Travel: Walk Into The Wild At The Bandipur National Park in Karnataka This Long Weekend

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The Lobby at The Serai, Bandipur
Elephant Safari
Elephant Safari

Aane, aane!” the group of young boys kept shouting out enthusiastically while wildly gesticulating for my Innova to stop. A bit puzzled, I brought my gas guzzling beast to a halt only to come within arm’s length of another beast of the pachyderm variety. With his swaying trunk searching for the tenderest of sugarcane shoots and his beady eyes glaring at me menacingly, I decided it was best that I backed off reverentially. And I did just that as I drove off into the setting sun.

Yes, that was my first encounter with a wild elephant (or ‘aane’ as it is called in Kannada) whom I was told had gone rogue. And I hadn’t even reached my destination yet! I was a good half hour away from the Bandipur National Park which was where I was to spend a solitary weekend in quiet contemplation in the midst of some “amazing wildlife” as my friends from Bangalore had assured me of seeing. If the way things were going, with the wildlife literally coming out to greet me en route, imagine the bounty I would partake in once I got there, I chuckled to myself.

Located in the Chamrajnagar District of Karnataka and wedged between the Western Ghats and the Nilgiri Mountains, the 880 sq km Bandipur National Park also forms a part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve which includes the Nagarhole National Park, the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary and the Mukurthi National Park.

The Serai, Bandipur
The Serai, Bandipur

I was booked into The Serai, Bandipur which is a brand new resort that rolls over 19 acres of lush gardens with great accommodation options in the form of is Mountain View Courtyard Rooms and cozy Log Huts that offer up great views of the imposing blue-tinted Nilgiris. After a quick check-in, shower and early dinner of delectable Kannadiga specialities like Bisibele Bhath, Sambar, Kori Roti and luscious Pineapple Payasam at the resort’s Sanctuary restaurant, I settled down for the resort’s daily screening of ‘The Wildlife of Bandipur’ documentary film–a precursor of what I would be seeing the next day on my early morning wildlife safari.

The superbly made film talked about the rich biodiversity of the Bandipur National Park with its animals like elephants, gaur, sambar, chital and its indigenous species of wild dogs called doles. It also gave me glimpses of the amazing birds that called this paradise home like the grey jungle fowl, the honey buzzard and the black-naped monarch among others. But what remained with me was the fact that despite four rivers (Moyar, Kabini, Moolehole and Nugu) coursing their way through the park, the area often suffers from severe drought often to the detriment of the wildlife.

Sunrise at the Bandipur National Park
Sunrise at the Bandipur National Park

My 5.30am wakeup call had me scurrying out of my room in a record-breaking 15 minutes as I headed out into the dark and towards the park’s main gates in the resort’s jeep as only registered vehicles are permitted into the park. Once at the gates, I swapped my ride for an open sided minivan that was helmed by Muthu the guide for the day. And as soon as the salmon pink sun greeted us enthusiastically by spreading its warmth on that chilly January morning, Muthu steered the vehicle into the bowels of the park.

One of the first sights that greeted my eyes was that of a herd of Indian antelope gracefully crossing our path with the leader of the pack looking majestic with his antlers glistening in the rays of the early morning sun. A group of raucous long tailed langurs with their incessant chattering brought me out of my reverie as they darted from a flame of the forest tree to a black myrobalan tree with the dexterity and grace of a gymnast. While the French couple in my van were most impressed with seeing their national bird, the rather plain and boring rooster, it was my time to whoop with joy on seeing our very own national bird the majestic peacock a little while later as we coursed our way thought the thick foliage over the rough terracotta-hued mud path of the jungle.

A herd of elephants in Bandipur National Park
A herd of elephants in Bandipur National Park

And once again my ears picked up that two syllable word ‘aane’ that I heard this time over Muthus’s radio transmitter. His colleague had apparently spotted a herd on the banks of the watering hole that was close to where we were. So off we went in hot pursuit of the wild bunch. Once at the spot, we parked a good 200 meters away and took in the spectacle that was unfolding before us. The herd consisted of at least dozen elephants in various sizes from the gargantuan tusker who was so obviously the leader to the tiny baby elephant gently nuzzling its mother with its trunk. Not wanting to intrude on their space, once we were done with our enthusiastic shooting (relax… with movie and still cameras only!) we drove off with a cloud of swirling mud surrounding us.

Our next sighting was something I was waiting to see ever since I had heard of them. Being an avid dog lover, even the wild kind like the dholes or the Indian wild dog fascinates me no end. These dogs that have a reddish-brown coat and bushy tails are said to be related to jackals and their bark is a low whistling sound sans any howls or growling. Although I wanted to get out of the vehicle and get up close with them, better sense (along with Muthu’s horrified shrieks) prevailed and I decided to end my safari weekend with all my digits and appendages intact as we made our way back to the gates and to the resort beyond.

Accommodation at the Bandipur National Park
Accommodation at the Bandipur National Park

Those serene three hours in the jungle that day seemed to me like three long days. But that’s just the effect Bandipur will have on you. It will take you on a journey that has surprises waiting at every twist and turn, for it is a place where reality and illusion co-exist in amazing harmony. So this long weekend, pack your bags and set off away from the city, into the wild!

Getting There:
Bandipur can be reached either from Bangalore (246km or five hours by road) or from Mysore (100km or two hours by road). Both Bangalore and Mysore are connected to Mumbai by air, road and rail.

When to Visit:
The best time to visit Bandipur is between October and June, which is also the perfect wildlife and bird exploration season.

Accommodation:
Bandipur has a range of accommodation options to suit every budget and style.
• To truly get a feel of living in the midst of the wilderness, The Serai, Bandipur that is nestled in the fecund valley of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve is a luxurious resort offering a host of services and activities, including nature trails, bird watching, cycle trails, star gazing and of course wildlife safaris. The charges are Rs 15,000 for two in a Mountain View Courtyard Room inclusive of all three meals. Contact: www.theserai.in, or call on +91 9449812166, 82 29 236075
• MC Resorts charge Rs 5,500 for two without meals. Contact: www.mcresort.in, or call on +91 82 29 233044
• Tiger Ranch charges Rs 2,400 for two without meals. Contact: www.tigerranch.net, or call on +91 9880600800, 9480380245
• Vana Vihar charges Rs 800 per person without meals. Contact: www.vanavihar.com, or call on +91 8088136300, 9242133907, 9986013718

Pics courtesy The Serai, Bandipur and Raul Dias

Post By Raul Dias (102 Posts)

Lists travel, food and luxury as the tantalizing trifecta that defines him. When he’s not travelling, eating or getting pampered at a spa, you'll find him assaulting his notebook's keyboard with a feral vengeance, churning out what he hopes are intelligent, informative and entertaining stories.

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Raul Dias

Raul Dias
Lists travel, food and luxury as the tantalizing trifecta that defines him. When he’s not travelling, eating or getting pampered at a spa, you'll find him assaulting his notebook's keyboard with a feral vengeance, churning out what he hopes are intelligent, informative and entertaining stories.