Dandeli Day 1 – Old Magazine House and Rafting in Kali River

Place: Old Magazine House and Kali River, Dandeli

Distance:  472 km from Bangalore
Type:  Bird Watching, Photography, and Watersports
Ideal for:  Friends and Family

With its dense forest, enchanting river, fascinating resorts, thrilling rafting, chirping birds and wildlife, Dandeli is a one-stop destination for all the Adventure seekers and wildlife lovers. Dandeli is an emerging hotspot for it’s for the long list of experiences like Jungle Safari, Rafting, Kayaking, Watersports, bird watching that are curated and housed in this region.

Best of the Beast: River Rafting in Kali River, Dandeli

A photographer’s paradise and an adventurer’s abode, Dandeli deserves all the attention that it has been getting in the past many years. Yet another great reason for the recent popularity of Dandeli is the ease of access that this town has and connectivity with major towns. Getting to Dandeli from Bangalore, Pune, and Goa is almost a cake walk, resulting in the kind of influx of people who seek the same adventures.

Planning: I got my travel planned by dandeli.com which made our Dandeli trip not only easy but helped us experience the beauty of Dandeli. Mr. Rajesh took care of booking our stay at Old Magazine House and Dandeli Jungle Camp. He also arranged the end to end transportation for us after reaching Dandeli.

The best mode of transportation to reach Dandeli is on a bus. Private bus services like VRL and SRS offer both semi seater and sleeper coaches to this place. There’s also an option to reach by train but you have to get down at Alnavar railway station and catch a local bus to reach Dandeli which is 30 km away from Dandeli.

Bangalore to Dandeli: Reservations are recommended hence we had our seats booked on the VRL bus which departed on Friday night at 9 pm.

When I opened my eyes it was already 6 am and we were in Dharwad. I lived in Dharwad for my for +2 study during 2006, the nostalgic feeling hit me when the bus passed by my college.

The road condition is excellent until Dharwad. After Dharwad, the bus took a left turn and joined a single lane road. Another 50-kilometer journey would take us to Dandeli. Last few kilometers were through the forest area. I peeked out of the window hoping to spot wild animals but I wasn’t lucky enough to spot one. We reached Dandeli at 8 in the morning.

Adventure Begins: As soon as we got down from the bus I called Mr. Sanjay from Dandeli.com who assisted us to reach his office which was hardly 100 meters from the bus stop. We had a discussion about the plan for the next three days. I inquired if rafting is available as I badly wanted to do it. He checked with his local contacts and confirmed the availability. Sanjay mentioned that he would be closely monitoring us to see if everything is going smooth and we are getting all the promised facilities.

We boarded the cab and started driving towards OMH. I initiated the conversation with the driver who was in his 40’s. He explained how Dandeli has evolved from being just a paper factory town to tourism hot spot destination.

A peek into the Dandeli Town

On the way to Old Magazine House. I wonder how this road would look in monsoon

Old Magazine House (OMH):
A name enchanted by most of the bird photographers and nature lovers was originally a warehouse used to store ammunition and dynamite used for the blasting of rocks nearly many years ago. It has been turned into the resort and is maintained by Govt of Karnataka. The beauty of this property lies in its very nature of attracting various species of birds.

Last stretch towards Old Magazine House. The general public doesn’t have access to it

A name enchanted by most of the bird photographers and nature lovers 

The Old Magazine House is in Ganeshgudi which is 20 kilometers from the Dandeli city. Its a private property and the general public doesn’t get access to it until they book a stay at this place. We reached OMH at 9 30 am but the standard check-in time is 12 pm hence we had to wait. As soon as we reached the Old Magazine House I could see a group of photographers gathered around with their huge camera. We kept our luggage in the office and freshened up at common bathrooms in the dormitory room. After freshening up we proceeded for the breakfast as I was extremely hungry.

  It was used to store ammunition and dynamite many years ago.

OMH has been turned into the resort and is maintained by Govt of Karnataka

Dining area: The dining area is big with a 360-degree panoramic view of the surroundings. Food is buffet system with a variety of dishes to choose from. The food was extremely good. After breakfast, we moved to the bird watching spot.

The dining area is big with a 360-degree panoramic view of the surroundings.

What’s on my plate for the breakfast

Where the Magic Happens: Birdwatching spot is just in front of the dining area. 6-8 bird feeders have been installed and a green net has been put up with small opening making it look like a bird studio. Since the surrounding forest is dense and rich, a variety of birds stay in its vicinity and come to this spot to quench their thirst. You don’t have to run around looking for birds but the birds will come to you and pose for the camera. The only thing you have to do is be quiet and wait.

Bird watching spot in front of the dining area

Photographers on one side and birds on the other separated by the green net.

So many bird enthusiast with their huge cameras

One can spot around 40 species of the bird at this place alone. If you are a bird photographer or a bird watcher then this is the place you should be staying when you visit Dandeli. Most of the co-visitors were photographers with a really high-end camera and big lenses. They not only had the big camera but also had knowledge about the birds.

Should I take my camera out?: Even though I had 2 DSLR’s and a point and shoot camera I didn’t take them out for nearly an hour as I felt nervous among the ardent bird photographers. I convinced myself that I don’t fall into the category of bird watchers hence I shouldn’t be worried. I took our my Nikon P600 point and shoot camera which has insane 60x optical zoom. I managed to capture nice shots of the birds. Vinayak who is a staff at OMH explained about different birds we spotted which was a good learning for me. After 2 hours of bird watching and photography, I checked in into the room at 11.30.

