“Hurry up ! The bears are already there. We need to get to the observation site quickly,” urged Doreen, our tour organiser. We scrambled out of the vehicle and followed Doreen to climb some rather steep steps that seemed to go on forever.
Our tour group had just driven to the Daroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary from Hampi (about 15 km) over some rather bad roads, through beautiful scenery, and imminent rain. We were at the Sanctuary to see the Indian sloth bear or karadis, who came out of their caves every evening to have a special paste of rice and honey (or was it jaggery?) that was smeared on the rocks near their caves by the Sanctuary guards. For me karadi brought forth images of Baloo, the Jungle Book bear, resplendent in his Disney avatar or Jambavan, the wise bear king from the Ramayana. I was rather keen on what the karadi really looked like!
Created in 1994, the Daroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary covers an area of about 5.58 sq.km. In addition to the bears, the Sanctuary is also home to wild boar, leopards, porcupines, striped hyenas, monkeys, hare, and peafowl, along with many bird species. Though we had come here to see the sloth bears, I secretly hoped to spot a leopard or two as well.
After about five minutes of huffing and puffing, we reached the observation site which is at the top of a hillock with fencing all around. Quite a few people had gathered there to watch the bears and they all seemed to be looking across the fencing and pointing at some black dots on the opposite hillock quite some distance away. It took me a while to realise that those black dots were actually the karadis.
I couldn’t believe my eyes! The karadis were so far away that I could not even figure out how many of them were there, or even if they were karadis in the first place. What was worse was the realisation that this was the closest that I could get to them. While I did not expect the karadis to be within handshaking distance, I certainly did not expect to be so far away from them either. Though I did get a closer look at the bears through Doreen’s binoculars, I felt terribly disappointed :-(
It took me a little while to put the disappointment aside and look around and observe other things. There was lot of bird song in the air, though I could not identify the individual owners, except for the raucous call of a peafowl. Soon, I even spotted the fellow (yes, it was a peacock) who kept unfurling his feathers and folding it right back. In the distance, I could see a pond, which was probably a watering hole for the wildlife in the Sanctuary.
As we drove back to Hampi, the disappointment returned. My naïve, and perhaps even stupid, understanding of visiting a wildlife sanctuary needs to change and be realistic as sometimes spotting wildlife in the distance is perhaps equivalent to “seeing” them. As for the leopards, there was no sign of them.
P.S.: This visit was part of a tour organised by Doreen D’Sa of Doe’s Ecotours. She can be contacted at email@example.com.