The BR hills and BRT wildlife sanctuary are named after the Biligiri Ranganathaswamy Temple, an ancient pilgrimage center atop a hill. This area is the meeting place of two mountain ranges known as the Western and Eastern Ghats, and is located in the Chamarajnagar district of Karnataka, about 250 km from the state capital Bangalore. BRT was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1974, covering 322 sq km, and was later extended to 540 sq km. The best season to visit is September to May, but it has much to offer throughout the year.
The BRT sanctuary is set against the scenic background of hills, tinged with blue and swathed in wisps of mist. Pristine green jungles, valleys and water bodies add to the breathtaking beauty and harbor a large variety of flora and fauna, including over two hundred species of birds and twenty species of reptiles (including the Indian python and cobra) and ten species of amphibian. Forty eight species of ants have been identified, while one third (about one hundred and sixteen) of the butterfly species of India is found here. This plethora of wildlife is also due to the mixed vegetation: evergreen, moist deciduous and grassland. Dry deciduous and scrub forests are found in the foothills, and the forests abound in teak, rosewood, eucalyptus and bamboo.
The only accommodation available in the sanctuary limits, (apart from the forest department guest house), is the K. Gudi Wilderness Camp, run by a government undertaking called Jungle Lodges and Resorts Ltd. On our way to the resort, we were rewarded by the sight of a handsome leopard gracefully sauntering down the main road. It suddenly seemed to notice the vehicle, and swiftly bounded down the side and merged with the vegetation, out of sight.
The K.Gudi Camp organizes safari tours into the jungle in open jeeps, guided by expert naturalists. The cliché of the journey being as enjoyable as the destination holds true here, as the jeep winds its way through the most picturesque landscape-on rough dirt paths bounded by thickly forested slopes on one side and a drop into the lush green valley on the other, with a stunning view of the hills beyond. Some coffee plantations and tribal settlements can be seen below. Fallen branches of trees sometimes block the narrow paths, and have to be cleared before the safari party can proceed.
The forest is home to elephants, tigers, leopards, sloth bear, Malabar giant squirrel, wild boar, four horned antelope and species of deer: barking deer, spotted deer or chital and the larger sambar. However, most animals are difficult to spot in the thick vegetation. Apart from herds of pretty spotted chital deer, we saw a few lone barking deer with shiny coats, which scampered off as soon as they spotted the jeep. This is also the primary habitat of the gaur or Indian bison, the largest of wild bovines. Large groups can be spotted, feeding in the lush green vegetation. Colorful birds common here include the Malabar Parakeet, Plum-headed parakeet and Malabar whistling thrush. Amongst others, we saw the majestic Crested Serpent Eagle and Fish Owl.
The sanctuary has a number of water bodies which attract animals, including predators, so we stopped at Anaedu, where tigers have been sighted most often. A number of alarm calls buoyed our hopes, but the striped lord proved elusive! However, the beauty of the surrounding area is enough reason to want to linger there!
The beauty of the jungle, with its winding dirt trails, majestic trees and vegetation in different shades of green, the sounds of birds and insects and the mist wafting over the blue hills spell magic even without major wildlife sightings, so pack your bags and head towards this enchanted forest!
Sanctuaries and Wildlife of Karnataka: S. G. Neginhal
Jungle tales: published by Jungle Lodges and Resorts
Into the Wild: published by Jungle Lodges and Resorts