It was still early days of joining at my new job at Karwar, a small coastal city in Karnataka when I heard the name Dandeli for the first time. The description of the place was not something I call fancy, just a sparsely populated township known for its paper mill. I still remember the day when we, I and a friend, took my bike towards Dandeli for the first time. It was the month of August 2010 and like many previous years that year also the monsoon stretched a bit longer in the Western Ghat region. The Western Ghat is a series of mountains along the western coast of India and blocks the south-west monsoon winds to large extent resulting in heavy rainfall along the western coast and adjoining areas. The sky was overcast and rain was expected any time so I didn’t take my camera that day. All we had was our raincoats. So without much preparation, we started our first trip to Dandeli. It’s not that we had high expectations! But all that was about to change!
After crossing few villages on Karwar –Belgaum road via Kadra a new world started unfolding in front of our eyes. The rain-soaked trees on both sides of the road were leading us to the distant hill partially covered with clouds. Adding to the effect was croaks of frogs, the constant buzzing sound of different insects even at 11 am in the morning and that sound of falling water from a nearby seasonal wild stream that we could not see due to dense forest. It was like one of those places we see in National Geographic or Discovery channel. We were so mesmerized by the scenery around us that we didn’t realize when it was started drizzling. Thus started my love affair with Dandeli and it has only grown over the years. It was just magical.
One thing I want to mention here that Dandeli is a small industrial township known for its a paper mill and the real beauty starts when you are out of limits of this small town. Kadra, Anshi, Kulgi, Ganeshgudi etc are the names of a few areas which actually makes Dandeli so captivating. In fact, each of the places mentioned above can be described separately. Ganeshgudi is by far the most famous place surrounding Dandeli, just 25 km from the township, for its white water rafting and wildlife safaris that starts from Kulgi. There are other lesser known places of interest nearby like Syntheri Rocks – an old granite rock formation along a small but wild rivulet deep in the forest, the Kali riverside etc that one can explore. My favorite was though and still is driving my bike slowly on the road that passes through the adjoining Anshi National park. It’s little scary though as there is little traffic on the road even during the daytime, the only other users of the road are nearby villagers, forest guards and occasional buses that run between Karwar and Belgaum.There is always a chance to see some animal or bird if luck is on your side and this is the main reason why I like driving on this road. The journey through this road is a pure adventure. Night driving is prohibited in this road except for an emergency.
Dandeli is an all season destination but weather remains pleasant from September to February. But it is the rainy season which I like the most. The place receives heavy rainfall due to South-West monsoon from the end of May to almost until August. That is the time when every small or big waterfall which remains dry during other seasons comes back to its life with all glory. On a cloudy day when the whole route remains engulfed in thick cloud, all you can hear is the music of falling water! The small villages on the edges of this pristine forest are surrounded by with paddy fields with lush green paddy crops half immersed in water will make your fingers scratching for pressing that shutter release button in your camera. Wait, are you interested in reptiles? If the answer to this question is yes then this is the time and believe me they are like everywhere! The whole Anshi- Dandeli stretch is known for the variety of these serpents found here, including the legendary King Cobra. My search for one such King in wild is still on! One thing should be kept in mind before venturing out towards forested areas is to take proper precautions and help of experienced guide as these creatures are experts in camouflaging and yes many of them are poisonous too! Have I mentioned the leeches, well beware of them? They can be found in tons. Isn’t it sounding adventurous?
Well if rainy season is not what you look forward to then Dandeli can be visited during winters. In this season the areas around the banks of the Kali river which crisscrosses the whole region wears a mysterious look. During the morning hours, the one could witness layers of thick fog just above the water of the river. A cup of hot coffee, sitting beside the Kali river on a bamboo chair, wearing woolens and watching the fast flowing Kali river in one of the resorts in the banks of this river, isn’t it a perfect winter morning? Well, those who wake up late and missed this beautiful morning setting, evenings are as beautiful and give great chance to click the Great Indian Hornbills flying over the thick canopy of tall trees along the banks of the Kali river.
A special attraction during the period is the celebration of Dashahara festival which generally falls in the month of October. Dandeli celebrates it with all pomp and show. This nine-day festival ends with the fabulous bursting of crackers which people wait for throughout the year followed by burning of effigies of mythological demons Ravana, Meghnath and Kumbhakarana, all characters from the Ramayana. The Dandeli Dashahara is probably the topmost event in the local events calendar.
Speaking about seasons well how can we forget summer months! It is the best time to locate the wild animal inside Kali Tiger Reserve. This reserve forest is famous for its Black Panthers but locating the one inside the forest is challenging as these animals are highly mobile. Of the several excursions inside the forest, I could locate a Black Panther only once and that too outside the forest area, near a village during my first early morning trip to this forest. The reserve is big and dense, hence locating any animal for that matter is challenging and requires some degree of luck too and this is what makes the wildlife safaris exiting, isn’t it?
Overall it is just the place which can soothe your nerves in its own way, a perfect gateway to spend a few days in the woods away from hustle & bustle of the city life.
And for me, I am not yet tired of Dandeli and it’s been eight years now from my first visit there. In fact, the romance is only growing with time. Unlike the early years when I use to visit Dandeli every now and then because of proximity which is not possible now but I make it a point to visit Dandeli at least once a year and each time I come back rejuvenated.
Nearest Airport– Hubli( 75 km) Dabolim, Goa( 135 km). Dabolim is well connected with all major cities of India and select international destinations.
Nearest major railhead– Hubli, Karnataka (75 km), Madgaon, Goa ( 118 km).
By Road- Dandeli is well connected with bus service from nearby major towns like Karwar, Madgaon, Belgaum, Hubli, Mangalore. Bus services are available from Mumbai as well. In addition to this one can also hire cars from these places.
Stay- Dandeli has some very good resorts. Pre-booking is advisable. Price depends on location and season. There are economical homestays too and can be booked from most major hotel booking site online. Resorts like Bison River Resort, Hornbill Resort, Jungle Lodges etc provide very good stay options in and around Dandeli.
Local transport– Auto rickshaws are available within the township area. But as Dandeli is surrounded by dense forests so having own transport system is a boon. However, the resort or homestay owner generally provides the facility of the hiring of a vehicle as per the need on direct payment basis. Some resorts do provide the local transport as per the package booked.
Telecom Network connectivity– The network has improved a lot over the years. Now good 3G services are available. In township areas even 4G network is available. But remember it the densely forested area so availability of proper network can be chaotic at some places.