The train chugged through the countryside of Uttar Karnataka. The monsoons had kicked in and the ponds, lakes and reservoirs had started to fill. Life had sprung in every nook and corner and the earth was garbed in green. The terraced paddy fields swayed as the North West monsoon winds blew across the land. I was headed to Dandeli in the Western Ghats, home to the Dandeli-Anshi Wildlife Reserve and a natural habitat for black panthers, tigers, leopards, deer, sloth bears, bison and a multitude of birds. Dandeli also offers activities such as whitewater rafting and river crossing.
En route to my resort in Ganeshgudi, 25km from Dandeli, I saw the region's famous teak trees in full bloom. The greenery only got better as the resort is right in the middle of the forest. After settling down with a cup of tea, I go talking with Yellapa, a local who has thorough knowledge of the jungle and the history of Dandeli. The town's name is derived from a local legend. The story goes that Dandelappa, a servant of an affluent family, was beheaded by the patriarch under false allegations by one of the daughters. On the spot where the head was found a temple was built and till date the whole town worships him every Amavasya and Dassehra.
Yellapa has lived his entire life in the jungles and his conversation reflects his love of the region's diversity of flora and fauna. He described how until the late 90s, mining for manganese iron ore was in full swing in Dandeli and caused serious damage to the forests. Fortunately, a Supreme Court judgment put a stop to mining in this area. Currently, small, abandoned mines serve as watering holes for the wildlife during the rains.
Having heard Yellapa's story I left for a wildlife safari into the jungles. Since it was monsoon season there were many ponds in the forest and the thick foliage did not permit much in the way of animal sightings. Still I was lucky to see the Malabar giant squirrel, great pied hornbill and serpent eagle (summer is a better time to visit if the key objective is to spot wildlife).
The next morning I woke up early to the sound of a whistle. Who on earth could be whistling in the jungle at six in the morning? The mystery was later solved by Mr. Vinayak, the naturalist at the resort. The insouciant whistler was none other than the Malabar whistling thrush, also known as the whistling schoolboy, he told me as we set off on a hike that included climbing up and down two hills. I was looking forward to the challenge, but I soon found it difficult to keep pace with him as it was a vertical hike. With rosewood and Nandi trees bearing witness, we went below undergrowth, through cobwebs, bushes and hedges. I saw something small on the ground that looked like a snail's shell but Vinayak said it was the ball millipede. Soon enough it coiled itself into a ball and went rolling down the hill. As we trudged, Vinayak identified birds just by listening to their calls and showed me the kumkum tree from whose seeds the locals make kumkum powder.
And then, after an hour, we reached the summit. Suddenly there was nothing in front of me but for the open sky and endless water navigating past small islands. It was the confluence of four rivers -- Kali, Pandhri, Nagi and Nasi. Below was a limitless valley with thick vegetation. One step ahead and I would probably end tumble down like the ball millipede.
This was a place that was barely touched by another human being. Vinayak had disclosed his secret spot to me. This stunning landscape, Haserbetta or Green Hill, was a perfect to unwind and clear my head. The last hour's trudging and panting was forgotten in its beauty. To be here is to meditate. I stayed put at the spot for a long time speaking to the silence of the woods.
• Air: Indigo, Spice Jet and Jet Airways fly on a daily basis to Bangalore.
• Road: Dandeli is around 500km from Bangalore and 115km from Goa; Ganeshgudi is 25 km from Dandeli.
• Rail: You need to alight at Londa or Alnavar station to reach Dandeli.
• The Ganeshgudi area has several resorts -- Hornbill Resort (with tree houses), Bison Resort and the Old Magazine House - that are perfect to spend few days in the jungle.
• Make bookings from dandeli.com or junglelodges.com.
Most resorts provide transport to explore the area.
Kadumane ('forest house' in the local language) is an outlet that sells products from the jungle. You will find plenty of spices -- cardamom, pepper, cloves, bay leaves, turmeric - along with medicinal oils, honey and pickles. They also run a homestay and allow visitors to 'interact', under supervision of course, with honeybees.
• Whitewater rafting on the Karli River. There are nine rapids (Class 2 and Class 3). Kids below 10 years of age are not permitted.
• Birding; best in summer.
• Coracle rides are perfect for those who want to relax and enjoy the landscape at the river bed. You might even sight some crocodiles early morning.
• You can go on a wildlife safari 6-8am or 4-6pm. Resorts make arrangements to take you to the edges of the jungle after which you need to take a Forest Department jeep.
• River crossing is an adventurous activity conducted across the Karli river.
• Trekking & hiking
• Honeybee interaction