Masinagudi VS Bandipur

Masinagudi VS Bandipur

If your objective is to sight a Tiger, then Bandipur is certainly the better bet. On the other hand, if you love lush green forests nestled in the foothills, nothing comes close to Masinagudi. For us, in the choice of Masinagudi VS Bandipur the former is the easy call. The sweet spot though is to stay at one of the Jungle lodges in Masinagudi and book your safaris at Bandipur. They're just about an hour away from each other, and it's a system that works beautifully!

Chikmagalur to Masinagudi by Road


Getting from Chikmagalur to Masinagudi is a bit of a trek. While the distance is a mere 401Kms, it's mostly over state highways, which means you take a good 8 hours to traverse the distance.

Following Google Maps, we chose the route that took us Southeast along SH 73 to Hassan. From there we switched onto SH 75, heading South to Mysore. Though there was a fair bit of tractor, 2 - wheeler and 4 legged traffic on the roads, we managed to make good time. Having left Villa Urvinkhan around 0900Hrs, we hit Mysore by 1300Hrs.

From thereon, after a quick halt for lunch we got to the Bandipur gates in an hour. Despite it being winter, the afternoon was surprisingly warm. I can well imagine how hot and dusty it would get during the winters! If someone'd asked me then, I would've whole - heartedly voted for the former in the Masinagudi VS Bandipur debate.

It felt great to be driving through Bandipur and Madumalai once again. We couldn't help but notice the stark difference between the two. Bandipur is sparse, dry and spread out, whereas the jungle suddenly takes on a greener hue and gets denser the minute you get into Tamil Nadu and Madumalai. Of course Madumalai is now renamed as the MGR forest sanctuary. I suppose this is in view of all the veteran thespian did for animals.

By 1500Hrs we got to Masinagudi town / village. After missing a couple of turn offs thanks to the redoubtable Google Maps, we finally found the right path on our right that led us to the Jungle Hut resort in Bokkapuram, Masinagudi. I've seen quite a few good resorts in Bandipur. But one look at the Jungle Hut settled the Masinagudi VS Bandipur for good in my mind!

The Jungle Hut, Masinagudi


After having left Villa Urvinkhan, I had serious doubts if the rest of the trip could top the experience - however, The Jungle Hut overcame the challenge with aplomb! Nestled in the buffer area of the forest, adjacent to a beautiful temple, the property boasts of 3 ponds, acreage of trees and meadows and beautiful luxury tents.

Our friends Pooja and Debarjyo with their son Ved joined us for this leg of the trip. Luckily, we got adjacent tents mounted on a stilt platform. Anushri Mathias, the lady who owns & runs Jungle Hut with her husband Vikram Mathias, met us on arrival. After briefing us on the place she had us escorted to our tents.

En route, she sounded the ominous warning to not step out after dark unless attended by a staff member for fear of wild animals that may be wandering through the grounds. Something that just made the place all the more exciting! So far the former was clearly winning in the debate of Masinagudi VS Bandipur!

Stilt tents at Jungle Hut Masinagudi have spacious sitouts
All set for dinner on day 1, posing for the mandatory pic outside our tent


Our tent was superb in every aspect. The enclosed space is spread over a sprawling 500 odd Sq.Ft area. It sported a comfortable kingsize bed, and an open 'camp' format layout. 2 majestic pearl coloured washbasins occupy an enclosure adjacent to the main bedroom area. A toilet and shower cublicle flank either basin.

The layout gave it a quaint camp - like feel, with the quality of amenities, fixtures and furnishings retaining the sheen of luxury and comfort. While everyone decided to take off to explore the property, I settled in for a quick nap.

Resident ducks at the Jungle hut Masinagudi
While I didn't capture the deer, managed to get this family of ducks quacking away as they sauntered across from in front of our tent!


I stepped out onto the verandah of the tent around 1700Hrs with a much needed cup of coffee. Imagine my glee when I was greeted with a sight straight out of storybooks! It was cold, with the setting sun glancing off the waters of the pond just outside our tent and settling on a herd of deer. At least 50 of them if not more, were grazing with nary a care in the world!

They were so close, that I could make out the intricate patterns on their coats. I detected the shudder of their muscles underneath the coat just before they took a tentative step ahead in search of more delectable foliage. When someone tried to describe heaven, they probably used this as a starting point! If the sheer greenery had me rooting for Masinagudi, this sighting firmly steered me in favour of the former in the Masinagudi VS Bandipur debate.

