With diverse activities such as trekking, wildlife watching, mountain biking, river rafting and camping on the banks of the picturesque Kali river on offer, Dandeli in Karnataka is a perfect retreat for outdoor enthusiasts.

White water rafting on Kali river in Dandeli tiger reserveWhite water rafting on the Kali river | Susheela Nair
Features Travel Thursday, March 31, 2022 - 17:13

My wildlife escapade started with a jeep ride through the moist, deciduous and semi-evergreen forests sprawling across the Kali Tiger Reserve, spread over an area of 1,300 sq km. Undulating streams, whispering bamboos, diverse wildlife and innumerable trekking tracts make the tiger reserve – which comprises areas of the erstwhile Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary and Anshi National Park – a dream destination. Besides camping in the luxurious tents on the banks of the Kali river, Dandeli offers a variety of activities such as forest exploration, trekking, wildlife watching, mountain biking and canyoning – making it a perfect retreat for outdoor enthusiasts.

Other must-sees are the roaring Virnoli Rapids, the splendid Supa Dam, the sinister Syntheri rocks, the Nagajhari viewpoint and the Shiroli peak, which is the highest point in Uttara Kannada. Along with a spectacular view of the Nagajhari river joining the Kali, the Sykes point provides a sweeping look at the deep valleys, thickly forested hills and the spectacular sunset. This spot owes its name to a British engineer, who discovered it while working on the Kalinadi Hydroelectric Power Plant in the valley below.

The reserve lends most of its beauty from its perennial lifeline, the Kali river and her tributaries Kaneri and Nagajhari, meandering through the dense forests. As it passes through the varied terrain, the majestic Kali is temperamental. It flows sedately in some stretches, and roars around bends in others. It provides sustenance not only to the myriad flora and fauna of the park, but also to thousands of villagers outside the park.

Read: Looking for a lavish weekend getaway? Five luxury resorts near Bengaluru

The reserve shelters an astounding variety of wildlife. Although it is famed as the habitat of the elusive black panther, a slice of luck has to be involved to actually sight one. Often, people make multiple trips to the park for that one glimpse. The reserve also shelters sloth bears and a small handful of tigers. I saw a number of spotted, sambar and barking deer, besides gaurs and wild boars, during the drive. But put it down to bad luck, we did not spot a single elephant.

After a refreshing cup of tea in the evening, we set out for a 4-km coracle ride down the Kali river, which sweeps past the town of Dandeli. Drifting at an unhurried pace, we spotted a mugger crocodile basking in the sun on a protruding rock in the river. Suddenly, it made a splash into the water. At sunset, the riverside comes alive with the birds at their chirping best. We found some of the winged creatures deftly circling in the sky, some flying in a pattern, all heading to roost. We sighted flocks of the great hornbill and the Malabar pied hornbill raucously roosting on the branches of trees and bamboo clusters along the banks of the river. Grey langurs with their young ones were hopping from tree to tree, letting out low hoots.

Great hornbills
Malabar pied hornbills on the banks of the Kali river | Dr Dinesh Kaushik

The next morning, a jeep ride of about an hour followed by a trek brought us to Syntheri rocks, an idyllic picnic spot right in the heart of the forest, 22 km away from the forest gateway. With the Kaneri river that originates in the Western ghats in Supa taluk gushing by its side, this monolithic granite structure is an awesome sculpture of nature. Wild animals come here to quench their thirst. A victim of erosion, huge caves and crevices at the bottom line is home to many beehives and pigeons. The spot is worth visiting for its sheer magnificence. We gazed at the hundreds of birds and bees that have colonised the innumerable nooks and crannies in the rock.

Syntheri Rocks, an awe-inspiring monolithic granite structure
Syntheri Rocks, an awe-inspiring monolithic granite structure | Susheela Nair

On our way back, we stopped for a while at Dandakaranya, a natural forestland transformed into a sprawling eco-park in the heart of the town. The park teems with deciduous, semi-deciduous and evergreen species of flora and 63 species of birds. Besides a rose garden rockery and a play area for children, the park has a check list of nearly 75 kinds of birds and 200 species of trees. The highlights include sculptures of characters from reputed Hollywood animated movies and Indian cartoons.

Dandakaranya Eco Park
Dandakaranya Eco Park | Susheela Nair

The Kulgi Timber Trails and Anshi Evergreen camps in the sanctuary also merit a visit. The camps, both successful ecotourism ventures of the Karnataka Forest Department, have jungle safaris, nature education and tented accommodation to offer. Make sure to visit the herbarium, the well-stocked library and the nature interpretation centre that houses a small museum, where the most chilling exhibit is the stuffed remains of a 13-ft-long cobra, caught in the area a few years ago.

Camping on the banks of the Kali river
Camping on the banks of the Kali river | Susheela Nair

Last in our agenda was white water rafting on some unpredictable stretches of the Kali river. Accompanied by a river guide, we battled the swift currents in a rubber dinghy – oars in our hands, spray on our faces, and fear and trepidation in our hearts. On the way, we captured the varied moods of the Kali at every turn. The thrill of the rapids and the stunning scenery with occasional wildlife spotting made the experience simply exhilarating.

Kali River Bridge
Kali River Bridge | Susheela Nair

Getting there: Nearest railhead is Dharwad (52 km)

By road: Daily luxury buses available to Dandeli from Bengaluru, Goa, Belagavi, Karwar and Dharwad/Hubballi

By air: Goa - 2.5 hours

Where to stay: JLR’s Kali Wilderness Camp, Kulagi Timber Trails Camp, and Anshi Wilderness Camp run by the Karnataka Forest Department

Susheela Nair is an independent food, travel and lifestyle writer, and photographer based in Bengaluru. She has contributed content, articles and images on food, travel, lifestyle, photography, environment and ecotourism to several reputed national publications. Her writings constitute a wide spectrum, including guide books, brochures and coffee table books.

Topic tags,
Become a TNM Member for just Rs 999!
You can also support us with a one-time payment.