Soaring with Sea Eagles

This article is the unedited version of the final travelogue published on JLR Explore, the official blog of Jungle Lodges and Resorts here.

A rather disappointing family trip to Goa in October 2017 had put us off beach holidays for a while when serendipity played its hand. We soon found ourselves on the long-winding drive to Devbagh Beach Resort off the Karwar coast. We were going back to the island resort exactly 15 years after our first visit as newly-weds, this time with our two boys in tow.

Packing our gear and bleary-eyed boys into our XUV early one morning, we drove out west-ward with the rising Sun behind us. We journeyed along NH 48 on roads that were a dream to drive on. The landscape morphed from the hot, arid plains of North Karnataka and turned lush green as we drove down the meandering road through the evergreen forests of the cool Western Ghats. We reached the pleasantly warm South-Western coast of Karwar in the early afternoon.

A little Jungle Lodges and Resorts boat bounced us along merrily from the mainland across the Kali River-Arabian Sea confluence towards the Devbagh estuary, a 90-acre peninsula with a little fishing village from which the resort derives its name. The swaying Casuarina trees seemed to hold out the promise of a lazy and languorous couple of days in their midst, if only till after lunch that day! Atop the Casuarinas, a nesting White-Bellied Sea Eagle couple honked-out an exuberant welcome just as we climbed out of the boat onto the pier.

A Golden Sun Outlines the Pier

The cool sea breeze eased our travel weariness and it dawned on us that our memories from 15 years ago had faded, and the little we remembered from that visit, had changed.

The log huts had now made way for comfortable and sturdy cottages tastefully outfitted with all creature comforts including a television and handmade toiletries. Devbagh resort had acquired character and ‘Log Hut 6’ was nowhere in sight. We were instead ushered by the polite staff into the cosy and spacious confines of the ‘Black Capped Kingfisher’.

‘Black-Capped Kingfisher’, our home in Devbagh

Just as we were finishing-up sampling the delectable lunch spread (with crab on the menu!) in anticipation of a relaxed afternoon, the ever-helpful staff suggested we try out some aero sporting activities as the wind conditions seemed ideal that time of the day.

The progeny jumped at the idea and we soon found ourselves on Tagore Beach on the mainland, shaking hands with Dr. Vidhyadhar Vaidya, the ‘Flying Doctor’ as I dubbed him or ‘Doc’ as he is commonly known in the area. Doc, a medicine man by training, has been passionate about aero modelling and flying from a young age, is a licensed pilot.

Under the aegis of Jungle Lodges and Resorts in Karwar, Doc uses his two ‘trikes’, one for older flyers and the other, a lighter version for young children to help savour the thrill of flying.  Each two-seater trike comes fitted with an ultra-light, two-stroke aircraft engine, a propeller and a Paraglider wing.

Acrophobia kept the husband and me from jumping onto the Paramotor at first sight! Our daredevil boys couldn’t be restrained though. They needed no goading and in a jiffy, the older one was strapped-up into the front seat of the nifty trike with Doc piloting it from the rear seat. The little one had to wait until later to fly on the light-weight trike.

The Boys with Doc and his Trike
Just Before Take-Off

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despite my trepidations, my spirits buoyed at the thought of flying among birds at 1000 feet and I soon found myself strapping-up for an aerial view of the region. As we sped-on and the trike lifted-off the ground, a feeling of peace and tranquility engulfed my senses. We soared higher and higher and while I waited for panic to take-over, my acrophobia seemed to have vanished into the thin high-altitude air!

The waters of the majestic Arabian Sea glistened golden in the early-evening Sun, and the undulating Sahyadri mountain range stretched-out in the east. The pristine blue expanse of the Kali river backwaters lay North beyond the Kali river bridge, fringed by lush green mangroves. Coconut palms cast an emerald blanket over the charming town of Karwar. Far below, the magnificent INS Chapal Warship (also a museum), resembled a miniature model ship.