While everyone was bust capturing the birds we were capturing the glimpse of this chameleon.

The oriental white eye was the first visitor.
Then Indian Yellow Tit came to quench its thirst
Orange-headed brown thrush posed for the camera

Tickel’s Blue Flycatcher.– another commoner, but a mass entertainer. He did some acrobatics in front of us before entering the pool.

Red-vented Bulbul looked cool with its spikes

Seems like bulbul was shouting at me cz I was taking her pic

Emerald dove – -Frequent visitor to this camp.

Bird name 

Bird feeders where birds come drink water and also bath 😀

The rooms at OMH:
The room is big and cozy with double size bed on one side and two chairs on the other. The bathroom was clean and hygienic. I realized OM house is a value for money after looking at all the facilities they provided which include three times meal.

One of the newly constructed wooden house overlooking the thick forest
Dormitory rooms for budget travellers. 

The rooms where I stayed

I spent some time in taking a video footages for my youtube channel and then got freshened up. The ideal itinerary would include a short trek to Supa dam backwater viewpoint from where we can witness the magnificent sunset. But due to the unfortunate event happened at Tamilnadu the trekking was banned at most places in Karnataka including here. We decided to go for rafting instead. We were informed that the pickup for the rafting will be at 1.15. We had lunch which was amazing.

Had a full meal before the rafting

The vehicle facility to the rafting point was arranged by Old Magazine House itself. In fact, they are the only authority who has the license to conduct 9.4 km stretch rafting. Other activity organizers do short rafting. So if you are planning to do rafting at Dandeli book it through Dandeli.com or you can call Mr. Sanjay who will make arrangements for you. Don’t get fooled.

The Jeep used in the Old Magazine House

The camp’s jeep was ready at 1.15 pm. The rafting begins at 2 pm sharp. It was a 5 km drive to the rafting point.

River Kali: The river is surrounding by dense trees stretching along the river and the water is so clear that I could see the river base with naked eyes. Because of the manganese ore on the bottom, the river looks black in color which is the reason behind the name Kali (black).

Kali River surrounded by the thick green forest

One of the crew members gave a brief description of rafting and safety measurements. He educated us about how to wear a life jacket and choose the right size helmet.

Rafting in Kali River: Mr. Sahadev was our rafting guide and instructor for the day. We boarded the rafting boat and left the shore. Sahadev briefed about the paddling techniques and commands like forward, back, stop and get down. After briefing about the techniques he asked us to jump into the water. A dip into the water helped us cool down for the entire rafting. Peddling along the current was easy. Sahadev mentioned there are totally 9 rapids among which first rapid is the best one.

Smile for the photo: There were two photographers waiting near the first rapid. The first rapid falls under grade 2 which is thrilling for the beginners like us.

The first and the best rapid 

The best part is when the water splashes on you and hits you hard.

Peddling against the rapid

We then encountered some more rapids which were easy and smooth. Along with peddling, we enjoyed the serene water and beautiful surroundings. Not only the surroundings were pleasing even the group was amazing. We laughed to death and totally enjoyed the rafting experience.

The complete 9 km stretch took around two hours. While we were completely satisfied with the rafting experience a big surprise was waiting for us at the last rapid. We stopped after the last rapid. Instructor asked one guy to sit in the front and everyone else to move forward so that the weight of the raft is to the front. We started peddling towards the rapid and instructor managed to lock the raft in the rapid and we started surfing for more than 15 seconds. With two failed attempts we repeated this 6 times until everyone got chance to sit in the front of the boat.

Our driver was waiting for us near the end of the trail. We got into the jeep and started driving towards the OMH. I was extremely tired and hungry. We reached back at 6 pm. We came near the dining area and requested for a hot cup of coffee. I talked with a co-visitor named Vinod Bartakke who is a passionate photographer. He was holding a big camera, out of curiously I asked the cost of his giant camera to which he replied “4 lac for the camera body and 4 lac for the lens“. I was awestruck for some time hearing the cost.

A Hot cup of coffee after the rafting is all you need
Beautifully lit up dining area at the evening

After 30 minutes the staff arranged the chairs in a round fashion and served hot pakoda with hot soup. The pakodas were yummy that I gulped 2 plates. Ideally, there should have been a campfire in evening but since the climate was hot they didn’t put up the campfire. All the guests gathered and sat there with a peaceful mind mostly discussing the birds they saw on the day.

Pakoda and hot soup at evening

Tried to capture moon with 60 x optical zoom

We waited till 830 for the dinner to be served. We had dinner again it was tasty and good. I inquired for the next day itineraries, for which Vinayak said there will be nature walk in the morning at 7. I slept at 10 pm hoping to get up early.

Note: I was invited to this experience by Dandeli.com who are dedicated to responsible tourism in Dandeli. However, this has no bearings on my opinion and understanding as shared in this post. My views are completely and honestly my own.

Important Notes:
1. Many brokers offer tourism services in Dandeli but most of them don’t fulfill the promises and provide fewer facilities at lower cost and then charge for everything else.
3. Book the rafting only through Dandeli.com. Most of the water activity services would fool you to choose the short rafting.
4. Photos taken by the professionals can be collected at the cost of Rs. 500 for all the photos. Make sure you ask the rafting guide at the end of the rafting.

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