Sunday, May 17, 2009

Vacation with Strangers - Bandipur National Park

"Stop making these blog friends" said Saru one day.

Vam: Why? What is wrong?
Saru: You are already a travel freak. These people add fuel to the fire. You are traveling too much!!
Vam: Lakshmi says "There is no such thing as too much traveling" and you know....Jayanti wants to go on a trip every month and make 2009 the best travel year of her life!
Saru: Who is Lakshmi? Who is Jayanti?
Vam: My blog friends
Saru: Exactly what I am saying. These people are bad influence on you!!

Saru's complaint was not that I was traveling too much, but that I was traveling without him. After my Corbett trip, he wanted to go on a trip that would top it. I contacted T & S for ideas and they asked if we wanted to join them.

Vam: Do you want to go to Bandipur NP with T & S?
Saru: Who are T & S?
Vam: My blog friends.
Saru: Travel with strangers? Are you nuts? What if they are weirdos? What if they are crazy? OMG...What if they are man-eating cannibals?
Saru's overactive imagination kept going - What if they are not cool, what if they are messy, what if they are boring, what if they are serial killers.......
Vam (shaking her head): SARU!!
Saru: I am not going anywhere with strangers. This whole thing is very suspicious.
Vam: OK FINE! We are staying at home for the long weekend.
Saru: Those are my options - get eaten by cannibals OR stay at home!!
Vam: Yes! Otherwise, YOU plan a vacation.
Saru: OK, OK, let's go to Bandipur

It is hard enough to make friends in this fast-paced world, let alone friends with common interests, so I really wanted to go on the trip. I have an insatiable thirst to travel and I am slowly realizing that there are many more like me in India. What better way than to pair up with them and travel to my heart's content.

Thomas and Shilpy were not weird or crazy and definitely NOT cannibals (rolling my eyes at Saru's overactive imagination). They were absolutely wonderful company and we had a great trip together. Maybe it was because we were following each others blogs, but it didn't feel as if we were meeting for the first time. Conversation was very easy and we had some great discussions sitting around the bonfires in the night. You can check out their blog here.

We started really early on Thursday, April 30 and drove towards Bandipur. Day 1 was spent at the Ranganathittu wildlife Sanctuary and a beautiful forest house in Anaikadu. I will write about these in a separate post. We reached Bandipur in the afternoon. Our first wildlife sightings inside the park were the spotted deer that were everywhere and macaque and langur monkeys. Here is one doing some monkey business:

Our stay at Tusker Trails included two safaris a day. One at 6:30 in the morning and another at 3:30 in the afternoon.

"Yesterday - very bad for safari. It rained like anything! " Said the manager in a very heavy Malayalam accent.
"Are you having any interesting sightings? asked Thomas.
"Yes, one jeep seeing one tiger 2 days back and my workers seeing a leopard outside the property. Leopard is killing a calf. Sometimes, elephants walking outside fence " he answered in broken English.

With lots of hopes, we all set off on our first safari in the park. Thomas picked the same driver he had used for his Dec 31 tiger sighting. Selva was very knowledgeable about the park and took us away from the beaten path. The rain from the last 2 weeks had given the park a green-makeover. Coming from Mumbai, where the hills were still brown, I loved being in the middle of this lush greenery. Every few minutes we would come across spotted deer and Sambar deer. The jungles seem to have a very healthy population of deer which pleased us.

Just as were enjoying the forest, the sky turned dark and it started drizzling dashing our hopes of seeing a thirsty tiger at a waterhole. We came across a herd of elephants - 4 adults and 4 calves. The sound of our jeep immediately put the matriarch on alert. It's ears perked up and it came closer to the jeep. It stopped just a few feet away and let out a loud trumpet. My heart beat went up and I was terrified that it would charge at us. Selva switched off the jeep and we all sat very very silently. Elephants are very careful when they have their calves around. Sensing that everything was OK, they crossed the road. The angry matriarch was about 10 feet away, Saru had the wrong lens 70-300mm loaded, and lighting was poor. But he managed to click a fairly sharp image at 1/20s exposure (go VR!).

