We decided to make the best of a long weekend break in November and picked a luxury getaway over slumming it out. With an anniversary to celebrate – the extravagance seemed justified. A four hour drive on the picturesque NH17 bought us into jungle country – Bandipur (together with the adjoining Mudumalai, Nagarhole, and Wayanad sanctuaries, this area forms the largest protected reserve in South India). Before we even reached the sanctuary, we had already spotted a herd of chital, wild boars and grey langurs.
Photography aside, keep your windows up in this part of the sanctuary. Leaving it open resulted in us being taken hostage by a macaque who decided the car was a fun place to rummage for food! In the acrobatics that involved getting him out, we missed the turn to the resort and landed up 10 km away at the Mudumalai checkpoint! Not all mistakes are bad mistakes – we ended up spotting a lone tusker grazing just 100 ft off the road 🙂
Picking The Serai Bandipur for our jungle sojurn was a no-brainer. The resort was privileged to be bang in the middle of the jungle and having experienced their Chickmagalur property on an earlier occasion, I was confident of a superior experience. After driving through rolling hillocks and dusty paths we reached a clearing that announced on a pristine whitewashed mud wall, that we had arrived. A cold towel and a welcome drink made their way into our hands as we completed the check in formalities at the lovely reception area. Traditional art tastefully weaved its way through the hunting lodge-like décor (thankfully no mounted animal heads). Large ornate mirrors adorning the white walls reflected the flora outside. The fireplace in the center called for cozy evenings with a book and hot cocoa. (Ok, let’s be real and say whiskey!).
We walked down the quaint path to our Mountain View Log Hut and did a double take. Who in their right minds would call THIS a hut? A beautiful log cabin with an ultra-luxurious bedroom, a work desk, a minibar, a flatscreen tv, a large bathroom with his & her sinks and finally, a private little verandah to gaze out into the mountains across the jungle! The only reason I didn’t jump with joy on the bed, is because they had decorated it with flowers and laid out two cute little swans made with towels on it! (Anniversary treats from the staff). Let’s just say we were thankful…considerably embarrassed …but thankful nonetheless for the effort!
Sanctuary, their restaurant, has a buffet laid out for lunch and dinner. Take your pick from Continental, Oriental or Indian cuisine. The menu changes every day, so there’s always something interesting to look forward to (including local cuisine). If you would like something special rustled up – just let them know and the chef will be glad to accommodate you. You can choose to sit indoors or out on the deck and both areas offer beautiful views of the jungle and the blue mountains (Nilgiris 🙂 ).
This is probably the first time you look at the stunning infinity pool. The emerald waters beckon you for a dip while offering you the tantalizing opportunity of overlooking the jungle as you swim a couple of laps. Or if you are like me, you also order a cocktail to provide you the necessary energy for the laps 😉 We settled on the comfortable sunbeds soon after, to soak in the evening warmth as we watched the sun glow orange before setting.
If the resort looked beautiful during the day, it starts to look ethereal at night. The walkways are flanked by beautiful foliage and dotted with little lights to guide you to your rooms. The sounds of the jungle start to take over and the feeling that you are far removed from civilization is hauntingly real now. The four poster bed in the cabin is extremely inviting but we have a dinner date on the deck, so we indulge in a luxurious shower and head out to the restaurant.
Sitting on the deck at night, overlooking the stunning pool, under a canopy of stars is a sure shot igniter of romance, even for the most practical individuals. Add to it a lovely bottle of wine and you have yourself a winner of an evening! Anniversary perks included us having a private dinner on the deck, with the chef sending us some of his fabulous creations. Sigh…we could definitely get used to such pampering!
We had been told that a herd of deer comes around our cabin almost every morning to graze. The best part was that we could watch them undisturbed, courtesy of the floor to ceiling window of the log cabin! Just draw back the curtains (at 6 AM mind you!) and you have a sprightly herd of chital just outside your door! We had signed up for an early morning Nature Walk, so we quickly got dressed in warm clothing and hiking shoes and met the in-house naturalist at the reception. The winding trail takes you down to the forest that surrounds the resort. The walk is interspersed with insightful information about the local flora and fauna and other nuggets of jungle lore that only a local can be privy to. Climb the macchan that overlooks the artificial watering hole created for night sightings of animals (Now defunct) for a stunning view of the jungle.
