.... The forests of Karnataka have been beckoning to me for a while now, as the Uttaranchal visit started fading into the mists of time..... Lalbagh is beautiful and accessible; but the peace of the forest, and the chance to spot mammals, keep up an insistent call which gets stronger until you can't resist...the wildlife bug is one that gets under the skin and starts itching unbearably after a while!
So, when I realized that Sainath was also free, having quit his job to take up postgraduate studies at IIT Kanpur (typically, his first words about his new campus were about of the wealth of bird --especially peacock--sightings there!), I decided that I should utilize the opportunity. I booked at JLR Bandipur, and we decided to leave on Monday the 10th. Amogh told us that a direct bus would save us time, and that the bus to Udhagamandalam (Ooty) would stop right in front of the property. The bus was leaving at 8.30 am and we booked our tickets.
What we didn't know was that Murphy would be our fellow-traveller. At 8.30 am there was no sign of our bus, and we got further confused by a large sign at the bus stand (incorrect) which said that buses to and past Mysore would leave from another spot to which we would have to take a minibus. Then someone else told us that there was a strike (to do with the opposition to the NICE project, the new multilane highway linking Bangalore and Mysore) at Mandya, which is about midway on the ride. Ultimately the bus did show up and we left at 9.30am. We realized that the bus was not taking the new highway but the picturesque, but bad, Kanakapura Road...which would certainly mean further delay. On the way, we did spot some WHITE-THROATED KINGFISHERS, a couple of DRONGOS, and IBIS flying near the Mandya area. At one point, we stopped at a place where there were several WEAVER BIRD nests, gently swinging in the monsoon breeze.
In the event, the delay was another 2 hours, and instead of reaching Bandipur at 1.30pm as planned, we reached at 4.30 pm! However, our fellow-NTP student, Manjunath, was informed of the delay, and he thoughtfully kept the 4.30pm safari jeeps waiting for a few minutes just so that we could jump off the bus and into the jeep!
Our fellow-passengers were pretty tolerant about being kept waiting and off we went,with Bomma driving, to the Forest Dept reception area where we saw WILD BOAR rooting around in the mud, as we headed off into the forest. We started with the sightings of herds of beautiful CHITAL, and then we saw three ELEPHANTS, with a young calf. I called this trip the Bandipur Baby Animal trip...for reasons that will become clear later.
A little further ahead, we were treated to the sight of a PEACOCK, sitting on a low tree, with his wonderful tail cascading down in a blaze of colour; then we spotted the STREAK-THROATED WOODPECKERS on a tree, with their red napes, as we drove past. Next to give us "darshan" was the COMMON HAWK-CUCKOO or the BRAINFEVER BIRD, and several of the other guests craned their necks to have a look. A WHITE-BELLIED DRONGO sat in a great position for photography; and a little later, two GREATER COUCALS made a lovely picture as they showed off their plumage.
Next, we came to a herd of GAUR, the Indian bison. It was practically a Gaur nursery, with many females with their calves, one of them trying to nurse from its mother; right at the back was a male, with a shining hide. We enjoyed the sight for a while; it is so nice to see animals that are not alarmed, just sitting quietly in a forest glade!
On we went, past a LITTLE GREBE in a pond, fishing busily for its evening snack. Sainath had expressed a wish to Sunil, the naturalist at the resort, that his dearest wish was to see a CRESTED SERPENT EAGLE for the first time. Sunil said he could guarantee him a sighting of that...and sure enough, one flew out of the greenery as if to draw attention to himself...and then perched a little distance inside the jungle, though still visible clearly from our jeep. The wind lifted his crest as he sat, and Sainath made the most of the opportunity to get some great snaps!
Digital photography meant that we could instantly share the picture with Sunil and the other guests, who were very interested indeed. It is really a good feeling when guests obey the rules of jungle trips, keep very quiet and are really interested in spotting various forms of wildlife.
