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A Wildlife Extravaganza in BR Hills

By Rahuldev Rajguru

Last Updated: 16 Jan 2022

It was the beginning of summer in Bangalore and the mercury was slowly rising. Although It was not much, we Bangaloreans are pampered and a bit fussy even if the temperature shoots a little over 20 degrees Celsius and feel like rushing to the hills. The schools were not on summer break so a family outing was ruled out. It was an opportunity to use the rising mercury as a scapegoat and plan an outing with friends. A perfect way to turn back time and relive bachelor life one more time, albeit just for a couple of days.

Four old time friends, we planned an impromptu visit to Biligiri Rangana Betta, popularly known as BR Hills. It is a perfect weekend getaway as the distance to BR Hills from Bangalore is just 170 km with a 4-hour drive. The rolling hills where two prominent mountain ranges of Western Ghats and Eastern Ghats meet is BRT Wildlife Sanctuary of Karnataka. It is spread over 540 square kilometers. The stunning landscape amid lush green forests and meandering roads make for a perfect road trip from Bangalore to BR Hills.

My buddies: Montu, Devang and Chirag (left to right) - we have been traveling together for over a decade

Bangalore to BR Hills Road Trip

The drive to BR Hills on Kanakapura Road is quite smooth on NH948 with frequent deviations due to ongoing road work. The last stretch of 15 km after Yelandur Forest check post takes you through the winding roads of BR Hills forest. This is where you are likely to have close encounters with plenty of wildlife. We didn't want to miss out on that and were not disappointed either.

Elephants on the way to BR Hills Wildlife sancutary

Our first encounter with an elephant while climbing up to BR Hills Wildlife Sanctuary

Sighting Wildlife at BR Hills Wildlife Sanctuary

The most important aspect of driving inside the forest is not to venture out of your vehicle when you spot animals. This is dangerous as animals feel threatened and you are likely to be attacked. There have been instances of animal attacks in BR Hills. There are frequent signboards en route that keep reminding you of this fact. We soon reached BR Hills Lake, the place where you are likely to spot animals. It was our day and we saw an elephant family inside the water.

Elephants enjoying the splash of water at BR Hills lake

BR Hills Lake is a hotspot to sight animals during the dry season

Summer had already set in and it was rather warm even though we were climbing the hill, but it is the ideal time to spot wildlife in this region. The vegetation starts drying up and they are forced to come out of the bushes in search of water. We were the only ones on the road and that gave us enough opportunities to spot and click them. People drive quite fast on this road and honk continuously even though there are signboards prohibiting such behavior. This scares away the animals. If you reach early and visit during the non-peak season, then you are more likely to get your own space to be with nature.

Black-faced langur of Western Ghats at BR Hills

Black-faced Langur of Western Ghats, their white fur makes them easy to spot but their agility poses a challenge for the best click

Our next encounter was with a group of Dholes (Indian Wild Dogs). All of them ran away as we approached closer, but one of them was posing to be clicked. Dholes are known as fearless communal pack hunters. Even though they are from the Dog family, they don't bark. These interesting creatures with long tails, red fur and short muzzles are gradually making it to the list of endangered animals. They are majorly found in the Western Ghats of South India. Nagarhole National Park and Kabini Tiger Reserve are other places to spot them. We were lucky to spot them on our first day but we didn't know that a huge surprise awaited us the following day.

The fearless and adventurous Indian Wild Dog (Dhole) inside BR Hills Tiger Reserve

The fearless and adventurous Indian Wild Dog inside BR Hills Tiger Reserve

Sri Ranganatha Swamy Temple BR Hills

Biligiri means "White Cliff", Rangana means "Lord Ranganatha/Vishnu" and Betta means "Hills" in Kannada. A 400-year-old ancient Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple is located atop the hill at 5,000 feet and is one of the most important places to visit in BR Hills. The BR Hills Temple is associated with a folklore. It is believed that Lord Ranganatha fell in love with a girl from the local Soliga tribe and married her. The heirs of the Soliga tribe consider Lord Ranganatha to be their brother-in-law and worship him.

Gopuram of Biligiriranganatha Swamy Temple at 5,000 feet altitude

Gopuram of Biligiriranganatha Swamy Temple at 5,000 feet altitude

The short drive to the temple hillock is quite scenic and surrounded by dense forests. The road to the temple has a few hairpin bends with 90 degree turns. One of the turns has an amazing viewpoint from where you can watch a breathtaking sunset. You can also spot some wildlife from there on your lucky day.

View of Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple and serpentine road from BR Hills forest guest house

View of Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple and serpentine road from BR Hills forest guest house

BR Hills Viewpoint

There are 150 steps to reach BR Hills temple from the parking bay. We passed through numerous stalls and individual vendors selling flowers and stuff that you need for the offering at the temple. Incidentally, the host of our BR Hills homestay was the main priest of the temple, so we had privileged access to all the sections even though we reached there nearing closing time. He also explained the history of this temple and his family tree who are devoted to this temple for more than a century. He explained that the Soliga tribe still believes that Lord Ranganatha Swamy wanders around the BR Hills forest at night. That's why they offer a new pair of large leather slippers to God every two years.

