Why The Serai Bandipur Is Every Birdwatcher’s Paradise

The gentle ruffle of feathers, a lone chirp in the wee hours of the morning… and then, a series of chirps in response to the first – these subtle sounds would wake me before sunrise in a land where the September air was nippy and nature, alive. I was at ‘The Serai Bandipur – Experiential Bloggers’ Retreat’ with a handful of bloggers from across India. We would spend our next few days exchanging ideas and stories over endless cups of coffee, bowls of soup, a jungle safari and a night-long party which would seal our friendship into something more lasting.

Befriending Bandipur

A pale-billed flowerpecker wakes up early to feed on some berries at The Serai, Bandipur.

A pale-billed flowerpecker wakes up early to feed on some berries at The Serai, Bandipur.

I would arise every day in a wonderland far removed from the cosmopolitan commotion of a city. This was Bandipur – a national park spanning over two hundred thousand acres in the South Indian state of Karnataka. The Bandipur Tiger Reserve attracts many travellers for the elusive big cat. In all honesty, it is not just the tiger, but also leopard that wildlife enthusiasts vie to catch a glimpse of. I, on the other hand, was not there just for the wild cat(s). I was on the hunt for some feathered friends.

Soaking In The Splendour Of The Serai

Butea flowers (palash) and bougainvilleas lie scattered outside my cottage - Serai's floral greeting in the morning?

Butea flowers (palash) and bougainvilleas lie scattered outside my cottage – Serai’s floral greeting in the morning?

Forests, although enchanting, can be exhausting in the sun and humidity. Fortunately, I was sheltered in a serene sanctum ensconced in luxury – The Serai Bandipur. This indulgent jungle resort kept me right in the middle of the wild, yet provided me with all creature comforts of an avant-garde property – a temperature controlled commodious room, fine bed-linen, a well-stocked swanky bathroom, a wood-panelled patio and a landscaped courtyard outside my cottage! With so much pampering, I knew I would never tire from my incessant birdwatching.

Sunbirds On Lilies & Babblers That Are Sly…

This purple sunbird elegantly sucks some nectar off these pretty bunch of fire lilies.

This purple sunbird elegantly sucks some nectar off these pretty bunch of fire lilies.

You must think I’m an early riser who staunchly lives by the proverb – ‘Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.’ That notion cannot be further from the truth. I am a spoilt city brat who is stuck to her laptop at 2am – the quintessential night owl. I cannot open my eyes until I am wrenched out of bed by my mum, admonishing me to finish breakfast so the maid can do the dishes. Only a place like Bandipur can make me get up so early, and that too without an alarm! At The Serai, I would be roused from my restful slumber by the gentle rays of the sun filling up my cosy room through the French windows. Instead of a shrill alarm or a scolding from my mother, I would wake up to the sweet sounds of chirruping songbirds. That would set the tone of yet another day to be spent chasing exotic avifauna.

…Because Balconies Are For Birding! 😉

I use my verandah only for one thing - looking for birds. See how my tripod is set up and my lens and camera-phone waiting to be used?

I use my verandah only for one thing – looking for birds. See how my tripod is set up and my lens and camera-phone waiting to be used?

Stone-walled porches with varnished wooden railings,

Leather upholstered armchairs and sunroof ceilings –

These little luxuries pale when compared

To glorious sightings of bushchats and hares.

With the first ray of light, I would step out to the lanai and get my equipment ready. I can do without my morning cuppa, but I lose my cool if my DSLR’s battery is not charged. When my Benro tripod is in position and the Canon lenses cleaned and kitted out with a UV filter, I know I am ready to shoot!

Bandipur’s Birds On My Balcony! <3

I see this Indian silverbill only for a second before it vanishes in the blink of an eye.

I see this Indian silverbill only for a second before it vanishes in the blink of an eye.

The Serai rewarded me with quite a few gorgeous sightings of passerine birds. I did have some trouble managing shots that weren’t hazy. (These birdies are so restless, it’s hard to catch them clean!) I now have flowerpeckers, sunbirds, silverbills, flycatchers, magpies, cormorants, bulbuls and several babblers, among others in my collection. I know I’m still an amateur when it comes to clicking these flying figures, because I spotted many more that left me too stupefied for my limbs to make any movement. I could go hungry for hours if only my eyes would feed on birds! But one must eat to lug around a tripod and a bulky camera bag.

