A long weekend was identified for our repeat visit to Hampi. R and myself had been there a few years ago, while it was the first visit for R/S. Z would join us from Bombay, and we decided to combine the Hampi trip with a visit to Daroji Bear Sanctuary. Kishkinda Heritage Resort, where we had planned to stay initially, was dropped due to some mixed reviews. A few emails and phone calls to some helpful INW members, and we were all set with a booking at the guest house belonging to the forest department at Kamalapur, and a vehicle for the duration of our stay. The journey started with a lot more excitement than we had bargained for, with heavy rains lashing Bangalore that evening, due to which the city witnessed horrendous traffic jams. First it took 2 hours to get home from office, that too with the last 200m covered on foot to save time. Threw some things into a suitcase and we were ready to leave, but the car still had not negotiated those 200m. Finally we left home with 1.5 hr to go before the train’s departure. Little did we know what a high-tension drama awaited us.
We alternated between calling the Railways enquiry number (only to be told repeatedly that the train was on time) and consulting with S/R who were in another car headed to Majestic. The approach to Majestic was choc-a-bloc with vehicles, and once it was clear that we wouldn’t make it, we decided to try Malleswaram, which was the next (and only other) station in Blr where the train stops. Only, nobody seemed to know where to find Malleswaram station. We were in Malleswaram all right, but the passers-by we asked, in true Bangalorean fashion, would point us towards a completely random direction. It was a minor miracle that we finally arrived at Malleswaram, well past the departure time of the train, hoping against hope… to find that the train had not even arrived at Majestic yet. At the same time S/R had reached Majestic after abandoning the taxi and sprinting to the station, and another hour or so later we were all reunited on the train, heading to Hospet.
At Kamalapur we were first taken for an audience with the RFO, where S’s Kannada skills saved the day. We got the tented accommodation, which turned out to be superb! Away from the main concrete structure and somewhat isolated, but with all the necessary amenities, including geysers in the bathroom and mosquito repellant in the rooms. Quick birding around the guest house revealed Marshall’s iora and grey-breasted prinia. Freshened up, and set off for Hampi for a round of sightseeing before lunch. Hampi has something for everyone – history for the non-birders, and birds for the bird nazis! Close to Pushkarni, I found a flock of baya weavers and several ashy-crowned sparrow larks. Outside the Lotus Mahal, blue-tailed bee-eaters and plum-headed parakeets. Post lunch we headed to Daroji Bear Sanctuary, past fields of sunflowers appearing out of the rocky landscape.
At Daroji, every afternoon the forest guards smear jaggery on some rocks, and throw grain for the birds, and the bears oblige the spectators (most of them at the watch tower, and some enterprising ones get a close view from inside their vehicle parked next to the rocks). Since a few vehicles were already there at the prime spots, we decided to view the show from the watch tower, where we found a number of specimens of the two-legged mammal variety, playing music, yelling, spitting and generally making a nuisance of themselves. (At times like these I feel perhaps it would be better to bar tourists altogether from wildlife sanctuaries in India). The bears did make an appearance, along with peafowl and other birds. We were too far away to get much out of that experience.
Evening at the guest house where we met the other visitors, also from Bangalore, who drove in that morning, since they thought they had missed the train they were booked on! (Note to self: Never ever believe the railways enquiry guys). Met Samad and Santosh, fixed up a rendezvous in the morning at Hampi for birding, target species being the endemic yellow-throated bulbul (listed as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species). Later in the evening, the resident spotted owlets paid us a visit outside our tents, and at night the characteristic chuk-chuk-churrr of Indian nightjar put me in half mind to get out of bed and launch a search. Better sense prevailed, and a sound sleep later, Z and I met Samad at Mathanga Parvat, where we did manage to see and photograph the bulbul. We also surprised a pair of painted spurfowl behind the rocks, and sat and watched tawny bellied babblers going about their business, while a pair of grey hornbills flew overhead.
The others joined us at a more leisurely time, and we explored the stretch of Hampi close to the Tungabhadra river, which was in full spate with stretches of serious white water. Sat by the river bank and watched the spectacle of hundreds of fish jumping against the class 4/5 rapids to swim upstream! En route to Vitthala temple, clicked a shikra-on-the-rocks and a large grey babbler. Back at the guest house, the scrub forest behind the tents proved extremely productive, with small minivets in profusion, yellow eyed babblers, hoopoe, grey francolin, barred button quail and several more species.
Next morning we headed back to Mathanga Parvat, where we watched a pair of Indian silverbills taking turns at fetching nesting material and disappearing inside a cactus where their home was under construction. A very vocal tailorbird was singing its heart out nearby, while rose ringed parakeets flew screeching all over the place. On the way down the steps, a sudden flash of red led us to find a pair of red avadavats, and on the electric wires we noted streak throated swallows.
In the afternoon, R, Z and I headed to Daroji, where we took up the prime spot while the forest guards did the honey-smearing routine, and camouflaged our vehicle with twigs and fallen branches. After a bit of a wait, the bear family showed up, and we watched their antics for the better part of two hours. Licking the honey, they looked rather like tame bears, or darker, unkempt versions of Winnie the pooh, watching as we were from the safety of our vehicle.
More than the bears, I enjoyed the chance to photograph the grey francolins which were enjoying the largesse of forest department grain. Normally these birds are painfully shy, and scoot at the slightest sound. Here they gave some excellent poses, and I quickly filled my memory card. Suddenly a family of jungle bush quails skittishly ran across the rocks, got some blurry images which nevertheless helped to settle the ID. Painted spurfowl pecked at the grains just out of the reach of my lens, and the whole party was joined by majestic looking peafowl, red vented bulbuls and laughing doves.
Back to the guest house, and some last minute birding there while the others played a round of cards. Next time must spend some more time exploring that area as it seems very promising! All in all, a superb trip, with a perfect combination of history, wildlife, birding and beautiful landscapes.