Jayamamangali Blackbuck Sanctuary

Curiosity is a necessary evil. It makes you ask questions, visit places and interact with almost everyone you meet. It was one such bout of curiosity attack that prompted Sunil and myself to visit the Jayamamangali Blackbuck Sanctuary (JBS). With a weekend ahead of us, we were looking for a destination and some random article on the internet caught our attention. JBS neighbours Maidenahalli, a small village in Madhugiri Taluk, at the north-eastern tip of Tumkur district of Karnataka state. This area is a part of the plains of Deccan plateau and borders Anantpur District of Andhra Pradesh. An 800 acre patch of grassland, home to the second largest population of Blackbucks (Antelope cervicepra) in Karnataka, after Ranibennur.

There are places you visit because of their popularity, already teeming with tourists; and then there are lesser known places which still maintain their serenity and tranquility owing to their relative obscurity. JBS is one such place you like not just for its beauty, but for its exclusivity as well. Though just about 150 kilometers from Bangalore, it is a difficult place to locate. It took us a while to figure out the route, even getting lost a few times. But there are quite a few attractions on the way, like the mountain fort at Madhugiri. Here is a quick summary of the route.

- From Bangalore take the Tumkur road.
- Before entering Tumkur town take a diversion (right) towards Madhugiri.
- From Madhugiri take the Hindupura road. About 1.5 km from Madhugiri town the road splits into Hindupur Road on the left  and Chikballapur/Gowridbidanur road that goes straight. Even if you miss the left turn and go straight along the Chikaballapur road, you can take the 'Nitrahalli Cross' and get back at the Hindupura road. (You might have already guessed what happened to us!)
b- 11 km from Madhugiri town just before the bridge over Jayamangali River, you will reach Puruvara village. (Yes, we did cross the bridge and had to backtrack, no points for guessing that!)
- From Puruvara village you have to take another deviation towards ID Halli. After the villages of Badakanahalli and Giregoudana halli, the habitat abruptly changes into open plains. Travel this road a good 8 kilometers or so, till you find the Blackbuck Reserve's board on your right, with a dirt road leading into the vast plains. Keep your eyes open, you miss the board if you blink!

The mountain fort at Madhugiri set atop one of the largest monoliths of Asia, is a nice pitstop on the way. A fort built by a local chief named Raja Hire Gauda and later improved by Hyder Ali, it is quite an imposing structure that is visible from a distance. A flight of steps take you to the top where there are two temples and a few other structures. We did not have enough time to climb up the rock and left it for another day and drove on.

There is a Forest Department office and a watchtower at JBS and apart from the two there wasn't anyone or anything in sight initially. There were grasslands all around, the dried golden grass giving a nice contrast to the bright blue skies above. Apart from the vast plains of Deccan Plateau you can also see the Closepete granite hill chain that runs from Bellary to Ramanagaram. I had never seen such vibrant skies anywhere else, with prominent and well defined clouds hanging down from the blueness, almost touching the land at a distance. As we drove close to the gate we stopped to take some pictures and suddenly a pair of horns appeared along the horizon. As we watched in anticipation a lone male Blackbuck walked into view, proudly displaying his twisted horns and well tanned body. We were happy that we got to see a Blackbuck but the joy was shortlived as he sprinted out of sight in no time.

At JBS you can park your vehicle at the watch tower and walk around the area or drive along the many paths that exist here. We took the second option, unaware of the dimensions of the park, and the mud roads looked inviting as well. It didn't take us much to encounter the first herd of bucks. There were at least 30 of them with 3 males leading from the front. We stopped the car and watched the group from close quarters as the bucks too obliged by hanging around for quite a while. This was just the beginning and we spotted many more herds as we sat down to have our packed lunch of tasty parottas. The whole experience was like the African safaris you see in the Tele, with vast grass lands and these exciting animals all around us. We ran around from tree to tree to get a closer picture without disturbing their grazing. We walked around the place quite a bit as well spotting some Painted Sandgrouse (Pterocles indicus) and other common birds.

It was fun.. like going back to those hunter-gatherer days of humankind... running around like kids, after a herd of antelopes. The monsoon clouds were thickening along the horizon and the sky turned dark, giving the planes and water bodies an interesting hue. We sat there watching the rain pouring down at a distance, and finally drove back to Bangalore before heavy rains hit the plains.

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