RADventure 2023: Episode 5 : Western Ghats ... where my thought's escaping! From Ujjain to Masinagudi (March 22 - May 28, 2023 )



Western Ghats ... where my thought's escaping

Our succeeding generations will continue to view the
Western Ghats in wonder and amazement,
And also loudly shout out their name;
While those mountains would faithfully 
echo back the same,
Time and again,
all playing the same old game!
        -Raj Nandy, New Delhi (from -The Echo - 2008)


Western Ghats - A magical wonder who's beauty inspires me to drive from Kolkata each year. With its breathtaking landscapes, dense forests, and abundant rivers, it is home to countless species of flora and fauna, including several endangered and endemic ones. This UNESCO World Heritage site's ecological treasure is facing severe threats that endanger its delicate balance. Rapidly depleting green cover and changing land use not only disturb the rich biodiversity but also disrupt the vital ecosystem services provided by the Ghats, such as water regulation and climate moderation. Preserving the Western Ghats is not only essential for the countless species that call it home but also for the millions of people who depend on its resources for their livelihoods and well-being. In Pic: Runa deeply engrossed in the captivating beauty of the Western Ghats


arch 22, 2023, 0530 hrs, moments before daybreak, we set out from Ujjain, the abode of Mahakal, towards my brother-in-law's home in Thane, Maharashtra. A distance of 630 Km, to be covered in 12 hours per Google's prediction. In no time, we were cruising past Indore well before its residents stepped out of their slumberland. From our earlier experience on this route, the drive, as expected, was fairly comfortable, especially with a double-lane carriageway end-to-end. 

With a few breaks on the route, at 1555 hrs, we arrived at Prasenjit Guha my Brother-in-Law (B-I-L)'s pad well ahead of Google's estimated arrival time. Pleasantries done. While the evening unfolded, the ambience turned into a cheerful mood for my B-I-L, a whiskey aficionado and collector extraordinaire, shared some of his finest collections as we caught up with tales & travails of the past. What more could our weary bodies and battered souls have possibly yearned for after being on the road for a month! It was like a divine gift served with a twist of merry mischief!

Fuelled by scrumptious food and a blissful night of solid zzZs, we hit the road the following evening, headed towards Versova—our son Anubhav's humble abode. Over the years, Anubhav has become quite the foodie maven while honing his legal dexterity. For the next two weeks, our agenda was clear: catching up with friends and family in the city and embarking on mouthwatering culinary escapades, all under the guidance of Anubhav. It was a feast for our taste buds and a heartwarming reunion, all rolled into one! 

Mumbai & Goa were all about gastronomic celebrations!

We (Runa, Anubhav & I) hit the road to Goa on April 04 - a pleasant 11 hour drive.  At Goa, Anubhav & I decided to try out the Open Water Basic Scuba certification with Dive Goa (divegoa.com). Marine exploration has been a long pending agenda on our bucket list. We chose to stay at Victoria Villa (www.victoriavillaguesthousegoa.com) in Sinquerim- Candolim, a wonderful and cosy guesthouse managed by exceedingly hospitable hosts - Salvador & Irene, a 10-minute walk from our dive school.

Anubhav during his 'Open Water' dive

Oh, the hypnotic appeal of Goan food drives you crazy! Thus the evenings in Goa was the continuation of our gastronomic experiments that started at Mumbai, while we spent the day Scuba-dive training.

Mission accomplished, on April 10, 2023, the wheels of our Brezza got rolling once again as we departed from
Victoria Villa. On the way dropped Anubhav at the new Manohar International Airport at Mopa (North Goa) and headed south towards our base at Pandavapura. En route, we stopped for the night at a small village-town ... Chitradurga, an ancient fort city. 

During our drive from Goa to Pandavapura we stayed overnite at KSTDC Mayura Durg located adjoining the Chitradurga Fort.  (Ref: Wikipedia: The fort was built during the 11th and 13th centuries by the dynastic rulers of the region, including the Chalukyas and Hoysalas, later the Nayakas of Chitradurga of the Vijayanagar Empire)

Crossing into Karnataka from Goa, we encountered frequent police check-posts (every 50-70 km) due to the upcoming state assembly elections that were to be held in May 2023. At every check-post we had to undergo vehicle inspection, fill in contact details, and in some cases even video-graphed, all of this to ensure no illicit items or cash was being smuggled into the state to influence elections. At one check-post, an inquisitive bunch of cops were quite intrigued by our drive from West Bengal to Karnataka refusing to believe that our trip had nothing to do with the election! Despite those random restrains, the drive to Sharadindu, Pandavapura, was pleasant and hassle-free. We arrived at our home, away from home, on April 11, 2023, just in time for a revitalising lunch.

