The Nilgiri biosphere reserve in South India is rich in wildlife, and includes a large belt of forests vital for the migration and survival of Asian elephants. Nestled in the foothills of the Nilgiri hills, Bandipur National Park, also a Tiger Reserve, is part of this ecosystem and covers 880 square kilometers.
Once the private hunting grounds of the Maharajah of Mysore, Bandipur was one of the first parks to be brought under “Project Tiger” to save the national animal from extinction. It is a prime wildlife destination, boasting of a high density of Indian tigers and a fifth of the Asian elephants in the world.
The large number of waterholes and varied vegetation make Bandipur National Park a suitable habitat for a variety of wildlife. The forests are scrub and dry deciduous, but moist towards the interior. Large grassy areas support different species of deer, while elephants feast on the bamboo forests.
Accommodation at Bandipur is available at resorts around the park. These resorts and the forest department organize jungle safaris for visitors (in the early morning and evening) in open jeeps, with trained naturalist guides, for close up views of wildlife. Jungle Lodges Resort (under the Karnataka Government) is recommended for its eco-friendly policies, specially the safari with one of the finest naturalists, Basavanna H.S.
Animals sighted frequently at Bandipur include sambar (the largest Asiatic deer), chital (spotted deer), wild boar, sloth bear, langur (monkey), dhole (Indian wild dog), gaur (Indian bison), barking deer, giant squirrel and different species of reptiles. It is common to see herds of wild elephants, and encounter a “mock” charge by a matriarch to protect the calf in the herd. Tigers and leopards are also spotted, though they are generally elusive.
Bandipur is a bird watcher’s delight, being home to over 300 species. They are seen especially at dawn around waterholes, and include the flycatcher, black winged stilt, cormorant, snake bird, fish owl, kingfisher, eagle, jungle fowl, woodpecker, shrike, common hawk cuckoo and lapwig. A spectacular sight is that of a peacock (India’s national bird) in a graceful dance, resplendent feathers fanned out to attract a mate.
Temperatures at Bandipur range between 10C in winter and 35C in summer, with rains during May-August. May to October is best for viewing wildlife, but Bandipur has much to offer at any time of the year, even if the striped lord of the jungle remains hidden!
Sanctuaries and Wildlife of Karnataka: S. G. Neginhal
Personal visit/jungle safari
Personal Interview with Basavanna H.S.
India: published by Lonely Planet