Hampi, the UNESCO recognised world heritage site is better known as a land of Boulders and Ruins. But it is much more than just ruins. It is a safe haven for many resident and migratory bird species. An ideal geographical location with a favourable climatic condition for nesting, breeding and raising the chicks. The Tungabhadra Riverside, the Kamalasagar Lake, the Sanapur Lake, the canal sides, the University Lake and the Daroji Bear Sanctuary are some of the favourite spots for bird watching.
Our trip turned out to a bird watching trip. We came to see many known and unknown species. Our stay in the Sloth Bear Resort, also known as the Hampi Heritage and Wilderness Resort (a unit of Jungle Lodges and Resort) enhanced to our luck. The resort is spread across a Sub jungle in Kamalapur. It is a quiet location near to the Hampi University.
Far from the hubbub of the locality, it is a peaceful, green destinations with the cottages spread out within the cover of the trees on the uneven stony landscape. The property is managed by the sincere, hard-working and multitasking team of 22 heads. Gravel laden path within the bushes, lined by a variety of juvenile trees – Neem and other local species, connect the cottages to one another. Walking through these paths every time was a bird watching experience. As this undisturbed serene environment attracts many bird species to rebuild their once lost habitat.
The Naturalist of the resort, Mr Mahesh pointed out how the construction of this resort has lead to the habitat loss of many native species. The Oriental Magpie Robin has now made way to the Indian Robin. He along with his team has taken up the task to redevelop this sub jungle and bring back the habitat for the wildlife.
As we were moving around the property looking for different birds, Mr Mahesh enquired whether we were more interested in bird watching or in the ruins. Without sparing a thought, I replied, both. The answer to this I got at the end of my trip. He and his team helped us to spot and identify many rare species of birds.
In the evening Mr Utthapa, accompanied by his teammate, drove us to the Daroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary. The area between Daroji and Ramasagar had plenty of Sloth Bear. With the idea of preservation of the Sloth Bears this region was included and marked as a sanctuary in the year 1994. Previously the bears were highly threatened from the illegal mining in the nearby regions and also captured and domesticated by the ‘Kalandars’. The declaration of the sanctuary has highly brought down this number.
Spread across an area of more than 5500 hectares this region is dominated by stony hillocks and undulating plane covered by bushy shrubs. Sloth Bears are primarily vegetarian. Their food includes fruits, tubers, honey, termites and ants. They are very fond of Ber and Mahua fruits. They even trespass within the human cultivable land in search of food. They are also known to climb up the tree in search of toddy. They love to get drunk too.
This being a dry and hot region the bears prefer to stay within the cool shades of the caves and caverns. They even hide and rest under the shady outcrops of huge boulders to escape the extreme heat during the day time. The sanctuary is open from 4pm to 6pm. The watchtower provides an excellent view of the stony hillock with a maximum number of bears. With the onset of dusk, these bears climb down the hill in search of food and water.
We waited for a long to get a glimpse of the Sloth Bears. The panoramic view from the tower was beautiful. It seemed that some artisan has created the landscape placing and balancing boulders over the other. Some huge boulder appeared to be gravity defying and hanging out with a small surface area in contact with the base. The clouds curtained the sun. So a miss to a beautiful sunset in this stony land. The strong gusts of wind blew in few patches of clouds giving a character to the otherwise dull sky.
The lazy bears were too reluctant to leave the relaxing cool shady corner, not even to hunt for food. However, one slowly and steadily loitering around the bush came out of its fort. Possibly distracted by various things. Sniffing and dallying it took a long time to climb down the hillock. From a black dot, it transformed to a black ball. Now another one followed its footsteps starting from the top. The previous one came closer in the open region. Finally moving off towards the cultivable land in search of bananas. While the other one got engrossed in something more interesting. It did not climb down any further.
There were frequent calls of Peafowls. Suddenly the Monkeys started to screech. It could be an alarming call announcing any approaching Leopard. Apart from the Bears, this sanctuary is home to Leopards, Porcupines, Hyena, Jackal, Monitor Lizard, Star Tortoise, Pangolins, Peafowl and many other species of birds and butterflies. Utthapa and his companion with their apt and trained eye spotted birds even while driving through the uneven curvy roads.
The first bird spotted was a Long-tailed Shrike. Then it came one after the other. The Eurasian Collared Dove, the Grey Francolin, the Sand Lark, Paddy Field Pipit and few flying Red Munias. They even mentioned few more names which I could not remember later. They even mentioned that if luck favours we can spot the Eagle Owl. My sparkling eyes opened wide with great expectation for the coming ventures.
Visiting the famous monuments and the ruins were absorbing. Read my experience while exploring the ruins. But our eyes were searching for birds even in the vicinity of the ruins. We did spot some green bee eaters and a blue winged parakeet. Although the quick click of this shy bird did not render a good result. The evening was extraordinarily rewarding. Special thanks to Utthapa. He took the initiative to take us to the canal, overriding the regular schedule of the visit to the ruins.
Driving by the man-made irrigation canal, he kept his sharp eyes on the surroundings. He spotted the magnificent Eagle Owl taking a nap in the shades of the roots and burrows by the side of the canal wall. It was camouflaged within its surrounding and was hard to spot. An awesome moment it was, to spot this majestic bird in the wild. Later we came across the Painted Sandgrouse. Then my husband spotted a Hudhud, better known as Hoopoe. Now he demanded special credit for spotting and identifying this bird all by himself. But I could not manage a click.
The early morning session of birdwatching was again fruitful enough. This time, we were blessed with the sight of Pied Kingfisher, Hoopoe again, Bush Quail, Red Avadavat, Shikra, weaver bird, Indian Silverbill, Sand Lark, Pipit and many more. We were greatly overjoyed on our adventure to birdwatching. We spotted so many rare and unknown species of birds. It was a moment to glorify and a memory to cherish for a long long time. Finally, I realised. I got the answer to the question asked by Mr Mahesh. Although the ruins were interesting enough but I am more inclined to Birds. I am grateful to Jungle Lodge Hampi and its employees to make our stay and our trip so enjoyable and memorable and invoking the avid bird watcher in me. *(I got few bird ids wrong, later rectified by Rudraksh Chodankar who blogs at whistlingtrails).