Sunday, March 29, 2015

Bandipur - Land of Elephants

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Day 0

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, 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.

My final itinerary looked as follows.

 The Final Itinerary - Jam-packed and hectic 

With hotels, air-tickets and safaris booked, I was all set for my first wildlife trip to Karnataka. I eagerly looked forward to an enriching and fulfilling experience!!!

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.

 Picturesque and Beautiful 

 Scenic as far as the eyes can see 
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.

I had a delicious dinner and then retired for the night dreaming of a wonderful 2 days to come.

Day 2 – 10th Oct 2013

Morning Safari

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. 

 The Carrier - Open Gypsy 
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.

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.

 Pretty and spotted - Spotted Deer 
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.

Next up, we spotted a Giant Malabar Squirrel on a tree-top. The colourful, furry and large squirrel scurried away within no time.

 Big, Furry and Fast - Malabar Giant Squirrel 
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.

 How Green is my forest - Bandipur 

 Beautiful and Green - Bandipur 
Then, as if to allay my fears, a couple of wild elephants came into view. It was an adult and a young one, most probably mother and calf. On hearing the gypsy approaching, the pair disappeared into the thick vegetation.

 Wild Elephants - Bandipur 

 Here One Minute, Gone the Next - Wild Elephants 
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.

 The Lone Tusker 

 The Broken Tusk 
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.

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. 

  Tigers of a different kind - Blue Tiger Butterfly  

 Crimson Rose Butterfly 

Soon it was time for lunch and later followed by the afternoon safari.

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.

 Welcome to Bandipur - Reception Centre 

 Indian Macaque 
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.

 The Monitor - Monitor Lizard 

 Monitor Lizard 
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!

 A family that eats together stays together - Wild Elephant 

 The Majestic Tusks - Tusker Elephant 
The elephants did not disappear immediately into the vegetation unlike the elephants I had observed in the morning. They apparently felt safe enough, in a large group and stood their ground. They went about their task of eating grass and having dust baths. After some time, the matriarch approached the jeep cautiously and eyed us from up close. I was almost in panic mode with the matriarch so close to the gypsy. I urged the driver to move back and keep some distance between the elephants and the gypsy. However he reassured me by saying that elephants in a group will not charge. I fervently hoped that he was right.

 Proud and Mighty - Tusker Elephant 

 Wild Elephants 
My understanding of elephant behaviour grew by leaps and bounds in those few moments. It is ‘generally accepted’ that an elephant will actually charge in the following circumstances,
-       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 
After the elephants moved away, we continued our safari. There was no activity for the next 30 minutes, till we came across a male and female Indian Gaur couple. The Gaurs appeared bulky and incredibly strong. The Gaurs were surely second only to the Elephants, in these forests, when it comes to bulk and strength. They commanded respect with their appearance and we sensibly maintained a respectable distance. The pair crossed the path and then wandered into the forest.

 The body builder - Indian Gaur (male) 

 The female body builder - Indian Gaur (female) 
After a further 20 minutes, we came across a water body surrounded by tall trees and Bamboo plants. And in the waterbody was a tusker busy eating and drinking. The lone tusker struck several poses in the water and later waded to the bank. On the bank it posed some more before it finally made it’s way into the tall vegetation. We spent a fruitful 15 minutes with the tusker.

 Water world - Tusker Elephant 

 Classic Pose - Tusker Elephant 
Soon, it was time to exit the park. As we made our way back, there was a lone tusker waiting right next to the path. At first, the tusker hurried into the vegetation. But within a moment, it returned and stood watching the gypsy. The tusker shook it’s head and extended it’s ears in a show of intimidation. Then it settled down and using it’s trunk, gave itself a good dust bath. Since we did not have enough time, we left the tusker alone and returned back to the park gates.

 Yet another Tusker! - Tusker Elephant 

 Check out my moves - Tusker Elephant 
Our final view was of the sun setting behind the Bandipur forests. It was a beautiful end to the day.

 Sunset over Bandipur 

 Beautiful sunset 
Undoubtedly, it had been the day of the Wild Elephants. From a safe distance, they were noble and majestic giants. If disturbed or threatened, they could become unpredictable and intimidating. The best way to enjoy the company of these magnificent animals was to respect their space and keep a safe distance.

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

Morning Safari

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 
We moved on and came across some pugmarks in the dust. Was a tiger sighting in the offing?

