Where can you spot the National bird and the National animal of India, i.e. Peacock and Tiger in all likelihood? The answer is the Bandipur National Park where peacocks are amongst the most commonly seen birds and which has the second-highest tiger population in India. This park in Southern India is part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve and is the ‘Largest habitant of Wild Elephants in South Asia’. With so many aces up its able sleeve, Bandipur is a must-visit for wildlife enthusiasts and nature aficionados.
In 1931 the Maharaja of Mysore created the Venugopala Wildlife Park a sanctuary of 90 square kilometers. Subsequently, another 800 sq. kilometers were added to it under Project Tiger in 1973, and the Bandipur Tiger Reserve was established. Three other national parks share boundaries with it viz Madhumalai National Park, Wayanad National Park, and Nagarhole National Park. Sadly, National Highways run through the Bandipur National Park, increasing the likelihood of the wildlife being killed by speeding vehicles. To protect them there is a ban on traffic from 6 pm to 6 am.
Come summer holidays one is just wanting to escape from the concrete jungles of the cities to the hills and forests where one can be close to nature and wildlife. So, five years ago we decided to visit Bandipur, Ooty and Coonoor. A flight from Mumbai took us to Coimbatore. After landing in Coimbatore, we checked into a hotel since it was late in the evening and we didn’t want to travel in the dark by road. The next morning, we hired a car which drove us to Bandipur.
Peacocks in Resort
We checked into our resort which was located on the outskirts of the National Park. Herds of Spotted Deer moved freely in around the resort. They seem unaffected by humans roaming around the resort. Peafowls with their blue-green iridescent trains proudly sauntered in the resort looking for grains and worms. The entire resort was surrounded by forests, and we could see the verdant hills in the distance. Bird calls were pleasing to the ears a far cry from the honking of vehicles that we are so accustomed too.
Bandipur is home to more than 200 species of birds. Since Rafiq is a die-hard bird watcher, he was off into the forests to try and capture these winged beauties in his camera. He spotted a black and white bird perched on a tree. As he zoomed his camera, he realized it was the Oriental Magpie often referred to as the ‘Songster of the Avian World’. On another tree, a Black-rumped Flameback Woodpecker was busy devouring what looked like a dragonfly. Their bills are like iron spike so that they can hammer tree trunks in search of beetles and other insects. And no, they don’t get a headache with all that hammering because their skulls are designed to absorb shocks.
At night, the resort had screenings of documentaries that featured the wildlife spotted in the national parks. The next morning after eating breakfast, we lazed around and just relaxed. My husband was again busy exploring the forests in search of avian beauties, and he was suitably rewarded with numerous bird sightings. The Indian Robin, which is pitch black with a reddish-brown lower belly, was singing perhaps trying to attract a mate.
On another tree was a colourful and vibrant male Orange minivet. Its belly had ombre feather graduating from orange to yellow, while its head and back were black. It was only when Rafiq zoomed his lens that he noticed a female in grey and yellow a few inches away. The pair seemed to be having a courtship ritual going on.
The Purple rumped Sunbird with its curved beak which it uses to suck nectar from flowers sat on a tree. He also spotted a White-browed Fantail which gets its name from a what looks like a white eyebrow and a fan-shaped tail. On another tree was a Grey tit- a bird with a black head and neck, a grey back and white belly. Sweeping in the sky with its outstretched wings was russet and white Brahminy Kite searching for its prey of lizards and insects.
It was now lunchtime, and after filling our bellies, we were all set to go on a bus safari to explore the national park. The Safaris happen either in the early mornings or late afternoons and are an hour’s duration. The olive-green bus was packed with tourists all excited to see the wildlife. Would we spot the Tiger for which Bandipur National Park is known? Read on to find out.
As the bus drove into the reserve, we saw a herd of Spotted Deer which are abundant in Bandipur. A little further was an elephant with her calf following suit. A mongoose with a pointed face and bushy tail foraged for prey in the vegetation. A solitary monitor lizard with a long neck, powerful limbs and a long tail was next spotted. Sadly, it is killed for its leather and meat, which is considered an aphrodisiac.
Spotted Deer Elephant and calf Monitor Lizard Mongoose
Will we spot a tiger?
The safari bus then came to a water body and halted. The driver pointed to a creature on the periphery of the lake. It was a Tiger! This beauty in flaming orange with black stripes was beating the heat by taking a dip in the water. The excitement of the tourists was palpable, and suddenly there was the hustle and bustle with everyone peeping through the windows trying to get a glimpse of the Tiger. Ssh! Ssh! The driver and attendant cautioned the tourists to be quiet lest the noise distracts the Tiger, and it strolls into the greenery and goes out of sight. We were indeed fortunate to have seen both the national bird and animal of India! It was time for us to now head back as our safari had come to an end.
Spotting Rare Bird
Back at the resort, we decided to spend the evening playing table tennis and other indoor games. But my husband was back to his bird watching, and this time he could hear the rattling call of a bird. He tried to locate the sound and there it was a Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher- a shy bird that is not frequently seen. He rushed to our room to grab his camera fearing it would fly away. When he returned luckily it was still there and he was able to capture it. This bird with a blue back and orange and cream feathers on the underside soon became his favourite.
The next morning, we took a jeep safari to see if we could spot some more wildlife. We saw a bear in the wild which was hidden by thick foliage and difficult to capture in the camera. More elephants, deer were spotted. A Spotted Deer with a Mynah on it that was busy searching for ticks and parasite. The deer seemed to be happy that it was getting groomed by the mynah and would be free of parasites. This is a symbiotic relationship that the two creatures enjoy, which is a win-win for both.
A family of Grey Langurs with the mother cuddling the little one as the father watched over them protectively was picture perfect. Elsewhere a fawn suckled for milk from its mother.
Some of the other birds that were spotted near the resort were the Green bee-eater with a green body and orange henna coloured head and a curved beak. A White-bellied Drango which has a brown back and white belly held some fruit in its claws.
‘Tuk Tuk Tuk’ the sound of a Copper Smith Barbet reverberated in the air. This bird with a parrot green body, a red forehead and moustaches near its beak was spotted on a tree. White-browed Wagtail, Indian Silverbill both of which are brown and creamy white in colour were also spotted.
The next day we set off for Ooty and Coonoor with beautiful memories of our tryst with nature and wildlife. Spotting a tiger is hard, and we were fortunate to have seen the Big Cat! Bandipur National Park is indeed an excellent choice for visiting if you want to experience wildlife and nature up close. Go for it!
Note: This trip to Bandipur National Park was made several years ago when we had a basic camera, so the photographs are not high resolution. Thanks for your understanding.
Nearest Airport: Mysore is the nearest airport, which is 91 km away followed by Coimbatore, which is 185 km away. You can then take a bus or hire a car to Bandipur.
Where to Stay: You can do a net search for an array of staying options depending on comfort and budget. Staying in Jungle Lodges is a good option. We stayed at the Country Club Wildlife Resort.
Travel Trip: It is a good idea to also explore Madhumalai Tiger Reserve, Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary, Nagarhole National Park which are close by.