Welcomed by two spotted owlets, I entered the Gopinatham Mystery Trail Camp. Gopinatham is a small village near Palar Bridge, just 10 km away from the famous Hogenakkal Falls. The camp, run by Jungle Lodges & Resorts, is situated inside the unexplored Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary in Karnataka. The sense of mystery unexpectedly began during my journey itself, when the tempo traveller I was travelling in broke down and I had to hail a local bus; songs praising Lord Male Mahadeshwara were played by the devotees in this bus until we reached MM Hills, from where a Toofan vehicle finally dropped me off at the camp. A water-body and a view of the imposing Nagamalai Hills in the background make the camp picture perfect.
The forest in Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary is mainly dry deciduous, tropical dry, thorny and riverine. The ‘mystery trail’ runs along the banks of River Cauvery, and the mystery lies in spotting and understanding the bountiful flora and fauna of this region; I was especially interested in birding. After a tasty lunch, we had an evening drive of about 5 km, a stretch that also led to the memorial dedicated to P Srinivas, IFS, who was killed in 1991 by the notorious Veerappan, who was active in these forests for a couple of decades.
I was able to identify more than 70 species of birds and 5 mammals during this drive. As our jeep passed through a small stream, I spotted a juvenile Crested Serpent-Eagle and a Green Imperial Pigeon – the highlight of the evening. White-bellied Drongos and Green Bee-eaters are present in this region in large numbers, dominating the bird community here.
The mystery of Gopinatham also unfolds at night, particularly on full moon days. I took a short walk along the water-body’s bund, witnessing the rising of the moon and listening to cormorants. I also heard the calls of the Indian and Jordan Nightjars and started walking towards the direction of the sound; I was able to observe a sudden activity spree of these birds, and to see their behaviour was a great experience indeed. On an early morning walk along the same bund the next day, I spotted the Common Hawk-Cuckoo, Hoopoe, Indian Grey Hornbill, Brown-headed Barbet, White-bellied Drongo, Indian Paradise Flycatcher and Rufous Treepie.
After climbing a short hill, I spotted a small bird on top of a tree, among the shrubs and rocky terrain. I excitedly grabbed my binoculars and was able to identify it as a White-naped Tit, which was at the top of my wish-list! The species is endemic to India and is normally found in dry scrub forests in South India. Even though the sighting was for a few seconds, I managed to click a record shot. We waited in anticipation of the bird returning, but it was not fruitful; thus the mystery remained.
Walking on the road adjacent to the water-body, I found that a few locals had gathered there to offer prayers to their village deity. My attention was however diverted by a territorial fight between two Oriental Skylarks, which lasted for a long duration, ending with the sudden disappearance of one of the larks.
Is it the flora and fauna or the varied landscapes that is the mystery at Gopinatham? The answer lies in how each individual experiences this trail differently. A place that unfolded so many colours in a day may be hiding much more to be explored by birders in other seasons. “Known is a drop and unknown is an ocean” is apt to describe this mystery trail.