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Published: December 23rd 2017
Red Flower in bloom - Sigakhan Guest House
A small abode in a dense forest. Environment is so pure that sunlight prays to the goddess to kiss the ground. Green woods wherever I stare. Chirping of birds and sound of animals barking emanate from the woods. A stream originated from nearby mountains, flows downhill not far away. Not visible, but I can hear its roaring sound. Steps for reaching the stream starts just adjacent to my hut. Knee-deep water is so crystal and transparent, I could see the bottom of it. A place of everlasting peace and quietness.
This is what I dream closing my eyes, craving for a respite from the urban concrete jungle.
Could I ever find that place? Yes, to a large extent, in our visit and stay in Muthodi Forest Nature Camp, Bhadra Tiger Reserve. Location of the cottage where we stayed surprisingly matched to my imagination.
Muthodi Nature Camp
Malnad region of Western Ghat Karnataka is blessed with splendid bounties of nature. Breathtaking mountains, mystic clouds, dense green forests, birds and animals of innumerable varieties. Last but not the least are its rivers and waterfalls. It is so un-parallel and unique that attracts nature-lovers all over.
Entry-point Bhadra Tiger Reserve
Bhadra Tiger Reserve is a part of that region. Covering an area of approx 500 Kms, this forest is the habitat for varieties of animals including tiger, elephant, deer, birds. There are two main access points to Bhadra, one from Lakavalli near Bhadra Reservoir and other near Muthodi.
Lakavalli is more popular amongst the two, largely because of the River Tern Lodge, an expensive resort owned by Jungle Lodge & Resorts, Government of Karnataka.
We selected the other one i.e. Muthodi Nature Camp (Guest House) of Karnataka Forest Department. Muthodi is around 35 Kms from Chikmagaluru, the nearest city and around 275 Kms from Bangaluru. Booking of accomodation - a taste of patience
Booking a forest guest house anywhere in Karnataka is normally a lengthy process. There is no online booking system available for such hiring, except at Bandipur national park. However it has its own advantages also. Usually these are situated inside the forest area, where no other hotel/home stay is allowed. These are ideal for travelers who avoid crowd, noise, pollution of a popular tourist spot, desire to be acquainted with nature. We had experienced the same while staying in Forest Guest House
at Nagahole Tiger Reserve.
Hence keeping my finger crossed I shot a Speed post at the following address :
Deputy Conservator of Forests,
Bhadra Wildlife Division,
Forest Office Campus,
Chikmagalur – 577101
Next attempt was thru mail as follows :
Still no response. Ultimately I attempted thru landline (No. 08262234904). This time I could succeed. Looking for weekend booking I obtained oral confirmation of dates after nearly a month. I was advised to visit the Forest Office Chikmagaluru first, make the payment, collect booking confirmation invoice before resuming the journey to my destination i.e. Muthodi Nature Camp.
18th November, 2017 Wednesday
Despite commencing early morning from Bangaluru, when we reached the Forest Office at Chikmagaluru, it was around 12 PM. Our route was thru Neelamangala-Kunigal-Yadiyur-Chanaraya Patna- Hassan-Belur- Chikmagaluru.Driving thru Bangalore-Mangalore six Lane highway upto Hassan was an utter pleasure. Rest of the journey was mostly thru two lane road, but smooth for driving. Around an hour was spent in between to have breakfast at Adyar Ananda Bhawan Restaurant near Hassan(155 Km).
To my relief I could meet Mr Manjunath at Forest Office, Chikmagaluru with whom
I spoke earlier and obtained confirmation. An extremely cordial person, he briefed about our destination and further direction for drive.Room rental for two days was Rs 3776 (Rs. 3200 @ Rs. 1600 per day + 18%!G(MISSING)ST). We were allotted a Cottage.
Once we left Chikmagaluru, the scenario gradually changed. It was an excellent drive with twist and turns, amidst Coffee plantation with occasional localities. Next destination was Mallandur (20 Kms). Just before Mallandur we crossed Estate Café, a well-known coffee shop. Muthadi Nature Camp was around 16 Kms from that place. Ghat section with zig zag narrow road started. Driving thru this road was a thrilling adventure. A wild stream accompanied us deep into the valley virtually throughout the rest of our journey. Dense forest with innumerable trees flourished at the huge mountain ranges on the left. It was a totally different world, mystic but magical. Entry of Sunlight was not abundant here. There was intense competition between gigantic trees to grow taller, to get the precious sunlight. Muthodi Nature Camp
We reached our destination at last around 2 PM. I produced my booking challan at the Forest Office, Muthodi. We were guided by
a lady to our place of abode. We loved the cottage at first sight. As described in the beginning, it almost matched to my imagination. It was indeed located within the dense forest under the umbrella of huge trees all around. The hexagonal shaped cottage was painted carefully to match with the exterior environment. They were not easily identifiable from distance. The wooden cottage was equipped with a room, inside passage, toilet and a marvelous balcony. Down below there was one more balcony leaning towards the forest. Most interesting might be the steps just after our cottage towards reaching the Somevahini River, far below. The river was not visible from the balcony except the sound of its flowing.
