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July 10, 2012

THE REAL JUNGLE HOLIDAY - GANESHGUDI


All that rafting had tired me and all I wanted to do was gulp down any available food and go hit the sack. Having been told that I was to spend the next two nights at Ganeshgudi which was a basic jungle camp, I was apprehensive. However Mohan Babu, the man behind Ganeshgudi, allayed all fears. And indeed, I was in for a pleasant shock upon reaching the camp. Located off the main highway to Belgaum from Dandeli, it is placed on the other side of a ridge that overlooks the Supa Dam.

Extremely rugged with a few basic rooms, the area holds out promise of a plethora of wildlife within the vicinity of the camp. The Ganeshgudi camp as the Old Magazine House is called was once the ammunition store for construction of the nearby dam. Hence, the name Magazine House continues to this day. It is a basic accommodation with a fire powered water heating system, rudimentary rooms and simple furnishing.

This is the smallest yet one of the most delightful camps of JLR. It is now a favoured destination for birders, trekking enthusiasts and others who do not mind the spartan set up. This mega diverse zone is home to a bewildering variety of birds and a host of insects and smaller fauna. But its power house status comes from the open air dining area, a place to sit, watch and photograph a huge diversity of birds that seem to abound within a small radius from the camp. A resident family of hornbills cries out in unison often while a couple of imperial pigeons glide next to you. And what adds to the allure is the strategic positioning of some well thought of bird-baths that attract birds of all kinds. Manju the cook, widely regarded as a special talent, a person who can conjure up magic with the basic infrastructure in place, regularly arrives with tea and snacks, while one is busy watching the birds.

The colour of the forest is nowhere best exemplified than at Ganeshgudi. Greens of various shades, a ficus nearby, flowers bursting with colour - the camp is the very best when it comes to getting close with nature. The thick foliage lends a sense of isolation, providing a supreme sense of privacy to the camp. Local material was used during the construction of the camp; bamboo has been used profusely to lend a local taste to the huts. The huts are raised above the ground so as to provide protection from unwanted visitors during the rains.

My personal experience of Ganeshgudi remains a vivid memory to this day. It was decided that we go on a trek to the hills above, after a brief rest. Through some dense evergreen forests, with steps painstakingly cut by staff at difficult to manoeuvre slopes, it was a steep hike to the top of the hill. Nonetheless, when we reached the summit, the landscape captivated us.

The Supa dam backwaters spread in all directions and forest clad hills could be seen as far as the Goa boundary. It had been a tiresome walk but Pundalik and Jomma had kept good company and offered me a few biscuits upon reaching the summit. Spending a few hours at the top, watching the sun go down behind far away hills was perhaps one of the most inspiring times that we spent at Ganeshgudi.

Returning, the next day was equally interesting for we went camping on the River edge. This is an activity that exemplifies best, the joys of staying in the forest. We had camped after trekking a few kilometres and prepared our food in the dark.
The tent, though small, looked inviting and perfect for the occasion. My dinner done and a sumptuous meal at that considering the location, I headed straight into the tent. Only as a guide woke me up for a cup of tea did I realize that I had slept for nine straight hours. Sipping tea and overlooking an evergreen habitat, a rich diversity of birds can be observed merely by sitting in at one place.

Strong memories remain of Ganeshgudi till this day and future plans to visit it remain high on the priority. Speaking of Ganeshgudi, Mohan Babu, who manages the camp, recalls that it was a difficult place to set up. There were innumerable reptiles, the heavy rainfall made it difficult to ensure smooth delivery of hospitality and the isolated location of the camp itself was a major impediment. However, Mohan Babu who has been in JLR for several years, moving up from an office assistant to accountant and now managing the camp, along with his team ensured that operations began in record time.


Nature lovers across the world acknowledge that Ganeshgudi is an unique example of ecotourism that should be protected and preserved the way it is. The camp seems frozen in time. Nothing seems to have changed - except its popularity as the perfect jungle camp of JLR and the challenge remains to ensure that its popularity does not lead to detriment of the natural beauty. JLR’s effort is to maintain the camp as it is presently, as a basic jungle camp.