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