 Giving hope to the hopeful - Tiger pugmarks 
However it was not meant to be. The pugmarks were old and a tiger-sighting in Bandipur was not in my destiny. The driver informed me that the tiger-sightings had reduced drastically after the death of a female tigress fondly called ‘Gowri’. Gowri had been the queen and darling of Bandipur. Gowri had given birth to and raised a lot of cubs in Bandipur. Gowri’s death in early 2013 under mysterious circumstances was a big blow to Bandipur. According to the driver, Gowri had probably died of starvation. A sad end indeed for a much loved and respected tigress.

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 
The next 45 minutes was spent wandering around the park without any luck. The driver took us to a particular spot in the zone from where we could see the bordering Mudumalai forests in Tamil Nadu. The Karnataka-TN border lay somewhere within these forest lands. The dense forest was a heartening sight, a sanctuary indeed for the wildlife.

 Straddling man-made boundaries - Karnataka-TN border 
After a further half-an-hour, we saw a White-bellied woodpecker busy pecking away on the tree trunk. This was my first ever sighting of a White-bellied woodpecker. And it was only my second bird-sighting in Bandipur!!! 

 White-bellied Woodpecker 
Next, we came across a herd of Spotted deer in the company of a group of Indian Gaur. The herd appeared relaxed and munching on the abundant grass.

 Mowing the lawns - Indian Gaur 
A short distance ahead we saw an elephant facing away from us. I waited a while for the elephant to turn around and face us. However it did not oblige. That left me with no choice but to photograph it’s backside. Fortunately, the elephant did not notice and I managed to get away with the indecent shot!  

 The wrong end - Wild Elephant 
After some more wandering, we came across a water body. There was a family of spot-billed ducks in the water. The ducks made for a beautiful sight as they glided over the water. It was a pity that they did not come closer. I had to be content with distant shots.

 Gliding - Spot-billed Ducks 
Finally, it was time to head back to the park gates. We saw some peahens along the way before we finally exited the gates.


 The Last Exit - Bandipur NP  

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!


 How close is too close?
Sighting elephants in the wild is an incredible experience. These animals have the capacity to inspire awe and wonder in the hearts and minds, of all those who set their eyes on these giants. Noble and majestic are the adjectives that spring to my mind every time I see these giants.

In spite of their size and strength, Wild Elephants are shy and reserved by nature. They normally shy away from human contact most of the time. They are gentle, caring and protective about their families, especially their young ones.

However, when threatened, they can be intimidating and aggressive. They can go to any lengths to protect their young ones and their territory. It is our duty to understand and respect their boundaries.

At times, guides can behave in a very reckless manner. In their enthusiasm to impress the tourists, they can get too close to these animals. Getting too close to elephants can cause them to panic. This poses a grave danger to both, the animals and the tourists. In case of an actual conflict, your guess is as good as mine, as to who would come out worse.

As responsible tourists, we need to put our foot down and say no to any irresponsible behaviour. Wildlife tourism and wildlife photography should not be at the cost of harassing the animals. ‘Safe, sensible and responsible tourism’ should be the motto of every nature/animal lover.


  1. Beautiful post Tobin. It felt like taking a trip myself.
    "a longer telezoom lens the past month, Sigma 50-500mm OS." Note to self- Google it and learn what it is :)
    Thanks for the the map, helps understand the location better.
    Any idea why are there Double names for the sanctuaries? Must get confusing for a newbie.
    The giant malabar squirrel looks like a ball of brown. :)
    You got really good shots of elephants mud-bathing. very pretty sight. :) And yes, respect their space and keep distance - could not have agreed more. :)
    very few bird sighting inspite of so much greenery. Was it because you were in a gypsy and the noise would scare the birds away?
    Keep penning. It a joy reading your posts.

  2. Thanks for reading and posting such a detailed feedback Amita.

    Most places are well-known by their location name. In addition there might be an official name, resulting in double names.

    The low bird sightings may have been due to the season. The Malabar giant squirrel is a cream and brown furball. The elephants were the highlights of the trip.

    Thanks again. Keep visiting.

  3. Bandipur safari bookings on-line are only Govt run Bus safaris. How to book in advance jeep fsafaris?

    1. When you book rooms at Jungles & Lodges Resort (JLR), jeep safaris are included in the package. In case you've booked rooms elsewhere, maybe the resort/hotel may be able to help with the jeep safari bookings.


Hope you enjoyed reading about the joy, thrills and experience of a wildlife safari through this blog and also liked the photos of wildlife.

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