Fine Dining In The Fair Weather

An array of freshly prepared delicacies are up for grabs at Sanctuary - Serai's pan-cuisine restaurant.

An array of freshly prepared delicacies are up for grabs at Sanctuary – Serai’s pan-cuisine restaurant.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner at Serai’s in-house restaurant (Sanctuary) are elaborate affairs. Their buffet spread comprises dishes from across the world (read – Vegetarian Food In Sharjah – What Nobody Tells You About Emirati Cuisine) and also some local favourites. I would generally have a platter of cut fruits, an egg – made to order, an idli, a pancake and a muffin with some freshly squeezed juice or a milkshake in the mornings. Afternoons would see me load my plate with assorted salads and dips, a baked pasta preparation, a hot naan – fresh off the pan, some grilled greens, a vegetable poriyal and some dish with gravy for the mains. I would finish off my meals with not less than 4 desserts – generally an ice cream, a mousse in a shot glass, some hot rabri with gulab jamun, and a decadent pastry.

Our evenings were usually spent at Moyar’s Edge – Serai’s bar, with a stunning view of the Nilgiri Hills of Ooty (only 2 hours away) and the crystal-clear swimming pool of the property. The bar is well stocked with aged single malts and imported wines, apart from the regular party-spirits and liqueurs. I avoid drinking these days to better practise my faith and cater to my diet as an athlete, so I took the opportunity to sample a couple of their mocktails. The evening chill helped stoke the warm conversations that flowed freely through the night.

Alcohol And Ornithology Don’t Go Together

The branches make it difficult to tell whether she is a white-bellied blue flycatcher or a bushchat.

The branches make it difficult to tell whether she is a white-bellied blue flycatcher or a bushchat.

Another reason I don’t like to drink is that it makes you too lethargic to wake up with the birds. I would never trade the chance of watching a munia fluttering towards her nest with a leaf in her beak for a night of mixed strong spirits leading to a hangover. That said, I couldn’t resist a glass of red wine (read – Sula Vineyards: A Fine-Wine Story) with my dinner on our last night at The Serai. I knew I would miss the place – the tranquillity of the 36-acre sprawling surroundings, the grandeur of the elegantly done interiors and the hospitality of the humble and helpful staff. They made me even more emotional with the intimate bonfire and the barbecued goodies that were served in the light drizzle in the evening.

Deep Tissue Massage Deep In The Forest

I spend close to 2 hours at the Oma Spa, hoping to relax my excited nerves (from all the birding adventures).

I spend close to 2 hours at the Oma Spa, hoping to relax my excited nerves (from all the birding adventures).

My time in Bandipur was not all birdwatching and gourmet dining and giggling with my new pals. I also booked myself into a 90-minute spa (which would ultimately stretch to 2 hours). My masseuse of North East Indian descent gave me the ‘fitness massage’ – one that not only releases the tension in my marathon-weathered muscles (read – Running in Lithuania – My First Half Marathon Abroad) but also has elements of aromatherapy. I could not feel my bones after every part of my body was kneaded with hot oil. I also opted for 10 minutes of ‘hot stone massage’ which involves rolling hot river stones (which are boiled in hot water) across your well-oiled back and arms. After the relaxing massage, I sat 15 minutes in the steam chamber (to unclog my pores and let my skin breathe) before taking a long shower to wash off the oils.

You Point Your Lens Better When Your Arms Are Strong

I also manage to spot a red-vented bulbul perched on a tree.

I also manage to spot a red-vented bulbul perched on a tree.

After the rejuvenating spa session, I had a quick breakfast and continued on my quest for more winged wonders. I had caught quite a few birds from afar, but I was still thirsting for a close-up. I had walked most of the trail (read – Forsyth Trail – A Hike through Satpura’s Core Tiger Zone) about the living quarters inside the property (spanning 18 acres), peeped up every tree that I could safely reach without being bitten by a snake, and stood still in my green pants and dark top (for camouflage), my camera delicately balanced on my palm. Yet, I hadn’t captured a bird so close it would blow my mind.

Would Passerines Pass By The Poolside?

I am restless as I watch my friends splash about at the pool - always afraid I'll miss a bird if I put my camera down.

I am restless as I watch my friends splash about at the pool – always afraid I’ll miss a bird if I put my camera down.