A beautiful sunset from BR Hills temple that splashes its colors on the dam below the hill

A beautiful sunset from BR Hills temple that splashes its colors on the dam below the hill

Stay options in BR Hills

There limited options restaurants and hotels in BRT Wildlife Sanctuary barring a couple of expensive resorts inside the forest. KSTDC (Karnataka State Tourism) was about to open a budget hotel, Mayura Biligiri, when we visited BR Hills. We chose to stay at Rajathadri Hill Villa which is a homestay in BR Hills run by Ramesh Babu, the main priest of the temple. The place is nicely located with decent amenities, but the standout is their food. We had authentic local cuisine with diverse varieties prepared at his home. There is a small outlet of Coffee Day Beverages outside this BR Hills homestay on the main road that offers cold drinks, espresso, ice-creams, etc. When I returned for my next visit, I didn't get the booking there, so I stayed in Hotel Mayura Biligiri, which is a nice budget hotel with a reasonably priced restaurant.

Rajathadri Villa is one of the best homestays in BR Hills

This was our savior after we returned from the hike tired and sweaty

Bird watching at BR Hills

Ramesh Babu had organized a bird watching activity for us early morning the next day. It was quite obvious that all of us were not going to make it; we were on a relaxing holiday, right? Montu and I were up in the morning before the guide arrived. We walked quite a lot in and around the forest on the hilly slopes and spotted a few birds. Unfortunately, I had left my camera in the other room. We then went to a beautiful bungalow on a hilltop, which is a BR Hills forest guest house. The view of BRT Wildlife Sanctuary from there was mesmerizing.

Beautifully designed BR Hills Forest Guest House atop the hill with french windows

Beautifully designed BR Hills Forest Guest House atop the hill with french windows and a patio

My wildlife experience with Bison family

We made a couple of pit stops on our way while taking a glimpse of the routine life of the Soliga Tribe who dominate this tiny village. After reuniting with our two other friends and a healthy breakfast, we decided to revisit the BR Hills forest guest house in the afternoon to relax in the solitude and silence the place offers. But not before a drive to the same route we came from. I was confident that we were going to spot a few more animals. My prediction was spot on as a Bison family was awaiting us.

Bison family's day out in BR Hills Tiger Reserve

Bison family's day out

Bison is a huge and deadly animal. They are usually found as a family with the male navigating the herd. Bison account for killing more humans than all other wild animals combined. You need to be watchful especially when they are with a baby. The entire BR Hills road was empty and we got about 15 min to watch them grazing around with that "care-free" attitude. They were least bothered with our presence.

Bison drining water in BR Hills lake

Lunch is over, it's time for water before they disappear into the bushes

Suddenly, a few more vehicles arrived, stopped and started honking for no reason. One of them even got down and went closer to capture this gigantic creature with his mobile phone. This was intimidating and the Bison wanted to rush into the bushes, but they were thirsty and the water body was on the other side of the road. With 5 vehicles blocking the road it was difficult for them to cross. They started running parallel to the road and within a few seconds they overtook everyone and crossed the road towards the lake. It was a beautiful sight to watch and I was lucky enough to capture a video of this moment.

A rare but amazing sight of a Bison family running across the road towards the lake at BRT Wildlife Sanctuary

BR Hills Forest Guest House

We were thrilled with this experience. It was now time to head to the BR Hills forest guest house and relax. It was locked and nobody was there. We left our vehicle at the homestay and walked to the rear side of the guest house and then the stairs to go up. It is a beautiful green building with a nice viewpoint. We could not go inside but had a nice relaxing time with some photo ops without anyone disturbing us.

Panoramic view of the BR Hills and forest from guest house

Panoramic view of the BR Hills and forest from guest house

We were making the most of the solitude to take photos in the surroundings of the BR Hills forest guest house

K Gudi Wilderness Camp

There are not many places to visit in BR Hills apart from enjoying nature's splendor, something we friends are very fond of. Even though we were at 5,000 feet, it was quite hot during the afternoon. We took every opportunity to drive through those beautiful and meandering BR Hills roads with surprisingly green landscape in summer. This time we drove towards Kyathadevara Gudi, popularly known as K Gudi.

Narrow and curvy road from BR Hills to K Gudi

Narrow and curvy road from BR Hills to K Gudi

BRT Wildlife Safari

There is a K Gudi wilderness camp that is run and managed by Jungle Lodges. They also offer accommodation in case you want to stay inside BRT Wildlife Sanctuary. This entire area was a hunting lodge for the erstwhile Kings of Mysore state. They conduct BR Hills safaris which take you inside the forest on designated routes. You can opt for either an early morning or an evening Jeep safari. Check out BRT wildlife safari timings at Karnataka Tourism website. We didn't go for it as we had spotted enough animals on our own. However, I did take the BR Hills safari on my next visit and I wasn't that happy either.

