About 3 km off the busy Bengaluru-Mysore Highway is an unexpected and beautiful nature nook. Six isolated islets on the river Cauvery make up the Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary. Paddy fields, slippery streams, dense foliage and hundreds of migratory birds from as far as Siberia and Australia — this is a detour not to be missed. A dam built in the 1700s created the islets and made the place fertile for birds. In 1940, Dr Salim Ali observed that the islets had become a nesting ground for birds and persuaded the Wodeyar kings of Mysore to declare the area a wildlife sanctuary. The place is clean and well maintained. A tree-lined path takes us down to the river from where we can take the 15-min boat ride around the islets. We climb into a wooden boat, a bit wobbly but safe enough. The boatman has been here for 22 years, we learn, rowing his little boat across the waters and back. As he draws us into the waters with slow, certain oar strokes, the mystery of the Cauvery takes over.
It is a place where diverse creatures coexist in relative harmony. The river teems with fish. The banks are heavy with reed beds, eucalyptus and acacia. The islands are covered with bamboo, Arjun and Pandanus trees. A buzz of black creatures hovers over some of them. Bats, somebody shrieks. They eat only fruits but their presence is sombre, weighed with the menace of a thousand myths. Other islands are entirely colonised by birds. They fill the gaze. The air is thick with them and every branch saturated with plump bodies, avid beaks and eyes. There is every imaginable avian activity going on here — the building of nests, the hunting of fish, take-offs and landings at a rate that would shame any international airport. The rhythms of flight and shifting colour patterns are a delight. A colony of white ibis rises into the air in a frenzy of fluttering. Many varieties of heron lurk on the riverside. A flock of blackbirds watch with beady eyes as we pass by. I wonder if these will sing at dead of night.
The air at Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary is full of streamlined bodies, black tipped wings, the rustle of feathers as they open or fold. Pink-tailed painted storks preen, fussy as opera singers. Spoonbill storks with their beautiful black and yellow bills squat on the banks. The place is home to less friendly creatures as well. Marsh crocodiles (magar macchch) glide darkly in the water, their tails causing ripples. One or two sun themselves on the rocks. “Do they try to eat the birds?” we ask as we pass by one that has its mouth open, displaying yellow but unmistakably sharp teeth. Our boatman raises a scornful eyebrow. “No, they eat the fish,” he says. He looks sceptical about our levels of education. The boat travels slowly to ease both watching and photography. As we move further away from the shore, there is a hush in the air as if even the noisier children are awed into silence. The birds, for the most part, continue with their lives. We are an intrusion, but a familiar one. The ride seems too short. Perhaps it is the reluctance to leave a form of life so removed from urban angst. Perhaps it is simply the hypnotic call of so many birds. In any case, one can always jump back onto the boat for another ride.
How to reach: Ranganathittu is 4 km from Srirangapatna, which is 127 km and about 3 hrs from Bengaluru. Drive towards Mysore on SH17, take the deviation to the right (a board here says Ranganathittu) via the Paschimavahini Bridge onto the Hunsur Road. After a distance, take a left for Ranganathittu (signboard present).
When to go: The sanctuary is never closed, but the best time to visit is December to April.
Entry fee: Adults INR 50, children (3-12 years) INR 25, foreigners INR 300
Timings: 8.30 am-5.30 pm
Cameras: Still free, video INR 500
Vehicle fee: Bus INR 125, car INR 30, van Rs 75, two-wheeler INR 15
Boat Ride: Boat ride Adult INR 50, children INR 25
Contact: Deputy Conservator of Forests, Wildlife Division, Mysore (Tel: +91-821-2481159)
By Anindita Sengupta
About the author: Anindita Sengupta is a poet and freelance writer based in Bengaluru.