Friday, June 20, 2008
Viewing Big Game at Two Indian National Parks
Bannerghatta National Park, less than 25 kilometers from Bangalore, has got to be one of the best attractions of that city. I went with my friends the Raos. It was a lot of fun to experience the joy in the faces of Ramya, 8 and Shreya, 4 as the two of them, their mother and myself, all enjoyed the exceptional animal viewing.
The part of Bannerghatta that is unexceptional is the zoo-like area, where animals live in cages. What sets the park, and the experience apart is how they have used the 25,000 acres of space to allow visitors to see animals in a natural setting.
For under $4 U.S. visitors climb on a specially modified bus for a nearly one hour safari tour of the park. The glass windows may be opened but are screened for safety, except for holes just big enough to point a camera lens through. Security is obviously not taken lightly.
These are among the wildlife we saw at close range without bars or fences:
Himalayan Black Bears
Kazeranga National Park, which I visited a few months ago, is in the far northeast region of Assam on the banks of the Brahmaputra River. Kazeranga, with 430 square kilometers (166 square miles) is a World Heritage Site. It has two thirds of the world’s Great One-horned Rhinoceroses and the highest number of tigers in a protected area anywhere.
We weren’t lucky enough to see a tiger, but we did see many rhino at close range, both on a jeep safari the afternoon of our arrival, and an elephant safari early the next morning.
During the jeep safari we asked our guide to query our seasoned driver if a rhino had ever attacked his vehicle. He told us that he had been driving for 38 years and yes, it had happened once.
“When did that happen?” our guide asked.
“Yesterday,” the driver answered.
Our guide asked again to make sure he wasn’t misinterpreting the response, because the two men spoke different native languages. It turned out to be true, confirmed later by the manager of the wilderness camp we were staying in.
The rhino had attacked and turned over the vehicle (which was still in the shop for repairs as we were asking the hard questions) and had injured the occupants. The family of four tourists from another region of India had all ended up in the hospital with, thankfully, only minor injuries.