A little later, we came across a herd of Indian Gaur - a type of Bison that Thomas joking referred to as a bison with white lipstick and white socks! For such a ferocious looking animal, it is very shy. The minute they sensed that the jeep stopped, they ran away inside the jungle at a lightening speed. Saru took these standing and action shots.

On our way back to the resort, Saru spent some time watching the Cheetal and got these great shots. I particularly like the one that is standing on two feet to eat the leaves on the tree.

Next day, we were up by 5:30 and on our safari by 6:15. Because of the rains, peacocks were really active. We saw this peacock sitting and preening itself.

We saw some more elephants along the way. This time also, they had babies, so as soon as they sensed our presence, they surrounded the babies and
walked/pushed them away from us. How very protective!!

Just as we entered the main road to get to another trail, we spotted the most common species of mammals in the park - the human kind . An over sized Volvo bus was parked in the middle of the road and the passengers spread out a bed sheet ON the road in the shade of the bus and were eating a 4 course meal out of a stacked tiffin carrier while occasionally throwing bananas and leftovers to the monkeys and deer!! Only in India!!

A little ahead, we saw a group of people sneaking into the jeep trails on foot!! We stopped our jeep and I said "Guys, it is very dangerous to be on foot inside the forest. What if you startle an elephant or a tiger? Please go back". They looked at me as if to say "Bugger off lady...mind your own business". Just recently there was a case of an elephant trampling a British tourist in Kaziranga National Park. You DO NOT want to be on foot near an elephant. One of the guys was also wearing a red pant and white shirt (somebody with a very poor sense of fashion) - both colors that freak out an elephant!!
Thomas said to the group "Guys, you will be fined heavily if a forest department folks see you". Immediately the group started retreating back.
"What the hell? They don't get "life-in-danger", but they get "Rs 200 fine" ?? Only in India!

Tigers are very hard to spot in South Indian Jungles. A recent survey put the numbers at 105 tigers in the 100 square km park. I had made up my mind that we wont see the cat and I was OK with that. "Tigers are overrated!" I said to myself. In their last 20 trips to the jungles of Karnataka, Thomas and Shilpy said they saw tigers twice. We were driving on an isolated path and i could not believe my eyes when I spotted one hiding in the bushes. There it was - "The Royal Bengal Tiger".


The tiger was soaking in a waterhole and was disturbed when it heard our jeep. It looked straight at us. I had the camera and the best view because I was sitting in the front seat. This was my FIRST time seeing a wild tiger that close. I tried to take a picture, but my heart was racing and
my hands were shaking. I took a couple of shots, but both shook. I knew I could not focus, so I passed on the camera to Saru. I had a small camera and could have shot a video, but my mind was numb and it really was not my brightest hour. I just sat there silently watching the animal watch us.

We had 2 options - pass by it and get a clear view and good pictures, but we run the risk of alarming the tiger and it could run away into the bushes. Option 2 was to stay where we were and wait for it to come out. We decided to wait. We were preparing ourselves to wait for a good 30-45 minutes for the animal to come out, when the tiger suddenly jumped out of the water and ran to the other side of the road. The entire thing happened in 9 SECONDS (time based on Thomas's first and last shot)!! You can see the tiger running and water dripping from its body in these pictures.

The tiger went inside the Lantana bushes and settled down to take a nap. Based on how full the belly looked, Selva said " It had a huge meal. It is going to sleep at least for one hour". We decided to stake out there until the tiger came out. All four of us were photographers and loved wild life, so we did not mind sitting there watching the bushes for over an hour. The sun set and it was time for the park to close, but there were no signs of the tiger coming out, so we left. On the way back, you could see 4 beaming faces brimming with excitement.

Back at the lodge:
"How was your safari? Did you see anything?"
" OMG Really? we didn't see anything! ''
"The tiger was a was MAJESTIC!"
"Oh wow, you are lucky!"
"Yes, Vamsee sighted it. It was awesome!"
"You want to see our it is running with water dripping from its it is disappearing into the bushes..."

