The onset of summer in Bangalore marked a gradual increase in the mercury, albeit not by much. However, we Bangaloreans have a tendency to be pampered and a touch finicky, even when the temperature crosses a mere 25 degrees Celsius, prompting us to yearn for the cool hills. As the schools were still in session, a family trip was out of the question. Nevertheless, this presented the perfect opportunity to blame the rising temperature and organize an outing with friends. It was an ideal chance to reminisce about our bachelor days, even if only for a couple of days, and relive those cherished moments from the past.
As four long-time friends, we spontaneously decided to embark on a trip to the picturesque Biligiri Rangana Betta, fondly called BR Hills. Located at a convenient distance of 170 km from Bangalore, the journey takes a mere 4 hours by car, making it an ideal weekend getaway. Nestled amidst the captivating beauty of the Western Ghats and Eastern Ghats, BR Hills is home to the BRT Wildlife Sanctuary, stretching over a vast area of 540 square km. The enchanting scenery, with its lush green forests and winding roads, creates a truly idyllic road trip from Bangalore to BR Hills.
The drive to BR Hills via Kanakapura Road offers a picturesque journey on NH948, with intermittent diversions due to ongoing road work. The final 15-kilometer stretch, following the Yelandur Forest check post, leads you through the enchanting and winding roads of the BR Hills forest. It is during this phase that you are likely to experience thrilling encounters with abundant wildlife. Eager not to miss out on such an opportunity, we embarked on this adventure and were pleasantly rewarded with unforgettable wildlife sightings.
Our first encounter with an elephant while climbing up to 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.
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. 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, their white fur makes them easy to spot but their agility poses a challenge for the best click
As we continued our journey, my focus remained fixed on the road as expected of a driver. My passengers had the liberty to let their eyes wander, and as we ventured deeper, a gasp of excitement erupted from the rear seat. Curiosity piqued, I reversed the car, only to be spellbound by the sight before us. In the distance, about 100 feet away from the road, two Malabar Giant Squirrels danced fearlessly on a tree, their vibrant coats and bushy tails accentuating their magnificence. These usually shy creatures seemed indifferent to our presence that day, allowing us a rare glimpse into their enchanting world. The Malabar Giant Squirrels, with their strikingly vivid colors and agile movements, painted a scene of ethereal beauty against the backdrop of the wilderness.
Enchanting Malabar Giant Squirrel playfully perched in BR Hills Tiger Reserve
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 inside BR Hills Tiger Reserve
Finally, we arrived at the top of BR Hills, the home to the renowned Ranganatha Swamy temple, and naturally, we sought the blessings of the deity.
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 rear view of Lord Ranganatha Swamy Temple in BR Hills
The BR Hills Temple has a captivating history. Originally known as the Venkatanatha Temple, it was later renamed the Biligiri Ranganatha Temple. According to local beliefs, Lord Ranganatha, the presiding deity, fell in love with a girl from the Soliga tribe and married her. The Soliga tribe's heirs consider Lord Ranganatha to be their brother-in-law, leading to their devoted worship of him.
Gopuram of Biligiriranganatha Swamy Temple at 5,000 feet altitude
One of the significant events at the temple is the Car festival, which takes place during "Vaishakha" in the month of April, once every two years. This festival attracts an astounding 1.5 lakhs of devotees, resulting in a crowded atmosphere on the tiny hill.
During the festival, two sub-classes of the Soliga tribe present a large pair of slippers, measuring 1 foot and 9 inches, made of Deerskin. Interestingly, each tribe takes the responsibility of creating one slipper separately, yet astonishingly, the designs of both slippers perfectly match each other.
The Soliga tribe firmly believes that Lord Ranganatha still wanders around the BR Hills forest, protecting the tribes and the village. As an offering, they present the large slippers for the deity to wear while walking in the forest.
A pair of giant slippers offered during the previous car festival is currently used to bless devotees
The evening "Puja" at the temple holds special significance, during which the slippers are prominently displayed. The priest performs a blessing by placing the slippers on the heads of devotees. This evening Puja (worship to God) starts at 7.30 pm, and it is highly recommended to visit the temple during this time, as the atmosphere brims with energy and devotion.
