The canter comes to a sudden halt as we see a herd of elephants. A happy family consisting of a baby elephant with two adults is walking across to the other side. The paparazzi in the vehicle go crazy clicking pictures of this “not so little” family. Suddenly, one of the adults turns back and stares at our vehicle, trumpeting loudly. It starts making its way towards us. And that is the exciting beginning of my holiday at the Bandipur National Park in Karnataka.
An exhilarating start
The lord of the jungle seems perturbed, giving us all signs to stay away. The driver, familiar with these sights and sounds, asks us to settle down and be silent. He switches off the engine, and everything comes to a standstill. We are at the mercy of the mighty elephant and in a sudden epiphany, I feel puny in front of nature.
After what seemed like an eternity, the elephant decides to join its family, making its way through the thick foliage of the jungle. We all heave a sigh of relief, at the same time craving for more such excitement ahead.
An unforgettable safari
Meandering through the vast jungles of the Bandipur National Park, which was the erstwhile private hunting grounds of the Maharajas of Mysore, our group is excited, nervous, and almost impatient to get a glimpse of the elusive and mystical king of the Indian jungles! Our guide informs us there was a sighting just last evening, which only fuels our expectations.
Nestled at the foothills of the Nilgiris, Bandipur National Park is one of the thirty reserves in India established to preserve the tiger and its habitat. The forest abounds with wildlife, and leopards, deer, gaurs, bears, bisons, and monkeys are commonly sighted here. Besides these, 200 species of birds are also found in this region. For a wildlife enthusiast and an avid bird watcher, Bandipur is indeed manna from heaven.
As we move ahead with our safari, we cross many ponds and water beds, where small flocks of birds sit daintily sipping water. A herd of spotted deer is chewing on the grass, unhurried by time. However, we realise that one of the members of the herd is always on guard, looking out for any prospective danger. A little ahead, we see the regal sambar deer. With its huge horns, it peers through the bush, looking quizzically at us while a family of langurs looks down from a tree at the sambhar. Shutterbugs go crazy, capturing this unique sight. As for me, I am soaking in the beautiful scenery, feeling one with nature.
Driving further, we see another herd of elephants taking a dip in the water. It is an endearing sight to see the baby elephant dunking itself in the pond, filling its trunk with water, and splashing it over its sibling while the adults look on, watching their little ones have fun. It reminds me of one of the scenes from The Jungle Book.
Tryst with the elusive tiger
Just as we are settled in our happy space, relishing the moment, we hear the alarm call of the monkeys. Expecting to see the majestic tiger, we sit still with our cameras all set to capture the moment we had been waiting for. I can feel the hair on the back of my neck stand and goosebumps on my hand; all in anticipation of seeing the striped beauty.
A short breath later, we hear the leaves rumble and a tawny head appears from the bushes. It turns to look at us. With a big, square head and the last gleam of sunlight twinkling off its long whiskers, the tiger stands still, right in the middle of the crossing. His bold, brooding, hazelnut eyes, looking piercingly through us! There is no hint of panic or fear in them, only calm appraisal. He walks majestically past our vehicle, and his sinuous striped body gleams. I can see the eyes looking at us as he paused, almost as if he was sizing us up. But before we know it, he has vanished into the bushes.
The camera lies limp at my side as I am filled with awe and wonder at this unforgettable sight. My heart is thumping loudly in my chest, my throat is dry, and the adrenaline is flowing throughout my body. To see the king of the jungle up close and real is a memory I shall never forget.
So if you love the wild and want to see it in its glory, Bandipur’s unapologetically wild terrain is one of the best places in India. It will surely leave you mesmerised!
Things to keep in mind while planning your trip
- Best time to visit: Between March and May.
- Route: The best route to reach Bandipur is from Bengaluru. Take a flight into the Garden City and hire a vehicle. Self drive options are available too. It is a 4-hour drive via NH 275 on the newly-made Bengaluru-Mysuru Expressway. Along the way, you can stop at Kadamba Veg restaurant or Vaishali restaurant, short of Mandya, for a sumptuous South Indian meal.
- Lodging options: Bandipur has many good places to camp. The Serai Bandipur is an excellent choice if budget is not a constraint. The Windflower Jungle Resort & Spa is a beautiful resort with a rustic appeal. Bandipur Safari Lodge is an ecological haven spread over a huge area. Prices at these places range between INR 10,000 to 24,000 a night with all meals included.
- Safari booking: It is always better to pre-book a safari at the Bandipur National Park as they get sold out much in advance. You can book it here. If you are unable to book online, there is a special safari ticket counter at the park’s entrance. Prices differ as per the type of vehicle and separate charges are levied for cameras.
- Safari timings: There are two safaris everyday. In the morning from 6 am to 8 am and in the evening from 3 pm to 5 pm. The timings are subject to change.
- Things to do: Bandipur has a lot of things to do while you are not on a safari. Home to a wide variety of birds, nature walks are organised for birding enthusiasts. You can spot around 200 species of birds in this wildlife haven. Some of the resorts have tribal village walks too, where you can experience the life of a local, visiting their homes and tasting the local cuisine. Bandipur has a state-run souvenir shop where you can buy memorabilia like t-shirts, fridge magnets, local spices, and more.