Nagarhole-Bandipur National Parks
The tiger may be our national animal, but another animal which essentially brings India to mind is the mighty elephant. Maharajas sitting in howdahs
on a resplendently adorned elephants, and caparisoned elephants gracing festivals and temples are images our lores are made of. If you want to visit the elephant country, there is no better place than the Nagarhole and Bandipur national parks in Karnataka.
These parks are a contiguous belt with Mudumalai forests in the geographical limits of Tamil Nadu and Wynad in Kerala. Of course, these parks are vastly spread out and to do justice to them, you can do only one or two at a time. You can approach Nagarhole and Bandipur from Bangalore or Mysore (this is just 80 - 90 kms away) by road.
Asian elephants and tigers
More than a thousand Asian elephants are estimated to live in this tract. For a long time, the notorious brigand Veerappan had held sway over the core areas of the Mudumalai-Bandipur forests, indulging in indiscriminate poaching and felling of sandalwood trees, causing untold destruction. His death should bring to an end the reign of terror, and hopefully, the mauled forests should regain some of their robustness.
Apart from the elephants, Nagarhole and Bandipur are also tiger reserves. But tigers, being loners and elusive creatures, not to mention, nocturnal ones, it is possible that you may not spot them. But don't let that disappoint you; the forest has lots more to offer in terms of wildlife and raw nature.
Trips down dirt roads
Private vehicles are not allowed to tour the forests, but the van and jeep safari should acquaint you with the wonders of the wildlife. These trips take you on the dirt road close to the grazing areas and watering holes where the chances of spotting animals are high. The bus guide, though not a naturalist in himself, spots animals for you with a practised ease of one. The animals that you will come across often are the wild dogs, chitals
or spotted deers, gaur
or the Indian bison, and langurs
or the Hanuman monkey. The national bird, peacock, too may make a gracious appearance. If you are exceptionally lucky, you may also spot the big cats - the tiger or a leopard.
The best way to see these forests is on an elephant-back. This is an experience in itself. You are that much closer to the tree tops and have the advantage of height to get a wider view. The mahouts
are well-versed in the ways of the jungle folks and can be good guides too.
Plan and book beforehand
Like elsewhere in India, here too, it would be advisable to book lodging in resorts well in advance. The summer is the peak tourist season, but being far more pleasant in winters, the months of November to February are also pretty packed. You can make bookings at the forest department's wildlife offices at Bangalore, Mysore and Hunsur, the latter particularly for Nagarhole. Here, you should get information on different types of jungle lodges and resorts and the facilities therein, so that you can make your pick.
In Bandipur, there are the forest department's bungalows and the tourist department's resorts, which are comfortable and reasonably-priced. Most of these resorts have caretakers who cook up a hot meal given a bit of notice.
Kabini River Lodge
If you are the kind who wishes to live as close to the wild as possible, be sure to stay in Kabini River Lodge near Nagarhole. A Maharaja's old hunting lodge has been converted into a quaint and exclusive holiday resort on the banks of river Kabini, which is the watering hole for a large species of animals. You can also take a boat cruise over the river for a more heightened experience. Kabini River Lodge is considered one of the top five jungle resorts in the world, today!
Be prepared to spend at least 4 to 5 days to make the most of your stay, because apart from the elephant- and big-game trail, you would also like to go for nature walks.
You will not find a better way to acquaint your children with animals in their natural habitat and to enliven in them a love for wildlife. Such a holiday will go a long way in making them aware of the sanctity of wild life and of the need to conserve and preserve our varied ecological habitats.