We passed a herd of SPOTTED DEER where the stags had magnificient antlers; Sunil told us that the deer would be shedding them shortly. We then came upon a picture-postcard sighting of GAUR, a mother and calf. Sainath promptly dubbed the young one "the Little Devil"...because of the two little pointed horns on his forehead! The wicked little pointed horns contrasted so strangely with the sweet innocence on the baby calf's face.... We also came across one young elephant just a few feet away from us on the road, and it was quite an experience.
Apart from this, on the drive, we saw a large TUSKER, with a female and her calf, which she kept pushing on her side so that it would not be visible to us on the road! Sainath still managed to get some decent pictures, and we went on to see another tusker, this time with a SAMBHAR in front of it. We moved forwards and backwards as the tusker foraged, and twice the animal trumpeted as if to say, "Keep your distance from me!"...and once started making backwards movements in a kind of mock-charge preparation. It all kept the adrenaline pumping!
As we came back to the Forest Department, we saw more wild boar, and back we came to the resort, where we finally got to say hi to Manju, who showed us to the rooms (about which, more anon.) Thanks to the air-conditioned bus, neither of us was in the least tired, though we had spent seven and a half hours on the road...instead of going into my room, I got captivated by the sight of the full moon, riding serenely in the cloudy sky. When Sainath came over with his camera, he too got fascinated, and spent a lot of time photographing the lovely sight! We then sat with our Grimmett like good students, and id-ed some of the birds we had seen. This is another advantage of digital photography; no more sketches and possibly inaccurate descriptions; the bird is right there for one to make an id.
The next morning, unwilling to waste even a single minute, I was out at 5.45 am, scouting around the campus and seeing a few COPPERSMITH BARBETS, BLACK-NECKED and RED-VENTED BULBULS, and hearing the characteristic call of the WHITE-CHEEKED BARBET but unable to see where they were. Several ROSE-RINGED PARAKEETS flew past. There were a few JUNGLE MYNAS around, too. Sainath and I were supposed to have taken a tour of the campus with Basavanna, but by the time Sainath came out, it was time to go on the morning trek over the neighbouring hillock.
Sainath and I kept falling back as some LAUGHING DOVES, and PURPLE-RUMPED SUNBIRDS claimed our attention, as did a PIED BUSHCHAT sitting on the telegraph wires. As we climbed the hillock, the beautiful sight of Gopalaswamy Betta, wreathed the whole year around in clouds, met our eyes. The vista down to the lake, where Sunil told us elephants often came, was lovely to see.
I was intrigued by the sight of many plants and creepers that were new to me. I asked Sainath to photograph some orange-coloured MUSHROOMS that Sunil told us were wood mushrooms; and though we found no wolf-spider nests, the sight of the night's raindrops on the spider-webs on the grass, twinkling like jewels in the morning sunlight, were irresisitible. I spotted some WILD BASIL or TULSI plants too, and crushed a leaf for Sainath to smell.
We also were able to spot an ASHY PRINIA on a nearby tree, and Sainath got a great picture of a HOUSE SPARROW FEMALE with a lantana berry in her mouth. Back we came to the resort, with some of us slipping and sliding on the loose stones!
While waiting for breakfast, we spotted a pair of LONG-TAILED SHRIKES flying about the trees in the campus. Basavanna later showed us their nest, high up in a small Ashoka tree just yards from the Gol Ghar. They gave Sainath a great photo-op and he made the most of it! Meanwhile I spotted a SHORT-TAILED SKINK in the grass, and Basavanna, Sainath and I followed the beautiful creature all over the lawn, getting some excellent shots of it, limbs and all.
In the Gol Ghar itself, Sainath took a lovely shot of a MALE AND FEMALE HOUSE SPARROW amongst the breakfast serving trays, looking for all the world as if they were getting breakfast ready in their domestic area! One need not look for the exotic birds; sometimes our most common feathered friends make the most wonderful pictures.
