Birding in Bandipur

There was a plan for a one day ride. To somewhere around Sakleshpur. The idea was a birding trip. No safaris, just walk around and bird. That place however turned out to be heavily booked, so we decided to look around. K-Gudi was the obvious choice, but we do that in May. I looked around and saw that Bandipur had slashed its prices to the same range as K-Gudi. The recent fire, and declining tiger sightings had taken its toll apparently.

The booking for a weekend was made. One night and two safaris. The idea was to ride, but due to last minute niggles, we drove. It was a quick 4 hour journey via Mysore road, as the Kanakapura route is seeing a spate of roadwork.

The evening safari began promptly with Pradeep as driver and Natraj as spotter. A good combo as we have gotten into a good rapport with both of them, Natraj being known since his K-Gudi days before his transfer to Bandipur, and Pradeep is someone who sees the forest for way more than the big cats. The birds, even the ubiquitous mynahs interest him.

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Langurs and Birds (Bandipur Stories – 3)

As we drove along on the mud-paths inside the forest, we noticed Langurs on the sides. There are very few stops for them. Only those who are new to the forests get excited about them. The only time we stop is when they sit on the road and stage a rasta roko. The cameras then come out and a few snaps are shot. They make for good photos when they are like that. Other times they tend to jump up trees and you only see silhouettes.

This time, I noticed something strange. There were no Langur kids. There were only adults and sub-adults clinging to trees. Any langur group usually has a kid or two clinging to its mother. We passed group after group, with no sign of a recent birth. Was it the drought? Or was it timing? Did Langurs not have children during the Winter? The driver had no clue, but he felt it was less to do with the drought than the Winter.

The first morning though, as we drove through empty forest roads, on what was the most eventless safari of the four, we finally came across a group which had a young one. The sun had just come out and it was warming the air and dispensing the fog. The child was sitting by itself, saw the jeep standing below and ran up to its mother’s outstretched arms.
Langurs - mother and child

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Sloth Bears and a Tusker (Bandipur Stories – 2)

We saw a couple of sloth bears from far away in fading light the first evening. The second morning, we heard that that pair had been spotted again around the same spot again. So, when we headed out on the second evening, we were hopeful of seeing sloth bears. This would be the first time we’d be seeing any bears in the wild. They tend to be nocturnal venturing out only at the fag end of the day around the time the jeeps are returning from their beats.

Again, like the previous day, we went around the jeep tracks not encountering anything. The tank where they had been spotted the previous day was visited and they were not to be found anywhere. Around this time, another vehicle passed by and said that the bears were right on the highway and were bringing traffic to a halt!

So off we went to the highway, encountering more vehicles who said confirmed the same news. Initially, there were just the bears. Then there was a Tusker that was also hanging around the highway. By the time we were close to the highway, it was back to just the bears. The Tusker seemed to have gone into the forest.

We found the bears alright. There were two of them, and were grazing peacefully. They were digging the sand, and sucking out termites from there.
Sloth bears emerging

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The Trail of Tigers (Bandipur Stories – 1)

We reached Bandipur after a 5.5 hour ride, including breakfast. The weather was pleasant, the roads had been decent for the most part. But just when we thought we could relax after Gundlupet, we found that they had decided to ‘expand’ the section from Gundlupet towards Bandipur. If you’re on a car it can be uncomfortable. But when you’re on bikes, it gets stressful and is also a safety issue. But we managed to reach JLR’s Bandipur place by 1:30 PM.

After lunch, we headed out earlier than usual. Somehow, the seat we thought could accommodate three was supposed to only seat 2, and A had to move to the front, next to the driver. This later turned out to be a blessing in disguise for him. There was a massive parking problem at the forest office considering this was Christmas, and there were queues to get into a forest department vehicle. They seem to have fixed the delay for safari vehicles, by making guests enter their details before starting. This meant that we were off really quick from the office and into the forest a few minutes later.

