As for as I can remember, I have visited Bandipur National Park five times. And I know I am going to return here many more times in future. It pulls me with a never-ending attraction. Its vast forests invite me into its depth, its unlimited variety of birds and mammalia beg to be visited and photographed, especially the pachyderms! The big and beautiful and yet gentle creatures have something in them that makes me feel fond of them.
My initial visits were limited to taking the safari. I used to sit in the reception and eye on the open top jeeps that give you the best and undisturbed view of the forest. But it was nowhere close to being affordable and I always settled for safari on the rickety, noisy mini-buses that made enough noise to scare away any fauna we would encounter on the way. Packed tourists which included screaming kids in plenty did not help either. It is surprising, I must say, that I have had my best encounter with elephants of Bandipur in one of these mini-buses. We once encountered a small pack of them near a watering hole. And though they were not happy to see us there, they did not fret too much and stayed on. A few of them were very close to the bus. The best part is – they had some kids in the gang, and very photogenic they are. One of the kids was learning to spray mud over the body, but was not yet very skillful, I noticed!
The Elephant Family
It is later that I discovered better ways of exploring these jungles. Take a guide with you and walk right into the jungle. Stay there for a day, live with the nature and feel it for yourself! It turned out to be much better experience than the touristy safari that serve the fancy tourist.
It was peak summer when we decided to trek in the jungles of Bandipur. Two years of drought had made the region look arid and the vegetation had turned yellow and brown. But such are the best season to spot wildlife. We took permissions, hired a guide and planned to trek up to Kullanbetta which is 6 hours by walk. It was a tiresome walk in the heat but we passed by some nice views on Bolougudda and got a chance to view the expanse of Bandipur forest. The hills here have a gentle wavy form and a series of such hills one behind other make them look very beautiful. Especially great looking are the distant hills of Ooty which can be seen once you reach Kullanbetta camp. We did not encounter any wildlife on the way but our guide assured that we would definitely see elephants near the camp. He was right, we saw two a loner when we were close to the camp.
Expanse of the forests as seen when descending from Ooty
View from inside the park
The camp is a small make shift shelter just enough to protect you from the elements. There is a ditch surrounding the campsite to ensure that elephants don’t walk in! There is a water body originating from the earth just below the campsite. There was water available even in the driest of the season when we were there, and elephants and probably many other animals used to come for a drink. We reached the campsite around 4pm and soon after refreshing we headed forward to have a look around the place. We got a closer view of a tusker who was disturbed by us and walked away. And then came some really interesting sightings. For the first time, I got to see the uncommon paradise flycatcher in white. After relishing it and when we were about to return back to the camp, I saw – again for the first time – the Malabar Giant Squirrel(Also called Indian Giant Squirrel). And it was nice enough to let me come pretty close to it and take many pictures. I never got a chance to get so close to one of them even though I sighted them many times later – in Dandeli and Bandipur itself. Later in the evening came the best package.
The Malabar Giant Squirrel
A family of elephants – 3 of them with a juvenile – came for a drink. Sun had set it but we still had some light to sit back and enjoy the show. And this time we managed not to disturb them and let them have their own time. We came back after it got darker and retired for the day, in the abode of elephants and tigers!
The next morning, we took another route to return. It was a nice and easy walk. We got to see a couple of giant squirrels and a few parties of langurs playing around. The return journey took us around 5 hours of walking.
Information: Trekking in Bandipura
Be aware that this is not for everyone. It requires lot of walking in hot sun and often involves danger of encountering elephants(which can charge at you) and sometimes even tigers. There is no question of taking alcohol in the trek, making campfires in the night or making loud noise or playing music, or any such activity which can be disturbing the ecology. Usual trekkers in Bandipur are keen naturalists who love to study and understand wildlife and ecology. Travelers with no earlier experience of deep jungle are advised to take the better option of safaris to visit the jungle.
Forest department has opened a few trails where they allow trekking. You need to pay the necessary fees and a guide will accompany you. There are a few places where you can stay overnight in watching camps built by forest department. The most popular trails are Kullanabetta camp and Moyar gorge.
That ended our first trek in Bandipur but I returned here again a year later. We trekked to Kullanbetta again. We did not see more mammals this time but with us was a birder because of whom we managed to spot and identify many birds. There were rose ringed parakeet, plum headed parakeet, shrike, red wattled lapwing, brahminy starling, black drango and many more.
On another occasion when I was in Bandipur, I visited Gopalaswamy Betta(Betta is hill in Kannada). Its one of the taller hills located just outside the national park boundary. You really get to see and appreciate the vast expanse of the forest in the national park from here. It is surrounded with many more hills around and the green hills(in the monsoon) and their wavy formations make a beautiful sight.
View from Gopalaswamy Betta
Bandipur National Park is around 250km from Bangalore and around 100km from Mysore. To reach Bandipur from Bangalore, drive to Mysore; from Mysore take the Ooty road and drive via Nanjangud and Gundlupet. The national park is on the Ooty road around 30 minutes drive from Gundlupet. If you have time and interest, you can stop by the well known Nanjundeshwara temple in Nanjangud. If you are taking the bus, ksrtc buses are available from Bangalore; buses going to Ooty stop at Bandipur on request. Taking an early morning bus(5am) to Mysore and changing to an Ooty bus would be the best option for people who intend to trek. It takes around 5 hours by car and 6 hours by bus from Bangalore. If you are staying the forest department accommodation in Bandipur, it is better to take a bus since you would not find much use of your car once you reach the place.
Fortunately on unfortunately, many resorts have come up on the premise of Bandipur National Park. It is difficult to find accommodation on weekends without a booking. Some of the places to stay inc
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sorts, Jungle Lodges, Tusker Trails and Bush Betta. Forest department has some guest houses and dormitories in Bandipur village. If you are not very keen to stay close to Bandipur, cross the border to Tamilnadu and you can find plenty of resorts in and around Masinagudi.
Bandipur is close to its adjoining wildlife sanctuaries – Mudumalai in Tamilnadu and Muthanga in Kerala. Other near by places which can be visited include Ooty – the famous hill station.