Deer sighting is common in BR Hills wildlife sanctuary

Captured this Spotted Deer (Chittal) on my camera just before it scurried away

The road inside BRT Wildlife Sanctuary remains closed for vehicles between 6 pm and 6 am. The forest guard at K Gudi check post advised us to return to BR Hills and pass the next check post before 6 pm to avoid getting stranded. They are quite strict about the timing.

A tortoise and a water bird at the pond during our return drive

Driving inside BRT Wildlife Sanctuary

We were again served mouth-watering dinner at Rajathadri Villa Homestay. The excitement of sighting wildlife was visible on our faces. Ramesh Babu recommended an early morning drive on the same route to K Gudi Wilderness Camp and we started staring at each other, "early morning"? The evening was quite pleasant with a nice breeze and chirping of Cicadas. We got engaged in the game of UNO cards till late night, but I was ready to venture out the next morning. I took possession of the car key before we hit the bed.

A stunnig drive inside BRT Wildlife Sanctuary

With the sun splashing its colors on the trees in the morning, the same road looks very different

As usual, Montu was up and ready to join me. We ensured we reached the check post no later than 6 am as we wanted to be the only ones inside the BR Hills forest as long as possible. Wildlife spotting requires a lot of luck and some amount of planning. It also depends on which time of the year and what time of the day you visit BR Hills. We had hardly driven for 15 min inside the dense forest and a pleasant surprise awaited us.

A rare sight of a group of Dhole in K Gudi Wilderness camp

A rare sight to spot these fearless pack hunters in a group

We had to suddenly jam brakes on the road. A group of about 10 Dholes might have spotted their prey and some of them had occupied the entire road. No complaints for this road block because it's their home and we were the guests. We were thrilled because this is a rare sight. We spent half an hour with them and they were unfazed by our presence. Probably, it was our lucky day. I was not going to miss this incredible opportunity to record a video.

A rather unique and rare sight of Dholes occupying the entire road in BR Hills forest. It's not every day that one gets to witness something like this.

Krishna Katte Earth Dam

It was time to check out from our homestay in BR Hills and hit the road from BR Hills to Bangalore. It was already a weekend and we were expecting a lot of incoming traffic so chances of sighting animals were minimal. Our guess was right, so we drove non-stop through the forest and paid a short visit to the dam that we had spotted from BR Hills.

Beautiful landscape at Krishna Katte Earth Dam near BR Hills

Beautiful landscape at Krishna Katte Earth Dam

It was an impromptu and unplanned trip but memorable for all of us. We thoroughly enjoyed our much needed break. We had never expected to see so many animals. This prompted me to make a couple of trips to BR Hills thereafter but I was never so lucky. However, I am not a person who will give up. I will be heading there again soon.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What does BR Hills mean?

The full form of BR Hills is Biligirirangana Hills. Biligiri means "White Cliff", Rangana means "Lord Ranganatha/Vishnu" and Betta means "Hills" in Kannada.

Why are BR Hills so famous?

BR Hills Wildlife Sanctuary also known as BRT Wildlife Sanctuary is home to many animals, birds and flowers. You are very likely to sight animals in their natural habitat at BR Hills Tiger Reserve if you plan your visit properly.

What is the best time to visit BR Hills?

Dry season from December to April is the best time to visit BR Hills of Karnataka. This is the time where you have a better chance of sighting wild animals inside BRT Wildlife Sanctuary and near K Gudi Wilderness Camp.

What is the best way to reach BR Hills?

BR Hills forest can be reached via Kanakapura road through Yelandur or via Mysore through Chamrajnagar.

How many tigers are in BRT Tiger Reserve?

As per the 2018 census, there are 86 tigers in BRT Wildlife Sanctuary of Karnataka.

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Things To Consider

This is an all year around destination. However, if you are a wildlife lover then the months of December to April are ideal. It rains heavily in BR Hills so try to avoid Monsoon months.
This is a small village with a population of 2,500, mostly people from the Soliga tribe. They have been living there for centuries. They possess detailed knowledge of flora and fauna in the forest.
There is no specific cuisine associated with this place. There are not many proper restaurants either. There are mostly makeshift stalls on the main road where they sell Omelette, Bhajjis, rice, etc.
This place is quite safe for the tourists. However, it is a forest so one needs to exercise caution especially when the daylight fades. This forest is teeming with Tigers and Elephants and you may not want an unwarranted encounter with them.
This place is a trekker’s paradise. However, you do need a permission from the forest department and must venture out in the company of a local tribesman.
You would be walking a lot so carry proper shoes. Food is a challenge so it is advisable to pack some of the dry food packs. Please DO NOT compromise your safety by venturing out of your vehicles inside the forest roads to click pictures of wildlife.

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