We all came down to the river bank thru the steps. It was splashing and dribbling as it swerved thru the trees.There were number of butterflies moving around. Streams are the arteries of the forest, it was indeed. Maintenance an issue
However maintenance inside the cottage was disappointing to some extent. Two cots, bed-sheets not kept clean, with an empty bottle and some other article were still remaining under the cot.This is nothing un-usual to us and
we came fully prepared with our own bed-sheets, dettol (for spreading in toilet), mosquito coil etc.
Immediate requirement was to feed our stomach. Anil and Raju, two young boys managed the canteen. It was a small hut with tin shade.Our menu was Rice, Roti, Papad, Sabji & Sambar. It was ok although there was no other choice, since Mallandur, the nearest locality was at least an hour's drive thru mountain road.
The hanging balcony was the ideal place to sit leisurely and feel the nature. Unfortunately enjoying the wild had its own side-effects. I was greeted with innumerable mosquito and tiny insect bites. My perseverance failed after having red spots in uncovered places of my hands and face. I had to beat retreat.
Like other forests, safari was being conducted in Muthodi also. Morning safari starts at around 6 AM with duration of one and half hours. Evening safari timing was from 3.30 PM with same duration. Both bus as well as Jeep safari were conducted here. In absence of minimum number of visitors for Bus, Jeep Safari had been the only option. Tariff was Rs 450 per head. Compared to
other forests where we travelled, the jeep safari had been much more tourist friendly. It could accommodate 10 tourists with roof open facility. In fact visitor could stand also to have a 180 degree view of the forest.
We read in reviews that chances of sighting the big cat was extremely rare here. Wherever we visited we were never been lucky except in Bandhavgarh and Kanha National Parks at MP. Contrary to our expectations we could watch many animals here like Sambar deer, herd of Bison, Malabar Squirrel, Giant Monitor apart from fresh pugmark of leopard, a consolation at least.
Spending night at cottage not for the Chicken Hearted
Compared to other forests of Karnataka where we visited, the crowd was much less here. Immediately after the safari, the entire area looked deserted. Darkness began to cover the whole environment. Whatever little light remained were being swallowed by the gigantic trees all around. Night arrived with no time.
Electricity was self-generated thru Solar Power Cells here. Arrangement of electric light was bare minimum, only at forest office and in the nature camp.
Our cottage was located inside the jungle far away from
Fresh PugMark-Spotted during Jeep safari
other dwellings. While checking in we noticed that the interior room bulbs were glowing faintly. At daylight not much importance we gave to that. While returning in the evening we found our cottages plunged into total darkness without any trace of light. Initially we attempted on our own to find the solution in vain. We frantically tried to find somebody to attend and then rushed to the forest office far away from our cottage. Raju the attendant tried to fix the problem.We could understand that the underground cable was cut somewhere which seemed to be beyond repair in this darkness.
We were in the midst of thick darkness. So dark, nothing was visible, even ourselves without light.
Forest was mysteriously quiet except the roaring sound of the stream far away. The spectacular forest of daylight suddenly became a Ghost world. We were bewildered not knowing what to do. With one LED torch and the feeble mobile light, a panic began to cluster ourselves. How to spend the entire night like this ?
We the urban beasts experiencedthe forest largely thru television, apart from brief visits to different national parks. We became thrilled to watch Guy Grills adventure
in Discovery Channel and wished to have the same with all urban comfort.Plunged into reality,fear engulfed our conscience with all other thoughts setting aside.
Two moving dim lights could be seen after nearly an hour. Raju and Anil appeared to our relief and resumed the repair work. To our delight the connectivity could be re-established after their relentless effort for nearly an hour. We were out of the Black-hole when we lost the hope expecting total darkness throughout the night.
With tension and fear evaporated, it was time for enjoying the darkness at the balcony. Mosquito repellent smoke was essential to avoid repetition of my afternoon experience. My wife the event manager had most of these items in stock. We pulled the chairs covering our bodies as far as possible.
Darkness in the forest had its own beauty, provided we had the state of mind to feel it. In fact the fear and tension had been a part of our own feeling of insecurity in a different environment.