“C’mon! Change into your swimwear and jump in the water!” – My friends from Skreem prod me to leave my camera and enjoy the infinity pool (that has goalposts in case you and your gang wish to play a game of water polo). I am in two minds – I have come prepared with my towel and everything, but I can’t keep the DSLR aside. I am gripped by a fear that I will miss my best bird sighting when I am frolicking in the pool.

My Luck Finally Shines

My luck finally shines, and I catch this jungle babbler sitting right on the railing of my balcony! :-)

My luck finally shines, and I catch this jungle babbler sitting right on the railing of my balcony! 🙂

I spent that afternoon getting a tan on the sunbed by the swimming pool, but sacrificing pool-time did not yield me any sightings. (Sigh! 🙁 ) Next morning, however, as I got up to pack up my tripod, a look of resignation painted on my face, I was startled by the cacophonous chatter of a babbler. I’d almost dropped my zoom-lens in excitement! I quickly regained my composure and clicked away – delighted to have my feast served on a platter before my eyes. There wasn’t one, but half a dozen babblers that warbled away for close to a minute before disappearing from what seemed like a dream. My day was made.

Mission Accomplished!

I'm all smiles as I have fulfilled my goal of sighting pretty birds in Bandipur.

I’m all smiles as I have fulfilled my goal of sighting pretty birds in Bandipur.

That day, my joy knew no end! I wasn’t lost at the dinner table anymore. I did not forget to wish the couple that was celebrating their anniversary at this opulent resort. And, I was actually excited about the tiger sighting we had had in the afternoon. (I still don’t get the obsession over tigers, to be honest!)

In my eagerness for sharing my birding adventure with you, I have perhaps forgotten to tell you how swish our cottages were, or how breathtaking the views were from every corner of the property, or how we saw a tiger chase a spotted deer in the jungle. So, I’ve made a small video that captures some moments from my memorable stay at The Serai:-

Do birds make you feel the same way they make me feel?

Do you like tigers more than birds?

Let me know through your comments below! 🙂 I would also really like some feedback on my writing and video. I am quite new to videography and your tips on editing and shooting will really help. Don’t forget to subscribe to my Youtube channel to give me some encouragement!

Follow me on InstagramFacebook and Twitter for more pictures of birds and luxury jungle properties from my nature-trips! Do spread the love by sharing this article with birdwatchers and lovers of the wild! 🙂

Disclosure: I was hosted by The Serai – Bandipur. Nevertheless, all views are entirely my own.

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Forsyth Trail – A Hike through Satpura’s Core Tiger Zone (Part 1)

Rhythmic gurgle – a sound that my mind associates with struggle. I heard the rhythmic gurgling of the waters that seemed to wrestle with a multitude of obstacles on their way. I could see no sign of water, but the sound was conspicuous. “We’ll find her”, my guide assured me, almost reading my mind. He handed me the steel flask which clanged against the carabiner fastened to his rucksack. I gulped copious amounts of water, hoping it wouldn’t be my last drink. We were in the middle of the core zone of Satpura’s Tiger Reserve, and I could hear my heart beat over the loud gushing of the Denwa River.

The enchanting wilderness of Satpura

The enchanting wilderness of Satpura

Don’t startle a tiger, they say, and he won’t startle you. I wonder how a human keeps himself from startling a tiger, especially in a forest where humans have no business loitering! The more silence I was trying to create, the noisier I seemed to be. Dry sal leaves cheekily crushed themselves under my trekking shoes. I couldn’t blame the dead for failing to realize the value of life! The men in our small group broke into a boisterous laughter over a silly joke somebody had cracked. Did they really think they were invincible in a jungle full of tigers? The constant rustle of leaves from the towering sal trees convinced me that it was useless to be on my guard. If I indeed was meant to die at the hands (paws, rather) of a tiger, there was nothing I could do to prevent it. Resignation writ on my forehead, I trod on…

Dwarfed by the tall sal trees

Dwarfed by the tall sal trees

Walking through the woods

Rocky was here”, Chinmay – our naturalist, announced suddenly, referring to a tiger. He was pointing at an Arjun tree with a deep gash on its bark. I saw the perfect “R” in bold orange against the off white trunk which the wild cat had marked. I couldn’t help imagining how it would feel to be scratched by Rocky quite the same way. Would I then be as famous as Harry Potter because of my scar?

We were retracing the path taken by Captain James Forsyth, an explorer who served in the Indian Army in the late 19th century – while we were still under British rule. The more I walked, the more I realized that this was less about tigers and more about the other secrets of a forest. We came across ornate shells that clung to the rugged bark of a gum tree. The shell was actually the egg of the gum-tree-shield bug. How beautifully the mother protects her unborn!

