Are you going on a trip? Where to? Bandipur? Again? Why are you going to Bandipur so often? What all have you seen there? You can see lions and leopards at zoos, right? Why do you have to go all the way to Bandipur for that? These are some of the questions we face each time we plan a trip. This time was no different.
Most people think that a trip into the deep forest is exciting only if you come across the wild animals like tiger, leopard, bear or elephant. Although we have been to Bandipur Tiger Reserve in Karnataka district several times, we were never able to see the ‘superstars’ of the jungle. It had come to a point where we really doubted if there were any wild animals in this jungle at all. But, this time, we learned a lesson: there is an ideal time for everything, and it applied in animal sightings too.
We enrolled for ‘Run to Bandipur’ organized by ‘Photo Muse’ only two days before the trip was to begin. Photo Muse is the first photo museum in India. The three-day camp was held on 23, 24 and 25 September.
We were 22 photographers attending the camp. What united us was our passion for wildlife photography. Among us were college students, doctors and wedding photographers – people who nurtured a zest for photography even when they worked in different fields. It was a first jungle safari for many of the campers. Muhammad Ashraf, one of the people who came for the camp was working in Qatar. He had taken leave from work and come directly to the camp from the airport.
There was a zeal and excitement was palpable for everyone. On our first safari, we spotted a bear. But, he was off to the trees in a flash. None of us managed to get a snap of him; however, we felt happy. We considered it a good omen.
The rain played hide and seek as we went on the safari. When we got back we noticed that there was a lot of activity at the camp. A leopard had crossed the road and was walking very close to our camp. One member of our camp managed to get a picture. However, it remained elusive to us.
The rain clouds lingered over us when we set out for the first safari in the evening. The safari in the bus lasts an hour. Two Gypsy's moved in front of us. Both the Gypsies turned to the place where a tiger used to come to drink water. Meanwhile, our bus turned to the left.
We hadn’t moved too far when we heard a rather loud whisper: “Behold the leopard!” Then there was a pin drop silence. All of a sudden, many cameras flashed. The leopard was drinking the rain water collected in a hole on a rock. The leopard knew that the bus has stopped. But, least bothered, the animal went on drinking the water, inadvertently posing for snaps from different angles. After a minute, the leopard vanished into the woods. Not really convinced, we stared into the viewfinder. Wasn’t it a leopard? Yes, it was!
At 5.30 pm, we set out for the next safari. We took the same route as in the morning. We traced the potential walkway of the leopard. Suddenly, we saw some people standing by a vehicle that had halted, pointing their fingers to a tree top. And there was a leopard climbing up the tree! We waited with our hearts pounding with excitement. The buses and SUVs waited for an hour to see the leopard descending from the tree after his nap. It was 6.45 pm when the animal finally woke up. Instantly, numerous cameras flashed, and we had the spotted wild beauty of the jungle captured in our lens. We bade him goodbye, and returned to our camp. The whole night, we could hear the alarm ringing, giving a hint that the leopard we saw was hanging around.
On the third and final day of the camp, during our morning safari, we saw the bear again. And again, he was off in a flash.
But the goddess of the woods was kind enough to bless us with a treat on the last day. Peacock, wild buffalo, red mongoose… a delightful visual treat of the sylvan secrets! Just two more safaris remained before we would leave the forest.
It was raining when the Gypsies entered the jungle. Our expectations were damp like the weather, as we knew that animals usually would not wander outside during showers. On either side of the road were tall grasses and climbers. Muddy pools had formed on the path.
Slowly and silently the Gypsy descended a slope. Whoa! A tiger - just in front of us! It was the newcomer to the tiger reserve – a male tiger. It passed closely across the Gypsy and moved into the green woods. Once, it posed as if it was going to take a leap. For an instant, our eyes and cameras forgot to blink! Leaving us spellbound, the handsome tiger vanished into the woods. Expectant to see it again, we hung around for some time.
We shared with those who came after us about our encounter with the tiger. As we moved on a bit, we came across a large python, basking by the wayside. When we returned, we were surprised to find the photographs of the tiger captured by a team who came in a Gypsy after us - the tiger peeping from a cluster of green leaves! Although we couldn’t manage to capture its photo, we didn’t feel sorry. Seeing the tiger so closely was an unforgettable experience.
Never go for jungle safaris with the sole intention of seeing tigers and leopards. There you get many priceless moments to capture the spectacular beauty of the woods in the brilliant natural light. You must be patient enough to wait. That’s all.
When we got back to the camp, there was a happy news. Our friend, Muhammed Asraf, who had come for the camp without going home had become a father to a baby girl. Asru’s joy knew no bounds. One day, he would narrate the story of his unforgettable jungle safari to his new- born daughter. For us, this time was an exception. We did not take a lot of photos. We saw the jungle, and the memories are all that remain.
Kottayam – Thrissur – Vazhikadavu – Gudallur – Bandipur
Entry fee – 200
Gypsy – 3000 (1.30 hours)
Bus – 100 (Rs. 300 for first safari including the entry fee. Rs. 100 for second one)
Morning: 6.30 am – 9.30 am
Evening 3.30 pm – 6.30 pm