Bandipur National Park
Located in the border of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, Bandipur National Park is one of the prime destinations to visit if you are a wildlife enthusiast. Bandipur is a very popular wildlife sanctuary which has dense population of a wide variety of animals, birds, flowers, trees, reptiles, and so on. It is definitely one of the well protected forests in the country. Personally, I have lost count on the number of times I have visited Bandipur. At one point, it used to be my weekend home! It gives immense satisfaction to be amidst the nature, and listen to the sounds of several other creations of life.
History of Bandipur National Park
Bandipur National Park used to be the favourite private reserve of the Maharaja of Mysore during the 1930s. The area of the forest then used to be just 90 sq km and yet the wildlife enthusiast in the Maharaja used to attract him often. Maharaja Jaya Chamaraja Wodeyar, who was also the chairman of the Indian Board of Wildlife, had named the forest Venugopala Wildlife Sanctuary. The sanctuary was named after the deity of the temple at Himawad Gopalaswamy Betta, the highest peak in the national park. Over the years, the area of the forest grown (more area was identified as a protected forest), and in 1974, an area of 880 sq km was recognized as Bandipur National Park. Due to the high presence of tigers in this region, this forest came under ‘Project Tiger’, the project that aimed at increasing the population of tigers. Bandipur National Park is separated by the neighbouring Nagarhole National Park by River Kabini, which is a tributary of River Cauvery. The national park also extends to neighbouring states of Kerala (Muthunga Wildlife Sanctuary) and Tamil Nadu (Mudumalai Tiger Reserve). All these wildlife national park together form Niligris Biosphere Reserve, and forms one of the well protected wildlife regions in the country.
The Mysore-Ooty National Highway passes right through the middle of Bandipur National Park. Due to the high speeds of vehicles passing through the park, and some reckless driving, there have been number of incidents where the innocent wild animals came under the wheels of these vehicles. During the day, there are several patrolling vehicles of the forest officials that do the rounds to ensure any such untoward incident does not happen. However, such incidents used to happen during the night time. To prevent such things, the gates of Bandipur National Park remain closed from 9 PM to 6 AM.
Tiger, beating the summer heat
The forest office at Bandipur opens at 6 AM, and is located at around 12 km from the forest check post/gate. Visitors can choose to go for a safari after paying the necessary fee at the office. The bus safari of Bandipur is very popular, and has two trips in the morning, and two in the evenings. Visitors can also opt for Jeep Safari (depending on the availability), and can either be shared by other visitors, or the jeep can be hired for a whole group. You are not allowed to take your private vehicle inside the national park. In fact, even if you are driving on the national highway, you are not allowed to park your car on the road. While you should stop if there are animals crossing the road, but otherwise, you are not even allowed to stop to click photographs! The patrolling vehicles will ensure that you move quickly!
Stay with the wild
The forest office also provides accommodation at the guest houses nearby. These guest houses have basic facilities only, and are quite economical. It is the best choice to stay if you want to experience the wilderness at night. The area near the guest houses and the forest office is frequented by spotted deers and wild boars. One of the guards say that these herbivores feel safe when they are around humans. They feel confident humans will chase any predator away if they make enough noise! The forest area just behind the guest house falls under the tiger “zone”, and is spotted more in this area during the safari. Leopards also pass through the guest houses at night. So if you are adventurous, you can stay awake the whole night and look out for the animal movements! Make sure you don’t venture out too far from the guest house.
Wildlife at Bandipur
Bandipur has wide variety of wildlife. Various varieties of deers (spotted deer, sambar deer, the rare mongoose deer, barking deer), herds of elephants, bisons (Indian Gaurs), sloth bears, wild dogs, wild boars apart from tigers and leopards. If you reach Bandipur early morning (as soon as the gate opens), you can catch a glimpse of most of these while driving on the highway itself.
Bandipur National Park also has diverse bird life. If you are a bird enthusiast, then carry a good pair of binoculars. I am bad in identifying birds and hence cannot get into the details of the various species of birds found here, however, the common ones that you can find are peacock/peahens, eagles, Indian Rollers, sparrows, various varieties of parrots and so on.
Experience the sounds of wildlife
I can recall one of my stays at this guest house when I was amazed by the sounds of the wild at night. We were a group of friends sitting and talking about the wildlife when we suddenly heard a sound. One of my wildlife enthusiast friend suggested that this sound was of a barking deer, and it usually makes this sound if there is any predator nearby. This “alarm call” is for all the other animals in the vicinity to be alert and safe from the predator! When he was explaining the same, we could hear another alarm call and this time more intense! This alarm call was soon followed by another sound, which according to my friend, was of a monkey/langoor. Langoors do this “alarm call”, again to warn the animals nearby that a predator is coming. After about 5-6 such calls, things went silent.
We were asked by the caretaker to get back to the room, and strictly not venture out at night. However, our curiosity made us sit next to the window and peep outside. We could observe that, as night progressed, more and more deers started coming around the guest house. About two hours later, we could hear the alarm call of a barking deer again. This time it was accompanied by the alarm calls of spotted deers too. Slowly, we could listen the alarm calls of langoors, deers, and even peacock cries! As minutes progressed, the calls were getting intense. We could feel the desperate attempt by the animals to save themselves, and others from the predator. We badly wanted to get out of the room, but were reminded of the caretakers words to remain in the room and be safe! The desperate alarm calls could be heard for almost half an hour, each time the sound of a new animal could be heard. And then suddenly, the sounds of all the animals could be heard. Together. Desperate. Violent calls. Followed by a loud sound of a deer, looked like desperately seeking help! These calls continued for a minute, and then there was sudden silence! My friend said that the predator may have found its dinner!
Wild Dog / Dhole
The curiosity could not let us sleep that night. As soon as the first rays of the sun was seen, we were out of the room. We could find the caretaker, enthusiastically running towards us. It looked as if he was looking for some people to share an exciting story. And truly it was. He took us about 100 meters into the forest, where a spotted deer was lying dead! He said a leopard had a delicious meal last night, pointing us to the pugmarks of the leopard!
Where to stay?
- Forest Guest House, Bandipur
- Few Resorts on the outskirts of Bandipur
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