Evening view of BR Hills Temple from the main entrance
The short drive to the temple hillock is quite scenic and surrounded by dense forests. The road to the temple has three hairpin bends with almost 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
Note: Before going up the hills to the temple, you have to pay an entry fee of INR 30 per car. If you want to visit the temple multiple times, don't throw away the receipt. You can show the same receipt again to access the hill without paying again.
There are 150 steps to reach BR Hills temple from the parking bay. The view from the parking area is once again stunning. Take some time to enjoy the beauty of this place. Be cautious of the monkeys, as they have become aggressive due to people feeding them. There have been instances of them snatching mobile phones, wallets, and purses.
A breathtaking vista of BR Hills forest from the temple's parking area
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. He also explained the history of this temple and his family tree who are devoted to this temple for 18 generations.
A beautiful sunset from BR Hills temple that splashes its colors on the dam below the hill
The thrilling meandering road leading to the BR Hills temple, a recent addition, has replaced the once-frequented climbing steps. However, during one of my visits, I decided to embark on the adventurous climb, and the panoramas it unveiled left me utterly astonished. Each steep section gifted me with breathtaking vistas of the majestic BR Hills and the quaint villages nestled within the lush forest. If you're up for an exhilarating experience and have the time, I wholeheartedly recommend taking on the challenge of those steps - you won't be disappointed by the awe-inspiring rewards that await you!
By ascending these steps, one can reach the temple's Gopuram, once the primary entrance to the shrine
An awe-inspiring panorama of BR Hills forest and the village from the temple's gopuram
BR Hills is home to the Soliga tribes, an indigenous community with a long and rich history. Their roots run deep into the lush forests of BR Hills, where they have resided for centuries. For generations, the Soliga people have relied on forest resources for sustenance and livelihood.
Their cultural heritage is interwoven with unique practices, rituals, and beliefs focusing on forest deities and spirits. For their well-being and survival, they revere the local flora and fauna. They possess a deep understanding of medicinal plants, biodiversity, and sustainable practices in the forests. Their lives have been characterized by harmony with nature, preserving the delicate ecosystem of BR Hills through conservation.
A temple for the Soliga tribe awaits as you enter BR Hills
There are 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 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. 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.
Our thoughtful host had planned an exhilarating bird watching activity for us the following morning. It was quite obvious that all of us were not going to make it; we were on a relaxing holiday, right? However, Montu and I were filled with excitement and found ourselves awake before the guide's arrival. We eagerly set out on foot, exploring the captivating forest and its undulating slopes, where we were fortunate enough to spot a variety of beautiful birds gracing the area with their presence.
Birds of BR Hills
Our adventure then led us to a stunning bungalow perched on a hilltop, serving as the BR Hills forest guest house. The panoramic view it offered of the magnificent BRT Wildlife Sanctuary was truly mesmerizing, leaving us in awe of the natural splendor that surrounded us.
Beautifully designed BR Hills Forest Guest House atop the hill with french windows and a patio
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
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 road to BR Hills 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.
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
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 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
We were making the most of the solitude to take photos in the surroundings of the BR Hills forest guest house
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
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.
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 family at the lake during our return drive
We were again served mouth-watering dinner at the homestay. The excitement of sighting wildlife was visible on our faces. A fellow traveler 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.
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 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. It's not every day that one gets to witness something like this.
The thrill of waking up early in the morning proved worth every moment, as we knew that these hours held the greatest potential for wildlife sightings. Our excitement was palpable, and we felt as though we were in for an unforgettable experience. Just when we thought our adventure couldn't get any better, I had to slam on the brakes once again, and there it was - a solitary Bison, leisurely grazing by the road, mere 10 feet away from us.
Initially, we were taken aback by its sheer size and felt a hint of fear. Although I had encountered Bison up close before in Kodaikanal, this encounter still sent shivers down my spine. Nevertheless, we watched in awe for 10 minutes as the Bison seemed unperturbed by our presence, engrossed in its meal. Such moments of proximity to nature always leave you in awe, and with our hearts still racing, we finally headed back to our homestay, cherishing the unforgettable encounter.
A close encounter with a Bison, only 10 feet away, as it glanced at us before getting engrossed in grazing
It was time to check out 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 the top.
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 few more 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.
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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