Insects know the art of taking life just as well as that of giving life. I could confirm this when I saw a colony of termites methodically murdering a tree. Life and death scenes apart, Satpura showed us riveting patterns on the barks of distinct trees. I clearly remember what I now call the alligator-tree – Indian ebony with its bark designed to look like alligator hide.

Picnic in the forest

After a few hours of walking in the wild, our elaborate lunch was served under the shade of Arjun trees. The kitchen staff had prepared a fresh, hot spread of roasted cauliflower with potatoes and beans dressed in masala, phulkas, steamed rice, a thick gravy of lentil, and fruits for dessert. We cooled our heels by the stream, sipping on some coffee before beginning the next part of our walking safari.

Filling up some fuel for the walk that still remains

Filling up some fuel for the walk that still remains

After lunch, our terrain transformed from brown, flat earth to white, uneven pebbles. I could not feel the afternoon heat under the canopy of lime and savage green leaves. To my naïve eyes, this part of Madhya Pradesh appeared to be a rainforest.

A path full of pebbles, a roof of green

A path full of pebbles, a roof of green

Carnivores and herbivores

We did not stop running into interesting forest finds though! My botanist grandad would be proud of me to know how many plants we spotted. I particularly remember drosera – the carnivorous beauty that knows how to attract unsuspecting insects with its bright red colours, and then trap them on its sticky surface. Drosera, also known as sundew, can cure respiratory diseases. I should have gobbled fistfuls of that flower to get rid of my asthma!

In all my excitement, I almost forgot to be afraid of the crouching tiger. This is precisely when we spotted tiger pug-marks on our route. Soon after, we saw some animal scat. “That belongs to a herd of nilgai”, Chinmay informed us. “Pooping is a group activity for them.” It is amusing how poop can be so important in tracking animals. You can tell how far the beast is, what he has eaten, if he is diseased, just by studying his excrement.

Campsite in the core tiger zone

As the evening wore on, we drew closer to our campsite. The Pugdundee Safaris team was already waiting for us when crossed our final river to the elegantly set up tents. It would be an understatement to say the backdrop was stunning. We had a solid chunk of the Sahyadris looking over us, and columns of mahua trees to cordon off the rest of the forest. We were going to sleep in the core zone of the Satpura National Park! I was thrilled and hoped we’d encounter at least a leopard at night.

Our safari tents at the foot of the hills

Our safari tents at the foot of the hills

Luxury camping with creature comforts

This was my first glamping experience, and even though I love camping without frills, I thoroughly relished the luxury that was laid out before us. I was smack in the middle of nature, yet shielded from the unsavoury bits (I only mean insects). There was hot water in the wash basin in front my tent, private WC and even shower! The lever-operated shower bags were easily the most jaw-dropping piece of creature-comfort I’ve seen at a campsite. Weary from the long trek, my pleasure at being able to shower under the stars was immeasurable. In a  cloth-covered bathroom with nothing but the night sky for roof, I discovered what opulence truly was. I wouldn’t trade this for all the bathtubs at 5-star properties!

Campfire to warm the heart

We had joked all through the day, but it was at night when the serious conversations began. I cannot say whether it was the 22-year old Glenlivet or the chilly weather or the star-spangled sky or the enchantment of the wilderness, or simply, everything together, but we started talking about our lives, our sorrows, and the meaning of ‘love’. It is when your your trekking group is a close-knit one that you can talk into the night until there is no more wood to keep the fire going. (Okay, you can never run out of wood in a forest, especially when  you are glamour-camping. But it will kill the magic if I tell you Manav, Pugdundee’s co-founder, wouldn’t let us stay up any longer, because we had an early morning start for next day’s hike.)

Camaraderie by the campfire

Camaraderie by the campfire

I had planned on telling you the entire story in one blog post itself. However, my trip was so epic, that I had to keep the best bits saved for the sequel! 😉 My best moments from this walking safari was listening to the sounds of nature. I’m glad I did not have my earphones on (a bad habit I’ve picked up from the marathons I’ve been running).

 

The joy of doing nothing

The joy of doing nothing (Picture credit: Prabhat Verma)

For more pictures, follow my daily micro blogs on Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/oindrilade/.

You can also find inspiration from my Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/OindrilaGoesFootloose/.

