13 December 2011

Travelogue - Bhadra

Introduction – Lakkavalli Dam, Bhadra Reservoir, Bhadra Tiger Reserve, Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary and River Tern Lodge are different monikers to address essentially the same area (see map below). To better understand, each item needs some explanation. Lakkavalli is a small village off National Highway 206 some 40 kms before Shimoga (from Bangalore). Near this village, a dam called Lakkavalli dam, was constructed on the Bhadra river from 1946 to 1965 by Bharat Ratna Sir M Visvesvaraya and more importantly an alumnus of my alma mater College of Engineering Pune. The dam’s reservoir was hence called as Bhadra reservoir. Now this region was a huge forest area, some parts of which got submerged due to the reservoir. “The area was declared as "Jagara Valley Wildlife Sanctuary" by the Government of Mysore in 1951, covering an area of 77.45 sq. miles. After a systematic survey and census of the entire area including animals, birds and plants, it was thought to bring some more area under the Jagara Valley Forests. The adjacent area, which were rich in wildlife was surveyed and the Sanctuary was reconstituted in the year 1974, as Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary” (source –http://projecttiger.nic.in/bhadra.htm)Then in the year 1998, under the aegis of Project Tiger, the whole of Bhadra wildlife sanctuary was made Bhadra Tiger Reserve
This is a highly secluded area quite untouched by the commercialization of travel & tourism. There is just one resort in the entire region called River Tern Lodge, which is owned by the Karnataka state government undertaking Jungle Lodges & Resort. No other private resorts or even makeshift Homestays are around. If one wishes to visit the reserve he has only two options. One, stay at River Tern Lodge and accompany their authorized guides on a jeep safari into the jungle or two, approach the forest range office at Lakkavalli and try out your luck!

Why go there?
It would be more relevant to first talk of ‘Why you should not go there?’ This is not the place for you, if you are the urban city noveau riche variety. This is not the place for you, if you think 12K for a 1N/2D package stay is way too steep. If you have reached till here unscathed by the previous two impediments, then there is just about no other reason why you should not go there! Boat safari – While everyone, me included, grant a lot of attention to the jeep safari it’s smaller cousin the boat safari never gets its due. I have travelled abroad in Langkawi, Malaysia and the standard of River Tern Lodge’s boat safari is at par with international destinations. The islands which play peek-a-boo with the rising and ebbing water level as the seasons go, are covered with rich verdant deciduous to semi-evergreen forests supporting an absolutely unique ecosystem for mammals and especially birds to thrive. In the morning boat safari which we took from 7:00AM to 8:30AM, our guides and co-travelers jointly spotted a Kingfisher, Osprey, Crested Serpent Eagle, Brahminy Kite, Brown Fish Owl, Cormorants, Egrets, Bonnet Macaque, Wagtails, Drongo, Grey Hornbill, Mongoose, Spotted Deer, Jungle Fowl and a Paradise Flycatcher. In case you lost count, that would be 15 animal/bird sightings! Still wondering “Why go there?”
Jeep Safari – When you enter the reception area, you would see a white board with recent sightings written methodically by the resident naturalist of the resort. There are several books on Indian wildlife which one can soak in. All this I found really cool. Lastly, I am aware that no review about any wildlife resort in India can be complete without touching upon the Holy Grail for all wildlife enthusiasts – the Tiger. While the density of tiger population here is among the lowest in any South Indian reserves, but this can be compensated by the brilliant hawkeyed drivers and guides. For the first time in all my travels, I saw the elusive leopard. We were told it was a very, very lucky and rare sighting. Full credit to our jeep safari driver. I gave him a pat on the back:-) When to go there?
River Tern Lodge is so named due to tens of thousands of migrating river terns which nest on an island in the Bhadra reservoir during the months of April-May. These birds come here to roost and offer a noisy spectacle for the visitors in the boat safari. The water level in the reservoir is at its lowest during these summer months, exposing many more tops of hitherto submerged hillocks. The heat makes the animals drink more often and hence offering some of the best wildlife sighting opportunities. Best time to visit would be the hot summer months. Don’t worry, all accommodation is A/C

How to go there?
Drive towards Tumkur. Take the Shimoga bye-pass road at Tumkur (instead of going to Tumkur town) and cross Gubbi, Tiptur, Arsikere, Kadur, Birur, Tarikere. After crossing Tarikere, take the left that also has a Kuvempu University direction board. Travel 14Km till you reach Lakkavalli. At Lakkavalli you will find a sign board to the River Tern Lodge, which is about 4km away. Alternately you can contact the Range Forest Office at Lakkavalli for enquiries. The River Tern Lodge is 38km from Shimoga and is located by the Bhadra Reservoir.
Alternately, one could take a train from Bangalore to Shimoga. There is a very convenient overnight train which runs daily.

How many days/nights should one plan for?
If we keep the budget away, then ideally a 2N/3D stay would be perfect. There is enough to do, see or not do over a 2N/3D period.

What is the ideal budget?
All Jungle Lodges & Resorts have a pricing plan which is all inclusive and on per person per night basis. For River Tern Lodge, it is Rs 4K per person per night. This is that one thorn in the flesh which might deter someone (definitely it does deter me) from extending their 1N/2D jaunt to a more comprehensive 2N/3D itinerary. I think the pricing, although on the expensive side, is fair and correct. I would be surprised if majorities come out saying they did not see ‘value’ in that price. Having said that, I wish JLR come up with some innovative pricing which attracts people to stay longer

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1:00 PM  

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