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Bandipur forest, in South India

A Giant Malabar Squirrel was the first 'animal' we saw during a tour in the Bandipur forests in the foothills of the Nilgiris which is just five hours from Bangalore.

There was a crash on a large branch of flowering Sal overhead and 20 heads jerked upwards, to focus on a beautiful russet coloured furry giant squirrel, scrambling for cover. Their jump span is huge and they almost fly through the air, as if they have anti-gravity in their limbs. Shy and wary of humans we were lucky to see it. If you have never been inside a jungle, then its time to go.

We were staying for three days in the brand new Serai Bandipur resort, which belongs to the Café Coffee Day group. As part of the day’s activities, you can book in for a jungle ride which both adults and children enjoy. An open sided jeep is provided by the government and but naturally, a window seat is preferable! “ Wear pastel shades, no reds and bright blues and yellows,” admonished Imran the resort naturalist, “ as we do not want to frighten the animals. And most of all stop talking loudly.”

It was a relief for those two hours to enjoy the silence of the jungle, as we Indians are quite definitely a very noisy race. But there were collective hushed sighs when a Mongoose was sighted and when suddenly a huge female Elephant lumbered across our path into the undergrowth and silently watched us from behind a thicket. All we could see was her trunk twitching and after giving us a couple of good camera shots, she just turned her back on our curious stares and lumbered off into the dry jungle.

All around the jungle was dry and leafless. As the jeep sped on the bumpy jungle tracks, Imran called out – “ Indian KFC!” which made Bruce the American tourist, jump up shouting “Where, where?” A magnificent male Grey Jungle Fowl and two skittery and plain looking Jungle hens ran towards the undergrowth. The cock was beautiful, with a bright scarlet comb and ribbon like, long sheeny tail feathers, which bobbed as it ran on, infront of the jeep.

The T word was on everyone’s minds and lips, but they say its bad luck to even hope to see one, then you will never be lucky. There are just 1400 tigers left in the wild in India and Bandipur has a small population to boast of. What is very interesting is when jeeps pass one another in the jungle, the drivers and naturalists compare notes.

“ We saw a Mother Sloth Bear and her babies,” boasted Imran, while the other driver swatted us dead with his reply – “ Tiger! Just ahead and turn right! ” Our driver raced forward, but no luck, not even the twitch of a tail or the trademark orange and black stripe, vanishing under the feral Lantana weed.

“Ohhh!” said one young woman, expelling a long sigh and which echoed all of our sentiments exactly. What a day if, we had seen the King of the Jungle.

As the jeep carried on Bruce shouted “Snake!” and in a jiff, all the visitors from the right of the jeep had thrown themselves enmasse to the left, almost falling out of the jeep in their excitement, cameras trained on the swiftly zig –zagging reptile. “ That’s a rat snake!” said Imran to someone’s clever retort “Cobra!” The snake was large and was wasting no time finding the shelter of the undergrowth.

Since there had been heavy showers of rain the night before, the termite princesses were all agitated and flying around. “ They make a great dash of protein, for birds and the Common Indian Monitor Lizards.” Sure enough Imran spotted a Lizard making a meal of the ants, quite oblivious to our dozens of eyes and cameras trained on it, as it was feasting and gulping down all that flew past it’s snaking tongue. Today, the lizard is considered a vulnerable species, and it was quite an experience, looking at it, as it looks like a cousin of the ancient Dinosaurs, that roamed our planet in the past.

“Coop, coop, coop, coop” went a loud and resonating call.” That’s the call of the Greater Coucal said Imran as we listened to the sound echoing in the heat of the afternoon sun. A beautiful terrestrial bird,with its coppery brown wings and long shiny black tail. Not a great flier, we were able to see a pair foraging at the edge of the undergrowth, before the sound of our jeep had them scuttling for cover.

There were plenty of Spotted deer and they seemed quite oblivious to us, feeding on the scrub near the road. Infact it seemed like they were posing for our furiously clicking cameras! Black faced Langurs also watched us curiously, as only monkeys can, from positions in the trees.

At the end of the two and a half hours we reached the Serai Badipur resort tired, but glad, that we had gone. It is important for us city slickers to see that it’s not just us who dominate the earth. But we should keep some space for the rest of the species, of flora and fauna that we are tending to intrude upon, and gobbling up what was their space and territory.

For details contact: Sales Office: Coffee Day Resorts Pvt. Ltd., Coffee Day Square, Vittal Mallaya Road, Bangalore, Ph: + 91 80 4001 2345 or www.theserai.in

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