There is a certain intangible quality to discovering Hampi which makes it an experience like none other. This UNESCO World Heritage Site quite easily could be one of the only places in the world where you can interact so intimately with archaeology, history and nature in raw form.
Being the erstwhile capital of the prosperous Vijayanagara Empire, Hampi’s ruins include 500 civil, religious and military monuments spread over 25 sq,km. These are the remains of an ancient city that was considered to be the metropolis of a golden era.
Hampi is best seen on foot, or a combination of walking, bicycling, moped and climbing hilltops for grand views of the sunrise or sunset. Walking on seven-hundred-year-old streets, resting in stone stables where the King’s cavalry took shelter or whiling the afternoon away by the Queen’s Bath, the rocky outcrop of present day Hampi harbors a hundred thousand stories untold.
This ancient hamlet was chosen as Vijayanagara’s capital on account of its strategic proximity to the rapid Tungabhadra and the fact that it was, and continues to be flanked by, a seemingly endless range of brown bouldered hills, a feature that rendered the empire an impenetrable fortress.
Being a popular destination that has been tried and tested, there is very little we can say that hasn’t already been said about the glory of Hampi. Unquestionably a backpacker’s paradise and a pilgrim’s delight, travelers so far have been under the impression that they had to choose between the touristy sites around the main bazaar or take a coracle boat ride over the rapacious Tungabhadra River to further explore the ‘Other Side’ of Hampi.
Contrary to these assumptions, we are about to reveal a third alternative that goes beyond Hampi’s historic and archaeological significance. Daroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary is a well kept secret of the scrub. This sanctuary is the only one of its kind in north Karnataka, stretching over 5,000 hectares with sheltered rock caves and boulder-strewn trails that offer ideal habitat for a range of fauna.
You can find the Daroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary at a short distance of 15 kilometers from Hampi town. This undisturbed forest tract dedicates itself to protecting the sloth bear against the numerous threats to its survival, including human-animal conflict and fragmented habitat.
The vast range of hills around Hampi, especially the stretch between Ramsagar (Hosapete) and Daroji (Sandur), have been home to this specie of bear from as far back as Hampi’s heydays. It was only in 1994 that the State Government declared Bilikallu Reserve Forest as Daroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary. Ever since, the Forest Department and other bodies have tirelessly strived, and converted the once barren region into lush forest where sloth bears freely roam.
These efforts include the planting of wild fruit trees that make for the bears most favorite food, not forgetting termites and honey of course, available in abundance within the sanctuary’s confines.
Along with the 120 sloth bears counted in a preliminary survey, Daroji’s habitat offers sanctuary to animals like leopard, pangolin, jackal, hyena, wild boar, porcupine, quail, mongoose and monitor lizard. The region also boasts of a variety of avifauna, with several great spots for birding.
Daroji remains open to visitors all seven days of the week – 6am to 6pm – who are required to get permission from the Forest Department prior to visiting. A day spent at the sanctuary should suffice. It is therefore recommended that you fit this into your schedule once you have spent a at least three or four days on the popular sights at Hampi. The best time to visit Daroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary is between August and April (corresponding with the season for Hampi i.e., between October and March); there are adequate options for lodging nearby.
With permission in hand, you can patiently watch the sloth bears from the tower as they emerge languidly from their rock caves to feed or forage. The hill of Karadikallu Gudda, bang opposite the watchtower, has hundreds of natural caves in which these bears take shelter. The sight of a mama bear with her cub or of males vying for territory is an extraordinary experience not included in the list of popular things to do around these world famous ruins.
Another intriguing offering of the wild landscapes around Hampi is the bamboo pit viper. This stark green snake is arboreal and can be found in the cool of streams, bamboo foliage or dense undergrowth.
The range of the bamboo pit viper isolates it to a small pocket of south India’s forests, of which this region is a part. This unique serpent is not found even in the dense forests of the Western Ghats. They possess the stunning ability to sense heat with their pits, located between eyes and nostril, which they use to make sense of their surroundings and track prey comprising lizards and birds. This pit viper is quite a shy snake and uses camouflage to keep from encounters with humans and predators. They are venomous and will strike, if threatened.
The next time you find yourself planning a trip to Hampi, be sure to get a taste of its wild side; the sloth bears and bamboo pit vipers patiently wait alongside the untold stories of this ancient rock outcrop.
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