Jungle Safari at Bandipur Tiger Reserve and National Park
Jungle Safari at Bandipur Tiger Reserve and National Park
I was born and have spent my growing up years in Nagpur, Maharashtra. This city is the geographical centre of India and surrounded by many forests from the state as well as nearby states such as Tadoba, Pench and Pachmarhi. We have spent many summers and vacation on long drives where dad would take our jeep through these dense forests. Sometimes we would spot a wild animal and sometimes we would admire the different types of trees and their unique features. On one such drive my sister and I sat on the roof of the Jeep which had a goods carrier, and dad drove slowly so that we could touch the big leaves of the trees covering our route. Undoubtedly these experiences are the reason why I love being out and about with nature so much.
Waman Langoor aka Hanuman Langoor playing on the trees in Bandipur
After moving to Bangalore I have spent a lot of weekends just driving outside the city in different directions and exploring the landscape. There are so many flat and straight highways that only someone like me from Maharashtra can appreciate because our entire state has multiple mountain ranges and you will end up with a winding road on almost all state highways. The only hills I have seen around Bangalore are the ones made with different sizes of rocks, think of Gabbar’s den from the movie Sholay. I find them very fascinating however I have never been able to go closer because these are not accessible in a wheelchair.
Video from my jeep safari at Bandipur Tiger Reserve
Interestingly there are many wildlife reserves as well near Bangalore. I looked up Bandipur Tiger Reserve and National Park which is around 213 km from Bangalore and you have to go via Mysore. Because of my spinal cord injury I cannot travel long distances in one stretch. I prefer to take breaks and rest. We also drive slow as compared to others on the highway. Which means, although Google Maps says that this distance can be covered in 4 ½ hours, for me it would definitely take eight hours. We took a stopover at Mysore and I think that was a good decision.
Bandipur Tiger Reserve and National Park
Bandipur National Park, established in 1974 as a tiger reserve under Project Tiger, is located in the Indian state of Karnataka. It was once a private hunting reserve for the Maharaja of the Kingdom of Mysore but has now been upgraded to Bandipur Tiger Reserve.
With mom and dad near the ticketing counter and starting point of all jungle safaris
The national park is also known for being home to the Asiatic wild elephant, sloth bears, gaurs, Indian rock pythons, jackals, muggers, four-horned antelopes, sambar, mouse deer, chital, and over 200 species of birds. Bandipur also supports a wide range of timber trees including teak, rosewood, sandalwood, Indian-laurel, Indian Kino tree, giant clumping bamboo, etc.
You can get a sneak peek of the forest on the show ‘Into The Wild With Bear Grylls’ where he shot two episodes with Superstar Rajinikanth and Akshay Kumar individually. While I did not have an exclusive experience like these stars, it was indeed as eventful as theirs.
My stay at The Serai Bandipur resort was also phenomenal because the property is accessible in a wheelchair and the rooms have been made so that they blend in with the surrounding nature.
I booked a slot for our Bandipur jungle safari through the resort by informing them in advance.
The green-coloured open-air jeep safaris have three levels of seating so that you can view around easily
I am seated next to the driver, mom’s pink dupatta was my seatbelt since the jeep did not have any
Accessibility at Bandipur Tiger Reserve
As expected, there is absolutely no provision for accessibility and travelers with a disability. Even if you arrive at the destination in your private car which is wheelchair-accessible, you will not be able to take it inside the jungle. The only way to go deep inside and see the wildlife is through the jeep safaris and the mini-bus safaris operated by the Forest Department. These vehicles have not been adapted for a wheelchair user.
The only option for me to get on board was by getting lifted by a couple of people and placed on my seat. That is why I chose to go in a jeep. The driver and guide helped me to shift. Because of quadriplegia, I do not have a great body balance. Hence I need a seat belt and some support when sitting in a car. These jeeps did not even have a seatbelt so I used my mother’s cotton dupatta to tie me with the seat.
The track for vehicles inside Bandipur Tiger Reserve surrounded by trees and greenery
I had a front row seat to the adventure or the rollercoaster ride, it can be called both 🙂
The small pathways and route that one goes through the jungle so that you can explore the natural habitat of the animals were kuccha roads i.e. not made with cement or black Tar. they are lined with mud and the shape changes after every rainfall. This makes the ride extremely bumpy. Not good if you have a back pain or get spasms in the legs like me with every jerk. I had popped a muscle relaxant before this ride and practiced deep breathing so that my legs were relaxed.
I was extremely proud and surprised of myself for coming out of the jungle safari without any issues such as slipping from my seat or losing balance as the jeep tilted left and right throughout the route. These 2 ½ hours I not just had to keep a close eye on spotting wild animals otherwise I would have missed them, but also closely observe how my body was responding to the dynamic safari.
Our first wild animal encounter was with a young grazing elephant. We took our own sweet time to observe the elephant as it continued chomping on the green plants
Deep into the jungle we spotted a heard of elephants. It included baby elephants as well as their leader who was the tallest of all
Jungle safari experience
Spotting animals in their natural habitat is not easy, because they are made to blend in, unless it is a herd of elephants or deers. It was good to have a guide who would identify animals and birds from a distance. We would then slow down the jeep, park., and sit in silence to observe the animals.
A very common activity at all national parks including the Bandipur Tiger Reserve. Quietly waiting next to a water body for wild animals and the elusive tiger to come by
A group of Indian Bison aka Gaur – the largest wild cattle in the world
We saw a herd of elephants on two occasions. Looks like they always travel in groups. Our guide also told us that the leader of the group is always the oldest female elephant. Another wild animal which was in plenty was the Chital, famously known as the spotted deer because of the multiple white spots on their back. Watching them run around and graze the green grass was a delight. We also saw a group of Indian Bison aka Gaur – the largest wild cattle in the world. They migrate to other jungles when Bandipur gets very dry in summer.
Which Indian jungle does not have monkeys! We saw the Waman Langoor, also known as Hanuman Langoor, in Bandipur. They are characterised by their grey bodies, black coloured face, hands, ears, and very long tails. They are named after Lord Hanuman and worshipped in Hindu religion. I have seen them up close in many temples and forts of Maharastra so they were not a unique siting for us.
View of the Nilgiri Mountains from the highest point at the Bandipur Tiger Reserve. They are also called as the Blue Mountains
We travelled to Bandipur in the month of November, a time which is considered winter in India. However, in this part of the country the weather was quite hot during the day and pleasant only in the evening. You will notice in my pictures at the starting point that all of us are squinting and feeling very warm because of the sun. I felt better only after we ventured into the jungle and the breeze started to flow thanks to our open-jeep.
Would I recommend other people with disabilities to come here? It is a definite ‘yes’ with disclaimers. Be prepared for an inaccessible environment but one which can be overcomed with the support of helpful strangers. The jungle safari ride is not smooth, so if you have a high disability like me and have to worry about body balance then think twice. There is no coming back or stopping and getting on your wheelchair midway. I requested our driver to avoid sudden jerks and off-roading, which helped me manage.
Lastly, I hope you don’t call my blog misleading because I did not talk about tigers which are mentioned in the headline 🙂 I’ve had bad luck spotting Tigers in all of the jungle safaris I have been to and this was no different. Later in the evening we got to know that the other travellers also had no encounter with the elusive tiger. This wish remains to be fulfilled.