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Have you ever tried glamping? Let me know of your experiences in the comments below!

Disclosure: I was hosted by Pugdundee Safaris. However, all views are entirely my own.

Silvassa in the Sizzling Summer Heat

The month of May started with a nice, long weekend, urging me to leave my polluted city and hop on a train to a neighbouring state. I almost flashpasked for this trip and decided to explore my fifth Union Territory – Dadra and Nagar Haveli [Read about my trips to Daman and Pondicherry]. As you read this post, you will discover that Silvassa (the capital) makes for a convenient and captivating weekend getaway from Mumbai.

It is not always crowded on Indian trains

It is not always crowded on Indian trains

Most people avoid Silvassa in the sweltering heat, but this is actually a good time to have the place all to yourself and give the tourist crowd a miss. There are several trains that halt at Vapi (Gujarat), and it’s a forty-minute rickshaw ride to Nagar Haveli from there on.

I had booked myself into Lotus Riverside Resort and was welcomed by a panoramic view of the Daman Ganga River surrounded by bountiful flowering trees on either bank. Despite the summer, the Sahyadris kept me cool.

The view from my balcony at the Lotus Riverside Resort in Silvassa

The view from my balcony at the Lotus Riverside Resort in Silvassa

It was evening by the time I reached my hotel and I was weary from the train journey, so I spent my first day enjoying a drink by the poolside. Later at night, I walked about a park nearby and admired the hedges and flowers in the moonlight. I did not know then that I would come across the tallest tree in the city early next morning.

On Day-2, I hired a car and a friendly local to drive me through the entire stretch of this union territory. It was going to be a busy day, and I knew I was going to love it!

This towering tree reminds me of 'Jack and the Beanstalk'

This towering tree reminds me of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’

My first stop was at the Vasona Wildlife Sanctuary. While I waited for my safari bus to arrive, I “walked” into (and I really mean ‘inside’) a giant, hollow tree.

Once our minibus whooshed into the forest, I prepared my camera for the alpha male of the jungle – the Lion. Vasona only has one lion but two lionesses in the expansive woodland. This is a grave reminder for us to step up our efforts to save these cats. I caught the lion in a rather docile state as he slept on his alluvial bed with his paramour keeping him company.

The lioness guards while the King of the Jungle sleeps

The lioness guards while the King of the Jungle sleeps [Shot during the Lion Safari]

A little away from the lions, we had the company of peafowls. I captured this handsome peacock as he strutted his shimmering blue neck and ornate crown. It is said that peacocks are polygamous and the more intricate their tails, the more chances they have of fathering another peacock. Peahens are plain Janes in front of their male counterparts.

I was fascinated by the striking blue neck of India's national bird - the peacock

I was fascinated by the striking blue neck of India’s national bird – the peacock

With one safari ticked off my list, I embarked on another. [Love the wild? Read about my trip to Bannerghatta National Park.] The Deer Park lay sprawled on another part of the Dadra and Nagar Haveli wildlife sanctuary. This safari was more intimate than the previous one as we had a roofless jeep with only four wildlife enthusiasts aboard.

Our jeep zips through a narrow road in the forest

Our jeep zips through a narrow road in the forest

The Deer Park is home to over four hundred deer, sambars and nilgais. If you are lucky, you will also spot some porcupines and peacocks. I passed quite a few chitals (or spotted deer, as they are commonly known) strolling about in the afternoon, their woody antlers smoothly blending with twigs and the barks of trees. Did you know that they shed their antlers every year?

A spotted deer shies away from my camera at Silvassa's Deer Park

A spotted deer shies away from my camera at Silvassa’s Deer Park

As our jeep moved further inside the forest, we were met with a herd of female sambars. These deer are nocturnal, but I guess the constant flurry of tourist activity has changed their sleep cycle. Does this mean we should stop commercializing forest safaris? I always find myself torn between the feeling of protecting wildlife and letting them be and that of knowing more about them and getting a closer look at their lives.

This sambar is perfectly camouflaged in her earthy dwelling

This sambar is perfectly camouflaged in her earthy dwelling

The jeep sputtered to a halt in front of a newly built viewpoint at the top of a hill. I jumped off the dusty seat and swung my DSLR over my head. When I reached the edge of the man-made escarpment, the sight left me breathless. I could see cows grazing merrily on the lush meadows and a narrow tributary crisscrossing across the fields. The greens gave way to yellow fields with a handful of trees breaking the pattern. Further ahead, I saw the Dudhni Lake and the dense woods beyond. Countryside is certainly beautiful!