Those who have read my earlier posts will recall Sharadindu, a Senior Commune located near River Kaveri's banks at Pandavapura, is the hub of my southern sojourns in the Mysore plateau. (Read my earlier www.radventure.in/2021/03/connecting-ghats-episode-1-of-5.html for the reason behind choosing this location).

Sharadindu (a Senior Commune) and its green surroundings - in Pandavapura - our hub in Southern India. The Western Ghats is merely 2.5 Hrs driving distance from Sharadindu. Any major destination in the south can be covered within 8 hours drive. In addition, Pandavapura, in Mandya district is a water surplus region. Large number of rivers from the Western Ghats pour into River Kaveri. 


We spent just over five weeks at Sharadindu, exploring the nearby birding hot spots -  Coorg, Madikeri, Waynad, and Masinagudi, as well as my favorite locations around Pandavapura. Throughout our journey, we became acutely aware of the profound impact of climate change in the entire region. Coorg and Madikeri, often referred to as the Scotland of the east, were particularly affected, with scorching temperatures reaching a sweltering 38˚C. This extreme heat and humidity made it nearly impossible to venture outdoors during most days, from 9 am to 4.30 pm. Increasingly, a disheartening realization began to unfold — every person we encountered expressed their despair at the harshness of the weather, unaware of the undeniable truth that our collective actions have led to this catastrophic disruption of nature's delicate balance.

Namdroling Monastery also known as the Buddhist Golden temple at Bylakuppe, near Kushalnagar (Coorg District), is the residing place for over 10000 Tibetans, who have been living in exile at this centre of Tibetan Buddhism in South India. It is the second largest Tibetean settlement in India after Dharamsala. This monastery is worth a visit.

During this trip spotting the Yellow-throated Bulbul became the most significant achievement. This elusive bird dwells on steep rock faces, and despite multiple attempts in the past, I had failed to catch a glimpse of it. My best chance was the rugged cliffs of Melkote, adjacent to the wildlife sanctuary, where some sightings had been reported before. Determined, I visited the location once every week, climbing higher each time, until I heard a unique and melodious song, unlike any common bird in the area. The captivating melody emanated from a banyan tree near the cliff's summit. Finally, I laid eyes on a bird with a yellow hue resembling a bulbul. Initially, I assumed it was a White-browed Bulbul, which is common in that region, but as I observed it closer, its unmistakable yellow throat was distinctly visible. A pair of Yellow-throated Bulbul were busy building their nest close by. 

The Yewllow-throated Bulbul (Pycnonotus xantholaemus) this beautiful bird is an endangered species (IUCN RedList - Vulnerable). occurs in isolated pockets of along hill slopes with sparse trees and scrub vegetation growing amidst boulders — distributed across South India (Ref: Birds of the World). Getting a glimpse of this bird was one the highlight of my trip to Southern India.

After numerous failures, finding this bird whose population is on the decline and is listed as 'Vulnerable' in the IUCN Redlist of endangered species, was a momentous lifer. I sat under the banyan tree for almost an hour and felt overjoyed as I gazed at the beautiful pair busy collecting nesting material for their next generation. 

The Yellow-throated Bulbul at Melkote

The other exciting birding feat was near Pandavapura on the banks of river Kaveri, at the Blue-tailed Bee-Eater Reserve. Having learnt about this protected place from friends at Sharadindu, Runa and I visited the location one morning. Being the breeding season for the birds, the forest department had cordoned off the place where the nests existed along the sandbanks. For the first time, I experienced a proactive Forest Department, who have earmarked the 2.5 acres in Naguvanahalli on the banks of the river Cauvery as a reserve dedicated to this bird.

The Blue-tailed Bee-eater (Merops philippinus) at the Bee-Eater Reserve, Nagavanahalli

Though a common bird across the Indian sub-continent, this was the first time I could observe hundreds of them for a significant time. These chirpy birds were busy catching dragonflies and insects and carrying them into their burrows in the sand. I watched their wonderful world for over an hour before returning to Sharadindu.  

The Blue-tailed Bee-Eater eats honeybees, wasps, hornets, beetles, bugs, flies, moths, butterflies and dragonflies

The Blue-tailed Bee-Eater builds its nest in burrows on sand banks

The other positive development was to find an enthusiastic birding partner in Dr. Shiva Kumar who also happens to be our neighbour at Sharadindu. Dr Shiva Kumar is a remarkable individual who embodies a diverse range of passions and talents. Not only an accomplished pharmacy expert Shiva (as he is fondly called) is a certified scuba diver, a long-distance runner, combined with his unwavering love for nature, creates a unique perspective that enriches our birding experiences. It was Shiva's presence and his good fortune perhaps, that helped in the sighting of the Yellow-throated Bulbul. 

