A Hampi Birthday

We just spent three days for my birthday at Jungle Lodges’ Sloth Bear Resort, now named more fancily as the Hampi Heritage and Wilderness Resort. This is our 10th visit and 9th stay across 8 JLR properties. About time I wrote about it!

Our first stay at a Jungle Lodges and Resorts (JLR) property was in 2007 at their K Gudi resort, and since then we’ve been to their Kabini, Bidar, Mangalore, Ganeshgudi, Dandeli and Dubare properties. We are great JLR fans – I proudly wear my JLR branded photography jacket and hat whenever I’m out in the wild – and staying at every one of their properrties is part of our travel roadmap!

Here’s an account of our latest JLR adventure at the Sloth Bear Resort.

We reached Hampi at around 10 AM on Saturday. We got out of the train station and were picked up by a person from the resort in a Mahindra Bolero which proudly proclaimed ‘Government of Karnataka’ on its rear windshield. With typical JLR hospitality and efficiency, he asked if we had eaten, and when we said we hadn’t, promptly took us to a vegetarian breakfast place in Hospet. As he pulled in front of the place, he quickly checked with us if such a ‘mamool’ place was okay with us. Having spied the pictures of dosas and the like on the walls of the restaurant, we said we were fine and went in to a breakfast of masala dosa and uppittu. While it was nothing to write home about, it was definitely an adequate breakfast. We were off again after breakfast, and reached the resort in about half an hour.

Vidya in front of the cottage at JLR Hampi

Vidya in front of the cottage at JLR Hampi

The check-in was smooth and painless as usual – a quick visit to the office where I had to write our home address in a huge register while sipping cardamom-flavored lime juice. One of the boys carried our luggage to our cottage and settled us in. The cottage was more than adequate – a spacious one-room affair with an attached bathroom. It was air-conditioned, something we had no cause to check out. During check-in, we were given a printed program from which we knew lunch would be ready at 1:30 PM.

Lunch was typically JLR – homestyle meals made with locally-sourced produce. My meal strategy at JLR is to have lots of green salad and chapatis with the chicken or fish dish. This one was no different, but had an additional egg dish to go with the chapatis and fried fish. We headed back to our room for a quick nap before the afternoon activity.

After tea and biscuits at 3 PM, we headed out on safari to the Daroji Bear Sanctuary. The day was quite hot, but the constant wind kept the heat from becoming unbearable. We made quick time and reached the bear sanctuary in about 15 minutes. We climbed a bunch of stairs and reached the watch tower, where we settled down to wait for the sloth bears of the sanctuary to show themselves.

The view from the tower was quite interesting – right in front of us was a hillock covered with scrub vegetation. On a rocky patch about halfway up the hillock, the Forest Department folks had set out food for the bears – a mixture of jaggery with a variety of other bear goodies. A similar buffet was repeated off to our right, on another collection of rocks, a little bit on the banks of a waterhole near the rocks, and in a couple of spots right in front of us. With all this preparation, we were almost guaranteed a bear sighting.

The Bear Buffet at Daroji Bear Sanctuary

The Bear Buffet at Daroji Bear Sanctuary

As we settled down on the none-too-comfortable metal benches in the watch tower, we could see that a variety of other creatures were partaking of the ursine feast before the bears arrived. A collection of birds, with peafowl leading the charge, were at each location of jaggery. Finally, after about an hour of waiting, a bear emerged from behind one of the rocks on the hillock and headed for the jaggery feast. He spent a long time making his way through the buffet. This was a relaxed sighting, but did not make for good photography given the distance we were away from the spot.

After some more time, other bears emerged from different places. In all we spotted seven bears, including a mother with two cubs. We also spotted a wild boar who invited himself to the buffet and went on his way before the bears spotted him. It was almost totally dark when we returned to the resort and a delicious dinner.

Hampi Sight-seeing - the Lotus Mahal reflected in Vidya's Sunglasses

Hampi Sight-seeing – the Lotus Mahal reflected in Vidya’s Sunglasses

Sunday was a full day of seeing the sights in Hampi. We were driven around by Venkatesh, and we hired a guide named Gopal. There was one ther couple staying at the resort apart from us, and we quickly made friends with them. With a brief return to the resort for a lunch break, we covered most of the major sights by sunset. Over diner at the resort, we watched a BBC documentry about the sloth bear. The staff of the resort surprised me with a birthday cake and bouquet at dinner – a heartwarming gesture that embodied the JLR hospitality ethos.

We headed out early on Monday morning for a spot of birding, and we were rewarded by the sighting of two Indian Eagle Owls. The drive along the Tungabhadra canal was quite productive – we spotted quite a few small birds and got some good shots. After breakfast, we headed out to the Kamalapur lake, where we spotted painted storks, grey herons, lessr flamingos and white bellied pelicans. They were quite far away and we managed to get a few record shots.

An Indian Eagle Owl making sure we were not up to any mischief

An Indian Eagle Owl making sure we were not up to any mischief

We headed back to the resort for lunch and got dropped off at the Hosapete railway station in time to catch our train back to Hyderabad.

This is a typical JLR experience. You get a comfortable no-frills stay, good homestyle food, rewarding wildlife experiences and enriching cultural experiences. JLR properties are usually away from civilization, and your time is all planned for. The price you pay is for all meals and activities, and given what you get, is quite reasonable. There is also the fact that JLR is run along with the Karnataka Forest Department, which means the resort takes care of all entries and permits into protected forest lands. All of this is done in a way that has minimal ecological impact – everything from their buildings and properties to the way they run their safaris is eco-friendly.

Each resort has something unique to experience – leopard spotting at Kabini, blackbuck at Bidar, songbirds at Ganeshgudi, hornbills at Dandeli, getting up close and personal with camp elephants at Dubare and sloth bear spotting at Hampi. The Mangalore JLR, to which we have been twice, is a really tranquil nature experience without any significant wildlife. If you have a book to read – or write! – this is an amazing place to do it in.

However, the JLR experience is not for everyone. There are no televisions in the rooms. Some resorts have limited electricity and have several power-free hours a day. Many resorts have very limited to no cellular coverage. Almost all resorts are located away from civilization. If these are not your cup of tea, it would serve you well to stay away – there are plenty of other resorts that offer the peace and tranquility without losing connectivity to your everyday life.

Vital Statistics:
JLR charges you per person on an all-inclusive basis. The cost includes all stay, food and activity. There is differential pricing for Indian nationals and non-Indian nationals. Booking online automatically gets you a 5% discount. There are promotional offers at different times for different properties – this gets applied automatically when you book online.

For each day, there’s a fixed schedule of activities. If you find yourself at a resort with not too many other guests, this schedule is a bit flexible.

Everything you need to know is at their website: junglelodges.com

Posted in Birds, India, Review, Travel, Wildlife.

Navin Sigamany

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