Dadra and Nagar Haveli from the viewpoint inside the Deer Park

Dadra and Nagar Haveli from the viewpoint inside the Deer Park

If I ever have to choose between land and water, I might just pick water. That’s the kind of water-baby I am! The moment I glimpsed at the Dudhni Lake, I knew I wanted to swim in it. Well, swimming is not permitted, but that didn’t stop me from taking a shikara-ride across the lake! Shikaras are small boats with a fourposter roof. My oarsman was kind enough to let me try my hand at rowing. 🙂 And believe you me, rowing is wonderful (not only for your spirit but also for your arms 😉 )!

My shikara floats on the Daman Ganga River

My shikara floats on the Dudhni Lake

You can go as far as the Madhuban Dam or just enjoy the plains covered by boscage. The lake has small fishes, but the water isn’t clear enough for you to spot too many of them. After a while, I realized I was falling asleep on the mat with the cushions supporting my head. So, I decided to head back to the bank and go on to my next destination.

The land looks inviting from the water

The land looks inviting from the water

My driver took me to the Vanganga Garden in the evening, and I was ecstatic at the sight of more water and plants. The landscape of Silvassa confuses me. There are hills, forests, lakes and even barren lands and sandy stretches with palm trees sprouting up every few steps apart. The Vanganga Garden is spread over several acres and has bridges to help you get from one landmass to another. It is a nice place for a morning jog or an evening stroll with little children.

The breeze was soothing in the Vanganga Lake Garden

The Vanganga Lake Garden – a picture of calmness

Vanganga Lake is livelier than Dudhni, with rafts of ducks paddling about in the tranquil waters. If you look closely, you will spot turtles peeking out of the water from time to time.

A paddle of ducks wade across the Vanganga Lake

A paddle of ducks wade across the Vanganga Lake

I had seen most of the union territory before sundown, but one place remained – the Tribal Museum. Entry to the museum is free and you will be asked to leave your shoes outside before you enter. I was unaware of the rich heritage of Nagar Haveli prior to my visit. The museum told me stories of the Dhodias, Kathodis and Warlis. This union territory is home to several tribes and a majority of its population is tribal. The museum is ill maintained but it still stores pictures, murals, paintings, weapons and utensils belonging to many tribal communities.

Enroute to the Tribal Museum

Enroute to the Tribal Museum

Despite Portuguese presence in Dadra and Nagar Haveli for almost two hundred years, I could spot no trace of Portuguese influence in this area.

When I returned to my resort, I was drenched to the bone in sweat and exhaustion. My only cure was a long swim in the cold pool. I have recently started booking my stay with places that have a pool. As my thirst for exploration increases, my body craves more comfort as compensation for the endless treks and weightlifting (DSLR, bulky lenses and power banks take their toll on your muscles).

There's nothing like a relaxing swim to end a power-packed trip!

There’s nothing like a relaxing swim to end a power-packed trip!

Useful Tips to Plan Your Silvassa Trip

1. Make your hotel booking in advance. Silvassa is a small place with very few decent accommodation options. To add to this, Airbnb does not have any relevant listings. I had a hard time finding something in my budget as all of the places were full. It took me a few phone calls and some loosening of my purse strings to get something I would actually like.

2. A weekend trip is more than enough to get a taste of Nagar Haveli and Dadra. Unless you wish to live with the local tribals in their huts, there isn’t much for you to do after the first two days.

3. The temperature can get on your nerves if you aren’t prepared for it. So make sure you carry some sunscreen lotion and light cotton clothes to keep you cool. Keep yourself hydrated with some nimbu-pani (lemonade), coconut water or sugarcane juice as you hop skip and jump across attractions. Remember that tea, coffee and milk are dehydrating agents in reality. So don’t fool yourself with that smoothie or iced tea!

4. This union territory is not covered by Gujarat’s dry-state law, so booze here flows freely. Also thanks to negligible taxes, most alcohol will cost you one third of what it will in Mumbai. [Do you believe drinking is an art? Read about my trip to Sula Vineyards.]

