Welcome to the Western Ghats

As light gathered across the morning sky, the song of the Red-whiskered Bulbul broke the serenity of the night forest. Soon joined by the call of a White-cheeked Barbet, the dawn chorus began in earnest.

This was our last morning in the jungle of India’s Western Ghats, and we didn’t want to miss the awakening of the mountains. So, we groggily got out of bed at 5:30 a.m. and began a slow 1.5-km march up the hill from our guesthouse to its sister estate at Honey Valley. We reached our destination at first light, perfect timing. Bulbuls and Barbets were just an appetizer, the forest came alive with movement and birdsong.

Press “Play” and enjoy the sounds of the birds while you read this post

We sat quietly, letting the immense diversity of sound envelope us. Once the sun was fully up over the surrounding hills, we enjoyed great views of Heart-spotted Woodpeckers, a Greater Flameback, the Malabar Imperial-pigeon, a Gray-fronted Green-pigeon, and small flocks of Malabar Woodshrikes and Malabar Parakeets, to name just a few.

Coffee beans drying in the sun

Once the largest honey producer in Southern India until an imported disease wiped out the bees, Honey Valley now focuses on coffee and tourism. It sits in the heart of the region popularly known as Coorg in the state of Karnataka on the eastern slope of the Western Ghats, where hiking and birding were our target activities; we got in plenty of both!

After nearly three weeks in traffic-clogged cities, we were desperate for quiet surroundings. So desperate in fact that we weren’t daunted by the 20 hours of travel required to reach Honey Valley from Pondicherry on an overnight train, an all day bus, three auto rickshaws and a jeep. We were rewarded for our efforts with a view of two Malabar Gray hornbills as soon as we arrived, one of the 29 (or so) endemic bird species in the Western Ghats that exist nowhere else on earth. We knew immediately that the arduous day of travel was worth it. 

Our guesthouse, Chingaara, and Honey Valley Homestay encompass dozens of acres of shade-grown coffee and black pepper plantations that retain some rainforest canopy, interspersed with native forest.

We awoke the first morning to raucous birdsong, which of course meant grabbing my binoculars and heading outside. There were so many feathered critters flying around, I didn’t know where to look first. From the deep thumping of the White-bellied Woodpecker on a crumbling snag and the neon flash of the Orange Minivet flying tree to tree to the bright squeak of the diminutive Vernal Hanging-Parrot and the silent but gorgeous Malabar Trogon, I delighted in each and every one.

Each of our five days at Chingaara were similar in terms of activity: rise early for some birding before breakfast, go for a hike (or, in Alex’s case, a brutal run), relax in the afternoon, birding again before sunset, then a hearty dinner before heading to bed. Then get up and do it all again tomorrow. Despite the similarity of the activities, each day offered its own special moments in the form of new birds in all the colors of the rainbow, spectacular trees, colorful butterflies (including the Southern Birdwing, India’s largest), and mountain views. The biodiversity here is epic!

Two short but strong bursts of rain on our second day, turned the waterfall near our bungalow from a trickle to a cascade. I hiked down the narrow trail to photograph it in the afternoon.

By evening, it was flowing strong enough to coax the frogs out onto its rocky tiers. As we picked our way across the creek in the dark night, the glow of blue pencil eraser-sized eyes blinked in the beam of our headlamps from above.

The not-so-special part of this excursion was the leech bites we discovered on our legs when we returned to our room. Turns out the Western Ghats are notorious for leeches.

Leech crawls on Alex’s shoe after a day of rain

But leeches really get a bad rap – their bites don’t hurt and they don’t transmit disease; they eat their fill and slink away unnoticed. A few leech bites certainly didn’t diminish our awe-filled five days in the mountains!

Oh and it was a great place to celebrate Alex’s birthday.

If you’re ever planning a trip to Southern India, we highly recommend you visit Chingaara, Honey Valley and the Western Ghats.

2 thoughts on “Welcome to the Western Ghats

  1. Hi Erin, Sindhu here. I live in Mysore & came across your blog via ebird discovery ( from Kukkarahalli lake). It has been refreshing reading about parts of India through your words as well as pictures & reading blogs again, in this fast-paced/Instagram era! I would love to connect & go for a b&b walk (Birds & Binoculors!), if you’re still in Mysore.


    • Thanks for your kind words. What a great treasure that lake is in the middle of the city. Unfortunately, I’m no longer in Mysore so won’t be able to join you for birding. We are currently in Hampi. Take care!


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