After showing off to our heart's content, we sat around the bonfire with a drink and raised our glasses to a great day!

NOTE: As you can tell, I changed my blog template to be able to post larger size images (Thanks Thomas) Leave me a comment and tell me if you like it. Also, let me know which one is your favorite image.

COMING UP PART 2 -Our dream run of sightings continue on Day 2


  1. Hi Vamsee,

    The post is a super hit! Pictures are more than 'beautiful', they are very expressive and nicely framed. I like your dialog with saru too, somehow we need to educate our partners about blog friends, LOL. I especially liked the motion capture of Gaur. Among other photos I liked, the tiger walking away gracefully, peacock perched on the branch with its glorious feathers, and the cheetal reaching for the leaves. Keep traveling and bringing such wonderful reports back.

    Regarding theme - its well suited for the type of pictures you want to present and looks pretty on my Mac/Firefox. But you know I am biased against blogspot, lol. :)

    cheers, Priyank

  2. Vam i finally got a little bit of time on sunday morning to read your blog. As always i like the way you write it. I feel like saru and vam and right in front of us and as always great pictures. I got a new camera thinking now i can take great pictures but realized that it is not the camera it is how the photographer uses it ( I think i suck at taking pictures).

  3. Wow awesome pictures! I liked the first part of your blog (Yours and Saru's coversation).

  4. Its Sunday here, and all I wanted to do was to browse the blog just to look at pictures. Since we don't buy the newspaper, I figured this blog will be my surrogate comic strip. I know Saru is no match for Calvin & Hobbes, but man did it come close! That picture of the bull running scared look so appropriate on Wall street just about now. No wonder you could not see any bears! He must have had a lot of coffee to get a classy photo like that. Very beautiful picture Vamsee. I am so envious.

  5. You have done it again. Good write up and pics.

    Your attempt at motion blur for running gaur pic is almost achieved. have you tried one shutter speed up for this ?

  6. I love it !!!! I love it!!!! Everything about the blog the pictures your writing. It became a family event me reading your writing and the whole family including Dev fully gripped by the pictures. Iyer says you should be writing for the National Geographic. I think your a genius your just terrific the way you do things :)

  7. Gaur in motion was amazing ...through your stunning pics we lived your experience...keep sharing....

  8. Akka...I am with saru here..T&S...You are crazy...what if they are boring..What if they are paagall ppl...What if any girl stranger falls in love with Saru..hehe..Just kidding..wonderful Pics and just as ravi said, i feel like u guys are talking right in front of me....
    Nice going...

  9. Great writeup, pictures. Cheetal(?! I would call it a deer. That's all I know about wild life) standing on its hind limbs to eat its food is a beautiful picture.


  10. Vamsee : On the way back to bangalore you were asking...what if we were weird, I didn't know that actually meant " man-eating cannibals". Both me and S are having a good laugh reading your post over a cup of tea this morning.

    Coming to your post, this template suits your style of writing and pictures very well. There seems to be small issue of width. you need to reduce the size of the margins or side bar slightly so that it doesn't appear after the post like this. And a 3:2 aspect ratio is ideal for images on this template.

    Coming to the images, the quality of images is very good here. I can't pick a absolute favorite, however the images of the Chital standing on 2 legs, the full frame shot of the Peacock and ofcourse the Tiger images are the best.

    I can't wait for part 2...Thomas

  11. Ooooh! Fantastic Vamsee. I was totally mesmerized by your adventure. Wonderful shots too.

    It is difficult to choose a single shot. The deer's can be rated as one of the best. I hope the other animals don't feel bad, particularly the tiger... I don't wish to end up as its meal. ;)

  12. Priyank,
    Thanks a lot. And yes....we need to educate our partners about blog friends!! As for blogger, there is no way I will move to wordpress, just when I am getting better with blogger.