5. The place doesn’t have any unique cuisine to call its own. The closest you can get to a local dish is the odd Gujarati food, and not even that at most restaurants. You can see from the pic below that I was served a mishmash of Marathi, Continental and South Indian food for breakfast – basically, everything except Gujarati. 😛

Fusion breakfast - the secret to my energy

Fusion breakfast – the secret to my energy

This brings us to the end of my Silvassa trip. Have you been here before? If you have, then tell me how you did the trip differently! If you haven’t, then plan your trip soon before this becomes yet another crowded tourist-spot! And remember to ask me for help if you are stuck planning your getaway. For more pictures and action, follow my Facebook page – Oindrila Goes Footloose.

Bannerghatta National Park – Bangalore’s Wild Side

Last Sunday, I decided to take on the sweltering Bangalorean heat by making a neat trip out of it. While most of the city dwellers sheltered themselves in the air conditioned shopping malls and restaurants, I badgered my friends (who also happened to be my kind hosts) to accompany me to a national park.

On the wild trail

On the wild trail

The Bannerghatta National Park is less than 2 hours from the south Indian city of Bengaluru.

Hot Tip: If you don’t have your own vehicle, it’s advisable to pre-book a cab for a comfortable ride to your destination.

We reached Bannerghatta at 11 AM and rushed to a roadside dhaba for a quick breakfast. The fare served here is mostly south Indian (idlis, dosas & uttapams). The food is brought to your table almost instantly, is filling, and very light on the pocket. The taste, unfortunately, isn’t much to boast about.

This national park is open from 10 AM to 5 PM, but the tickets are always in short supply as Bannerghatta happens to be one of the most visited tourist attractions of Bangalore.

Hot Tips:

  1. Book your tickets in advance if you can. (Their website lets you do that but insists that you register first).
  2. If you can’t do point-1, ensure you reach early as the wait-time for the AC-volvo-bus tour is 2 hours on an average, and the queues to the ticket counters are long.
The lions watches the "caged humans"

The lions watches the “caged humans”

We missed doing both point-1 and point-2, but that ensured we took the non-AC grand tour in a bus with caged windows. This was the cheapest option and also allowed us to take decent pictures as the “cages” had circular holes to click pics through. The AC buses, by comparison, are comfortable, but pictures through glass can only be half as good. The best (and also the most expensive) option is to hire a jeep that accommodates 4. There are very few jeeps and you rarely stand a chance to book one unless you’ve pre-booked.

After you have your ticket in hand, you are made to stand in a single file (school-picnics, anyone? 😛 ) as the park-assistants do a headcount and direct you to a waiting area which has several brick-roofed hut-like structures. After a 15 minute wait, you finally have your turn!

Bison with a loud growl

Bison with a loud growl

The 3 of us were extremely lucky to get the best seats in the bus… right behind the driver and the bus conductor! So, we had a dashboard-view & the window-view, without any passenger blocking our shots. To add to that, the conductor would confirm the animals that we spotted and tell us in advance of the ones to expect.

We spotted our first wild animal within minutes of entering the forest-area. The bus screeched to a halt as a huge bison growled and crossed the road, and then it passed by my window! I fumbled with my camera as I was overwhelmed by its size and the power in its growl.

A calf runs to her mother as the other elephants keep bathing

A calf runs to her mother as the other elephants keep bathing

We next saw a few deer for some fleeting seconds before they hid out of our sight. After 5 more minutes, our bus reached a lake and we were mesmerized by the beautiful sight of a baby-elephant splashing about in the water. The calf then ran to its mother who waited on the land. The elephants looked stunning with their black thick skin glistening in the afternoon sun.

A Bengal Tiger in Bengaluru

A Bengal Tiger in Bengaluru

We spotted a couple of bears too, one of which was busy eating inside a ditch. The black fur looked soft and dense, and the bears could easily fool us into thinking they were soft-toys had they not moved. In the next enclosure, we saw an adult Bengal tiger prowl about  and raise its long tail skywards. Let me tell you now that I looked into the eyes of the tiger as it stopped by my window, and felt a little like Pi (Patel) from Life of Pi. We saw a few more tigers – some sleeping, some wandering about the deciduous trees, and one pooping (those poor creatures have no privacy, I tell you)! We also spotted a handsome white tiger before our grand-tour ended (quite grandly, I must say).

A white tiger in the green jungle

A white tiger in the green jungle

Summer is the best time for wildlife tourism as the high temperature forces the animals to hang around near water bodies as they drink and bathe. This makes it easier to spot them.

Let me know if you’ve been to a national park or a wildlife sanctuary. If yes, how many animals did you spot? 🙂