As I settled for evening coffee after the boat ride, I got a call from Vijay, the resident naturalist. He had seen me only ten minutes ago, so a call could mean only one thing, that he had spotted something. So, I gathered my camera equipment first, and then answered his call on my way out of the dining area. I wasn’t as keen on what he had seen, as much I wanted to know where I should be headed. I wanted to get there before “it” ran, crawled, or flew away. Through the patchy network, I heard “near your room”, and off I dashed
I huffed and puffed through a light drizzle, uphill, downhill, and uphill again, from one end of the Bhadra River Tern Lodge to the other. I saw Vijay in front of a large rock covered in green moss. And there it was, on that rock – the Bibron’s Coral Snake, one of the most beautiful snakes I have ever seen.
Despite many trips to Bhadra, this was the first time I had seen this snake. This is what made this trip special – everything I saw was within the premises of the lodge.
The Bhadra Tiger Reserve is divided into four ranges : Hebbe, Lakkavalli, Muthodi and Thanigebylu. The River Tern Lodge is in the Lakkavalli range, which is a semi-evergreen moist-deciduous forest. The lodge, surrounded by the Bhadra reservoir, is at the edge of the Tiger Reserve. Much like the rest of the forest in this range, the lodge also has tall deciduous trees, such as Mathi (Crocodile bark tree), Nandi, Teak, Figs and Hunal. The buildings of the lodge, be it rooms or common areas, are in between these woods, and are connected by narrow paths, that are covered by a thick, green canopy.
In September, when the monsoons were almost done, the Bhadra reservoir was full. The soft, rhythmic sound of splashing water against the shore resonated across the lodge. The humid monsoon air resulted in plenty of algae and lichen on tree barks. Lichen are indicators of how unpolluted the air is because they cannot survive in the presence of any pollutants. Unsurprisingly, they were thriving here. As were many species of fungi.
I counted about ten species of spiders in this trip. An Ornamental Tree Trunk spider had built her web, which also had two male spiders in it. There were spiders with egg cases, such as a species of the Tent-web spider and a Garden Orb-weaver spider. I saw Long-jawed Orb-weaver spiderlings, who had just left their egg sac, with two adult spiders nearby. One of the adults, presumably the parent, appeared to feed on the remainder of the egg sac. The other spiders included a Lynx spider, a Huntsman spider, a Silver spider, Silver-sided Orb-weaver spider and a couple of species of Ant-mimicking spiders.
I spent an afternoon watching ants and aphids. This is the first time I saw their symbiotic relationship. The ants farm aphids for the sweet sap that the aphids extract from the plant. In return, the ants provide security for the aphids. There were two ants monitoring a few hundred aphids. The two in question, however, weren’t doing a stellar job of the security. These were lapses every now and then – a small black wasp carried an aphid away.
I also saw the Ropalidia social wasp build a nest. The nest is made from paper-like material that is produced by its saliva and cellulose. While any number of female wasps can help in the building and maintenance of the nest, only the queen lays eggs. I also saw weevils, assassin bugs, treehoppers, katydids, stink bugs, a scorpion fly, praying mantis and a bark mantis too. Apart from the smaller critters, the reptiles, birds and mammals were around too, in usual abundance.
I’ve always wondered what makes the lodge in Bhadra so full of life. On the way back from the boat ride, an answer struck. As the boat, that takes us deep into the Bhadra Tiger Reserve, returns towards the deck, we see no separation in terrain between the lodge and forest. No fields, or human settlements, or buildings that help us gradually transition from a tiger reserve, to a lodge. The contiguous forest, and its green and yellow canopy, extends into the lodge. Only when the boat comes close to the deck, do small cottages peep out of the canopy, giving away clues of the lodge and habitation. And that is when it occurred to me – the lodge is but an extension of the tiger reserve.
Bhadra is a tiger reserve, unmistakably so. I go there for the tigers, leopards, gaur, elephants, dholes, langurs, deer and birds. Safaris and boat rides are a great way to experience this. But safaris and boat rides aren’t immersive. Walking in a forest is. Gently stepping on a stone to find out how firmly it is held in the wet ground, turning a leaf over to look for spiders on the other side, hearing the rain but not feeling it yet because the canopy soaks it all up, watching ants and aphids all afternoon – I yearn for this as much as the megafauna. For this, I walk in the lodge. To be amidst the trees and terrain of a tiger reserve that have transcended into the lodge. To feel the forest. So I know that when I am looking at the tiger reserve from my room, I am not just looking at it. I am in it.