The Good Friday weekend was round the corner. Bangalore was unusually hot and the Itchy Feet family was feeling edgy. It had been a while since we had travelled to Wayanad (more on that in a separate post) and the urge to disappear somewhere, albeit briefly, was intensifying. Out came the travel books and multiple browser windows were opened to identify a place which would not be too far and too expensive. As usual we started with the exotic locations, only to realize that getting a place to stay would be next to impossible as fellow travel enthusiasts had planned their trips well before us. After a lot of deliberations we zeroed on good old Mysore (easily accessible and with enough options to find a place to sleep) but there was still a decision to be made. How do we accommodate a customary trip to a jungle? Bandipur was a decent option but having covered it during our trip to Wayanad, we wanted to a visit a new place. The choice was between BR Hills and Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary. Further research revealed that April was indeed a good time to visit the bird sanctuary as water birds use the riverine forests for nesting between January and July. The decision was made.
We started out on a pleasant Saturday morning and after a fairly uneventful 3 hours reached Mysore. The first day went in enjoying the sights and sounds of Mysore. The highlight of the day was the light and sound show at the spectacular Mysore Palace. The show happens every day (except Sundays and Government Holidays) between 7pm – 8pm and the tickets are priced at INR 40. If you happen to be in Mysore do not miss this show which ends quite dramatically with a Rabindrasangeet (sung in Kannada) and that is cue to get ready with your cameras. The lights are illuminated as the song ends. It is indeed a sight to behold.
Click here to visit the official website of the Mysore Palace.
Next morning, after a quick breakfast at the very friendly Dasaprakash Paradise hotel where we had put up for the night, we were ready for Ranganathittu. The sanctuary is quite close from Mysore and is on the highway to Bangalore. A word of caution though! The sign board for the sanctuary is fairly nondescript. It comes to your left and you need to travel a bit before you come to the sanctuary entrance. If you miss the board and go straight, you would have to take a ‘U’ turn after a few kilometers to come back.
As you reach the entrance, you get the feeling that you are entering a special place. It is tranquil with lots of greenery around and the silence is only broken by the chirping birds that you cannot see! Don’t feel distraught and head straight to the parking lot and walk towards the river. As the river comes to full view, you see birds and more birds. While you can easily spend an hour or two sitting on the benches facing the river, the boat trips organized by the Forest Department offers you a much more enthralling experience.
We booked our tickets and joined a group of fellow travelers (who thankfully were quiet and not throwing plastic packets in the water) to laze around the clear green waters of the river for 15-20 minutes. We were welcomed by hundreds of little Cormorants and Pinted Storks. In between we were granted sights of Stork Billed Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Egrets, Spot-Billed Pelicans etc. We also got a glimpse of a Marsh Crocodile while rowing back to shore. While we loved the 15-20 minutes of our boat ride, it didn’t seem enough. I guess both my wife and I were waiting to see who would say this first…but we were spared when our daughter chipped in. Can we not take the trip again? To grant her wish, we went back to the ticket counter and booked a boat for ourselves this time. It costs a lot more than the group boat trip (if I remember correctly the charge is INR 50 per head) but it is well worth the INR 1000 that you need to shell out. The boat takes you much further down the river. After the initial stretch where you go past other boats, you are all on your own with the river, the birds and the floating logs (ah well, the logs double up as full grown Marsh Crocodiles more often than not).
As the boat meander along the Cauvery River, you get a chance to see the Cormorants, Painted Storks, the resident Pelicans of Ranganathittu perched on rocks and small islands on the river from real close. And if you can conceal your excitement and sit still, you get a chance to take fantastic pictures. The birds do not seem to mind your presence and you get to see colonies of water birds and their new born chicks going about their everyday business. If you love birds and have an eye for detail (the boatmen who are employed by Forest Department also help you spot and identify birds once you are able to convince them that you didn’t book the boat just because you could afford it and are interested in knowing more about this wonderful riverine wilderness), you are likely to see a range of other birds. We saw the Small Blue Kingfisher, the Green Bee Eater, the White Breasted Waterhen, the Brahminy Kite, the Asian Open-Billed Stork, the Oriental Magpie Robin etc. We took a lot of photos. Ruaha, our six year old daughter did a fairly good job with her brand new prized possession….a pink camera received recently as a birthday gift!
But the bird which I wanted to take a photo of was the Darter. This is a bird which has fascinated me for long with its long, slim head and neck, dagger like bill and long tail. I have seen it before but have never been able to take a decent photo. As our boat made its way back to the jetty, I was thinking…may be it would happen next time.
And it was just then that I saw it! It was sunning itself with outspread wings and tail and it was some sight. I whispered to my beloved old Camera…just this one more time my friend and then you can retire…and I was not disappointed. You may click on the image below to see the larger version.
Sadly all good things come to an end and not before long, we had to say good bye to this magical place. We promised we would be back again!
Ranganathittu was declared a bird sanctuary on July 1, 1940 by the then Maharaja of Mysore who was persuaded to do the same by the great Dr. Salim Ali. The sanctuary is made up of two separate islets along the river Cauvery. These islets are surrounded by the water flowing from the reservoir which was formed by the check dam constructed in 1600s by the then Wodeyar ruler of Mysore.
While Ranganathittu is famed for its birds, the islands on the river are home to mammals like the Bonnet Mongoose, Palm Civet, Common Otter and the Fruit Bat also known as the Flying Fox. Sightings of Marsh Crocodiles are common as there are about 50 of these creatures residing here.
The best time to visit the sanctuary is between January and April. You may use Mysore as a base to visit the sanctuary. There are lots of hotels in Mysore and finding accommodation as per your taste and the size of your wallet would not be difficult. Another option could be the Mayura Riverside Cottages in Srirangapatna (only a few kilometers away) run by the State Tourism Department.