The 880 sq. km. area that comprises the Bandipur Reserve was once the Mysore Maharaja's private hunting ground. The Mysore Game and Forest Preservation Regulation Act of 1931 resulted in a 90 sq. km. area being recognised as a Game Sanctuary. In 1941, it became part of a larger National Park called 'Venugopal Wildlife Park' with an area of 800 sq.km. that also encompassed some areas of Mudumalai, Nagarahole and Wynaad. The Park itself was notified under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. In 1973, the heart of Venugopal National Park that constituted Bandipur was recognised as Bandipur National Park and it became one of 15 sanctuaries brought under the umbrella of Project Tiger.
The terrain is mildly undulating like rippled water, punctuated with hills and small hillocks that emerge abruptly. The normal topography consists of an elevation of about 850 m. throughout the region. The Gopalaswamy hill towering at about 1,454.5 m. is one of the highest peaks and Kannegals at 680 m. is the lowest. Soil texture ranges from the clayey, moist variety in the west to rocky barren land in the east. The Nugu in the centre, Moyar towards the south and the Kabini between Bandipur and Nagarahole are the rivers that feed this area perennially with gushing water. Numerous natural and artificial pools are found in Bandipur.
Dry deciduous scrub, moist deciduous and mixed forests are present in Bandipur with the dry deciduous forest being predominant. The canopy is low and the trees are not densely clustered. The open land area is covered with grasses. Short, crooked stumps and thorny scrub are common. The moist deciduous forests on the western edge of the park have rosewood and teak. Trees like teak stand stark against a landscape of Shorea talura and the swampy areas. Other species found here are: math, hand, honne, axlewood, sandalwood, jamun and silk cotton.
February to May is a lean period when most of the vegetation dries up. But during March, though grasses are absent, the trees are laden with wild fruit, which the animals relish. The bamboo, which flowered in 1916, is now undergoing regeneration. Natural herbs grow wild on the hillside, a veritable undiscovered pharmacoepia. Lantana, Indigofera and Eupatorium are weeds that grow in profusion providing shelter to the animals. Aquatic weeds flourish as water is released from the Kabini reservoir in summer.
Most famous for its elephants and tigers, Bandipur is also known for its large gaur and chital populations. You can also see wild pig in clearings or rooting near water bodies. Gaur in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, to which Bandipur, Nagarahole, Wynaad and Mudumalai belong) are particularly large. Naturalists suggest that only the most hardy lived through a serious rinderpest outbreak in 1968 and this accounts for the fact that only the best genes have survived. The bonnet macaque and the common langur are found in large troops. Jackals are not found in the tourism zone of the reserve but dhole (wild dog) packs are common. Sambar and chital, with their magnificent antlers, comprise the deer population that is preyed upon by the dhole, the leopard and the tiger. Sambar can be spotted near waterbodies though sightings in the dry forest are also possible.
Tigers in Bandipur are protected under Project Tiger. Nevertheless, tigers are not often seen and leopards even less so. The porcupine, black-naped hare, giant squirrel and civets add to the assortment of smaller mammals. Sloth bear, muntjac, mouse deer and droves of wild pig are seen frequently. Turtles flourish in ponds and tanks throughout the reserve.Pythons, Indian monitor, rat snake, Russell's viper, common cobra and various other snakes are observed in the forests. Three species of mongoose are also found here. Innumerable insects and arachnids are abundant just before and soon after the rains, making Bandipur a rare treat for entomologists.
