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3.64 

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Nice forest, lesser scope of tiger sightings!
May 18, 2022 10:27 PM 316 Views
(Updated May 19, 2022 08:18 AM)

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Having visited the forest across the river that separates Bandipur from the adjoining forest earlier, I decided to give this a shot as I was not that willing to try another forest outside Karnataka right now, with rumours of a 4th Covid wave and predictions of high rainfall in the near future. I hadn't visited here earlier as I already knew this not to be that conducive for tiger sightings, which has been my sole main focus in earlier years. At the same time, I did suspect it to be a good forest overall which would provide some nice opportunities for photography. It ultimately proved to be what I had suspected, all these years.


ABOUT THE FOREST


The Maharaja of Mysore had declared a 90 square km stretch a sanctuary back in 1931. Around 800 square kilometers was added to it to constitute the Bandipur Tiger Reserve in 1973. It is located in Chamarajanagar district of Karnataka.


It is situated where the Deccan Plateau meets the Western Ghats and is surrounded by river Kabini to the north and river Moyar to the south. The vegetation consists of shrublands, moist and dry deciduous vegetation.


It boasts of a diverse range of flora and fauna and has one of the bigger populations of tigers in south India, along with healthy populations of leopards and elephants. The forest vegetation is of a dense nature. It is also one of the homes of the fast dwindling Indian populations of wild dogs.


MY EXPERIENCE


DAY 1


I arrived by car at the Jungle Resorts Lodge in mid-May 2022 after a 5 hour journey. Having arrived at the lodge, I unloaded my luggage and checked out the premises. They only had Maharaja Cottages and Viceroy Cottages. I was staying at a Maharaja Cottage. The premises and facilities were well maintained. I was briefed about where's what and I roamed around a bit to check everything out. There is a mini-jeep to carry people within the premises, if one wishes so. Or one could walk. All meals were at Gol Ghar. Generally, there's a good variety of food available, vegetarian and non-vegetarian. There's a documentary aired in one of the rooms for new visitors, in the evening. There's a separate place for evening snacks after evening safari. Safaris always started from in front of the main reception.


Here, too, like other resorts near Karnataka forests, there are other resorts one could visit, in close proximity to this lodge.


SAFARI 1 - EVENING


After attending to some things, I deemed was necessary, I was finally ready for my first safari at 3 p.m. We were alloted a Mahindra Bolero Camper vehicle with a person playing the naturalist-driver role. There were other guests also, who were allotted the vehicle. We first set off for the area where permits are obtained, before entering the forest. We saw a whole lot of other cars, probably from other resorts, also waiting there. In 10-20 minutes time, our safari started.


I noticed how a road was going through the tiger reserve in the initial stages of the safari. It was always bustling with even normal vehicles, from time to time. To get to the main area of the safari, one had to go uphill too. Eventually, the safari got going and the guide took us to a spot where a leopard with a kill had been sighted in the morning, with her 2 cubs nearby. We were delighted to detect the presence of the same leopard on a tree, courtesy of the guide. After looking at it sitting atop the tree for a while and taking some pictures, we moved on.


We came to a waterhole, where a tiger frequented. We waited while a deer cautiously approached the waterhole. It seemed very wary of something and turned back. The deer's buddies nearby, also appeared wary of approaching the waterhole. We thought there may be a chance that a predator was nearby. So, we waited. A serpent eagle flew by, as we did so. However, nothing appeared to give, after perhaps close to 30 minutes of waiting. So, we moved on.


We had already sighted a gaur, peacocks, 3 elephants, langurs and chitals along the way. We had also had a hasty glimpse of a couple of wild boar not long before. A couple of sambar also graced us with their presence once. We decided to pay the leopard on the tree another visit. She was still there. She seemed to be wrestling with her kill, as she tried to bring the deer kill, down to her cubs. We watched on as she made several moves to do so. She got down from the tree at times and disappeared. We also saw a cub, on one occasion. Some peacocks and some wandering elephants later, the safari came to a close.


We got to know later a tiger had been sighted by 1 jeep, at the same waterhole we had earlier waited at, later.


It had been an eventful day. After watching the animal documentary featuring dholes and dinner, I hit the sack.


DAY 2


SAFARI 2 - MORNING


This safari started with the sighting of elephants, who were idling about. A serpent eagle flew by, followed by the sighting of a grey mongoose. Several woodpeckers were also sighted. We came across an ant hill, where 4 different species of birds seemed to have flocked together, 1 of them being a woodpecker. We also noticed a painted stork on 1 occasion and some ducks on an occasion.


