Reputedly the oldest game reserve in the country – an area of 204sq km was declared a reserve in May 1956 – Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary is spread over an expanse of 450sq km. It comprised a larger area that was unfortunately lost due to the pressures of habitation, mining and industrialisation. Hence, tourists should remember that while a visit to Dandeli is about experiencing the great wilderness, there is no guarantee that one will spot big animals. Elephant, gaur, sambar and chital all live here for sure, but not in as large numbers for them to be spotted unfailingly like in most other forests of south India.

Dandeli is also home to that most mysterious of the big cats in the tropics – the black panther. Official records say that eight of them exist here and there are people who have actually seen them. There are also arboreal creatures such as the flying squirrel, flying snake, flying lizard and different kinds of hornbills. Not to forget the slender oris, locally known as van manav (jungle man), which makes a sure-shot appearance soon after sunset.

ORIENTATION

Dandeli is the closest town to the Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary. To enter the sanctuary, you have to come via Haliyal to the Range Office at the Kulgi Nature Camp (run by the Forest Department), about 11km from Dandeli town on the Ambika Nagar-Yellapur route. It has a Nature Interpretation Centre with a museum. Entry tickets can also be bought here. Entry to the sanctuary proper is 3km from the Kulgi Nature Camp, which offers accommodation and adventure activities.

Entry 40 per person Jeep safari 400 Guide 500 Safari timings 6.00–8.00am; 4.00–6.00pm Photography Still free; Video 200

THINGS TO SEE AND DO

The chief attractions of the sanctuary are crocodile-spotting in coracles on the River Kali, rafting, birdwatching and hiking.

Courtesy Jungle Lodges
A family of pachyderms at the wildlife sanctuary
A family of pachyderms at the wildlife sanctuary

Crocodile Watching

Imagine going down a river in a coracle and then suddenly being surrounded by over 150 crocodiles! That’s exactly what happens if you go down the Kali river to a place just outside Dandeli town. It is said that the crocodiles congregate at this spot (known as Kerwad) to eat the pulp waste released into the waters of the Kali by the West Coast Paper Mill, set up in the 1950s. Over the years, the crocodiles, have apparently become habituated to eating the industrial waste!

Birding

If you seek adventure, then hop onto a rubber dinghy and attempt to tame the furious rapids of the Kali. Or get into a coracle and gently sail along the river. Watch the cormorants drying themselves on rocks, kingfishers fishing and egrets waddling on the river bank.

Gowli Villages

The gowlis are graziers who live around the Tavaragatti (24km) and Kalbhavi (16km) areas. They are dependent on cattle and sell milk products for a living. Their dwellings are unique and consist of bamboo walls smeared with a combination of mud and cow dung.

WHERE TO STAY

The Kulgi Nature Camp (Tel: 08284-231585, 291831; 1,000–1,200) is located 3km before the entry gate of the sanctuary on the Ambika Nagar-Yellapur route. It has 12 tents, log huts and a dorm with 15 beds. Safaris, guides and treks can be arranged at the camp. The in-house cook prepares meals. The Range Office is also located here. Bookings are made at the office of the Director, Dandeli-Anshi Tiger Reserve in Dandeli town. The camp closes during the monsoons. The Jaladar Shini Forest Rest House (Haliyal Tel: 220128; Tariff: 800) in Dandeli has four rooms and a cook. Bookings are done at the Haliyal Deputy Conservator of Forests (Territorial) Office. Near the Dandeli Bus Stand is the Jungle Lodges property, Kali Wilderness Adventure Camp (Tel: 230266; Tariff: 4,054–5,543, with meals). It has 14 rooms and 11 tented cottages and offers buffet meals, coracle rides, river rafting and safaris. Bison River Resort (Tel: 08383-256539; Tariff: 6,000, with meals) in Ilva has 33 cottages.

AROUND DANDELI

Kavala Caves (25km)

Not too far from Dandeli, in the middle of the Western Ghats tree canopy, are the ancient caves of Kavala. The caves are at the end of a dirt trail. You’ll have to make a pit stop at the Phansoli Village Range Office (Deputy RFO Cell: 08762498387) to pick up your entry permit. For more information, contact Kulgi Nature Camp (Tel: 08284-231585).

From the last point where vehi-cles are allowed, the caves are a 2-hour-long walk. Get ready to brave a climb of 540 steps on the way to the caves, from where, after a tour through the narrow, winding passages, you’ll come across a natural rock formation that resembles a Shivalinga. Forge on ahead to come out into the forest. The forest department offers a daily tour of the caves, from 7.00am–noon (Tel: 08284-231585; Fee 600 per person). Taxis charge 2,000–3,000 from Dandeli to Phansoli. For the journey from Phansoli to Kavala, hire a jeep (Rs. 1,500 for a six-seater jeep).

GETTING THERE

State Karnataka

Location Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary is situated in Uttara Kannada District, near the Kali river

Distances 480km NW of Bengaluru, 52km SW of Dharwad

Route from Bengaluru NH4 to Dharwad via Tumkur, Chitradurga and Hubli; district road to Supa via Haliyal; district road to Dandeli

Air Nearest airport: Belgaum (105km/ 2.5hrs). Taxi to Dandeli costs about 10–14 per km

Rail Nearest railhead: Dharwad (52km/ 1.5hrs). Taxi charges 10–14 per km, depending on the vehicle

Road Luxury buses run overnight from the KSRTC Bus Stand in Bengaluru to Dandeli. But it’s an 11-hr-journey on roads that are rough in parts. The more convenient thing to do is to take a flight to Belgaum or train to Dharwad and then, a taxi to Dandeli

FAST FACTS

Best time to visit All year round, except during the monsoons

Go there for Black panthers

Wildlife/ Forest Dept offices

Director, Dandeli-Anshi Tiger Reserve

Dandeli

Tel: 08284-231585

Dy Conservator of Forests (Territorial)

Haliyal

Tel: 220128