Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Rendezvous with the Wild

It was on April 5, 2008, a Saturday, at 4.15 pm that Viswa and I alighted from our bike, Royal Enfield Thunderbird at Bandipur national park and tiger reserve preparing ourselves for a rendezvous with the wild. We left home the same day at 8 am and took the four lane highway SH 17 to Mysore, 139 km away from Bangalore. The initial spate of traffic jam at Mysore road flyover and Kengeri took toll of our time and we reached Kadumane, a highway restaurant , 2 km before Wonder La (a famous amusement park on Bangalore – Mysore road at Bidadi) to grab our breakfast.Yummy idli vada with sambar and hot tea refreshed us after combating copious traffic on the highway. About 27 km from here is another highway eat out – Kamat Lokaruchi – an exceptionally good place that serves South Indian vegetarian food with impeccable taste.

Bangalore – Mysore highway is my personal favourite as this super smooth four lane highway unfolds vivaciously with perfect combination of countryside beauty and small shops/refreshment centres at regular spans . You really don’t need to stock up water bottles on travel or plan much for a trip on this highway. Almost everyone was on the highway that day, in an attempt to elude the mundane city life after being gifted a Monday off from work on account of Ugadhi.

We proceeded to our destination Mysore, via Ramanagaram (silk city) , Channapatna (known for wooden and lacquer toys) , Maddur (maddur Vada :)) , Mandya (sugar city) and Srirangapatna (the famous historical town , home of Tipu Sultan , the great warrior) taking good number of breaks.

We reached Mysore at 12.45 pm, found ourselves a room in Hotel Rajdhani near the KSRTC bus stand in the city, the area which houses some very decent , budget hotels and at 2pm, after a simple meal, left to Bandipur, 79 km from Mysore on the road to Ooty via Nanjangud and Gundlupet, the two prominent milestones on the highway.

The highway in the skirts of Nanjangud has vast expanses of paddy fields, well irrigated and caressed by the waters of River Kabini, a beautiful, wide river that bifurcates the Nagarhole tiger reserve and Bandipur national park, followed its course with us as we rode on. On this simple highway, we cruised with the beauty of rustic country side flanking us interspersed by only a few roadside shops at Nanjangud town, Begur and Gundlupet. We had learnt from our conversations with the DCF, Bandipur and some forest department officials that the evening safari lasts from 4pm to 6pm and we were determined to reach Bandipur in good time.

The initial stretch of 10 km from Gundlupet to Bandipur did not offer a great ride, a good number of potholes caught us unaware. Just as we felt grateful for a neat patch of road for some time, we would go “Thud” on a pothole even after meticuluosuly avoiding a dozen of them that came before.

But hard work always pays and the last leg of the journey (about 7 of the entire 17 km stretch from Gundlupet to Bandipur) after the national park entrance/hand post bundled a well laid-out ghat road with lot of excitement. We saw sign boards cautioning one not to stop and not to honk as animals might frequent this section. We were trespassing into the territory of the wild and an eerie sense enveloped me. At 4.10 pm, we were at the Bandipur National park’s reception centre to obtain our entrance and safari tickets.Useful information on government guest houses inside the jungle, their tarrifs, facilities/activities at the national park with relevant contact numbers can be obtained from

Here we were in the Bandipur tiger reserve, a part of the greater Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve of which Nagarhole in Karnataka, Muthanga in Wayanad, Kerala and Mudumalai of Tamil Nadu are also parts. Bandipur tiger reserve, in Mysore district of Karnataka was one of the first nine tiger reserves created in India at the launch of Project Tiger in 1973.

It bears quite a tellable history of a royal hunting ground transformed into a national park marked with some offences like elephant poaching, sandalwood and timber smuggling even after its transformation and frequent episodes of wild forest fire. This 880 area , covered primarily by dry deciduous scrub/forests with patches of mixed/moist deciduous vegetation, with three rivers Nugu, Kabini and Moyar running through its span is a haven to tiger, leopard, elephants, gaur, sambar, spotted deer, antelopes and bison. It has two highways cutting through it – one leading to Ooty and another through Sultanbathery to Wayanad and multiple jungle trails frequented by tourists who take the jungle safari.

The jungle safari organized by the Forest department lasts for a 45-minute duration in a mini bus and one and half hour duration in a jeep. We resorted to the option of jungle safari in mini bus as jeep safari was overbooked.

As the mini bus traveled into the wilderness, we spotted sambar deer, spotted deer, langur, kingfisher, wood pecker, jungle fowl and peacock. For the innumerable trips made on jungle safari trails with a pack of noisy tourists, we were sure we will not spot a tiger.

Some elders exclaimed on sighting a monkey, some complained that they did’nt spot a tiger or a leopard, some even sulked , most were busy shooting through the lens. Kids cried and whined, kept quiet on ripping open a bag of chips, devouring them and completing the final act of littering a plastic free zone. The mini van had all kinds of people inside it – a true mixed bag.

If you require freedom of movement and space for a 360’ view, opt for a jeep safari. It will be a sure treat for photographic skills craving to capture wilderness unlimited through the third eye. But the path treaded by a mini bus and a jeep are not very different , therefore the animals one would spot in both these options essentially remain the same.

Fortunately, our safari into the wild lasted for an hour , a very patient driver who stopped by at important places, gave us enough time to soak up the beauty of the wild jungle adorned by thicks of dry bamboo; wild, tall grass with green caps due to recent showers, muddy and shallow pools of water, orange red skyline at sunset trying to merge with the hilly fringes.

As the journey came to a close, we were treated with an awesome sight - a herd of spotted deer – about 20 to 25 of them, had gathered for an evening graze. Some distance away we could also see two baby elephants and another similar herd of spotted deer. Truly, a splendid evening !!

Filled to heart’s content, we got back to the bike to return to Mysore, making a promise to come back, stay in a cottage in the thicks of the jungle, trek into the wild and soak up more from this wild paradise.