On your next wildlife adventure trip, don't let a luxury cottage take precedence over nature.
In my mind, having lived in Bangalore for over six months, I had committed a grave sin by not visiting one of the many national parks that were a few hundred kilometers from my messy apartment in Richmond Circle.
Amidst all the procrastination, which included marijuana bong hits in bed while bingeing on tv shows, to convincing venture capital investors to disclose their dubious deal sizes to me (part of my profession as a business reporter), my boyfriend and I finally locked down on a few options. It was either a weekend getaway which would include pining for a swim in the Kabini river or supposedly spotting tigers at Bandipur National Park. And while we discussed the better option, we went back and forth discussing rates, figuring out the right budget, cab fare (we were fussy about taking the bus for some reason) and so on.
Is Rs.40,000 too much for a lazy luxurious two night stay in a wildlife retreat?
Maybe, maybe it is. Think wisely the next time around or just bask in the glory of having showered in a ceilingless, luxury stone bathroom where you can occasionally hear monkeys quarrel above you while you poop.
Dry landscape. Image source: nickrossiter.org.uk
Finally the decision was made. Bandipur it was. The last bong shot was had, a 6:00 a.m. alarm was set and to bed we went. Both of us were enthusiastic to be in a wild, lush green forest with tigers potentially prowling around our backyard.
We had decided to Uber our way to the resort (Tusker Trails in Bandipur). This included a mandatory on-the-road pit stop for a quick masala dosa breakfast at a local Udupi restaurant, followed by nariyal pani.
After three hours on the road, sleeping, eating and checking work emails, we were finally nearing Tusker Trails. It was a dismal sight. The forest land looked dry and desolate. Trees had shed their leaves and one could only see rows and rows of branches without a single leaf on them. Of course, if you looked hard enough you would be able to spot the odd green one out. Our enthusiasm dipped, I silently reminded myself the resort would be great as I stared at a goat by the side of the road.
On reaching Tusker Trails, at first glance from the outside, we were both secretly mortified at how plain it appeared. “What did we pay Rs.40,000 for?” I whispered to my boyfriend. And then I quickly added, “Maybe the cottages will be great.” While we hung around the lobby area waiting to be assigned to our cottage, I overheard a burly middle-aged American male tourist complain to another American female tourist about how they had sighted more animals on their way to the resort, in comparison to any on the wildlife safari. Fantastic, it’s sunny, dry and dead, with no animals in sight. The cottage better be goddamn good.
Thankfully, the interior decor, the stone bathroom, fluffy white bed and backyard sitting area met our expectations. We were instantly at ease. Well, nature might not have been in our favour, but that didn’t take away the joy that material comforts can bring.
A luxury cottage becomes home for the weekend
Before completely dissing nature, after a buffet lunch and some lazy lolling around in bed, we decided to go for a nature trail with the local guide. We were the first ones to show up for the nature walk, despite there being several foreign and Indian tourists staying at the resort. Eventually, a Bengali father-daughter duo were the only ones to accompany us, along with an enthusiastic guide who was all too keen to show us around. It became fairly evident we were visiting during `off season’ time, the only time when everything green in the forest ceases to exist. To our delight, we did spot a patch of greenery or two.
A patch of greenery yay!
Our guide, Ravi walked ahead of us naming trees that were basically branchless barks. And wait, yes, we did spot a bird in one. An Oriental Magpie Robin, but it looked like nothing more than a dark silhouette of any small sized bird. And that’s about as far as we got when it came to wildlife sightings in nature.
The exotic Oriental Magpie Robin. Image source: ytimg.com
We walked around neighbouring villages where locals lived but it appeared that most were still out busy with their daily routine, which involved cultivating crops and picking whatever fruits they could find in the forest. As we walked through their village, most homes appeared to be temporarily empty.
Local village home appears temporarily deserted
Soon enough, our blasé attitude towards the deserted village and seemingly lacklustre forest took us back on the road, past another goat, back in our cosy cottage. The rest of the weekend involved us drinking up a storm, joining the starry dots in the sky, snuggling in bed, staring in silence at the wilderness (or lack of it) while we watched the sun rise and set from our stoney backyard porch.
There were a few things that definitely made our trip worthwhile. The chef and waiters were always waiting to serve us and customise snacks (usually peanuts, chopped tomatoes, capsicum, onions, lime, salt and chilli powder), besides various kinds of kebabs that they made exclusively for us with our evening drinks. Most of the travellers were families with children, a few young couples and a lot of foreigners (the only other people drinking during the trip).
My boyfriend and I received a fair amount of compliments about our physical appearance, that was a definite but unnecessary ego massage. The chef complimented both our skin and hair. I have ridiculously annoying, stringy curls that change the way they look from time to time. He has long and strong dreads. As for our complexion, we are as brown as brown can be. To our great drunken amusement, he proceeded to ask us which country we were from after serving us a few exclusive fish kebabs.
Will miss this view
All in all, our trip basically consisted of buffet breakfasts, lunches, dinners, drinks in bed, stargazing amidst some monkey watching. Let’s just say it wasn’t the perfect wildlife safari weekend away from the city, but the stars, monkeys, hospitality and interior decor made it worth something. When it came to an end, I did catch my boyfriend wistfully looking at the cottage before we left. We hired a cab back home from the hotel and presumed it would be a quiet, reasonably peaceful drive. Turns out we were wrong. The drive to Bangalore involved an awful lunch at an obscure hotel, followed by the driver offering us some terrible weed which we refused to smoke, and ended with us forgetting our sports shoes in the car when we were dropped home. We never got them back.
If you’re looking for a weekend getaway to a national park on the outskirts of your city, for heaven’s sake do not make the mistake of shelling out more than half your salary on a luxury wildlife resort when all the leaves have fallen off the trees. Ask, ask, ask and keep asking till you know for sure. Because even TripAdvisor lies.
1. Mysore and Bangalore are the closest cities to travel to Bandipur via buses, Ola, Uber and private cab services.
2. Local guides are available for treks and safari's in private jeeps or group buses.
3. Summer is the best time to visit, that is March to June.
4. You can choose to stay in a private cottage at a fancy Lodge or at a shack in a budget hotel.
6. If you're lucky you will spot panthers, leopards and tigers, or maybe just a stripe-necked mongoose.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101india.com
By Sasha Klaatu
Cover photo credit: outlookindia.com