    I am a little confused if you are Ravi-my cousin or Ravi aka Babu. In any case, thanks for leaving a comment. I keep my writing very simple....almost as if I am telling my experience to a friend. Keep at it with Photography, it will get better with time. Mine increased by leaps and bounds after I started this blog.

  13. Karuna,
    Thanks. Did Hasitha see the pictures of the tiger?

    Good to see you back here. The bull/wall street comment is funny. As for will be proud of your friend when you find out what he had and how he held up. Will call and tell.

    Thanks. Saru had less than 1 second to take this picture, so there was no question of playing around with camera settings

  14. Fun blog Vamsee, great photos Saru.

    You have enough weird friends like us already, so I don't see why Saru should have worried about new weird friends..:-).

  15. Puja/Deepa,
    That is so sweet that your entire family read/saw my blog. Thanks a lot for your encouraging comments. It feels good.

    The Gaur pic was indeed a good shot. Thanks for visiting my blog regularly.

    Is this your first comment on my site?? Nice. Thanks a lot.

  16. Ram,
    Welcome to my blog and thanks a lot for leaving a comment. What did the trick - the new format or Saru's fantastic pictures?

    Thanks for being very sportive. I knew you would, but was still a little apprehensive about writing that bit about serial killers and man eaters. Saru lives in a cartoon character world sometimes and loves to over-dramatize our lives:)
    Thanks for those tips on my template. I need to play around with it a little bit more.

  17. aaaaah..... I m totally jealous !!!!! :)

  18. Indrani,
    That was a very sweet comment. Thanks. It was pretty cool to see the cheetal stand on its 2 legs and stretch out to eat the leaves of the tree.

    What are you talking about - you guys are the most traditional friends we have. I can't think of any weirdness associated with you except that for a guy you have too many shoes:)

    Wait till part 2 to be totally jealous:)

  19. Hey Vam, as always the feel-good factor after reading ur writings is 100%. I feel, so what if I dint spot a tiger. At least my friend did, once from afar ( Corbett) and now this close! Wow! What I am envious about is ur has nothing to do with's the artists' eye in u n Saru that brings out amazing pix.

    I loved the one of the deer on its hindlegs but the shots of the tiger blew me away.

    Have been trying to set up a blog too but I can write, period. Know nothing about formatting, settings, background, links, insering pix...etc. When it comes to technology am still a 14th century-ite!!!

    Travel lots and keep on!!

    and hey, thanks for mentioning me...I love my 3 seconds of fame :-)

  20. had seen the tiger report @ T & S and was expecting something to come up here :) Worth the wait, I shud say ... and I enjoyed every bit of that conversation in the beginning. I can imagine a very similar one with my wifie as well :) thnx for the nice report.

  21. Hey Vamsee,

    Super post!! You make it such fun to read! The pics are so lovely! I just loved the chital and the gaur! Waiting for part 2...


  22. Absolutely fantastic images. Don't make me pick one. I really cannot choose!! This sounds like so much fun. If we were in India, I'd have wanted to join you guys!

  23. Jayanthi,
    It is comments like yours that make me want to write more. Thanks. I will get you started with a blog - It is very very easy.

    Thanks. I guess you are one of the very few that follow both our blogs.

    Thanks for being such a loyal visitor to my blog. I love it. Hope you are working on your Corbett piece.

    I would have loved to travel with you. Move to India:)

  24. Absolutely stunning photos! Very interesting post. Is it easy to change templates?

  25. What an absolutely out of this world superb post!The animal shoot was just spectacular, thank you.

  26. This was fantastic and the shots were awesome. Thank you so much for sharing your safari adventure. I would love to go on one some day.

  27. What a fabulous trip and thanks so much for sharing these great shots. I also enjoyed your narrative. I've met a few blog friends and so far none have been cannibals, ha.

  28. Saru and Vamsy great posts and pictures. Thanks for sharing them with us. I never knew India had such a wonderful wildlife treasure, and all that we hear from our press back home is dwindling animal count. One more thing one of you is turning up to be a wonderful author, I see "Booker prize" on the Horizon.

