Established in 1971, the Bannerghatta National Park spans an area of 104.27sq km and comprises 10 reserve forests of the Anekal Range of the Bengaluru Forest Division. The national park is situated on the Bannerghatta road, 23km south of Bengaluru, and is easily accessible from the city.

Located at an altitude of 3,375ft, the terrain is interspersed with scenic valleys and streams that fill up in the monsoons. The vegetation comprises dry deciduous forests and thorny scrub with patches of moist deciduous trees. The wild expanse of this small yet much-visited national park, located just beyond the Bannerghatta Biological Park (BPP), is home to the wild Asiatic elephant. 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.

ORIENTATION

Tourists are not permitted to enter the core zones of Bannerghatta, but the few kilometres inside the park which are accessible to them make the trip worthwhile.

This Biological Park (adjoining the National Park) is where the forest department has rehabilitated lions and tigers (rescued from circuses) in semi-wild environs that are similar to their natural habitat. This has become an area of interest and more than 10 lakh visitors throng to this park every year to see the big cats.

The Bannerghatta Biological Park comprises a zoo (a short distance from the entry gates, on the right), which has 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 safaris. The parking area lies near the entrance opposite the zoo.

There are several soft drink vendors near the entry point and kiosks (run by KSTDC) in the zoo precincts. The Herbivore enclosure (housing blackbuck, bison, chital and sambar) is located to the right, a few kilometres past the zoo.

Ankur Bhalla
A tiger cooling off in a water hole on a hot summer’s day
A tiger cooling off in a water hole on a hot summer’s day

About 1.5km from the entry gate, close to the Herbivore enclosure, is the Jungle Lodges Nature Camp, run by the Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation (KSTDC). The camp offers lion and tiger safari packages, which includes night stays. 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. A trek in the herbivore enclosure requires a minimum of 10 people. The forest department runs the safaris. Jungle Lodges has its own vehicles, which organise the safaris in conjunction with the forest department.

Grand Safari (includes zoo tickets) Adults 260; Children 150 Timings 9.00am–5.00pm Closed Tuesdays Boating 60

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. But one of the best ways to get the most out of the park is to opt for an overnight Jungle Lodges Resort (JLR) safari package, as part of which you travel in a safari van protected with grills interspersed with openings for taking photographs.

Lion, Tiger and Bear safaris are a part of this package. The next morning, you can go on the Herbi-vore Safari.

A lioness at the Rescue Centre for Animals
A lioness at the Rescue Centre for Animals

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 rescued animals and those retrieved from Indian circuses are rehabilitated; currently there are about 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 100ft by 100ft kraals (enclosures), where the seven tigers in residence roam about 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. One can see that living the easy life is something that Zeudi, King, Harek, Greenwich and the other cats enjoy.

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 display.

The zoo

You get to see all kinds of animals – zebra, langur, porcupines and jackals amidst a lovely canopy of mixed trees such as sandalwood, jalari, chujjullu, neem, tamarind and zizyphus, amongst others. The zoo auditorium screens 45-minute films from 12.30–4.00pm. There is a museum in the zoo environs filled with sad displays of musty, moth-eaten stuffed animal trophies and some damaged old photographs.

Film tickets Adults 10; Children 5 Museum tickets Adults 10; Children5 Timings 10.00am–5.30 pm

Reptile Park

The Reptile Park has its share of snakes, both 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. It is a paradise for wildlife photographers.

Mirza Hill

About 1km from the entry gate is the Mirza Hill (no one seems to know whom the hill is named after), popular amongst amateur hikers and picnickers.

Butterfly Park

Touted as the country’s first Butterfly Park and Museum, it hosts upto 50 species of butterflies in a special recreated natural habitat built under a large glass dome.

Hajjamana Kallu

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 that barbers traditionally use to sharpen their blades on. Located about 3km from the entry gate, it is closed to the public but those staying at the Jungle Lodges Nature Camp can visit this viewpoint.

Uddigebende

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 Irula tribe till about seven years ago.

WHERE TO STAY AND EAT

Since it is located in the vicinity of Bengaluru, Bannerghatta National Park has several accommodation choices. However, the best option is undoubtedly JLR Bannerghatta Nature Camp (Tel: 080-40554055), which is located 1.5km inside the park. The two huts cost 5,039 each per night, the Swiss tents (eight tents) cost 3,497 and a bed in the dormitory is priced at 2,175. Day tripperspay 1,404 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 a guide, zoo visit, forest entry fee and taxes – a good bargain indeed.

The Gol Ghar is a circular open dining area. The food served at the resort is wholesome and tasty, with both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. Just off the Bannerghatta Road, around 15km before the park, is Grasshopper (Tel: 080-26593999), a fashion store and restaurant that makes excellent Continental food. It has pre-set menus and serves six-course lunch and dinners.

FAST FACTS

When to go Open all year round, but the park at its greenest between mid-June and August. Best wildlife sightings are between November and June

Wildlife/ Forest Dept offices

DFO, Bannerghatta NP

District Bengaluru

Tel: 080-27828540, 28429366

Executive Director

Bannerghatta Biological Park

Bengaluru

Cell: 09164950099

Jungle Lodges & Resorts Ltd

49, GF, Khanija Bhavan

Race Course Road, Bengaluru

Tel: 40554055

W bannerghattabiologicalpark.org

W junglelodges.com

STD code 080

State Karnataka

Location South of Bengaluru

Distance 23km S of Bengaluru, 125km NE of Mysore

Route from Bengaluru District road to Bannerghatta via Jayanagar and JP Nagar

GETTING THERE

Air Nearest airport: Kempegowda International Airport, Devanahalli Bengaluru, (58km/ 2hrs), is served by all domestic and several inter-national airlines. A pre-paid taxi to Bannerghatta National Park costs around 2,400

Rail Nearest railheads: Bengaluru City (25km/ 45mins) and Bengaluru Cantonment (20km/ 40mins) offer connections to major cities across India. Taxi costs 1,000–1,800 for a drop to Bannerghatta National Park

Road From Hosur Road, follow the Bannerghatta Road past Jayanagar and JP Nagar, and go south of Bengaluru. Start looking out for Bannerghat village after crossing Ryan International School on the right. The park is easy to find with many signposts en route. The parking area is near the entrance, opposite the zoo Bus KSTDC offers a same-day bus tour (fare 385) from their Badami House office (Tel: 080-43344334). An hourly KSRTC Volvo service (65 per drop) leaves from Kempe Gowda Bus Stand to the national park. Buses for the return journey are also available (last bus departs at 8.30pm)