Sunday, May 3, 2009

Bandipur National Park

The Bandipur National Park is one of nine forests in India that were designated a Tiger Reserve in 1973-74 as part of the Project Tiger initiative of the Government of India.

This park is contiguous with the Nagarhole National Park in Karnataka, the Mudumalai National Park in Tamil Nadu, Muthanga Reserve in Kerala, and the Mukurthi and Silent Valley National Parks. I had previously blogged (Bandipur and Mudumalai National Parks) on the Bandipur and Mudumali parks in March, with lots of photos.

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Map of the Bandipur National Park (available on

The Bandipur Safari Lodge of Jungle Lodges and Resorts is a good place to stay at. It is on the outskirts of the Bandipur National Park, and some 17 kms from the Gundalpet town limits. As of April 2009, a room cost Rs 2750 per person per night, and the charges include "Stay, Lunch, Dinner & Breakfast, Jeep safari into Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Guided Nature Walk, Forest Entry Fees, Camera Fees & Taxes" is another highly recommended though (very) expensive place to stay.
Bandipur Tusker Trail Resort also crops up often enough when you do a search for hotels in and around the park.

JLR guide at the Golghar giving a talk before the tour into the national park.

Without knowing the precise lat-long coordinates of the place, it is awfully difficult to pinpoint precisely on a map where the lodge is, but if memory serves me right, this map below from Google Maps is where the Bandipur Safari Lodge is located. The distinctive golghar is visible in this satellite imagery, hence my confidence that this indeed is the JLR lodge. I may be wrong, but I think I have nailed the location...

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The Golghar at the Bandipur Safari Lodge. (Canon XSi|@30mm|1/4s|f3.5|ISO200|-2ev)

(Canon XSi|@30mm|1/50s|f5.0|ISO100|-1ev)
Almost the same camera angle, but this time at ISO 100, spot metering but with the focus on the light, 1/50 sec, and -1 step exposure compensation

Inside the park, in 2002

The Indian 'gaur' is mistaken for the bison, which it is not. However, the word 'bison' seems to have stuck, which is wrong, and wrong. This is the first thing that the safari guide at the Bandipur National Park took pains to make us aware of - the term Indian bison is the result of safari tourism. Anglicized names are better than Indian names like 'gaur', or it seems that the guides finally tired of repeating the word 'gaur' for the foreign tourists, and found it convenient to refer to the giant beasts as 'Indian bison'.

In case you are wondering what this gaur is doing, it is licking the wet mud on the ground. Why? No, not because it is thirsty and this is the only place that has any amount of water. But because the mud is rich in salt, and by licking this mud the gaur ensures that it gets whatever sodium its body needs.

The gaurs are massive beasts, reaching upto six or even seven feet and more in height at the shoulders. The females weigh in at 800 kgs, while the males can top a ton. Yes - a ton. 1000 kilograms. 2200 pounds. That is equal to 14 adults. Or the weight of a Maruti 800 car, with weight remaining for a driver, a passenger in each seat, with weight left for the luggage, and a full tank of fuel. You get the picture - these are massive beasts. Only the elephant weighs more among land animals in India. The rhino doesn't weigh as much. Nor the hippo. The elephant weighs at 3,000 to 5,000 kgs. That is almost equal to the wight of a large Detroit built SUV. And the elephant can swim. And is prettier to look at. And is environmentally very friendly, not ruinous like an SUV.

Other animals to spot are sambhar, deers, langurs, peahens, peacocks, eagles.

The tiger is very, very difficult to spot, and requires a good degree of luck and a good dose of perseverance. Firstly there are not that many tigers left in the wild. Even the latest tiger census figures seem to indicate that poaching is steadily but surely driving the tiger to extinction in India. In some reserves like Dudhwa and Sariska there is not a single tiger left; all have been poached, and for several years the forest officials were parading out fake numbers. A physical count, based on actual sightings, revealed there were no tigers left. These tiger reserves, which had upwards of 50 tigers each a decade ago, have probably less than a dozen each now. Some environmentalists argue that the tiger population in the wild has dipped below the point from where the tiger can be expected to survive in the wild. A tragedy, and not likely to be reversed.

The other reason behind the tiger's elusiveness is the season. During the post-monsoon months when the vegetation is lush and there are lots of small water holes and ponds all over the jungle that have water, the tiger does not need to venture much to get to water. The lush vegetation also makes it difficult to spot the tiger from the trails where the jeep travels on. Unlike humans, the tiger does not have any curiosity to watch urban slickers in the wild.

(Canon XSi|@83mm|1/30s|f/9.0|ISO200|0.0 ev)
Unless the tiger sees the need to venture out into the open you are most likely not going to spot the tiger. As someone once remarked, it is the tiger who decides if he wants to be seen. It remains a near-mythical beast, its presence felt more than seen. It is the tiger that makes a jungle a living entity.

Perseverance and patience is not something that you can expect when you are bundled in a jeep with half a dozen other people. Of course, all of them are there in the jeep, in the jungle, for the same purpose - to sight animals, and the tiger above all. The collective might of the expectations of a dozen humans is still not enough to stir the king of the jungle to come out and bless us with a sighting. Getting out of the vehicle is a no-no, and is anyway not something that city slickers are likely to do. Alcohol is prohibited, so that precludes any alcohol aggravated act of attempted self-annihilation.

The other thing to notice, and you notice it more by its absence, is the complete absence of plastic or other man made waste. It feels blessed to be in the jungle, and one is thankful for these few remaining tracts of land that have not yet been destroyed by the inexorable march of civilization.