There are some places which one can never have enough of in just one trip, and every visit there manages to fascinate you as much as it had the first time around. BR Hills, also called BRT Tiger Reserve, is one such place – a place for every season. The monsoons there have their own refreshing charm while summers are privy to vistas that are quite exclusive to the season.
Come monsoon, the winding roads beyond the jungle check-post are bordered by lush, shade-giving trees, interspersed with boulders. The forest is awash with myriad hues of radiant green, almost hurting one’s eyes with their fluorescence. The air is cool, and scores of leaf birds and minivets are seen flitting about in the canopies, rejoicing in the exuberance brought about by the rains.
A road in BR Hills, in the monsoon
BR Hills has several lodging options. However, if staying at K.Gudi, the drive towards it showcases another beautiful stretch of forest – deep and dark, with sunlight filtering in through thick leaves. A slow drive will reward you with sightings of several mammals including Barking Deer, Spotted Deer and langurs. There are small watering-holes where kingfishers sit biding their time, while pond terrapins sun themselves on the jutting rocks.
Terrapins and lapwings at a watering-hole
During the monsoons, be prepared to be engulfed by a swirling, thick fog. Though this might play spoil-sport with your plans of a jungle safari in the morning, the silver lining is that it may be a good opportunity to visit the ancient Ranganathaswamy temple, from which the forest derives its name. The presiding deity, Biligiriranga, is depicted in a unique standing position. Both the temple and deity are revered by the local Soliga tribe, who reside in the forest fringes.
The Ranganathaswamy temple, seen on a rainy day
A visit to the temple in the rain will also reward you with breathtaking panoramas by the cliff-side, underlining why the hill is also called ‘biligiri’ or the ‘white mountain’. It is a perfect rendition of heaven on earth, if any such place exists. The magnificence of nature overwhelms you gently, steeling your resolve to return in another season.
A view of the surrounding hills and forest, from the temple
April is when summer and spring coincide as a part of nature’s conspiracy, willing you to return to BR Hills to witness its change. The summer landscape is in stark contrast to the jade green, flushed-with-monsoons scenes of my previous trip. Trees now stand barren, shorn of their leaves. Yet, summer has its own intrinsic beauty – flaming Amaltas trees brighten up the dry, arid scenery, turning it into a surreal wonderland, with their blazing, yellow flowers.
Summer vistas, liberally peppered with yellow
As one delves deeper towards K.Gudi, the forest suddenly turns a shade of olive, and once again, the drive in the jungle is through the dark shadows of imposing trees. All along, the loud, sinister orchestra of cicadas continues to play, like an unknown adversary whom you can hear but not see. The forests in this region range from scrub forests at lower elevations to tall, deciduous forests typical of the eco-region, to stunted shola forests and montane grasslands at the highest elevations, which exceed 1800 meters.
Summer showcases a different facet of BR Hills
While in K.Gudi, it is imperative to spend at least two nights in K.Gudi Wilderness Camp, in order to experience all that the jungle has to offer. Although one may not be lucky enough to see a big cat, the jungle itself harbours too many pleasures within it to sulk over not spotting a tiger. A typical morning at the camp – which is located in the middle of the jungle – entails waking up to a veritable symphony of birds. Listen closely and you can hear the songs of the Malabar Whistling Thrush, the incessant call of the Common Hawk Cuckoo and the tap-tap of the Goldenbacks. Breakfast in the Gol Ghar gives you bonus shows of Jungle Babblers frolicking about in the natural bird-bath.
Jungle Babbler in the bird-bath
The jungle is an impulsive host. A light shower may decide to play out its act while on a safari, but in return, will impart the fragrance of wet earth – bliss! Jeep safaris into the forest inevitably yield a great variety of birds and animals, which might include prized sightings of the Indian Pitta, Jungle Owlet, Madras Tree Shrew or Sloth Bear. Or, even a sight of the original ‘babaji’ – the Brown Fish-owl – perched on a tree bough above a pool of water, its eyes shut tight, as if meditating.
The Crested Serpent-eagle, a common sight in BR Hills
Not just animals and birds, the jungle abounds with its share of reptiles, too. In water bodies, the Indian Rock Python may be spotted, coiled around the base of a tree, perhaps digesting a heavy meal. The presence of pond terrapins nearby hardly distracts them when they rest so.
A lake in the forest, in summer
And then, there are the gentle giants of the jungle – the elephants. Be prepared to stumble across loners or tuskers too. Deer and wild boar are aplenty, both in the jungle and in the resort. Quite a surprise, since they are mostly found skulking about in the thick of the forest.
An elephant rounds a corner, taking us by surprise
Back in the resort, oil lanterns provided in the evenings are a welcome respite from the harsh city lights, bringing back childhood memories. Adding to the experience is the thrill of lying awake in your tents, at the alarm calls given out by barking deer; perhaps a predator lurks about in the folds of darkness beyond the tents?
Tents at K.Gudi Wilderness Camp, at night
It is difficult to sum up a visit to BR Hills and K.Gudi. The region is a birder’s paradise; yet, it is amongst the thick, shaded forests there that one feels the presence of the tiger the most, even though one might not have seen it. Perhaps, it is time to plan another visit to BR Hills and K.Gudi, this time in the winter. Maybe the jungles will present another facet during that season, maybe even a glimpse of the elusive tiger!