With Dr Shivakumar - our neighbour and birding partner at Sharadindu.

As soon as the state elections were over,all the checkposts disappeared, we made two short trips worth mentioning. The first one was to Waynad in Kerala, followed by a trip to Masaniagudi (Tamil Nadu) in mid-June. The drive was exhilarating and inspiring, wheeling through the Nilgiri Biosphere that encompasses Bandipur & Mudumalai National Parks. At Wayanad we were joined by Abhishek (our nephew), Sonia and their 13-year-old son Kanishk (Tin-Tin).  Abhishek had been requesting that we make a trip together for quite some time, which Runa and I were equally keen too. Knowing full well the trio's undeniable passion for nature and wildlife, I found myself wondering just how far they'd be willing to venture into the untamed wilderness.  I've had a rather comical encounter in the past that left me with a jolt of realization. It involved another friend whose idea of wildlife exploration was to perch himself comfortably in the balcony and observe whatever feasible from the safety and comfort of his lodge. He would'nt budge from the place fearing insects, animals and above all a risk to his life. So, with a mix of excitement and caution, I braced myself  and booked the stay at Greenish Fence, a nature heritage home in Wayanad, a farmhouse in a hilly locale with Coffee, Areca and Palm trees. It was an independent bungalow amidst plantations all around. Location-wise, no regret; however, the school holiday season, the heat of the summer, and the absence of wildlife in the vicinity left me unsatisfied with the overall outcome. Now that I better appreciate their appetite, next trip for sure, Abhishek, I promise some memorable adventures! 

Left to Right : Abhishek, Runa, Sonia (Abhishek's betterhalf), I and the young explorer Kanishk (son of Abhishek & Sonia). Pic - Kuruva Dweep - a forest island in River Kabini in the district of Wayanad

From Wayanad, Runa and I drove to Masinagudi while Abhishek and his family returned to Bangalore. At the time we visited, i.e. latter half of June, huge crowds had been thronging Masinagudi consequent to the Oscar-winning documentary 'The Elephant Whisperers', shot at the Elephant Rescue and Rehabilitation Center at Mudumalai National Park. We were lucky to have booked ourselves well in advance at Wildways Madumalai Homestay, as the holidayers took most of the available accommodation in this small village town.

Over 4 days we explored most of the Birding hot-spots of Masinagudi with Abid. Bird sightings were decent. Plan to be back in April next year before the summer migration for a few target species that the region is known for. Mammal movements (elephants & big cats) were prominent at this time of the year

Bison Valley on the Mysore - Ooty Road is named after Indian Bison (Gaur) that are seen in the area. It is also a great place for Birds. We spotted over 20 bird species in the hour that we spent there. Our sighting included Bar-winged Flycatcher Shrike, Vernal Hanging Parrot, Brown Flycatcher, White-bellied Drongo, Common Flameback, Yellow-browed Bulbul, Tawny-bellied Babbler, Indian Nuthatch, amongst others. 

A vibrant rainbow appeared after a brief shower at the 'Quiet Corner Camp' at Mavanalla, while looking for Jungle Bush-Quail in the area. We saw two clutches of Jungle Bush-Quail, 5 birds in each clutch. Also heard calls of the Painted Bush-Quail which for some reason did not come out of the bushes

Masinagudi located in the buffer zone of Madumalai Tiger Reserve, Tamil Nadu, has recorded almost 260 bird species. Our quest to spot these avian treasures was guided by none other than Abid, a remarkable individual who wears the hats of both a knowledgeable naturalist and a welcoming homestay owner. Abid's unwavering dedication to the Nilgiris Biosphere, where he has spent his entire adulthood for the cause of conservation and exploration, is highly commendable.

The sweltering heat and the belated arrival of the monsoon were acting as dampeners to our birding endeavors. Nevertheless, undeterred by the adverse conditions, we pressed on, determined to make the most of our time in Masinagudi and uncover the beauty of its feathered inhabitants.

A family of Smooth-coated Otter (Lutrogale perspicillata) on the banks of Achakarai Road canal. Listd as Vulnerable in IUCN Redlist with its population decreasing due to habitat loss

Apart from the avian sightings, t
wo remarkable mammal encounters wrapped up the trip. We bumped into a male tusker (elephant) while exploring on foot. All of a sudden the tusker emerged from a dense bamboo thicket hardly 30 feet from us. 
Just moments before the tusker's appearance, we had been leisurely exploring the same area in search of birds. And then suddenly, from the shadows, emerged this magnificent beast. In my eagerness to capture head-on photographs, I was inclined to stand my ground. However, Abid, displaying his profound understanding of wildlife and prioritizing our safety, swiftly pulled me away, urging us to retreat to a safer distance.