The walk back to the resort resulted in an encounter of the wild kind. A Spectacled Cobra had shimmied across the grass to warm itself on the tarred pathway to the resort (they love the gentle morning sun). Instinct would be to panic, but left to itself the snake has no innate desire to harm you and will most likely mind its business and carry on. Our naturalist however was an expert snake catcher and quickly caught the snake. We managed to get a couple of pictures of the magnificent creature, before he released it deeper into the jungle.
After a scrumptious breakfast (and innumerable requests to display the pics of the snake and retelling the story) we headed back to the cabin for a well-deserved mid-morning nap. A holiday is nothing without one of these! I also managed to squeeze in some quite reading time on the verandah with some wine tea and cakes to keep me company.
We had reserved the early evening (4:00 to 6:00 pm) for the much awaited Jungle Safari. The resort offers a safari package but it’s much more cost effective to do the short drive down to the government guest house yourself and buy the safari ticket. At Rs.300 per head for Indians for the 6 seater shared jeep, it’s a steal. Go about half hour early to ensure you get the best seats in the house –the raised seats in the back of the jeep!
We drove into the jungle trails and stopped at various places to observe and photograph herds of chitals, sambhars, wild boar, grey langurs, gaur, various jungle birds like peafowls, peacocks, drongos, indian rollers and even two elephants. Just as we had finished photographing the elephants, our driver and guide got a message on his radio that an adult male tiger had just been spotted on a certain trail and might be heading towards a small pond nearby to cool off!
Bandipur Reserve, according to the latest census, houses around 100 tigers. However when you spread that population across 1500 sq km and add to the fact that you are allowed to visit the park only for 5 hours in a day (6:00 AM to 9:00 AM and 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM) and that tigers are territorial, solitary creatures – the chances of spotting one are rare, if not a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!
Understandably, the excitement in the jeep was palatable! The crazy and hurried drive through the undulating jungle roads was as exhilarating as what we might or might not find at the end of this journey. My heart was beating so fast that it even drowned out the noise of the jeep as it tore through thicket and narrow trails to reach a clearing. The jeep slowed down and our voices came to a standstill. There was a point where we could hear each other’s heartbeat. In a large pond about 40 meters away was the faintest movement. Just the top of the head was visible at first and then we saw the ear twitching. Gleaming in the bottle green pond were the unmistakable black and white markings on the ear of the animal. We had been blessed with a Tiger spotting!
The majestic beast (all cliques but true!) had spotted us as well, but choose to ignore us to enjoy his dip in the pool. We soaked in the sight of him lounging around and thanked our lucky stars for this serendipitous encounter. And then to our surprise, he slowly stood up, shook the water off his magnificent striped orange coat and walked to a nearby tree. My jaw hung slack as he proceed to scratch the tree and even mark it with his scent. He strolled languorously down the trail about 100 mts away from us completely unperturbed by our presence, pausing again, to mark a couple of trees. We saw him walk into thick brush till only the naughty twirl of his tail remained, just for a tantalizingly hopeful moment. And then he was gone.
We had envisioned a quiet evening at the resort with a massage at their signature spa – Oma, but with so much adrenaline coursing through our bodies after the safari, lying still on a massage bed was next to impossible! The solution of course, was a nice cocktail and after a quick shower to wash out the red dirt clinging to our beings, we headed to the bar! If there is a place to share stories about the jungle – Moyers Bar with its high thatched roof and lodge setup serves as a perfect backdrop. Many tipples and stories later (including those of man-eaters), we sauntered back to our little cabin in the woods 😉
We opened another bottle of wine and settled on our private verandah. It is both exciting and dangerous to be sitting out there in the dark, just absorbing all the jungle sounds but not knowing what jungle creatures are peering back at you. (The resort has a thin electric fence separating the living quarters from the jungle, but we’ll pretend that we didn’t see it – for the sake of drama!) Interesting conversations lead to empty bottles and we eventually moseyed inside to the comfort of our stunning four poster bed. We slipped under the soft covers and let the warmth gently lull us to sleep. We dream in Technicolor that night – orange and black stripes and pink bougainvillea’s.
THE SERAI BANDIPUR,
Kaniyanapura Village, Mangala Post,
Gundelpet Taluk, Chamarajanagar District,
Karnataka 571 126.
Ph: +91 94898 28601