk spanning just about 5 kms from the main camp area, and just how much more was out there to explore.
The evening was peaceful, with occasional splashes in the water, probably carp fish. We decided to first go on the coracle ride, and as soon as I settled into one, I was reminded of my earlier visit, and my laughter began to gurgle like the water beneath. The guide took us towards some smaller islands where we spotted River Terns, Purple Herons, cormorants and raptors like Crested Serpent Eagle, Brahminy Kite, Lesser Fish Eagle and an Indian Eagle Owl too. Something swam right across us forcing us to put down our binoculars – it was a Marsh Crocodile that was approximately 5 feet in length and probably weighed 100+ kilos, and absolutely harmless unless disturbed.
The kayaking activity at the camp is fun and a must-do for adventure seekers. We soon headed out of the camp to explore nearby areas like the temple of Bheemalingeshwara, a deity who is believed to be the protector of the land. We also visited Muthatti, which boasts of a fabulous view of the river Cauvery and serves as a good pit stop, popular amongst people who seek a weekend getaway from the hustle of the city.
The sun began to fade, and just as we thought our adventure had ended, we came across three full-grown jackals and a juvenile on the road towards the camp! We were tired, yet excited, with so much to take in on a single day. With the property manager, Aniket, for company, mealtimes were fun and filled with stories from the wild.
A squeal for a good bye
The next morning, as we packed to head back, we wished weekends could be longer! As we dumped our gear and backpacks in the car, we heard a call that could only be from a Grizzled Giant Squirrel – a large, endangered tree squirrel found in forest patches along the river Cauvery, and in a few patches across Tamil Nadu.
I watched as the camp faded away in the rear-view mirror and I was sure I’d return to Bheemeshwari, as sure as I was about how Bheemeshwari would definitely surprise me again in its picturesque harmony!