The Tusker we encountered while birding. It emerged from the bamboo bushes, where we were bidring moments ago. It was certainly present while we are looking for birds, and we had no clue about its presence

Moments later, I realised my mistaken priority; it could have been fatal should the tusker have chosen to charge from that close distance. While I may have missed the chance for those up-close photographs, the encounter served as a poignant reminder of the power and unpredictability of the natural world. It was a humbling experience that left me in awe of the grandeur of these creatures and deeply grateful for Abid's guidance and expertise in ensuring our well-being.

Stepping away we watched the pachyderm continue its foraging routine, and soon dissapeared into denser growth.  

On the way to Singara, where we had a close encounter with a leopard

The other incident occurred near the Singara Check Post (Hydroelectric Project). On our return leg from the checkpost, soon as we turned around,
piercing through the air, we heard the frantic alarm calls of Giant Malabar Squirrels and Bonnet Macaque monkeys echoing from the treetops surrounding the coffee plantation. Our instincts kicked in simultaneously, and Abid, Runa, and I realized that this symphony of warning shrieks could only mean one thing—a formidable predator was lurking nearby. We stopped our car and stepped out. Abid walked, scanning the front, while I moved towards the car's rear, trying to peer down the slope towards which the monkeys were staring and yelling.

And then, as if emerging from the depths of a thrilling dream, it happened—a leopard sprang out from under the bushes, quite perturbed by the cacophony of the squirrels and monkeys. In that surreal moment, mere feet away from me, our eyes locked in mutual surprise. We both froze in our tracks  - momentarily frozen in time.

But as quickly as the leopard appeared, it vaulted across the road, disappearing into the opposite section of the coffee plantation, vanishing into the wilderness beyond. Still holding my camera, I remained motionless, a statue of awe and regret. Only later did the weight of the missed opportunity sink in, as I realized the extraordinary spectacle I had been on the verge of capturing. Yet, despite the temporary disappointment, the swift exit of the leopard was a fortunate turn of events. Averting what could have been a perilous encounter with a hungry leopard, given the unexpectedly close proximity.

The encounter left us breathless, a thrilling testament to the raw power and untamed beauty of the natural world. It served as a vivid reminder of the wild wonders that lie just beyond our reach, always ready to surprise and captivate us in ways we could never imagine.

Episode 5 : The Route Traversed

7114 Km covered, 99 days on the road, a few lifers sighted, a couple of close & wild encounters, it was time to head homeward. To add some spice to our adventure, instead of heading east, we drove southward venturing into the vibrant and aromatic realm of the Spicy State and God's Own Country, tracing Kerala's enchanting coastline.

In our upcoming and final episode, we will delve into the captivating tales of our Malabar escapade, exploring the wonders that unfolded along Kerala's soul soothing coastal strip. From pristine beaches to lush backwaters and immersive cultural experiences, our time in this magical region was nothing short of enchanting. And as our wheels turned towards the end of our journey, we will also share the exciting details of our home run, rounding off our expedition with a sense of fulfillment and anticipation for the tales yet to be told.

Do continue to share your feedback & comments which we eagerly await to hear.





D. Kar said…
Fantastic read !! Keep going, AD Boss !!
Ojha said…
Fats great narration and nice to know about these great places.
ad0312 said…
Thank you Taukeer.
Raghu said…

Fascinating stories!
To more such trips...
ad0312 said…
Thanks Raghu .... 🫡🫡🫡
Ethics Eclipsed said…
Radventure, Western ghats escape; what an awe inspiring writing. The choice of expressive words not only explained the expanse of western ghats, but also brought in the 4D effect (could even feel the smell of forest) of wilderness to me. The travelogue walked me through flora & fauna; thanks to your wilderness purposeful wandering. You are a compelling inspiration to anyone with “love of nature”; I happen to be one of those. Do you remember how I was startled (like the fleeting leopard mesmerized you) by big Monitor Lizard at Melkota Hills when you were deep in thought after you spotted yellow throated bulbul?
Every minute I spent in all our 3 recent jaunts with you are the best cherished. Thanks for introducing me to “Birding” & offering me 2 books to keep up with my interest. I wish we could walk into wilderness to sense the subtleties of wild more often. In next visit to Shardindu, shall we venture to meet Leopards at night on cliffs of Pandavapura? Thanks in abundance for your nice words about me; will strive to live up to them in further more
Wishes for more birding accomplishments..
ad0312 said…
Thanks Shiva! I thoroughly enjoyed your company. Each trip with you adds a lot to my knowledge.