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A walk on the wild side

Imagine a sunset over wind-whipped skies, the cover of thick foliage stretching to the base of the hills at the horizon, drowsy calls of roosting birds and an absolute sense of calm. India’s national parks are a force to be reckoned with in tourism. They provide the paradox to the country’s chaotic image overseas. At the Serai Bandipur just off Bangalore, you find life teeming in a place that takes you back to the nature.
Bandipur National Park is a five-hour drive from Bangalore, and although the drive is long, it provides a great glimpse of plateau India. The city’s cool climate hits you as soon as you get off the plane and doesn’t leave until it’s time to go back.
The Serai Bandipur is run by Coffee Day Hotels and Resorts. The firm appears to have chosen an idyllic spot for nature enthusiasts, with the national park home to one of the largest concentrations of tigers in the wild. They roam the vast interconnection of the Mudumalai, Bandipur and Wayanad sanctuaries, forming the Nilgiri Biosphere which is the largest protected area in southern India.
Senior naturalist and ornithologist Kuttappan offered to be our guide for the weekend and promised to show us around the park once we’d settled into our cabins for the weekend. There are 22 independent rooms in the Serai at Bandipur – 12 mountain view courtyard units, six superior mountain view courtyard units, six mountain view log huts and two residences.
We settled into the stilted log hut, fully wood panelled on the inside to keep out the nip during the cooler months and shelter the cool air during the hot summers. With a private sit out, we had a picturesque view of the Nilgiri range (or Blue Mountains), called so after the cover of eucalyptus trees that lend the hills a bluish hue.
As we took a short trip into the reserve, a chat with Kuttappan yielded information about the flora and fauna in the area. He pointed out camouflaged chameleons, a dizzying array of birds, a herd of deer grazing in a clearing, strange looking spiders and a host of other creatures.
Our attention was drawn to the parasitic lantana bush, introduced by the British in the 19th century in tea gardens, which is categorically destroying local flora. Its rapid spread has left a wounded dent in the biodiversity of the region, threatening the lives of wild animals by pushing out the species of vegetation eaten by herbivores and in turn the carnivores that feed on them.
In the evenings, muted lighting softens the shadows around the Serai at Bandipur. The swimming pool glimmers an aqua green, the cosy restaurant beckons and the call of the wild that would normally send shivers down one’s spine now echoes mystery in the safety of the resort.
Taking a tour in the wildlife library gets guests acquainted with the safaris that are regularly indulged in at such locales. We got on a jeep the following afternoon with Kuttappan to see the national park with the help of his trained eye.
In no time he had spotted the majestic beast that people travel for miles to catch a glimpse of. Tigers are known to be very shy and elusive, sneaking off into the undergrowth at any sign of a breach of privacy. This one was a sturdy young male enjoying a bath in a small water body some way off.
Invisible to the naked eye, a pair of binoculars and some concentration helped bring him into focus before he violently shook off the water and vanished into the forest.
Herds of wild elephants are abundant in the reserve, foraging almost continuously for tender shoots. During our safari, we encountered three, one whose matriarch took a threatening dash at us before leading her family into the safety of the bush.
We saw a wide variety of other animals – a sloth bear in the distance, a motley group of terrified wild boar, a band of very noisy monkeys and lots of brightly coloured birds, reptiles and insects. Two days at the Serai provided an activity-filled weekend. We took bicycles to get to the nearby village, and made friends at its local chai shop.
The Serai at Bandipur also has a well-equipped gym, a rejuvenating Oma Spa and a gift shop called Turquoise for those souvenirs you must take back. Indoor games like housie, carom, chess, scrabble, pool and archery are available for very hot or very rainy days when most wild animals will be hunkering down in shelter themselves.
With the sunset to welcome us, it was the sunrise that bid us goodbye – perhaps more of a way to say ‘see you soon’. We enjoyed a 15km ride around the park, which seemed almost familiar to us know, as local villagers waved at us in recognition. This was the trip of a lifetime as I relished my time away from the hustle and bustle, and enjoyed God’s land and nature. I feel truly blessed.

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