BANNERGHATTA NATIONAL PARK
BANNERGHATTA NATIONAL PARK
LOCKING EYES WITH CATS
Location South of Bangalore City in Bangalore (Urban) District
Distances 23 km S of Bangalore, 125 km NE of Mysore
Route from Bangalore District road to Bannerghatta
ABOUT BANNERGHATTA NP
The Bannerghatta National Park was established in 1971. The park is made up of 10 reserve forests of the Anekal Range of the Bangalore Forest Division. Surrounded by hills dotted with ancient temples, the park lies on the Bannerghatta Road, 23 km from the town centre, in the southern precincts of Bangalore City. It is 104.27 sq km of moderate jungle and shrubland at an altitude of 3,375 ft. The terrain is interspersed with valleys, streams and scenic spots. The main parkland vegetation is dry deciduous forests and thorny scrub with patches of moist deciduous forests- It's crisscrossed by streams that fill up in the monsoons. The wild expanse of this small but important National Park, located just beyond the Bannerghatta Biological Park (BPP), is home to wild Asiatic elephants. The two natural predators here are the leopard and the wild dog. The forests here are also home to barking deer, sambar sloth bear, wild pig and at least 180 species of birds.
Being so close to a major metro has created its own problems for the park. With growing industrial/ urban and biotic pressures, there is increasing threat to the already fragile wildlife habitat and its residents. There is a strong need to take action to protect both the forest and the animals. Incidents of poisoning of leopards and electrocution of elephants are on the rise. The sharp increase in destructive human activities (poaching, grazing, fires, quarrying) is also affecting the park.
Tourists are not permitted to enter the core zones of Bannerghatta. Visitors have to drive on for another 5 km to the entrance to the Bannerghatta Biological Park (BBP), which is open to visitors. This Biological Park (adjoining the National Park) is where the Forest Department has rehabilitated lions and tigers (rescued from circuses and elsewhere) in semi-wild environs that are similar to their natural habitat. This has become an area of interest and upwards of 10 lakh visitors throng this park every year to be up, close and personal to the big cats.
The BBP comprises a zoo (a short distance from the entry gates, on the right), with many mammals, reptiles and birds. There's also a small museum and auditorium in the zoo. The BBP Office near the entry gate issues tickets for the zoo and sararis, The parking area lies near the entrance opposite the zoo. There are several soft drinks vendors near the entry point and kiosks (run by KSTDC) in the zoo precincts. The Herbivore enclosure (housing blackbuck, bison, cheetal and sambar) is located to the right, a few kilometres past the zoo. About 11/2 km from the entry gate, close to the Herbivore enclosure, is the KSTDC run Jungle Lodges Nature Camp, where visitors can take up the lion and tiger safari packages (including night stays) on offer. The main safari road starts from the entry gate, veers left towards the lion and tiger enclosures past an abandoned quarry, on either side of which lie the butterfly garden and a park. The bear enclosure is near the Rescue Centre (off tourist limits).
After a zoo visit, you must return to the entry gate area to take the safaris you have opted for. The Grand Safari covers all four enclosures. Other options are the Tiger and Lion safari, elephant joy ride and a short trek in the Herbivore enclosure. The Forest Department runs the safaris. Jungle Lodges has its own vehicles, which do the safaris in conjunction with the Forest Department.
Zoo tickets Weekdays Rs 10, holidays Rs 15 Timings 9 am-5 pm; closed Tuesdays Grand safari Weekdays Rs 30, holidays Rs 40 Timings 10 am-4.30 pm Tiger and lion safari Weekdays Rs 15, holidays Rs 25 Elephant joy ride Weekdays Rs 15, holidays Rs 20 Short trek Weekdays Rs 10, holidays Rs 10
THINGS TO SEE AND DO
Day-trippers usually ramble around the zoo, eat at one of the many food stalls outside the park gates and take the safaris in the Forest Department vans and mini-buses. One of the best options for tourists is to opt for an overnight Jungle Lodges Resort OLR) safari package, as part of which you travel in a grilled safari van with open slots for taking photos. Lion, Tiger and Bear safaris are part of this package. The next morning, you can go on the Herbivore Safari (involving a 4-km short trek).
The zoo is a sprawling area. The hippo and the incredibly still crocs are special favourites. You get to see all kinds of animals - zebra, langur, porcupines and jackals amidst a lovely canopy of mixed trees such as sandalwood, jalari, chuiiullu, neem, tamarind and zizyphus, amongst others. The zoo auditorium screens 45-min films from 12.30-4 pm. There is a museum in the zoo environs filled with sad displays of musty, moth-eaten stuffed animal trophies and some dam- aged old photographs.
Film tickets Adults Rs 5, children Rs 2 Museum tickets Adults Rs 5, children Rs 2 Timings 9 am-5 pm
The Reptile Park has its shares of snakes, venomous and non-venomous, as well as huge monitor lizards. The aviary is full of all kinds of small and big, silent and chattering birds.
About 1 km from the entry gate is Mirza Hill (no one seems to know whom the hill is named after), popular among amateur trekkers. It's also a place where impromptu picnics are held.
Fast coming up at the park is the country's first Butterfly Park and Museum where tourists can see up to 50 species of butterflies, in a specially recreated natural habitat, under a large glass dome. Landscaping, running brooks of water and multi-coloured butterflies flitting around make for a lovely experience.
The Bannerghatta Biological Park is full of rocks and boulders of various sizes and textures. Within the park stands the barber stone, a naturally shaped rock that resembles the stone barbers traditionally use to sharpen their blades on. It is a mammoth rock, affording some fine views of the shrubland below. Located about 3 km from the' entry gate, it is closed to the public but those staying at the Jungle Lodges Nature Camp can visit this viewpoint.