Bandipur is well known for its birds. A rich variety is found near the aquatic habitats including the Little Cormorant, Large, Intermediate, Cattle and Little Egret, Grey Heron, and the Spotbill. Red-wattled Lapwings, White-throated and Common Kingfisher, wagtails and the White-breasted Waterhen are active along waterbodies. The raucous Brainfever Bird (a cuckoo) and the Ring and Spotted Doves coexist. Rose-ringed, Alexandrine and Plum-headed Parakeets are also part of the scene. Yellow-crowned Woodpecker, Indian Pitta, Collared Scops Owl, nightjars, Greater Coucal are some other species found here. Yellow-footed Green Pigeons and Green Imperial Pigeon are typical of the woodland variety of birds found in Bandipur. The Malabar Whistling Thrush, the White-spotted Fantail with its piping sounds and the Hill Myna add to the melody of forest sounds. The Brahminy Starling (myna) is an omnivorous bird that normally makes chattering calls that transform into a melodious lilt during the breeding season. The vibrant colours of the Scarlet Minivet, the Fairy Bluebird, Chestnut-headed and Little Green Bee-eaters, Black-hooded and Golden Orioles and the Tickell's Blue Flycatcher are stunning sights awaiting the visitor. The Black-rumped and White-bellied Woodpecker, Oriental Honey Buzzard, the Slaty-headed Scimitar Babbler, Red-whiskered, Yellow, White-browed and Black Bulbuls add to the colour palette that you would witness. The Grey Francolin, Grey Junglefowl, Red Spurfowl, Peafowl and quails are a modest part of the ground bird family. Osprey and the Malabar Trogon along with the Large Racket-tailed Drongo, Malabar Pied Hornbill and Indian Roller, comprise yet another section of forest birds. The White-rumped, King and Scavenger Vultures, Brahminy and Black Kites, Crested Serpent and Changeable Hawk Eagles and the Peregrine Falcon are the predominant birds of prey.
Early mornings between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. and evenings between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. are when the Forest Department tours can be taken. After dusk, elephants should not be disturbed in their migratory routes and night rounds are hence not permitted. Forest Department buses take routes along water bodies and forest clearings that allow maximum visibility of animals. Elephants, gaur and wild pig can often be seen drinking, bathing or feeding at waterholes that the locals call kattey.
In the evenings, the large tank at Tavarakattey affords a fair chance of spotting mammals as well as birds like the Spotbill and Lesser Whistling Teal. An elephant ride near Mysore Lodge and the Eeranamunti hills would yield sightings of chital since the open canopy and short grasses along with abundant water are just what the deer need.
The Mysore Ditch is the phenomenal 260 m. deep Moyar Gorge that has been eroded in the Nilgiri mountains by the Moyar river. The Kekkanalla waters in full flood during the monsoons cause boulders to roll down into the water, giving the spot the name of Rolling Rocks. Located at the southern end of the Park, the place offers a splendid view of the Mysore Ditch.
Located 20 km. from Bandipur, Gopalaswamy Betta, the highest peak at 1454 m., is an hour's drive away. Well known for its temple and fort ruins, a special attraction is the beautiful temple atop the hill dedicated to Lord Venugopala. The view of the Mysore plateau and its surrounding hills is breathtaking.
Balle is noted for a government run elephant resting camp, which is worth a visit. The rustic Mastigudi khedda in Karapura should be visited. The historical town of Srirangapattana is located nearly 85 km. from Bandipur. Tipu Sultan, called the Tiger of Mysore, fought and was defeated in 1799 in this town, which was once his capital. This town is also famous for the Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary (RBS). RBS is one of the best places in India to sight the marsh crocodile. The nesting birds allow very close approach, making it a photographer's delight.
A trip to Bandipur can be combined with a visit to Nagarahole, Wynaad and Mudumalai Wildlife sanctuaries, which are close-by. Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary near Mysore City is another option. Two or three days would be required to get the best out of even one of these places.
Bandipur is best visited in the winter, but those who are willing to brave some discomfort will find the monsoon, between June and September, a particularly rewarding experience. The roads are not as adversely affected as those at Nagarahole, where water logging makes them impossible to traverse, but it is still quite difficult to get around and once you have special permission from the forest authorities, you might just have the experience of a lifetime with large herds of elephant, gaur and chital.
Photographers are advised to carry at least a 300 mm. telephoto lens. Low light levels in the canopy dictate a large aperture setting. The monsoon period incidentally is best for close-up photography of flowers, insects, frogs and reptiles.
It is always a good idea to arrange to reach your destination before dusk. Along the highway elephants have the right of way and have been known to block traffic for hours on end.
