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Climbing the Big Mountain: Cameras Fail, Views Amaze, and Souls Are Restored in Bhadra

Everyone has a place that draws them back over and over again. Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary is that place for me.

I came here in 2002 for my master’s research project to assess impacts of villages on the park and voluntary resettlement of people. I have since worked in several wild  places across India but I keep coming back to Bhadra. For me it was it working in Bhadra that I found myself and realized where my passions lay and where I decided to become a conservation biologist. Bhadra is where I go to feel re-energized. Bhadra brings me peace, reassures me and inspires me. Bhadra has taught me and tested me. Bhadra is one of the places where I will continue to work as long as I live.

A Special Trip

In December 2011, I travelled to Bhadra with a few friends. It was a special trip for me. I had just heard that National Geographic had chosen me to be the Society’s 10,000th grantee. A celebration required going home to Bhadra.

Bhadra is one of Karnataka’s premier tiger reserves, known for its high bird diversity and implementation of India’s most fair and successful voluntary relocation program. In 2001-2002, more than 450 families were voluntarily resettled out of the park. The commitment of conservationists such as D. V. Girish and co-operation between people, government, and local NGOs established this as a benchmark in Indian government resettlement efforts.

The main purpose of our trip was to test and use a new GigaPan camera system given to me by Carnegie Mellon University to make 360-degree panoramic photographs. Bhadra with its many high peaks was a perfect place to test this. Rather than attempt to do so myself (given my dismal photographic experience), it made sense to ask my friend Kalyan Varma “the master” photographer to do this. I had envisioned a series of photographs capturing these spectacular mountains with their lush shola grasslands and forests of the Ghats across seasons and time.

We decided to climb Gangegiri (height 1300 meters), one of the highest peaks in Bhadra. As the six of us began to climb, my daughter Keya (all of 4 years old) started out with great enthusiasm. As the climb got steeper and harder, she began to panic. As the thorns pricked her, she broke down in tears saying that she did not want to climb anymore. To our dismay she sat down and refused to look at the view. Then decided she had enough and she started to walk back down.

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Photo courtesy Krithi Karanth

Coaxing her gently and convincing her that she was safe with all of us around her took some time. We took turns carrying her up and finally reached the top. It was only later that I realized that in my excitement to climb Gangegiri, I had overlooked that that this was the first time that Keya had climbed so high and how scary this could be for anyone, especially a 4 year old.

Photo by B. M. Akarsha
Photo by B. M. Akarsha

Upon reaching the top we tried to set up the camera to shoot panoramic pictures. The robotic mount on the camera froze and it refused to take pictures as it was programmed to do. All the planning and excitement did not matter. After hauling all the equipment for 3 hours uphill, it was extremely disappointing. After struggling for awhile to make this contraption work we finally gave up. We speculated this was perhaps due to solar flares being more intense at that height interfering with the batteries on the cameras. We decided to enjoy the view instead. In the end we did not get the pictures we wanted, but the breathtaking views from top will remain etched in my mind forever.

The view at the top was spectacular. We were able to see for miles on end mountains, grasslands and forests of the Ghats. All six of us quietly took it all in. Even Keya had calmed down enough to appreciate her first big mountain!

Keya continues to travel and visit Wild India with me. Her first question before any trip is always “Amma is there a big mountain?” And we both smile.

Photo By Kalyan Varma in Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary
Photo By Kalyan Varma in Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary