The wild inhabitants of Hampi
Historical ruins, biodiversity and mythology, all come together to make an excursion to the World Heritage site of Hampi and its surrounding forests an experience to cherish for life.
When one hears or thinks about Hampi, the picture that generally forms in the mind is archaeological ruins, historical temples of the erstwhile Vijayanagara Empire. Our perception about Hampi was the same, till we explored the other face of it. Apart from historical importance, Hampi harbours a variety of wildlife which is unbeknown to most of us. Every nook and corners of Hampi is enriched in flora and fauna diversity, which makes it easy to understand why it has ranked second in New York Times’ list of ‘Must-see global destinations’.
On 9th June 2017, we managed to plan a quick two day trip to Hampi with an intent to explore the wild life around it. On 10th June we set out in our car around 5:30am to explore the avian life of Hampi. The arid boulder-strewn landscape of Hampi hides some of the most beautiful and colourful birds of the subcontinent. Our first destination was the Kamlapur Forest guest-house camp. Here the traveller will find a good hideout prepared by the Forest Department, where one can conceal oneself and watch birds from close up. Here we got to see a few pairs of Laughing Dove (Spilopelia senegalensis), Painted Spurfowl (Galloperdix lunulata), grey francolin (Francolinus pondicerianus), a big flock of Indian silverbill (Euodice malabarica), Scaly-breasted Munia (Lonchura punctulata) and few sparrow lark. We were lucky enough to see a pair of Bush quail (Perdicula asiatica) from a very close distance.
Apart from birds, we saw the long ears of a black-naped hare (Lepus nigricollis) popping up from behind of a rock, it did not come out further into open. An Indian Rock Agama (Psammophilus dorsalis) was sitting on a nearby rock, it was so well blended itself with the surroundings that for a long time it was remain unnoticed from our eyes.
Our next plan was to look for the Indian eagle owl. The Tungabhadra canal passing through the area is literally a hub of birds. As we drove slowly through the dirt track besides the canal, our luck favoured us and we were rewarded with the magnificent view of the famous Indian eagle owl (Bubo bengalensis) of Hampi. The bird was camouflaged by its surroundings and gave us a minute time to take its photographs, immediately after that the owl flew away and vanished inside a dense bush.
On the way back to our hotel, our guide suddenly asked our driver to stop the car beside an open shrubby field. “What bird could reside here in this stony land?” I was questioning myself, but when I looked carefully through my camera lens I was speechless in joy, I saw my first Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse (Pterocles exustus)! A male and a female bird were sitting motionless on the ground almost completely camouflaged with the surroundings. In contrast, the Painted Sandgrouse (Pterocles indicus) is more colourful, the male bird has a necklace around its neck and breast. That is why it is also known as necklace bird. During our visit to Hampi, we also got few good snaps of Painted Sandgrouse.
At the late afternoon, we started our journey to Daroji Bear sanctuary; it is one of the treasure troves of the region that lies around 15km away from the world heritage site – Hampi. The sanctuary is spread over 82.72Sq Km and was established in 1994 exclusively for the preservation of the sloth bear. Hampi and its surrounding areas provide a very conducive habitat for the sloth bears (Melursus ursinus), which are also known as Jamvavantha as per the Ramayana, in the Hindu mythology.
It is believed that Kiskinda, the mythological kingdom of the monkey king Sugriva was located on the bank of the river Tungabhadra in Hampi. In the war against Ravana, the monkey king Sugriva was Rama’s ally, when Rama’s army crossed Hampi en route to Lanka, they met with Jambavantha- a bear king, who joined the army. And the sloth bear of Hampi makes us believe more in this mythological story.
Though the sanctuary remains open from 6am to 6pm, the sloth bears, nocturnal by habit, spend the day dozing off in the shade of caves and during late afternoon bears come out of the cave and start searching for food. Their food comprises wild fruits, roots, ants and termites. In Daroji, the forest department staffs also supplies a paste of jaggery, which is smeared on the rocks. Bears love to lick the rocks smeared with the tasty meal. A watch tower within the sanctuary provides a vantage point to view the bears as they emerge from the adjacent Karadikallu hill.
After waiting at the watch tower for nearly an hour, we sighted some bears coming down from the hill. The animals come out from the cave to lick the paste of jaggery smeared on the rocks. Apart from bear, we also sighted few wild boars (Sus scrofa) and grey mongoose (Herpestes edwardsi). Peacock and grey francolins were roaming fearlessly around the bears.
The day light was falling fast, with the last rays of the setting sun the canvas of the sky was painted with red-ish orange colour. The forest officials requested us to get out from the sanctuary as quickly as possible. The eventful day came to its end. At Hampi, mythology, history and wildlife coexist together. The Hampi trip had given us all that we had wished for and more.
At the end we have to mention about a humble person – Mr. Pompayya Malemath, who was there with us throughout the trip. He has a thorough knowledge of about the terrain and wildlife. His skill of spotting birds is amazing. Birding with him was sheer joy.
Bellary district, where Daroji is situated is also rich in iron ore and the mining becomes a house of unregulated and depredatory industry here. Currently the sanctuary has a healthy population of sloth bear. Unfortunately the bears continue to be threatened due to illegal mining in this area. But perhaps, with the forest department and conservationists’ efforts, we can hope for a safe future for these hairy shy mammals.
Pompayya Malemath: He combines his political career with a passionate love for the wildlife. He is ex Municipal President, Kamlapur (Karnataka), wild life enthusiast, social worker. His knowledge on sloth bears, birds and also about key monuments at Hampi is unmatched. His relentless effort helps to convert a barren patch of land near Tungabhadra high-level canal into a thick forest. Pompayya’s man made forest is one of the ‘must visit’ places for the bird watchers, where you will find at least 70 species of birds.
Check out his work here- https://www.facebook.com/pompayya.malemath.5?ref=bookmarks
Moon Jana Roy: Completed her PhD on Environment Communication from Centre for Journalism and Mass Communication, Visva Bharati university. Assistant professor at University of Kalyani (West Bengal). Member of Himalayan Nature and Adventure Foundation(Hnaf) . She has deep interest in nature conservation and actively participating in various conservation related work.
Check out her work here -https://www.facebook.com/moon.jana.14