Woods were too dark to see anything at all. Even the torchlight could not penetrate huge trees all around. Sound of the Sombahini river increased considerably at the
Spectacular art by the creator in tree branch
distant forest. Small sound emanated from rustling bushes and murmuring of air in nearby tree branches.Deer’s call and sound of night birds occasionally could be heard piercing the quietness. We could smell a different aroma of the woods. There was no way to know what laid in the darkness. It was so mysterious and kept hidden from the human eye. It was an amazing evening indeed.
Raju promised for serving dinner at 9 but after our reminders came with other three young companions carrying number of big size containers. We were pleasantly surprised to see Chicken Curry, which was ordered for tomorrow but served today due to language problem. There were other items like Roti, Rice, Dal, Sabji & papad with quantities to cater at least another family. We could finish barely half of them.
It was difficult to keep open my eyes after the supper. I slept like a log without knowing what happened thereafter. My wife told there were continuous movement of some elements on the roof at midnight. I heard nothing.
19th November, 2017 – Sunday
When I woke up it was still dark but dawn had announced its arrival.
Betelnut Garden on the way to Ukada Falls
Birds began their chorus, call of the mammals could be heard in the vicinity. Morning is the best time to enjoy the forest. Winter was approaching but it was not very cold. A soft, silky environment. Roaring stream of the night became subdued quite a bit.
Quickly refreshed I rushed to the road nearby for a walk. With sunlight still to illuminate, a surrealistic atmosphere of light and shade sprayed all around. Plants and tree leaves were still wet in morning dew. Huge trees were eagerly waiting for the sunlight. Some of the tree roots were so thick, possibly they were held here for centuries. One noticeable feature was the growth of a separate tree on top of another.The plant on the top grabbed the original one and grew at its cost. Almighty created various shapes and design of tree branches not common elsewhere. Mushrooms could be seen of various shapes and colours like black, red, yellow, grown in tree branches and bushes. A green colour snake was lying on the road, probably killed by the ongoing vehicle.
I strolled thru the narrow road effortlessly for nearly an hour.
A city of birds
Gaur or Indian Byson spotted during Jeep safari
I was hearing a huge noise from the distance. It was a high voltage chattering of birds. I witnessed innumerable number of birds here. Tree top nearly at hundred feet height would be their abode. Their cacophony suddenly muted when I stopped near the huge trees. I realized they were watching me. It resumed gradually after a while.
They were in hundreds, if not thousand. They were so restless, moving from one tree top to another in flocks. I am not a bird watcher, only a few I could identify, Black Maina, Parrot and so many other varieties. I could watch two giant squirrels hurriedly following each other. Before shooting they vanished in bushes, re-appeared, extremely difficult to frame them. Same scenario for birds also, so near but so far. I was adamant, after initial hesitation I entered the bushes. But it was so dense I totally lost myself after a while. I was surrounded by green forest all around, the road vanished from my sight. I felt terrified and quickly rushed back to the road.
Sunlight beamed at the top of the tree meanwhile. Thousands of birds increased their volatile movement. Thank god, I could witness such
a delightful sight. I have never seen so many spectacular birds ever in the wild.It was truly a bird paradise.
Breakfast with poliogray (south indian kichdi)and tea was initially brief. Time for our event manager to intervene. With surprises from her stock, it turned out to be a enjoyable breakfast.
How to spend rest of the day? Sampath, the forest guard suggested for a visit to a nearby waterfall (called Ukhra) around 10 kms from here. Road was motor able except around 500 mtrs in bad shape. It was on the same route which I visited in the morning.
We started the trek. I was eager to show them the birds paradise. When we reached, it was almost mid-noon, surprisingly the same place was quiet with few birds roaming. We approached further and road condition of the next half a kilometer was really bad.
Weather was comfortable but we felt tired.After a few kilometers we decided to return back to our dwelling, otherwise we would miss the lunch.It was a different forest here with thousands of Saal, teak, Oak and other trees all around not known to me. Those trees were standing tall like an army.Visibility
of the forest depth was better since their leaves grown after a considerable height and bushes were not so thick. Atmosphere was very quiet, possibly not a favourite destination for birds and monkeys.
After lunch we boarded the Jungle jeep safari. Unfortunately not a single wildlife could be seen in our one and half hour venture.
Sigekhan Guest House
It was located around 3 kilometers from the forest check post on top of the hill. I read number of reviews in the net about its excellent location and trekking experience from Muthodi nature camp. It was mentioned in the list of forest rest houses in the website of Karnataka Forest Department. But when enquired during my visit to the Chikmagaluru Forest Office I came to know that it was reserved only for Government officials and not for public.