I spent a blissful 5 minutes lost gazing at this sight before the rest of our group returned from a stroll, startling the deer to move away. Yet, rather than make a dash for it, they simply ambled away without a care in the world! Masinagudi VS Bandipur was soon becoming a moot point.

We spent the evening sipping a malt in the main gazebo. While all meals are served on a buffet, there is also an a la carte menu for snacks and finger foods. We put this to good use, sampling around 30% of what was on offer. That seemed par for the course, given that we were here for 3 nights and could run through the entire menu in that duration.

It was way colder here than at Urvinkhan and the malt proved more medicinal than anything else. Dinner, quite a decent spread, was served in the open - air restaurant. It seemed like the entire family with assorted friends had pitched in to serve the meal, which was quite good, adding to the feeling of homeliness.

We checked on the safari timings and availability. Anushri informed that our best bet was to get to Bandipur booking office around 0630Hrs and see what was available.

Celebrating christmas at the jungle hut
Jungle Hut had this beautiful nativity tableau


Bandipur Tiger Safari


So off we were next morning at 0600Hrs, all loaded into the Pajero, for the 20 Km / 30 minute drive to Bandipur National Park. As expected The booking office was crowded. All we managed was tickets for a 60 minute drive on a 'canter'.

The drive was pathetic, to say the least. The vehicle itself made such a racket that all the animals in a 5 Km radius were probably clutching their ears and hiding in the underbrush. Besides, it was belching smoke like it had O.D'd at a cheap roadside barbecue the previous night. To top that, the driver seemed in a hurry to get somewhere, which was exciting in it's own way until we realised he was simply going around in circles. We passed the same clutch of trees twice in 20 minutes. I suppose he was just trying to better his own track time, at our expense.

Thankfully, the ordeal was soon over and we were back in the parking lot. Finally we had our animal sighting! A troop of monkeys were chilling ON the Pajero. While this seemed flattering at first, we soon realised they were only there to extract their 'toll' for us infiltrating into their territory. It took a couple of biscuits and half a dozen bananas (which a helpful vendor just happened to be selling in the booking office parking lot. coincidence?), before they moved away from the car, allowing us to get in.

Monkeys converge on our vehicle at Bandipur in the hopes of a handout!
We ain't getting off till we get paid!


We got back for a leisurely brunch and spent the rest of the day lazing around the beautiful property. Later that afternoon we stepped out into the buffer area on foot, and came across deer & wild buffalo. So long as you didn't venture too close, they were ok with you being there.

The next morning we woke early and trekked to a temple atop a hill in on the other side of Masinagudi village. The climb up is rather steep, and a good 3 Kms, but the view is definitely worth it!. Perched pretty much on the peak, the temple affords a 360 degree view of the surroundings. All you can see are forests, dotted with villages in the distance. It seems like a world apart.

When we got back, the staff informed us that there were 8 seats available on a safari the next afternoon at Bandipur. These were priced at the princely sum of RS. 1800 per seat if we wanted them. Apparently, this was in a jeep of sorts (not the bus we'd taken the previous day), and could venture where the bus couldn't. That dramatically increased the chances of sighting something. Throwing caution to the winds we decided to take the plunge!

Masinagudi buffer zone offers myriad hiking opportunities, making it score in the Masinagudi VS Bandipur debate
Trekking through the buffer zone


After an early lunch we drove back to Bandipur. Thankfully, there were no monkeys this time. Apparently its a morning - only phenomenon. We were told that the jeep boarding point is a couple of 100 yards away, at the Bandipur KTDC resort.

The jeep turned out to be quite well equipped. It had 3 benches fitted in stadia - style. So no matter which row you were in, you'd always get a clear view of your surroundings. We were accompanied by a driver who knew his business. Thankfully, he wasn't into trying to better his own track time. The only tracks he was interested in were those left by the tiger.

We quickly entered the sanctuary and drove around for a few minutes. The engine purred in well - tuned smoothness, with hardly anything coming out of the exhaust pipe. Thank God for little mercies! Once again, even though we'd seen nothing, the sheer experience of being in the jungle was mesmerising in itself.

Suddenly, Siddaramaiah, the driver, halted the jeep. We were on a little crest astride the path and he peered hard to his left. Naturally, all of us followed suit. Other than a rather dense clump of trees adjoining the crest followed by a meadow and then dense forest, we could see nothing.

