Mother Nature has unique ways of imparting life lessons to mankind, and the year 2020 happened to be a major course – the world slowed down due to the pandemic and all of us learnt to adapt to the new normal. After almost ten months, when I finally mustered the courage to venture out, I didn’t have to look far for options – JLR was the default choice. A week later, we were at Jungle Lodges & Resorts’ (JLR) K.Gudi Wilderness Camp. My association with JLR dates back to almost two decades, when my husband and I took our first trip to K.Gudi Wilderness Camp. Here’s a detailed lowdown of the ‘then’ and ‘now’.

Tucked in Biligirirangana Hills (commonly known as BR Hills), situated in south-east Karnataka, K.Gudi takes its name after the presiding deity of the hamlet, Sri Kyateshwara. The lofty ranges of BR Hills, at an altitude of 1800 metres, are home to flora and fauna consisting of diverse vegetation (including invaluable species of medicinal plants), freshwater rivulets fed by the evergreen shola forests, and myriad species of wildlife, making it a fairy-tale setting. BR Hills is also a tiger reserve.

The forest at BR Hills.

The first glimpse of the camp made us nostalgic, bringing back fond memories of yesteryears. Our first visit in 2002 is still vivid. I had seen a JLR advertisement on a billboard and curiosity led us to their office. Impressed with what we heard, but sceptical, we made a booking for a night’s stay at the K.Gudi camp. We travelled from Bangalore and stayed overnight at Mysore, to catch the first bus to BR Hills the next morning. Three hours later, we alighted from the KSRTC bus at the BR Hills temple. Clueless on how to reach the camp, we made a call from the nearest PCO (public telephone booth). In less than an hour, we were picked up by a JLR vehicle, with the friendly driver assuring us of our safety. Once we reached the camp, we were in awe of being right in the middle of the jungle.

The staff went out of their way to make us comfortable. As first timers, we had opted for a room within the reception complex; it was only during subsequent visits that we graduated to tents (the log huts seen today were built much later). During the day, the camp was mesmerising, with the songs of various birds and a sheet of mist which persisted until noon. Come nightfall, the jungle came alive with sounds – chirpy insects, Chital and Sambar alarm calls, and the occasional growls of predators.

A cozy tent at K.Gudi Wilderness Camp.

On our safari twenty years ago, we were privileged to have the jeep entirely to ourselves, and were even pampered with packed breakfast. The drivers were patient and passionate about their job and we were fortunate to sight a leopard, Sloth Bear, herds of Gaur, elephants, Chital, packs of Dhole and several species of birds. On one of the nature walks, we spotted blood stains and claw marks up a tree: tell-tale signs of a gaur calf killed by a leopard. The elephant ride, the tour of Dodda Sampige Mara (a large champaka tree), and visits to Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple and Honnametti Estate were all enriching experiences.

Gazing at the starlit sky whilst listening to a crackling bonfire was surreal – those days, electricity in the jungle was precious, and hence the power supply was shut off at 10 pm. Although the pathways were lit by lanterns, the five-minute walk back to our tent seemed to take forever, with every little sound magnified in the eerie silence of the night, and my pounding heart being the loudest! One night, we heard huffing and woofing sounds of what seemed to be a Sloth Bear, and scooted to the nearest tent for cover, which was fortunately unoccupied. After that day, we always requested to be escorted back to the tent post dinner.  

Cut to 2020, with rustic tents, towering log huts, salubrious weather, crisp mountain air, a tranquil lake, and plenty of birdsong – time had stood still! The serenity of the camp, the hospitality of the staff, the sumptuous buffet, and the timeliness of all the activities – nothing had changed one bit. There are several improvements that have been incorporated over the years to enhance the experience: uninterrupted power supply, hot water for bathing, and well-stocked essentials in the rooms, to name a few.

A log hut, standing tall.

Keep an open mind when you go on a safari – the tiger and leopard may be elusive, but there is an abundance of other wildlife out there. You can spot herds of gaur grazing in the morning mist, elephants trumpeting, the occasional Sloth Bear, Malabar Giant Squirrels, herds of Chital and Sambar, shy and jumpy Indian Muntjac aka barking deer, Dhole, birds galore, and the unique flora of BR Hills. The lantana overgrowth in the forest can be disturbing, but we were told that the authorities are tackling the issue. We also got lucky with leopard sightings on three occasions, and couldn’t have asked for more. But more there was – a baby python showed up in a stream by the roadside at the fag end of an evening safari. And right behind our log hut, the deep throated growl of a tiger pierced through the jungle on two consecutive nights!

A leopard on a tree.

A massive bull Gaur, resting.

To our surprise one misty morning, we had the pleasure of the company of the chief naturalist of JLR on our safari. The slow-paced drive, along with the snippets of information he shared from his treasure trove of knowledge, made it the most educative of all my safari trips.

A misty, magical morning in the jungle.

Fresh pug marks of a tiger.

Visits to attractions like Honnametti Estate and Dodda Sampige Mara have been discontinued, so we were fortunate to have seen them during our earlier trips. We visited the Biligiri Ranganatha Swamy Temple to seek blessings from him and goddess Ranganayaki Ammavaru. Don’t miss the viewpoint from the temple, offering a cool breeze and a breath-taking sea of green with not a speck of civilization in sight. Enroute, you can stop by at Vivekananda Girijana Kendra (VGKK), founded by Dr. H. Sudarshan. For sale here is local produce like honey, turmeric, shikakai, amla and sogade beru juice, all collected by Soliga tribals. This indigenous tribe has been protecting and worshiping these shola forests since generations, and live in a small settlement nearby.

Trees and rocks are sacred to the Soliga. Seen here is a sacred grove.

Time flies, and like all good things, our visit too came to an end. Our apprehensions due to the pandemic were assuaged by the safety and precautionary measures implemented at the camp. Not to forget the customary hospitality of the JLR staff, which has only become better. Vowing to return soon, we left with a heavy heart, but not without capturing many magical moments with our camera.