A Crested Serpent Eagle was the mandatory first pic as always, but the driver ignored it saying there’s some other sighting in front. We went there and there were multiple jeeps and minibuses standing and people clicking away at something beyond a waterhole. For a change, this turned out to be a Tiger! The Tiger was sleeping, and very occasionally would lift its head up to survey the surroundings before going back to sleep.
A sleeping tiger

Gets up to see what the hue and cry is for

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Elephants crossing

At one point during the morning safari in last year’s trip to Bandipur, we came across a solitary elephant. She was standing there by herself, munching away in the middle of a bush. It isn’t common to find solitary cows, that’s something you notice with bulls. I also noticed that her belly was bigger than normal. “Is she pregnant?” I asked the spotter/driver. “Looks like” he said. Not sure if he really meant it or just played along with me. But the JLR drivers are a knowledgeable lot. Not necessarily bookish knowledge, but the knowledge from longer and deeper association with the jungle, the way you have a sense of buses from using public transport a lot. We turned a corner soon and the rest of the herd was there – two other cows grazing by a waterhole.

Pregnant elephant
Pregnant elephant – Nov 2014

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The Big Cat

We had almost decided not to do the morning Safari after the evening one failed to yield anything. The mini-bus had been crammed with people and almost everyone barring me and Anand was part of a family that included little kids who just wouldn’t keep quiet. There were grandmas and grandpas and we couldn’t understand what they’d be doing in the safari. It is usually a bumpy ride, not easy on the bones, and out of two hours, you just drive around amidst the trees for more than 75% of the time. Kids meant that every monkey and deer needed some stopping.

And then, out of nowhere there was the sighting of a herd of elephants. 15 minutes of beauty as they first went and hid in some bushes, keeping a wary eye out on us and then slowly came out and went back to grazing. This was preceded by a herd of Gaurs or socks-wearing Buffaloes. A lone shikra fluttered above, staying in one place by flapping its wings. The Sun looked ready to set. We figured we might have more luck the next morning and decided to take the morning safari. At least we did enjoy the experience of being driven through the forest.
Elephant herd
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The charge of the elephant herd…

So it was that me and a colleague decided to do the 5 hour drive to Bandipur for 2 out of 5 days of the long weekend between Oct 24th and 28th. The drive was pleasant and quiet thanks to my deciding to dump Mysore Road entirely and drive along Kanakapura-Malavalli-Kollegal-Chamarajnagar-Gundlupet to Bandipur. It added some 12Km but gave us quiet, peaceful roads with barely any other vehicles around and, most importantly, absolutely nil trucks encountered until Chamarajnagar! Leaving at 7:45 AM with some excellent Masala Dosas at Vasu Hotel in Kanakapura for breakfast on the way and with a brief stopover at Shivanasamudram we ended up at MC Resort, bang near the entrance to the Tiger reserve at 1 PM. They had initially asked us to take the Govt Safari, the 45 mins one, but at the last moment said they were running their own Safari and it would be the 2.5 hours one for Rs. 1250 each. All this last-minute confusion owing to the SC order banning and then revoking the ban on tourist activity inside tiger reserves.

We were picked up from the resort at 3:30 PM, 15 minutes earlier than the time they had told us. There were three others already waiting in the van, whom we guessed were Wildlife photographers. The cameras had big-ass lenses and they even wore dulled out camouflage or light brown clothes. You can always make out the more experienced guys on a safari from the newbies. I myself stick to the recommended green and brown to blend in. I used to find it amusing, considering that all mammals except for primates are colour-blind, but later came to know that bright colours like red, yellow etc have their grey counterparts which still stand out in the surroundings, while green and brown blend in better and don’t disturb wildlife as much. The safari jeeps and vans are always dull-green/brown for that reason.
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Hop, skip and jump: Bandipur to Bangalore in 5.5 hours…

So we left Bangalore on a Good Friday morning. The bus was boarded at the Satellite station near Bapujinagar for Mysore at 10:30 AM. It took an hour to reach Kengeri and from there after multiple stops which came in just as we got hopeful of reaching Mysore by 2:00 PM, we reached Mysore by 2:45 PM. The bus to Ooty left at 3:00 PM and deposited us in front of the resort at close to 5:30 PM. So that was a good 7 hours to get there from Bangalore, with one hour spent getting out of Bangalore itself, of which close to 40 minutes were spent negotiating the Nayandahalli junction. (You should have seen that coming! I hate that place, positively hate it!!)
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