Then we had successive great sightings of elephants. On one occasion, the elephant came out of the water and even mock charged us from 10-15 ft. distance, head on, before turning away.


A striped neck mongoose and several gaurs were also sighted, which made for interesting viewing.


We also sighted the leopard of day before, quietly sitting on a tree, this time, above her partly dried up kill.


There was an interesting scenario when 2 male peacocks who had shed their feathers, were actively pursuing a peahen while another with its feathers intact was doing a peacock dance to impress the same female. The peahen however, seemed to be indifferent to all of them. Probably wasn't in a mating mood.


The safari came to a close, shortly after this incident. No sign of any tiger. Not even a pugmark.


SAFARI 3 - EVENING


Sightings were faster in this safari. It started with a dancing peacock followed by a tusker wandering in a grassland, full of spotted deer. We also saw some painted storks, a serpent eagle, spot bellied ducks, a kingfisher, peacocks and several gaur. Then, we suddenly chanced upon a barking deer who being the shy animal it is, scampered away in a while.


The lady leopard of the day before, again graced us with her presence atop a tree. Quietly sitting, looking about. The kill had significantly dried up. With some decent sightings, of a serpent eagle, elephants and chital, the safari came to a close.


Absolutely no signs of a tiger till then. Not even a pug mark. Difficult for someone visiting, to imagine the forest is home to 130-150 tigers.


That's how the day ended and I hit the sack early.


DAY 3


SAFARI 4 - MORNING


This safari seemed more promising at the start. After spotting several gaurs and elephants, we also chanced upon several sightings of peacocks and serpent eagles. A mother gaur with suckling calf acted aggressively when we wanted to pass her. So, we waited for the right moment to do so as there were a herd of them around our vehicle. We found some wild dog tracks and pursued them. However, it didn't really lead us anywhere.


A sambar rushed away in the distance too, on one occasion.


Some sightings of spotted deer later, we came upon a jeep who told us that one of the famous tigresses Sundari had been spotted in an area, where she crossed over to the other side. We went there and waited. No sounds other than crickets chirping away. The absence of langurs didn't help. We then went to a waterhole, where she may probably have appeared. This place was full of langurs. but they didn't seem anxious at all. It wasn't very sunny either, so we assumed she wouldn't appear and moved on.


Subsequently, a few regular sightings later, my last safari came to a close.


THINGS TO NOTE


1] I am actually not that much for the naturalist playing the driver role. Person playing both roles can be a distraction for the person. The guide/naturalist and driver should be 2 different people. That's how it is in most other forests, especially outside the state and it works well.


2] The delay before entering the forests to obtain a permit was typically non-existent in other Karnataka forests I've been to, as the lodge has the permit from before. That is also preferable, in terms of having the best experience.


3] The highway through the forest, in the initial stages when you enter the forest may not be the best situation for safari-goers or the animals. It is also not a very short stretch of the road.


4] Langurs are non-existent in several parts of the tourism zone. I feel that is bound to have a negative impact on chances of sighting tigers.


5] I assume the sporadic rainfall and excessive cloud cover even during summer months doesn't really help chances of good tiger sightings in the small window period, when it can actually be better for such.


6] The forest itself is abound in plenty animals. Prey density for predators and the diversity of animals is great, to go with a beautiful landscape and flora.


7] One could have very close encounters with elephants here. Elephants sightings in the forest is one of the standout aspects of a visit to this forest. I think that was certainly better than Nagarhole.


8] I think the seating arrangement in the vehicle could've been better for single people. We were invariably given the seat beside the driver. That was actually the guide seat, in absence of the guide. Maybe not the best seat to maneuver, when taking pictures. I somehow managed. In Nagarhole, things were much more flexible in terms of seating in the vehicle.


9] Given the kind of forest and lodge, maybe cost wise it was fine. Not overtly expensive and I was staying at a Maharaja Cottage for the first time. It was a good experience. The staff and naturalists were quite courteous and friendly. So, were all the guests at the lodge.


But charging single people 30% more makes no sense. A single person will consume less electricity, water and food, if anything. So, cost should either be same or less. I know of other places, where cost is lesser for single people. Only at JLR resorts, it is like this. Hope they are open to change in this regard, in future.


To conclude: A visit to this forest essentially confirmed what I've been telling people all these years without even visiting the forest, based on my understanding and research. Good for elephants, maybe sometimes leopards and not great for tiger sightings. I did see leopards in 3 safaris and elephants in all 4. All things considered, maybe I would rate the forest experience a 3.5 - 3.5+ / 5 overall. But among my poorest experiences, in terms of tiger sightings. #myopinion


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