Escape from Bandipur
My colleague Michael and I had to stay over the weekend in India so we decided to partner with our Bangalore associate, Rahul, and head out of town for a south Indian adventure.
They say a picture’s worth a thousand words…I wish I could show you some, but I lost my camera somewhere between Bangalore and Bandipur.
So I will simply have to try and describe my journey instead in the most colorful language possible.
First, the driving.
I just thought that driving in Bangalore was crazy. Actually, compared to driving the back roads and highways of southern India, Bangalore driving seems tame by comparison.
Imagine you’re driving on the worst Texas backroads as fast as you possibly can get away with while using all three lanes (including the center line, which in rural India most assuredly counts as its own lane) in a neverending game of chicken.
Every near miss with another passing car or bus coming from the other direction is a victory.
Then, the sun goes down, and now you get to play some more — only with head- and taillights that get turned on at the drivers’ whim. That’s when things really get interesting.
Of course, if there were only other vehicles to concern ones self with it would be no big deal.
But there are lots of other moving parts to this traffic machine, including oxen and oxcarts, scooters, motorbikes, inanimate objects next to the road , and yes, lots of Indian folks.
It took me a couple hundred kilometers before I stopped flinching and tensing up at every seeming close call we had while passing (and I’m being generous by calling it passing…it was more like zooming).
Our driver made the experience even more terrifyingly hilarious when he would glance back to inspect my face for fright.
When he would find it, he would grin a huge smile. "No," I wanted to yell at him. "Don’t look at me! Watch the —-ed road!"
I’ve experienced some crazy things in my life, but that drive south through India was way up there on the crazy list.
During our drive, we visited several sights, including an elephant camp (where elephants were nowhere to be found), and the Namdroling Tibetan monestary.
At Namdroling, Tibetan prayer flags wove in the winds around the campus, and we had the opportunity to witness a Tibetan Buddhist prayer ceremony, complete with Tibetan temple horns that make quite a haunting sound.
We arrived at our ultimate destination, the Bandipur National Wildlife Park, early Saturday evening, and after a campfire dinner we skipped the very late U.S./Ghana World Cup match for some slumber.
On Sunday morning, we set out in the jeep for our short safari with our two guides into the 5,000+ acre park. One of the guides spoke to a colleague who informed him Bengal tiger had apparently been spotted on the road the night before (a rare sighting).
Our first find was a pack of wild dogs, but those dogs didn’t want much to do with us, nor we with them.
We also saw the rare sight of a stunning peacock spreading its plume.
But when it came to elephants, the cupboard seemed to be mostly bare.
Until we finally saw a single one off in the distance, and then not too long after, stumbled onto another, larger group down the road.
When a whole pack of pachyderms emerged even further down the road, into the road, our guide slipped the jeep into neutral and we scooted down the hill with the engine off so as not to scare them away.
All told, there were about eight of them, but they didn’t fully reveal their herd until they’d been somewhat reassured we weren’t after their baby elephant, which couldn’t have been more than a handful feet tall.
But, at one point, I thought we were in serious trouble. Our driver/guide was bold, and perhaps a bit reckless.
He pulled only a few feet away from the herd, and the alpha male elephant was none too pleased. The gargantuan elephant gave out a loud warning roar, then stomped his right foot back, not unlike a bull about to charge his matador. He was not happy about these strangers coming so close to his brood.
Jeep vs. Alpha Male Elephant: My odds were on the elephant, but I have to hand it to the guide, he stood his ground and we stayed, even after that bull elephant gave every sign he had no problem charging us.
The standoff continued, and finally after the alpha male concluded we were no threat to him and the herd did the pack reveal the baby.
And all the fear of about being stampeded by eight elephants inevitably dissipated as we saw junior step out from beneath its mother’s legs. He or she was like a mini-Dumbo (without the flying ears), the cutest little elephant you ever did see, live or in the movies.
It dawdled along under the protection of mom and pop, and it’s bigger baby brother chortled along with his mini-tusks sticking out for all the world to see.
It was quite something.
So, we came south to the wildlife park for a wildlife experience, and boy did we get our money’s worth.
I just wish I had a few pictures to spare you some of these words. But the mental pictures will certainly be permanently sketched in my own mind for the rest of my life.