  29. Wolynski,
    Thanks and hope my email helped you figure out changing templates.
    Arija, 2sweetnsaxy,
    Thanks. Do visit India some time. We have amazing bird and animal life here.
    Thanks and lol for your comment on cannibals. My husband tends to exaggerate!

    Hey....welcome to my blog. it is the first time you or Naveena actually posted a comment. Thanks a lot. We have a lot of variety in wildlife in India and it is being maintained very well. I am amazed at what I get to see when I travel to National Parks in India.

  30. Vam: What a wonderful pictorial of the animals from your trip. You did a winderful job of photography. I loved your story and had to laugh at the canibals you are meeting, me included.

  31. I would have been trembling with excitement, too, if I were to see a wild tiger! What a great experience. Sounds like a wonderful trip. I can't wait to see next week's post!

  32. Vamsee,

    I haven't read your blog yet , but saw the pictures and they blew my mind. Saru - fantastic job .


  33. It's nice to meet you and your wild friends.

  34. Wow! This is most awesome. A safari is definately on my list. And to see the Tiger, Amazing. A wonderful post and great captures. I'll bet Saru was glad to have gone.

  35. Hi
    Had a taste - henceforth will travel with you! Don't mind the haddi. :)

  36. Fishing guy,
    Thanks for your comment. The reason I write these travelogues is to come back a few years from now and laugh at the silly things we said and did.

    Yes, I was literally shivering!!Next week's post will be even better.

    I don't expect you to read my blog at least until your newborn is 2 months, so you are off the hook. Saru was pleased to see your comment


    Saru was thrilled beyond words at what we saw in this trip. Thanks for coming back.

    You are most welcome:)

  37. Awesome pictures and a nice blog as well. Can't really pick any favorite as all of them are good. After seeing all you blogs, there are so many things that I want to do when I travel to India, but donno if/when I'll fit them in :)

  38. I love the shot of the elephant family. We saw a tiger in Chitwan Royal Park and it was so exciting!

    You are right, there is no such thing as too much travel. I started my blog as a travel blog but then we didn't go any where else very interesting yet. This summer we will travel in the Rocky Mountain west and will get some good pics.

  39. just checked out the pics..Awesome awesome pictures! My fav is the standing gazelle...will read leisurely and comment again later.

  40. Beautiful, interesting pictures of the wildlife. The Elephants, the tiger, the gazelles and more all in one day. Love the Gaur with his cotton mouth. The peacock is such a majestic bird. All the animals and birds are at their best in the wild. All the pictures are awesome. Thanks for that wonderful safari.
    I think with blogging you find people with the same interests and that is always a good start to form a friendship if you are able to meet up outside the "cybersphere".

  41. Aruna,
    YES!! Let's do something very exotic and make it worth your time since you are coming all the way from the US.
    Thanks for agreeing with me about 'too much travel'. I showed it to Saru with a big smile on my face.

    Thanks...we should go on a trip somewhere when you come here.

    Thanks for your generous comments. I do agree that blogging is fast becoming my way of making friends in India.

  42. These are some stunning pictures. Great work of photography! The Indian Gaur running and the Chittal on two feet and the tiger and the peacock and the elephant family and the monkey... and.. did I mentioned all of them? Well Great Photos these are..

  43. Fantastic snaps. The peacock snap is the most beautiful one. I will definitely love to make this trip at the next best opportunity available. Looking forward to next in the series

  44. Superbes photos! beautifull :-)

  45. Kcalpesh,
    Thanks for your generous comments on this and other posts. I love hearing good comments and it encourages Saru and I a lot.

    Thanks. You should.


  46. Congratulations!! You have a nice blog.

  47. Ha ha. That was hilarious! Just because two of your blog friends are 'not crazy, not wierd' doesn't prove a thing. Maybe there is a 'man' eating cannibal lurking here, but as long as they don't have a taste for women, you are safe!! :)

  48. Lovely pictures too. Some of these moments frozen in camera are exceptional!

  49. Zawir,

    Sssh. Saru is just about convinced that my blog friends are normal people. Don't give him any more ideas!
    Thanks for your comment about the pictures. Saru is really good.

