It was October 2013 and the monsoons had come to an end. That meant that most of the wildlife parks would have opened. I had not undertaken any wildlife trips for the past few months and therefore was craving for an enjoyable and extended wildlife experience. The added motivation was that I had purchased a longer telezoom lens the past month, Sigma 50-500mm OS. I was most eager to try to out the lens in the field.
Since tiger safaris were on top of my priority list, I had shortlisted Bandhavgarh (Madhya Pradesh) and Bandipur (Karnataka) Tiger reserves. Along with Ranthambore these reserves were some of the more professionally managed Tiger reserves in India. Also, these reserves offered some of the better tiger sighting opportunities in India.
After much deliberation I decided on Bandipur. Bandipur shared the same forests with Wayanad in Kerala and Mudumalai / Masinagudi in Tamil Nadu. The close proximity of these wildlife parks gave me an opportunity to visit more than one wildlife park during my trip. I had 8 full days at my disposal and wanted to make the most of it.
Finalizing the itinerary was not an easy task at all. I was inclined towards covering as many reserves as possible in the 8 day trip. Initially I thought of visiting Wayanad followed by Mudumalai / Masinagudi and finally Bandipur. But I finally settled on Bandipur, then Kabini (Nagarhole) and finally K Gudi (BR Hills).
|The Wildlife Triangle - Bandipur, Kabini and K Gudi|
After finalizing the itinerary, the next steps were to book the hotels and air-tickets. Jungle Lodges and Resorts (JLR), a JV between the Karnataka Tourism and Forest departments, has eco-tourism ventures at all the wildlife hotspots in Karnataka. Their accommodations are decent, comfortable and professionally managed. True to their eco-tourism tag, these ventures avoid luxury and strive to be environment-friendly. Online booking is possible through their website, http://www.junglelodges.com/. The booking costs include room, meals and safari costs. The reservations and bookings were completed within moments of giving them a call! As professional as could be!!!
Bandipur is located 260 kms from Bengaluru airport, Karnataka and about 140 kms from Kozhikode airport, Kerala. I booked my flight to Kozhikode and also the road transport from Kozhikode to Bandipur. I figured that it would be better to book the road transportation locally, for travel from one sanctuary to the other.
Day 1 – 9th Oct 2013
The trip started on 9th afternoon. My flight from Mumbai landed in Kozhikode around 13.30 hrs. My road journey from Kozhikode airport to Bandipur started around 14.30 hours. Based on online estimates, I had hoped to reach Bandipur in 3 hours. However, it was not to be. Halfway through the journey, I realized that the actual travel time would be a lot more than 3 hours. One of the main reasons being the hilly terrain, including numerous hair-pin curves, which considerably slowed down our progress.
The route over the hills was very scenic. The valleys and the cloud-capped hill peaks were very picturesque. The greenery, all along the way, made for an eye-pleasing sight. The highway also passed through the Bandipur forests. In order to protect the forest wildlife at night, entry of vehicles through the forest check point is banned from 9 pm upto 6 am the next morning. Travellers need to keep this in mind when planning their travel.
After 5 hours of travel, we finally
reached the JLR Bandipur lodge at 19.30 hours. It was a huge relief after
spending 5 tiring hours on the road. Incidentally, As expected, I had missed my evening
safari. An earlier flight, if available, would have been a lot better. I made a
mental note to plan my future trips better, especially when planning for road
travel in India. When it comes to road travel in India, there is a lot of variance
between the actual travel time versus the time estimates found online. The road
conditions, traffic density and the terrain have a major impact on the time
taken to complete one’s road journey.
|Picturesque and Beautiful|
|Scenic as far as the eyes can see|
I had a delicious dinner and then retired for the night dreaming of a wonderful 2 days to come.
Day 2 – 10th Oct 2013
I was up early and ready by 6.15 am for our morning safari. JLR Bandipur is located some kilometers away from the Forest department booking office.
As we made our way to the park gates, one
of the passengers in the jeep exclaimed ‘Leopard! Sir, Leopard!’. As I quickly looked
to the left, I saw a leopard staring at the jeep. But the driver was slow to
react and kept on driving. By the time he braked and reversed the vehicle to
the exact spot, the beautiful animal was no longer there. We strained our eyes
to catch a glimpse of the leopard, but it was in vain. It had vanished into the
foliage. Reluctantly, we continued towards the booking office.
|The Carrier - Open Gypsy|
Sighting the leopard was a thrilling experience, even if for a fleeting second. It was a positive start to the safari. It would have been a great photographic opportunity if the driver had been alert to the occasion.
The remaining tourists got onto the jeep from the booking office and we entered the park gates. Bandipur has a lot of zones and the vehicles are free to roam across the different zones.
As soon as we entered the zone, we saw a herd of spotted deer at a waterhole. Oddly, the deer did not react to the presence of the gypsy at all. They just sat on the ground and carried on doing whatever they were upto. This behaviour was unlike what I had observed in Ranthambore, where the deer were wary and hurried away from the vehicles in an effort to maintain a safe distance.
Possibly, this may have something
to do with the National highway passing through the Bandipur National Park. The
deer may have gotten used to the vehicular traffic passing through the park all
day long. Therefore, the presence of a safari gypsy did not alarm them any more.
|Pretty and spotted - Spotted Deer|
Next up, we spotted a Giant Malabar Squirrel on a tree-top. The colourful, furry and large squirrel scurried away within no time.
