I got into the Safari jeep, a Mahindra Bolero 4 wheel drive modified for the safari. The vehicle had 4 rows of seating with the first row for the driver and the naturalist. Each row of seats after that were higher from the previous ones, so that people seated in the back rows had a nice view too. The car was designed with cushions in the right place so that you don’t hit the iron bar when you go through the rough tracks inside the forest.
I took the last seat in the car and the car started from Bandipur Safari Lodge. The lodge is run by the Jungle Lodges and Resorts. It is a government undertaking and almost always has exotic locations.
The safari jeep left the lodge and it entered the public roads to get into the Bandipur National Park. Once the jeep reached the old safari office, the jeep took a turn into the untarred restricted roads into the forest. These roads are restricted for private vehicles. So we were not able to see other traffic other than the safari jeeps. As it was a weekday, it was only us on these jungle roads.
The forest was almost dried up. It was not as green as one would expect, but was grey, the color of dry leaves. Most of the trees had shed their leaves and looked like skeletons. Most of the trees had only empty branches. I was able to easily spot the crocodile bark tree and the naturalist also showed us the teak trees in the forest.
From my previous experience, I was expecting to spot spotted deers, peacocks and Gaurs. But I was disappointed. At least for the first 15 minutes, we didn’t spot any deers. After that we spotted a small group of spotted deers. Spotted deers in Bandipur is a very common sight. One doesn’t need to take a safari to spot them. Just driving within the Bandipur National Park on the public roads, one can see a lot of spotted deers and peacocks and if you are lucky, even elephants.
Our naturalist explained how only the male deers had antlers and the female didn’t. The deers apparently shed their antlers every year and they grow back again. In summer, these animals generally rest when the sun is up and get active during the dusk. This is so apparent near the public roads. When the sun is about to set, one can see a lot of deers near the roads.
After the deers, we spotted peacocks and peahens. The safari jeep visited all the water holes inside the park hoping to find animals. The jeep also visited places of recent sightings to increase the probability of sighting the big cats. The forest was mysterious at some places, as some trees were full green out of nowhere.
While on our drive we were able to spot two mongooses. They were crossing the track and entered the shrubs. We were also able to spot Crested serpent eagles, Jungle fowls, Dove, Hoopes, King fishers and The Indian roller, Karnataka’s state bird. We watched them closely with the binoculars.
Next in the line were the wild dogs or the Dhole. These dogs looked so close to their domestic counterparts. But as our naturalist pointed out, they were dangerous animals and hunted as groups . They communicated through whistling and didn’t bark.
We also spotted a group of Langurs. The langurs are a species of monkeys with a black face and a largely grey body. They look scarier than an agitated monkey. We spotted a group of langurs on a tree and stopped our car underneath the tree. When everything was quiet, they suddenly made a violent sound which felt like a warning to us, and we decided to move from the place. Apparently they didn’t like us there.
With almost three hours of continuous drive in untarred off roads and hot sun, we were very tired. We were anticipating that we are not going to spot any of the cat family. Suddenly we spotted a herd of elephants probably walking to a nearby water hole. The herd consisted of three female adults with two young elephants among which one young elephant had small tusks. It was a cute thing to watch a young tusker.
We waited and watched the elephants. They realised our presence and became protective of their kids. The adults left the kids within and formed a protective circle around them. They also gave warning signs so that we don’t go any closer to them. This was the highlight of the safari on the first day.
On our way out of the forest, we were close to the Tamilnadu side of the forest and were able to see the “Thank you for visiting Karnataka” board indicating the state border. Then the light started fading and it was time to return to the lodge. Watching the sunset through the trees was an amazing experience. The silence in the forest was disturbed by the chirping insects and birds singing their songs. The setting sun had colored the horizon in shades of red and orange. The number of spotted deers and peacocks increased multifold during this time. We also spotted a couple of Sambar deers on our way back.
We ended the safari in the lodge with tea and some snacks and quickly refreshed and were again back in the auditorium to watch Wild Karnataka. Wild Karnataka is a documentary made by Amoghavarsha in collaboration with the Karnataka Wildlife Department. We were able to connect the safari we just had with the documentary and it was amazing.
After dinner, we went to bed early so that we could wake up early for the morning safari. In the morning, we had the same car and the naturalist to enter the forest. Most part of our trip was uneventful. We just spotted the same spotted deers and a couple of birds. This time, we had wandered a lot taking the roads less travelled and finally spotted a couple of elephants far away. They were so far from us that we were only able to see them as small as a dot in the grey mountains. We wouldn’t have identified them if they were not moving.
We were kind of giving up hope. We realized that the roads were leading us back to our safari and we had to call it a day. But out of nowhere, we noticed a couple of Sambar deers on a small hill nearby. We had stopped to watch them. It is then I noticed another animal moving in front of the deers. It looked like a tiger and I shouted “Tiger”. Our naturalist had also noticed it by then and corrected me that it was a leopard. We were watching it intently. It was very far away from us. We were only able to notice it, only when it moved, else it was difficult to identify the cat. The Leopard spots and the grey mountains worked well as camouflage.
The leopard looked like it was climbing the hill with its back towards us. This reminded me of the scene in Halebidu temple where a leopard is seen only with its back out of a cave. For some reason my brain pushed this memory figment forward.
The leopard moved out of sight and then we spotted another cat nearby. We were confused, when the naturalist cleared it for us. It was not one cat but two. This one looked like it was coming towards our direction. The cat was able to cover a lot of distance in a single leap. Initially it looked far away but within seconds it felt like it was too close. Then it suddenly disappeared. We spotted another cat. So it was three leopards in total.
There was some confusion in the jeep. Everyone was excited to see the leopard in the wild. Did I tell you about the jeep? It was open on all sides with no windows. So the excitement had slightly turned into fear when one of the leopard was coming in our direction and then it disappeared. When all the three leopards disappeared from our view, the driver started the car to go a bit further to see if we can get another closer look from a different angle.
Suddenly one leopard crossed our road in a majestic jump. It was just for a fraction of a second, but the level of excitement it gave us was something that one had to experience. No words to explain it. We waited for some more time and then moved ahead, ending our trip happily.
The stay and food in Bandipur Jungle Lodges was average. But what it lacked in the facilities, it made up in the safari and the hours we spent on the safari. We had spent around 6-7 hours on the lookout in about 22 hours we spent in the lodge. That’s a lot of time and we had taken different routes than the ones covered by the safari bus which was available for the public. This made the whole trip a lot worthwhile for all the money spent on the stay.
Unfortunately, I forgot my DSLR at my home and didn’t have good photos to share from this trip. The pics shared are shot on my mobile or from my previous trips to Bandipur.