"What?" we began to ask before he impatiently shushed us, whispering 'Aanay' which is elephant in Kannada. Before we realised, elephants and a MASSIVE cow ambled out of the thicket and moved to the meadow. That in itself was a great sight. But what took the cake was the most adorable calf ambling along on it's little legs alongside the mother. Well, they weren't so little, except when you saw them in perspective to the cow!

As it turned out, the meadow was actually a dust bowl, and they spent the next few minutes blowing dry mud over themselves. Apparently, this acts as a sunscreen, protecting them from the harsh rays! A quick check revealed we all were covered in a thin layer of mud. Don't know about the others, but I certainly felt more protected. I mean if it works for elephants, why not us!

An elephant calf walks between her mothers legs in bandipur forest
Don't miss the calf cutely hanging between her mothers legs!


We were enjoying this sight, chattering away amongst ourselves like the ogling tourists we were. Suddenly, good ole Sid shushed us once again. Evidently, the elephants had sighted something, and were on an alert. I have no clue what they did to make Sid think so, but I guess we shall take his word for it.

Now, the only thing that would put an elephant on alert, especially if there is a calf around, is a tiger. And sure, enough, in a few moments a tiger skulked out of the trees on the far side, walking diagonally towards the elephants. The tactic seemed rather cute. He walked towards them at an angle, so they wouldn't get alarmed. They in turn just stared back at him to see when he'd change direction. He plonked himself about 50 meters or so away from them. There he sat, licking his chops and flicking his tail, looking away in the other direction. It was as if he hadn't seen them and wasn't interested either.

That however didn't fool the fiercely protective elephants and this impasse continued for about 10 minutes. Thats a pretty long period of time, during which the elephants hardly moved. Soon, the tiger got up, stretched, and continued walking towards the elephants. Effectively, this meant he was walking towards us.

As he came closer, I could appreciate the sheer size of the beast. He was easily 9, possibly 10 feet long, rippling in the setting sun, with an athletic body finishing in a massively magnificent head! 'Why didn't we stay in Bandipur?" piped up Avantika, rekindling the Masinagudi VS Bandipur debate.

Herd of elephants in Bandipur national park, tilting the scales in it's favour in the Masinagudi VS Bandipur debate
The elephants moving away for some 'sunscreening' with mud


The tiger had walked just a few steps, before the big cow trumpeted loudly and charged at it! It was so sudden that Avantika shrieked in the jeep startling us all. The trumpet was REALLY loud and scary. I've never seen an elephant run and only read about how they can reach speeds of up to 45 Kms and hour. Apparently they can maintain that speed for 12 to 14 hours on end. Seeing one actually move so fast was stunning.

The tiger did the smart thing, and turned around quickly. Much before the elephant reached him, he trotted away back into the thicket. The big cow skidded to a halt and started ambling back to her herd. Sid asked us to sit down (we were all standing and hanging out of the jeep to get as close to the action as possible) quickly, and moved the vehicle ahead by a few meters. Before we could ask him why he'd moved, he preemptively gestured for us to be quiet.

I guess by now we were really into the annoying ogling tourist act and he could tell when we'd do the next stupid thing. Sure enough, in about 5 minutes the elephants crossed the path EXACTLY where our jeep had been parked. Their obvious intent was to get to the other side of the forest and further away from the tiger.

They passed barely a couple of meters from us. If the cow looked imposing from afar, up close she was stupendous. Graceful despite (or because of) her sheer bulk, peaceful eyes, ambling along in a measured, slow but sure and supremely confident gait. The cute little calf stumbled along somewhere in between her trunk and forelegs. We hung around till they disappeared, before returning back to the KTDC resort.

MALE TIGER SIGHTING AT bandipur national park
If you peer as hard as we did, you may just be able to see the tiger in the far distance!


For once, the drive back was mostly in silence. Everyone contemplated what we were blessed to have just witnessed. An elephant cow charging a tiger to protect her calf. Does it even come close to getting better that this! For once I wondered if the scales would tilt in favour of the latter in the Masinagudi VS Bandipur debate.

By the time we returned, showered and gathered in the gazebo for the mandatory malt - sipping sessions, everyone was exuberant. The resort guys'd already heard about our sighting. Our names had gone on the board where they write the names of guests who manage to see tigers. Today, however, I believe the honour should've gone to the elephants!

We'd come to the end of our 3 night trip to Masinagudi, and what a way to end it. Satisfied in spirit, mind and body, we retired for the day, looking forward to what the rest of the trip held in store for us.



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