There’s something about Old Magazine House at Ganeshgudi — a beautiful patch of forest about 20 km from Dandeli town — that leaves an indelible mark on your mind. It was a place that neither of us knew much about a few weeks before our visit, but the visit will now remain in our memories for a long time to come.
‘Old Magazine House’ is a name that reflects its old avatar from the 1970s, when a magazine house or bunker was built to store the ammunition used during the construction of the Supa Dam across River Kali.
We stepped off the jeep on a pleasant winter morning to meet the naturalist at Ganeshgudi, Vinayak. He hurriedly approached us and introduced himself and the manager. Both of them had a certain sense of urgency and purpose about them, and our first few moments were a blur, as they quickly guided us up the staircase to the dining area. We craned our necks to spot an unmistakable patch of bright red in the foliage – a beautiful male Malabar Trogon sat on a branch at a distance, almost as if waiting for us!
The male trogon, as is the case with most birds, wears elaborate and splendid colours. Its regal plumage includes a bright red belly and a deep black head, separated by a ring of white around its neck. The dining area had temporarily become a viewing deck, with many bird enthusiasts and photographers trying to catch a glimpse and capture the moment for posterity. Far from all the excitement, the bird sat unfazed, high up on a branch, preening itself in the morning light. What a welcome that was!
Sighting a Malabar Trogon — an elusive bird given the dense jungles it inhabits — is definitely something to write home about. It would perhaps imply that one’s visit to Old Magazine House was successful and complete, but the experience that the place had to offer only got richer as the day unfolded.
The morning sun bathed the reddish-brown mud path in golden light, as bird calls filled the air. Scanning the different layers of the forest, we were treated to an explosion of colours. A flash of powder blue revealed a pair of Black-naped Monarchs flitting about in the bushes. Like little bright sparks in the sky, Orange Minivets flew from one branch to another. Dark-fronted Babblers, looking like feisty masked dacoits, chattered away in the undergrowth, while another trogon made an unexpected appearance.
Popularly known as ‘OMH’ in birding circles, Old Magazine House is an iconic location not just for the history that gives it its beautiful name, but also for the promise of the diversity of birdlife (and other fauna and flora) that it lets you encounter.
Piercing staccato calls alternating with a strange scraping “krrrk-krrrk” peppered the forest soundscape – Malabar Giant Squirrels, resplendent in their shiny coats, chomped away on Sterculia fruit, performing all kinds of stunts to get to the best fruits. Malabar Barbets, high up in the canopy with their relentless and rapid “kuk-kuk-kuk”, provided the perfect background score to this spontaneous musical we were witnessing!
An unmistakable whoosh stopped us in our tracks. We’d been told stories like “You’ll hear them before you see them”, and so we directed our gaze upwards towards the blue expanse of sky and collectively held our breath – it was a pair of Great Indian Hornbills! Every whoosh of their wings captivated us as they gracefully flew overhead. We followed with our binoculars, hoping to catch a clearer glimpse, as they moved from one branch to another.
Every moment at Ganeshgudi was filled with little surprises and wonders: signature spider webs glinted in the sun revealing their intricate patterns, gusts of wind had leaves dropping from trees in mesmerising movements, little red cotton bugs went scuttling in leaf litter, antlion pits held undiscovered secrets, charming Common Sailor butterflies captivated us with their flight, and patterned tree barks held stories (and sometimes a forest lizard).
The viewing deck at Old Magazine House looks onto a patch of vegetation that hosts amazing bird diversity; this attracts many bird photographers and bird watchers. Unfazed by the paparazzi, birds flock to the bird baths and perches there. Initially, we weren’t very keen on spending a lot of time near the viewing deck, but were pleasantly surprised with what it had to offer, come evening.
With the evening light disappearing, we were treated to a beautiful ensemble performance. Like clockwork, a lone male Indian Paradise Flycatcher made an appearance, its white ribbon-like tail feathers flowing and dancing in the air. Each bird showed character – Orange headed Thrushes were quite the bullies, making their presence felt in every bird bath, Ashy Drongos gracefully flew from nearby branches for quick dips and dives, noisy Fulvettas came in twos and threes, and the elegant Emerald Dove came with a purpose.
There is sublime joy to be found in standing and listening to the forest, binoculars firmly in one’s hands. It is magical how our senses heighten, eyes and ears in overdrive, wanting to experience every movement and every sound the forest has to offer.
On our return to Dandeli, we were reminded of just how special our day at Ganeshgudi had been – not one but three naturalists told us that sighting a Trogon was akin to seeing a tiger in the wild. “Trogon nodidre, tiger noddhange” they said in Kannada.