Forest officials in Muthodi discouraged us since the road condition had been extremely bad, not suitable for our sedan with low ground clearance. We expressed intention to walk, but that was prohibited since the entire route was thru the Tiger Reserve area, deep in the forest.
After the futile evening safari trip we
became adamant. Road condition was really precarious. It was a hilly narrow country road full of big boulders and crators with innumerable curves. Driving my car in late evening was risky and challenging. But when we reached, we were pleasantly surprised. It was a two-storied mansion well equipped with all facilities like electricity, water with a beautiful garden.
While approaching we noticed a man coming towards us. We were slightly skeptical, may be public was not allowed to enter inside the territory. Contrary to our doubt, he greeted us and invited inside the garden. His name was Ravi Kumar, who single-handedly maintained that Guest House. Extremely courteous and smiling person, he offered us tea which we readily accepted.
View of the surroundings from the balcony was simply fabulous. A huge canvass with fully open front view suddenly emerged. It was a panoramic view of the distant valley down below ranging hundreds of kilometers. We came to know that even Bhadra reservour visible from here. Thin line of mountain ranges could be seen on the horizon within the clouds.Deep forest covered all around the bunglow except the front view.This building was located as a small hamlet deep in the
Balcony down below our cottage - one of the best attractions
woods. Ravi Kumar explained that elephants and other wild beasts regularly visited the spot. It was simply mind-blowing. I wished if I could stay here.
He suggested for coming here next day morning again to watch the sun-rise which we could not. While returning we felt it would have been a costly mistake had we not ventured there.
When we came back sky was overcast. Immediately after our entry to the cottage rain started. With an eye-shattering roar, lightening cleaved through the sky. Deafening sound of thunder cloud was bursting into the forest. Roaring of nearby stream escalated possibly due to added water-flow. Confined to our cottage we waited for the raingod to stop its fury. After nearly an hour the environment calmed down.
Night in the forest was totally opposite from daylight like evil and angel. Same atmosphere which was so bright, colourful during the day, suddenly vanished when plunged into darkness.
A big spider entering our room thru a small hole in the toilet scared my better-half. I had to kill it although it did not cause any harm to us.
Anil, Raju and their team brought the dinner items braving the inclement
weather.Our total food bill for the entire stay was only Rs 1100 for three occupants, unthinkable even in a budget hotel.
At mid-night my sleep was interrupted with a intermittent ticking resonance. At first I thought it was emanating from outside and chose to ignore. It stopped and again resumed. Suddenly my wife shouted “Rat-Get up”. Beaming our torch we found two jumbo-sized rats vandalizing our food packets, which we kept on the ground. By the time we noticed it, most of the food items were ransacked.
There was no further incident except continuous movement of small animals/birds on the roof like last night. 20th November, 2017 - Monday Ukhada Waterfall – a hidden treasure
My blog will be incomplete if I do not mention about our magnificent journey to this waterfall on the concluding day. We deserted our trek halfway yesterday. We decided to visit today in our car. Upto initial seven kilometers it was an excellent ride on a well-maintained road barring around half-a-kilometer thru the reserve forest. It was a bright morning with entire forest welcoming the sunshine after yesterday night’s shower. We reached a small locality and took a
Rest of the journey was thru muddy roads. Obviously the road condition was not conducive to our car but better than our yesterday’s experience.This road stretched thru vast coffee estate on both sides and excellent. Two peacocks were busy to take their morning meal on the way. Noticing us they rushed back to the coffee garden. Betelnut cultivation with thousands of trees were standing tall on the left towards the stream. Exhibition of greenery could be witnessed everywhere. There was no barren land here.Huge blue mountain ranges touched the sky in the distant horizon. Varieties of flowers bloomed in nearby bushes with so many colours. There were few villages in between. Children were strolling towards the school. Small habitats could be spotted on the way with nice garden outside.
We parked our car on the roadside and started walking. Last kilometer had to be covered climbing a narrow path with a mountain stream originated from Ukhada Waterfall on our left. Unfortunately there was no marking or signboard. Google map did not work here. We had to depend upon our weak knowledge of kannada for obtaining road direction from the villagers. Also there was no other visitor
to that place. There was every possibility of proceeding towards a wrong direction. On our way back we met school children from Chikmagaluru came for excursion tour along with teachers. They were also looking for the correct way to reach the waterfall frantically.
Altogether it was a splendid adventure to a place less publicized and explored by tourists.
We commenced our return journey at mid-noon and entered Bangaluru at around 8 PM with a brief stop at Chikmagaluru for lunch.
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