This is a burial place of great antiquity, where long slabs of slate still lie about. These stone burial spots or megaliths are believed to be more than 3,000 years old and were used by the lrula tribes- men till about seven years ago. Another legend goes that tribals, known as the Pandavas, used these ledged structures as their dwellings. The viewpoint at the spot looks down into elephant territory. It's closed to the public; you can only access it if you're staying at the Jungle Lodges Nature Camp.
Air Nearest airport: Bangalore Airport (40 Km/ 1 hr) services flights coming in from all parts of the country as well as inter- national flights. Taxi charges Rs 1,200 for a day trip
Rail Nearest railhead: Bangalore, well connected as a rail route. The railway station is 25 km from the park. Taxi costs Rs 600-800 for a drop, Rs 1,200- 1,650 for a day trip
Road Follow the Bannerghatta Road to south Bangalore. You can hire a cab from the city or take one of the many state transport buses (from the KSTDC Bus Terminus), that regularly ply that way
WHERE TO STAY
Bannerghatta, not being too far from Bangalore City, has many staying options. But the best is undoubtedly the JLR Bannerghatta Nature Camp (Tel: 080-25597021; Tariff: Rs 900-1,400, dorm bed Rs 600), which is set 1 ½ km inside the park. The 2 huts go for Rs 1,400 each per night, the Swiss tents (8 tents) for Rs 900, a bed in the dormitory will set you back by Rs 600, while day-visitors pay Rs 350 for safari and lunch, tea or coffee.
The night-stay package includes accommodation, lunch, dinner and breakfast, herbivore/ lion/ tiger/ bear safari, nature walks with guide, zoo visit, forests entry fee plus taxes - a good bar- gain, indeed. The Gol Ghar is a circular open dining area. The food served at the JLR is wholesome and tasty with both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options.
Not Born Free, but Getting There
It's just another signboard that arches over a gate, 'Rescue Centre for Animals'. Intrigued, I head for the DFO Mr Markandeya's office, to enquire and find that the Born Free couple, Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers, have chosen Bannerghatta as the site for an R&R centre for tigers rescued from travelling circuses and private zoos in Europe. The centre is maintained and run by the Karnataka Forest Department; alongside is the National Rescue Centre where animals retrieved from Indian circuses are rehabilitated; currently there are about a hundred lions, four tigers and 24 bears.
As you drive in through the gates, you are greeted by growls and roars. There are iron-barred cages leading into 100 ft by 100 ft kraals or enclosures, where the seven tigers currently in residence roam and laze in the ponds. There is a neat grassy patch and stone resting places for the cats. The kraals are meant to recreate the cats' natural habitat. It is easy to see that living the easy life is something that Zeudi, King, Harek, Greenwich and the others cats enjoy greatly.
Royale, the enormous Siberian tiger (a crude comparison has it that he is the size of two king-sized beds put together!), is the kingpin here without a doubt. When he fixes you with a yellow glare, you stand up straighter! He locks eyes with you for a minute, then without blinking, looks away. The encounter is dramatic, almost as if one is actually in the forest.
The rescue centre is not open to the public, so that the cats do not feel as if they are on show.
Where to eat
Just off the Bannerghatta Road, around 15 km before you reach the park, is Grasshopper (Tel: 080-26593999, 26580225), a fashion store and restaurant where you get excellent Continental food. Grasshopper has pre-set menus and serves six-course lunch and dinners (from appetizers to dessert and teal coffee). Their lemon cheesecake with grape sauce is to die for. You need to make reservations before you land up there for a meal.
AROUND BANNERGHATTA NP
Pearl Valley (25 km)
Further south of Bannerghatta lies Muthiyalmadu or Pearl Valley, just beyond the Anekal Village, past some mulberry plantations. To get to the valley's bottom, there are 280 steps cut into rock that lead to a Shiva temple beside a water source. The surrounding jungles are dense and still harbour some wild animals. The MM Hills loom in the back- ground. Pearl Valley was earlier a popular picnic spot but because of really bad roads it is not visited often nowadays.
Nrityagram (32 km)
Just beyond Hessaraghatta Lake is Nrityagram, India's first and only dance village set up by the late dancer Protima Gauri Bedi. Fifteen years after its inception, the place still retains its charm. As the sun casts a burnished glow on its brick walks, the stone dance floors feel cool under one's feet. Come February, culture enthusiasts in Bangalore all head to Nrityagram, for the Vasantahabba, the Spring Festival. The Nrityagram curriculum also includes yoga, mediation and martial arts, among many other disciplines. Free boarding and training is imparted but this unique institution welcomes help in any form. Those interested can contact Nrityagram, Hes- saraghatta, Bangalore-S60088. Tel: 080- 28466313-14.
Entry fee Rs 20 Timings Tue-Sat: 10 am-S.30 pm, Sun: 10 am-3 pm; Mondays closed
Banyan tree (40 km)
Doubling back towards the outskirts of Bangalore City, you can visit the 400- year-old banyan tree (doda ala maara in Kannada) just off the Mysore Road. You turn into Kumbalgodu after the Rajrajeswari Dental Clinic and Hospital on Mysore Road, go past the McDowell factory and many rose farms till you reach this ancient tree.
Animals - Elephant, bonnet macaque, cheetal, muntjac (barking deer), slow loris, wild boar, porcupine, fox, three- striped palm squirrel
Birds - 200 species of birds including honey buzzard, great-horned owl, spotted owlet, purple sunbird, Laten's sun- bird, small green barbet
The tree is fascinating; it spreads out in a thick canopy of branches with a veritable forest of prop roots. This is a popular picnic spot but beware of the hordes of aggressive monkeys that live in the tree. It is disturbing to see even this awesome, venerable banyan has not been spared the crassness of visitors; many of its prop roots have graffiti cruelly cut into them.