By this time, the other guests had also finished breakfast, and we all went off to the Forest Department area in the jeep...but on the way we were treated to yet another episode of the Bandipur Baby Animal Show, with a wonderful sighting of several WILD BOAR mothers with their young; as the mothers rooted around in the damp soil, the youngsters ran to suckle. We all watched spellbound at this Boar Kindergarten (garden of children in German.)
At the elephant camp, the camp elephants, JAYAPRAKASH the tusker, and LAKSHMI, the smaller female, awaited us with howdahs ready. As many as we could, clambered on their backs and Sainath got his wish for an elephant ride granted, too! As we went for a short round, we saw some SPOTTED DOVES flying in and out of a pond, and Sainath got a great shot of one diving in to land. He then took some photos of the langurs running with their tails in the typical "S" formation, and asked Sunil to take some snaps of us on the elephant as well!
After we got off the elephant, thanking Lakshmi and the mahout, we saw a group of BONNET MACAQUES around. One seemed to have a face that was redder than the others, and I was joking that he must be embarassed...until Sainath trained the zoom on him and we realized that his face was actually bloody, mutilated in a fight, possibly for the position of the alpha male. We also spotted a mother with her arms protectively around a very small, sweet baby hugging her tightly, sitting at the base of a tree. As Sainath moved to photograph her, she kept pivoting so that the baby was hidden from him! But she soon relented as she grew used to his unthreatening presence, and Sainath snapped away. Then I pointed upwards, when one young male was quite literally up to monkey tricks on the wires leading from one building to the next, and all the children watched in delight, too, clapping and encouraging him, as he made his swinging, sliding, hanging way from the building to the tree!
Back in the resort, Basavanna showed us, in the banyan tree, the nests of the BRAHMINY MYNA and the COMMON MYNA, though these didn't seem to have any nestlings in them. I watched a GARDEN LIZARD show me his scaly profile before disappearing into a hole in the ground.
When we came to the resort, I realized that this property has a unique aspect...the wall of every room was decorated by a beautiful mural; these had been done by three wildlife artists, Sangeeta Kadur,(who painted the Chital) Sunita Dhairyam ( Sambhar, Tiger, Elephant, Leopard, and Gaur) , and Shakti Prasad (Peacock, Sloth Bear, and Dhole or Wild Dog). We met Shakti Prasad,an artist who lives in Gundlupet and is at present painting a mural of the Dhole. Sainath captured all the murals on his camera, and we were amazed that when we looked at the photographs, we could not make out that it was a picture! The realism and the attention to detail were really marvellous. In the Peacock mural, for example, one can clearly identify the lantanas in the background!
In addition, Sunita had provided curtains and bedspreads, hand-painted with animal motifs to match each room she had painted. The effect was wonderful. I had a chat with Shakti Prasad and will be chatting with Sunita, who lives in Mangala village in Bandipur, and with Sangeeta, who lives in Bangalore, about their work. I was very impressed with the whole initiative. To me, this will be an extra attraction at the Bandipur property. I do hope the beautiful murals last for a long time....
We were so busy with all this that we didn't leave ourselves enough time to have lunch! Manju and Sunil stopped the same bus at the gate for us, and thanking them for their hospitality and the great time we had, Sainath and I started our homeward journey. He got off at Mysore to visit some relatives, and I found that if we were on the highway, the whole journey, Bandipur to Bangalore, inclusive of a lunch stop, took only 5 hours! On the way, we looked again at the photographs, reliving in our minds two extremely productive and lovely days in Bandipur...I have promised myself to return with my husband, and stay for two days, when a visit to the temple of Gopalaswamy on the eponymous hill will also be a feature. Thank you, Mr Gangaswamy, Manju, Sunil, Basavanna, Bomma, and all the other staff of JLR Bandipur, for a memorable time!
Here are a couple of shots sainath took at Bandipur, as well as two he took at Ranganathittu, the bird sanctuary near Mysore:
I will be adding the links to more photographs, such as the skink, the gaur mother-and-child, the elephant mother-and-child, and the monkey mother-and-child, as soon as sainath posts them....