Somewhere high up over the sea of liquid gold, I experienced a trancelike moment frozen in time; a moment where I was not conscious of mind or body, nor a single thought, permanent or transient. Is this how Nirvana feels? I’ll probably settle for this till the time I discover any other form of it!

Parasailing

I came out of my reverie when I realized Doc was guiding the trike downward along the beach. Flying just a few feet above the beach, a panic-stricken puppy scampered ahead of us as the trike soared again for a few more sorties before finally touching down.

Having conquered Paramotoring , the boys took to Parasailing on the beach with an ocean-dip to boot!

Late in the evening, back at the island resort, we sat on the beach around a bonfire under a velvety star-studded sky. A steady supply of delicious fare from the live barbeque whetted our appetite for dinner, also served on the beach. The city lights twinkled from across the estuary, and light flashed from the Oyster Rock Light House in the distance, as waves lapped the shore incessantly.

Bonfire on the Beach

As if the night wasn’t magical enough, the staff arranged for the children to release a Sky Lantern into the night sky. A resident Ghost Crab joined us around the bonfire and found itself an unwitting centre of attention.

Bright and early the next morning, together with my constant birding and travel companion, a pair of Bushnell binoculars, I trekked around the island with the resident naturalist while the family decided to sleep-in.

Sand Pipers and Sand Plovers foraged on the shore. The Kali River, named so for the black stone river bed that makes the waters appear dark, flowed into the Arabian Sea at low tide revealing a strip of sandbar.

Barnacle-Bedecked Rock

A cast of Red-brown Crabs frolicked among Barnacle-bedecked rocks. Up among the trees, a territorial fight broke-out between the resident White-Bellied Sea eagle and a Brahminy Kite with much squawking and honking!

As we walked along the narrow path between the Casuarina Grove and the mangrove forest; we spotted several other bird species such as the Crow Pheasant, a beautiful Asian Paradise Flycatcher, a solitary Drongo, a pair of Jungle Mynas, a Golden Oriole, Black-headed Bulbuls, Warblers and Peafowls that relish the fruits of the Casuarina tree. I had my ‘lifer’ spotting a Stork-Billed Kingfisher for the first time, a larger specimen of the species.

Mangroves Along a Little Rivulet

I learnt from the naturalist that the island hosts four species of mangroves and are given protected status by the Forest Department for the invaluable service they provide in protecting shorelines from floods and hurricanes.

They prevent soil erosion and their tangled root systems act as pollutant filters for water bodies.

The rest of the day spelt Sun and Surf and after a hearty breakfast, we hopped onto a boat to Oyster Rock Island where more adventure awaited us with Snorkelling and Scuba Diving.

The Snorkelers

The boys took turns snorkeling among the shallow waters. Gleaming rainbow-coloured fish and sea weed abounded just beneath the surface. Snorkeling done, some ocean swimming was in order, and the boys circled the boat like two little sharks! Sea-sick from the choppy boat ride, we kept our Scuba Diving plans in abeyance. We were hoping to spot Dolphins on the boat ride between the two islands but they seemed to have taken the day off!

As evening fell on the island, we finally had our chance to explore the beach. Sand pellets formed by feeding Soldier Crabs made patterns on the beach. The Sun descended in an orange ball in the Western horizon, and the swaying Casuarinas appeared to paint the sky in hues of orange-blue.

A colony of Sea Gulls roosting on the sandbar in the distance took to the skies. Darkness fell, the fairy lights came on and it was Happy Hours again around the bonfire!

Sand Pellets Made by Feeding Soldier Crabs
An Orange Sun Glides Down at Dusk

 

 

 

 

 

The last morning on the island, I decided to explore the other side where fishermen dwelt. Two men were hauling-in their catch while a few others sat around a little fire. A casual chat followed with a quick exchange of our antecedents. While I was away befriending fisher folk, the family had zipped around the estuary on a Jet Ski.

As we bade goodbye, the children extracted a promise that we’d return to Devbagh soon. Devbagh will always remain etched in our minds for giving us a surfeit of heady experiences and memories to cherish for life.