The forest in Bandipur was dense
and green. Even though the forest was very beautiful, there was every chance
that the wildlife sightings would be minimal because of the dense vegetation. The
dense vegetation offered the animals every opportunity to stay out of sight.
|Big, Furry and Fast - Malabar Giant Squirrel|
|How Green is my forest - Bandipur|
|Beautiful and Green - Bandipur|
We spent the next half an hour moving from one zone to the other without spotting any wildlife. Finally we saw a tusker from a distance. The tusker saw the gypsy and moved into the vegetation. From it’s ‘safe zone’ it eyed the gypsy warily. The right tusk was half the size of the left tusk and appeared to be broken or underdeveloped. We stayed with the tusker till it was time to exit the park gates.
It had been a mixed morning. The
leopard and wild elephant sightings were the highlights. However the low number
of wildlife sightings left me unsatisfied and craving for more.
|The Lone Tusker|
|The Broken Tusk|
After returning to the JLR lodge, I turned my attention to the butterflies and flowers in the premises. Photographing the butterflies and flowers kept me engaged for the rest of the morning.
Soon it was time for lunch and later followed by the afternoon safari.
|Tigers of a different kind - Blue Tiger Butterfly|
|Crimson Rose Butterfly|
Soon it was time for lunch and later followed by the afternoon safari.
We set off for the park gates at around 3.30 pm. The next half an hour was spent photographing the monkeys near the booking office as we waited for the remaining tourists. We finally entered the park around 4 pm.
Fifteen minutes into the safari,
we spotted a monitor lizard. It was my first ever sighting of a monitor lizard.
The large lizard was as still as a statue, as it waited at the entrance of a
hole in the ground. It’s strong and menacing appearance sent a chill down my
spine. After spending some moments photographing the lizard, we moved on.
Our current zone did not have any
other wildlife activity. We exited the zone and entered the adjoining zone. As
soon as we entered the zone, the driver-cum-guide exclaimed ‘Elephant!!!’. His
excitement was understandable, as some distance ahead was a herd of about 10-15
elephants. Leading the herd was a large matriarch and a huge tusker!
|Welcome to Bandipur - Reception Centre|
|The Monitor - Monitor Lizard|
|A family that eats together stays together - Wild Elephant|
|The Majestic Tusks - Tusker Elephant|
|Proud and Mighty - Tusker Elephant|
- When there is a small calf in the group and the elephants feel threatened, esp. about the safety of the young one
- Lone tuskers, in order to assert their territorial dominance will charge
The rest of the times, it ‘may’ only be a mock charge to scare away the intruders. If one were to run away during a mock charge, then it may turn into an actual charge!
Moral of the story – If you run, you may be in trouble. If you don’t, you may be in trouble. All in all, it sounded like a lose-lose situation to me!!!
The matriarch shook it’s head and extended it’s ears in an attempt to shoo us away. After a short while it gave up and re-joined the herd. We spent the next half-an-hour watching and photographing the majestic animals. It was both, an exhilarating and intimidating experience, at the same time.
|At close quarters - The Matriarch|
|Keeping a close eye on the trespassers - The Matriarch|
|The body builder - Indian Gaur (male)|
|The female body builder - Indian Gaur (female)|
|Water world - Tusker Elephant|
|Classic Pose - Tusker Elephant|
|Yet another Tusker! - Tusker Elephant|
|Check out my moves - Tusker Elephant|
|Sunset over Bandipur|
As I retired for the night, my thoughts were focused on the final safari the next day. Will I be lucky enough to spot a Tiger in Bandipur?
Day 3 – 11th Oct 2013
The day started early and we reached the booking office at 6.30 am. The premises around the booking office looked very beautiful in the morning light and inspired me to take a few photographs. We entered the park at 6.45 am. The first sighting was of a peacock as it crossed the forest path and then perched itself on a tree. This was my first bird sighting in Bandipur!
|The Morning light|
|Just grazing - Spotted Deer|
|On the right path - Peacock|
|On the right perch - Peacock|
|Giving hope to the hopeful - Tiger pugmarks|
Next up we saw a quartet of elephants from a distance, walking on the forest path. There were a couple of young elephants in the group. On hearing the approaching gypsy, the elephants hurried into the forest. Further up, we saw 2 more elephants. They were busy eating and did not hurry away. They moved on only after they had their fill.
|Now you see them, Now you don't - Wild Elephant|
|It's always time to munch - Wild Elephants|
|Straddling man-made boundaries - Karnataka-TN border|
|Mowing the lawns - Indian Gaur|
|The wrong end - Wild Elephant|
|Gliding - Spot-billed Ducks|
It was a wildlife trip that left me with mixed feelings. The Wild elephant sightings were memorable and thrilling experiences, that would stay with me for a very long time. It was heartening to see the elephants thrive in these forests. The presence of so many tuskers was an encouraging sight as well.
The things that bothered me the most was,
- The National highway passing through the Bandipur forest. The highway esp. the speeding vehicles, posed a risk to the wildlife
- The low number of wildlife sightings other than the elephants, especially the birds. I’m not sure whether it was the wrong season or if it was my bad luck, for not being being able to spot more than 3 bird species in 3 safaris
But keeping minor disappointments aside, the wild elephants had made the trip a most enjoyable and memorable one!
It was time to head to Kabini and see what lay in store for me!