Bangalore is one of the few large cities in India that has a lot of wildlife sanctuaries and national parks situated close by. A drove of wildlife zones (Kabini National Park, Nagarhole National Park, Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary and many more) can be seen if you travel a little bit over 200 kms west or south West of Bangalore. And in and around Bangalore, there are many lakes that offer great avenues for bird watching. And if you travel 150 kms north-north west of Bangalore, you come across the Jayamangali Black Reserve at Maidenahalli, a pristine forest ecosystem bordering the rocky hills of Andhra Pradesh.
The Jayamangali Blackbuck Reserve has the 2nd largest contiguous population of Blackbuck in Karnataka. Ranibennur Blackbuck sanctuary is one with the highest blackbuck population in Karnataka.
This forest reserve is primarily made up of open grasslands and bushes, which allows a wide range of wildlife to thrive here. The mammals that are commonly seen here are the Blackbuck, Indian Grey Mongoose, Indian Fox and the Black Naped Hare. There are other mammals like the leopard, wolf, Jungle Cat and Civet that are spotted rarely.
This forest is also a great place for bird watching with some rare species like the Montagu’s Harrier, the Indian Courser, the Painted Sandgrouse and the Great Indian Bustard seen here. Apart from these, the Jayamangali Blackbuck reserve is home to 125 species of avifauna that includes ground birds, shrikes, larks and raptors.
It was my first trip to Maidenahalli when I went there on a day trip last Saturday. I had heard a lot of great experiences about this place from fellow wildlife and bird photographers. And I finally got a chance to visit this rich ecosystem.
After breakfast at a small shack after Madhugiri, our group reached Maidenahalli at about 10 AM. We went straight to the watch tower to inspect the terrain. This is where, we met the forest guard and completed all the formalities. While we we talking to the forest guard, we noticed a large herd of blackbucks grazing close by and thus spent the next 30 minutes photographing this large herd of blackbucks.
Shortly after, all of us hit one of the forest trails and went on a hour long trek where we spotted a black naped hare, a lot of drongos, shrikes and bee eaters. As it got warmer, tiredness set in the group and hence we retraced our steps back to the watch tower and took our car for a safari inside the forest. Though it was quite bright, we still ended up seeing some wildlife.
This was followed by a simple lunch at Kodigenahalli (about 8 kms away) and an afternoon siesta at the watch tower. At about 4:30 pm, all of us took our respective vehicles and headed into the different jungle trails. The evening safari was better than the mid morning one due to a multitude of reasons. One, the golden yellow slant rays of the sun made the open grasslands look like a gold mine and second, the dropping temperatures proved a relief to both us humans and the wildlife.
As we weaved our way through the multiple trails, we saw lots of blackbucks, a couple of male Montagu’s Harriers, many Chestnut bellied Sandgrouse, Little green bee-eaters, Southern Grey Shrikes, Drongos, Black Shouldered Kites, Tawny Eagle, Indian Bushlark, Sykes’s lark and some more.
The wildlife safari in the evening was richer. I guess we would have had a similar experience if we had reached the reserve by 7 in the morning. In fact, that is what is heavily recommended. Either, you drop in by 7AM or stay overnight at the forest camp to ensure you get to see this ecosystem in both the early morning and the late evening hours.
During morning hours, one can see the rutting blackbucks lock horns. While, in the evening, you can see the ground birds like the Harriers getting ready to roost.
Overall, it was a great day trip for me and I wish to return to this forest soon. And this time, I plan to camp overnight here and spend more quality time here coz this place deserves much more time than just a day.
How to get to Maidenahalli from Bangalore?
A total of 148 kms from Bangalore. From Bangalore, take the Tumkur road. At Dabarpet (after exit toll booth and before Tumkur), go below flyover and take right towards Madhugiri. At Madhugiri circle, take right towards Hindupur. At about 3 kms from the circle, you will see a ‘Jayamangali Blackbuck Reserve’ board. At this board, take left. Further ahead, you will see another board. Take left here too. Keep going straight even though a right turn is available. From here, the tar road changes into a mud track. Keep going till you see the forest gate. Enter the forest gate and park near the watch tower.
Permissions for Forest Entry
Day-trips do not require any permissions from the forest department. Though, a fee of Rs 100 per camera is charged by the forest department. For night stays or multiple day visits, one has to take permission from the DFO at Tumkur.
Accommodation Options in the forest
There is an Inspection Bungalow with 8 rooms near the watch tower. Each room costs Rs 800 per night and comes with the services of a cook if food rations are provided. As an alternative, one can pitch their own tents near the watch tower. The forest department charges Rs 300 for each tent. Bookings for both these can be done at the DFO office in Tumkur. If a city stay is preferred, one can stay near the Madhugiri bus stand, about 25 kilometres away.
It is recommended that you carry enough food and water on you while planning a trip to this forest. If you are fine with basic food, both Madhugiri and Kodigenahalli have some hotels where reasonable food is available. And if you wish to stay overnight, do pack in some food rations.