The idea of waiting for something makes it more exciting. “Everything is falling into place!” I thought, as I nearly finished packing for a sudden, unplanned trip towards exploring this wilderness that I had heard so much about. Something would always come up and lead to calling off our trip to Bhimgad; this time though, luck seemed to favor us, as we got our bookings and travel confirmed. With just a backpack and plenty of rain cover for our camera gear, we started our journey towards Bhimgad Wildlife Sanctuary. A slight drizzle gave us company on our drive on a chilly evening from Bangalore, as we headed towards Hubli-Dharwad, and deviated towards Anmod to reach the Hemmadaga Camp.
A map of Bhimgad
With the sun playing hide and seek as we neared the Western Ghats, we were welcomed by some heavy showers. Though we drove for over eight hours, it was all worth it when the morning air hit us through a lush green cover, different birds called throughout the drive, and we even spotted a beautiful green vine snake slithering away on a branch just across the road.
The road to Bhimgad
The entrance check-post
As we neared the Bhimgad Adventure Camp, the rain nearly stopped. We received a warm welcome from the camp staff and I was astonished at how well the camp was maintained in spite of the continual rains and damp weather conditions.
The camp gate
The tented accommodation was spacious and warm, and there were signboards all across the camp with information about birds and animals found in the surrounding wilderness.
It was still early, so we quickly had some tea and decided to head out birding around the camp, on a trail in the surrounding Jamboti forest range. The trek was just about 4-5 kms long, but the path was slippery, slushy and leech-infested. However, as soon as we heard the call of a Malabar Whistling Thrush, we knew we weren’t going to be disappointed. We managed to sight a good number of birds: Black Drongos (Dicrurus macrocercus), Ashy Drongos (Dicrurus leucophaeus), Cinereous Tit (Parus cinereus), White-cheeked Barbet (Megalaima viridis), the Malabar Grey Hornbill (Ocyceros griseus), Greater Racket-tailed Drongos (Dicrurus paradiseus) and Jungle Babblers (Turdoides striata).
A forest path
We walked back to the camp for some hot breakfast and tea, a bit of relaxation, and unpacking, and soon decided that the caves were calling. I have always been fascinated by the many descriptions of these marvelous caves that house the critically endangered Wroughton’s Free-tailed Bats. From the end of the motor-able road, we had to walk alongside dense pathways and on a plateau, in rain that had become nearly insistent, and every step we took towards the cave gave us the feeling of venturing into some unknown magical land.
The late-rite caves are untouched, and as we slowly moved towards the inner bounds of the cave, all we could see were tiny dots/patches of black sticking on the roof. The dull natural light and flash from a small torch caught us off-guard, as we realized that these tiny black-grey dots were indeed the endangered Wroughton’s Free-tailed Bats!
These small, burly creatures get their name due to a large part of their thick tail that projects beyond the tail membrane. Being active during the night, their preferred diet remains unknown and presumably consists of insects like beetles and moths, like other molossids’ diets.
The sun refused to come out of hiding as we walked towards the camp – our experience in the caves reiterated how fragile our eco-systems are, with such varied habitats being home to some of the most sensitive and endangered species in the world.
We stopped by the Vajrapoha Falls to watch the enchanting Mahadayi River (popularly known as Mhadei by the locals), one of the major life-lines flowing through Karnataka and Goa before joining the Arabian Sea. The forest cover also has some well-known mammals: tigers, leopards, gaur, wild dogs, sloth bears, sambars, and barking deer, alongside pit vipers and the King Cobra.
Pink Impatiens, on a trail.
Bhimgad’s picturesque landscape in the rains, combined with the aura of nature’s bounty, and the hospitality of the staff and guards alike made our tour a wonderful learning experience and our stay a memorable one!