The sky was steely grey, the earth startling green. Strong gusts of wind swept the verdant slopes. Clouds hurried past, kissing the top of one hill and moving on to another. I savoured the misty taste of sunshine as I clambered up the slope of a hill to reach the River Tern Lodge. Lying in nature’s lap and listening to her endless monologues, I spent the next two days soaking in the bliss of serenity. Perched on hillocks overlooking the Bhadra Reservoir, this resort is an ode to nature’s ethereal beauty.
Established in 2005, the River Tern Lodge is among the newer ventures of Jungle Lodges and Resorts (JLR), a Government of Karnataka undertaking. This resort promotes eco-tourism and gets its name from the colonies of river terns that congregate on islands in its vicinity. The Indian River Tern ( Sterna aurantia) is a slender grey and white bird with a deeply forked tail. Thousands of river terns make these safe sand banks their home during the breeding season which lasts from March through May. The Bhadra river swells during the monsoons and the reservoir is filled to the brim. Many islands are submerged by the copious inflow of water. As the water recedes, the islands peep out and are ready to play host to the birds and their emerging chicks. This is also the breeding season for pratincoles ( Glareola lactea) which arrive in sizeable numbers.
While the rendezvous with the river terns is an attraction during the summer months, the monsoon is a time to enjoy the rain. Frequent cloud bursts are showers of blessings for the rich flora and fauna of this region. Green is the colour of the season. Blossoms flaunt a sprightly exuberance and butterflies flutter with joy. The rain sweeps the dust away and cools the forest floor. There are striking signs of freshness and prosperous abundance everywhere.
Aesthetic cottages with cosy interiors offer picture-perfect vistas of the reservoir, the blanket of hills around it and sunsets over the water. Winding paths lined by a canopy of bamboos lead to the rustic cottages and log huts positioned at different levels. As I walked up the stone-laden pathway, I wondered if green could ever be greener. The older cottages are on a peninsula, the newer ones on an island. Christened as India and Sri Lanka respectively, these fragments of land are not oceans apart. Separated by a channel of the reservoir’s water, a wooden bridge connects the two. The gentle waves that dance to the melody of the swaying bamboos fill the air with rhythms of romance.
Delicious food is served in the “gol-ghar”, the open-to-sides gazebo. Guests can take their pick at the enticing spread that simmers over the red-hot charcoal at “Salt Lick”, the dining area. The steward does a good job in tailoring the menu to suit the season and the climate. Alcohol is served at “Water-Hole”, the bar. Fresh fish from the reservoir, transformed into mouth-watering delicacies by the local chef, are among the culinary delights on the lunch menu.
The River Tern Lodge offers several activities for the visitors. Kayaks, canoes, wind surfs, water trampoline and pedal boats are available for those who enjoy aquatic adventures. The in-house naturalist accompanies visitors on nature walks in the sprawling 4.5 hectare property. Butterflies are a plenty. The great egg-fly, peacock pansy, chocolate pansy, plain tiger and bird wing butterfly are some that meet the eye frequently. When the water of the reservoir is placid, visitors can go on boat safaris to explore its vastness. Mountain bikes and coracle rides are available on request.
Meet the cats
For those who like to venture out of the resort, the Bhadra Dam is just a couple of kilometres away. The panoramic view of the plains from the hills is a sight to behold. The velvety carpet of the paddy fields interspersed with lakes and the flowing Bhadra is a snapshot of the countryside at its very best. The Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary which is in close proximity to the River Tern Lodge is home to the big cats. Spanning over an area of 492 sq. km, the sanctuary is the 25th tiger reserve in India and was brought under the “Project Tiger” programme in 1998. Peacocks, spotted deer, sambar deer, barking deer and Indian gaur are regular sightings on jungle safaris. The lucky ones would get to spot tigers, leopards, elephants and slosth bears. The Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary, which boasts of over 300 species of birds including the endemic Malabar Trogon and Southern Treepie, is a bird watcher’s paradise.
The River Tern Lodge is a far cry from the clutter of urbanisation. Nestled in Western Ghats amidst stately hills and a landscape that changes with seasons, it is in harmony with nature. Chikmagalur is known for its coffee plantations and Shimoga for its luxuriant greenery. Located in Lakkavali, bordering the Chikmagalur and Shimoga districts of Karnataka, the River Tern Lodge is a window to the best of both worlds and is an enticing getaway for city dwellers.
Location: The River Tern Lodge is located in Lakkavalli in the Chikmagalur district of Karnataka. Shimoga is the closest town.
Getting there: By road: From Bangalore, drive on NH4 towards Tumkur. Take the Shimoga bypass road at Tumkur and reach Tarikere via Arasikere, Kadur and Birur. Lakkavalli is about 275 km from Bangalore and 18 km from Tarikere.
By train: Reach Shimoga or Birur by train and take a bus from there to Lakkavalli. Lakkavalli is 38 km from Shimoga and 45 km from Birur. The resort offers pick up facilities on request.
Season: The weather is pleasant all through the year. March to mid-May is the best time to see river terns. There is a good chance of sighting animals in the wild during summer. This region receives heavy rainfall between July and September after which the reservoir is full and the surroundings are lush.
Tariff: Rs. 3250/- per person per day. The package includes accommodation, breakfast, lunch and dinner, a boat ride and a safari in the Bhadra Tiger Reserve. Water sports come at an additional cost.
Other Attractions: The Jog Falls, Sakrebayalu Elephant Camp and Amrutapura, famed for its Narasimha Temple with Hoysala architecture, are other tourist attractions nearby.