A provision store is available in the park. The nearest banks, hospitals, petrol pumps, garages and markets are at Gundulpet (20 km.), which is the nearest town. STD and ISD facilities are available at Bandipur.
Private vehicles are not allowed within the park. Do not approach elephants on foot! That is the best survival advice you can ever hope to get!
The Field Director, Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Mysore, Karnataka. Tel.: 08229-7622/ 7621. The Chief Conservator of Forests. Tel.: 08229-22260.
The Field Director (Project Tiger), Vanasree, Govt. Sandalkoti Premises, Asokapuram, Mysore. Tel.: 0821-480901.
Chief Wildlife Warden, Aranya Bhavan, 18th Cross Road, Malleswaram, Bangalore, Karnataka. Tel: 080-3341993.
The temperature ranges between a moderate 180C to 240C almost throughout the year. It may rise up to 370C on a hot summer day, but the altitude normally compensates for the heat. The sun is glaring during the summers and causes the green forests to dry out between February and April. The nights are cool in winter. The southwest monsoons bring moderate rain, but strong winds of the northeast monsoons from mid-January to mid-March are sometimes treacherous. November to June is the best season for a visit. Winters are climatically the most pleasant but the greatest chances of wildlife sightings are in March or April. For those with a special interest, insects are most often seen just before the rains in June or soon after the rains in September. During a drought, Bandipur is almost devoid of animals since most of them move to the adjoining Mudumalai Reserve.
The Forest Department's Deluxe Bungalows: These are large, affordable bungalows with bathrooms and hot water. Meals can be prepared with advance notice. Reservations must be made beforehand at the wildlife department offices in Mysore or Bangalore. Tariff: Bungalow: Rs.75 to Rs.150. Dormitory beds: Rs.20.
Gajendra Cottages: Rooms with attached bathrooms and a verrandah are available. For bookings contact: Aranya Bhavan, 18th Cross Road, Malleswaram, Bangalore. Tel.: 080-334 1993. The campus also supports two large dormitories.
Hotel Mayura Prakruti [KSTDC]: Pleasant cottages are on offer at this hotel on the Mysore road, just 3 km. from the park. Bookings can be made directly or at the tourist offices in Mysore and Bangalore. Tel.: 08229-7301.
Bush Betta: This is a plush private resort located four kilometres from the Bandipur Reception Centre, from where transport is arranged for visitors. The tariff includes all meals, an elephant ride and a jeep safari. Advance bookings are necessary and can be made at: Gainnet, Raheja Plaza, Ground Floor, Bangalore. Tel.: 080-5512631; Fax: 080-5593451.
Tusker Trails: This is a resort located close to the Mangala village towards the eastern side of the Park with six twin-bed cottages available. A swimming pool is on the premises. It is run by the former Maharaja's daughter and has what you might call the royal touch. Bookings can be made at: Hospital Cottage, Bangalore Palace, Bangalore. Tel: 080-3342862.
By Air: Mysore is the nearest airport, 80 km. away. Bangalore (190 km.) is well connected with all other major cities.
By Rail: Nanjangud (55 km.), is the nearest railhead. Mysore is another option that is probably better connected.
By Road: Gundulpet, at a distance of 20 km., is the nearest town. Bandipur is located on the highway between Mysore and Ooty, hence buses usually stop here. KSRTC buses plying between these two cities drop visitors at the entrance of the National Park at the Forest Department's reception centre. There are about 12 buses everyday from 9 a.m. till about 5 p.m. Travel time is about 2½-3 hours from either location, Mysore being marginally closer. Bangalore town is about 220 km. away by road, via Mysore. Coimbatore can be reached via Ooty at a distance of 168 km.
Within the reserve: Entry costs Rs. 150 per day for foreigners. The fees are substantially less for locals but are subject to change at short notice. Private vehicles are not permitted within the park. The Forest Department provides a bus that leaves every hour between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m., and between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. The tour costs about Rs. 15 for an hour.Bus tours can also be booked in advance at the Forest Department office.