  50. hey ... How are you both? wow...amazing...awesome!!! OK i am running out of words when i look at the pics. My favs are the deer eating while standing on its 2 legs and the tiger pics.
    U both should be working for the Travel channel or the National geographic!!!!
    Thank for sharing ur travel experiences with us.

  51. Hi Vamsee! Sorry for the absence, but I’ve been busy with my parents’ health; almost 180 years to care... ;)
    I'm so happy you managed to convince Saru to travel around; the only way for me to see these beautiful Bandipur pictures!!!

    Blogtrotter is paying homage to Vilnius as European Capital of Culture 2009 and waits for your comments. ;) Hope you enjoy and have a great weekend!

  52. Your writing brings the whole experience vividly alive.The pics are absolutely wonderful-my favourite is the deer on its two feet.Have you given up going around Mumbai......maybe I would run into you again soon!


  53. Pratima,
    As you can see....we are doing GREAT! Thanks for coming by and leaving a comment.

    Hope your parents are doing better now. I checked out your posts on Lithuania. As usual, it was good.

    Thanks. We still go birding with Julius and the other Namunas. Will see you and Sooraj one of these days.

  54. Vamsee, oh how I missed your quibbles with Saru – tell him I will visit one day and expect him to be there:-)
    OMG your pics are brilliant… the one with the running Gaur – stunning! And you know I LOVE your writing. If only I had half of your talent…

  55. Oh, I forgot to mention that I like the bigger pics, but the "sideboard" (I hope you know what I mean- you know "about me", "followers", etc.) doesen't show up right next to the text body, it's way down. Maybe it's because I only have a laptop?

  56. I can understand Saru's reaction..sounds like sharath when I tell him abt my birding have had a brilliant trip to Bandipur..some amazing pics as well..

  57. Fida,
    Thanks for your comments. It is good to have you back. I missed seeing your comments.
    I think I fixed the sidebar issue. please tell if you are still seeing it at the bottom.

    Saru and Sharath seem to be a lot like each other. We should get together and go on a trip:)


  58. Hi Vamsee,

    First of all, thanks for sharing these lovely wildlife images.

    Snippets of your conversation with Saru always makes me laugh. I love NPs and your post brought back memories of my visit to the Bandipur NP years back. These pictures are awesome, and if I have to choose one, it's the Cheetal on 2 feet. I'm glad you had that rare opportunity to sight a!

  59. excellent photography. I had visited this region 3 yrs back .

  60. vamsee, the part about blog friends strikes a chord with me too.. and the reaction from hubby is also similar.... however unlike you, i have yet to get a chance to travel with my blog friends....

    and you really have been lucky this time......

  61. You had so many excellent shots there. The running bison, peacock in the tree, deer eating from a tree...I could go on and on but those were the ones that stayed in my mind.

  62. They are all great photos. The best experience for me would be to see the tiger. The best photo to me is the elephants protecting the calf.

  63. stunning captures, each and every one. the monkeys remind me of my new kitten who loves to hang from anything and everything.
    enjoyed your commentary too.

  64. Vamsee, thank you for this fantastic safari trip! Your pictures are so stunning and beautiful. Its like real time capture! And most of all what a fun time having a bloggers meet up! Congratulations for a wonderful blog!

  65. Vamsee The Wldlife Photography Is So Amazing !! You Are An Excellent Photographer And Rather Very Lucky To Get Some Wonderful Images...Great Blog..I Check Your Blog Regularly Just To See What Is New In Your Box....Great

  66. Beautiful, beautiful photos. And glad to know you survived T & S. :P

  67. Hi Dear
    Thanks for your good travel site your images are very beautiful . please keep it in future. South India Vacation.

  68. Great Snaps,Saru & Vamsee. Specifically the peacock.

  69. Vamsee, Hasitha saw these pictures couple of times and she saw it again today. She enjoyed so much and she asked "Where is lion?All other animals are there"

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  71. Hi Dear,
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