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Bandipur Travelogue - Boys Day Out At Bandipur National Park

Discussion in 'Travelogues' started by Debapriya Deb, Sep 1, 2015.

  1. Debapriya Deb

    Debapriya Deb Active Member

    My partner in crime during the college days, Saurabh was returning to India from an onsite assignment after 10 months. Although his office is based out of Hyderabad, he was keen to meet our Bangalore gang before resuming his official duty. 'Our gang' refers to a group of 5 batchmates - Biplab, Tapan, Rauben, Saurabh and Debo (yours truly) - from the Department of Computer Science, Assam University, Silchar.

    So the plan was that Saurabh would land at Bangalore airport on Friday, the 14th of August, 2015 and I would go to the airport to pick him up. We decided to block the entire weekend of 15th & 16th August for the proposed reunion. At the end of the 2-day extravaganza, Saurabh would catch a flight to Hyderabad on Monday morning to resume his official committment.

    Trip Planning:

    With the schedule all set, it was time to fix the venue. So the four of us, except Saurabh, got in to a conference call. Saurabh was in a different time zone, so he was not a part of this discussion.

    Last time out, we went for a trip to Valparai - a beautiful hill station in the Western Ghats ranges. This time, by the un-written norms that we have in place, it should have been a beach destination.

    "Let's go for Kurumgad Island in Karwar. Trust me, it's a beautiful place" - Tapan put forward his suggestion.

    "Dude, we just have 2 days in hand. Do you want to spend all the time on the road itself?" - Biplab was duly concerned about the distance factor.

    "So what do you suggest? Don't tell me Mahabalipuram or Pondy, again?" - Tapan left the ball in Biplab's court.

    Rauben was silent till that point. "I don't want to be tossed up from a hot grill to a fiery tandoor" - Rauben was his usual cheeky self. He continued, "Let's scrap the beach and plan for something else."

    So after contemplating on Pondicherry and Mahabalipuram for a while, the beach plan was finally scrapped - mainly due to the hot and humid coastal weather expected during the month of August.

    "Last time, you guys enjoyed a lot at Valparai in my absense. Let's plan for another hill station this time also." - Biplab, who was unable to join us on the trip to Valparai, seemed inclined towards a hill station.

    I was just back from a family trip to Kemmanagundi only a week ago, and quite obviously, I was not willing to go to another hill station back to back.

    "All the hill stations are the same - view points, lakes, boats, gardens and waterfalls. Moreover, at such a short notice, it would be very difficult to find a decent accommodation at any of the popular hill resorts. Let's try something different." - I was desperately trying to discourage any thought of going to the hills.

    "So no to beaches and no to hills - how about going to Mars or Pluto?" - there's a hint of sarcasm in Tapan's voice.

    I did not pay heed to the sarcastic remark and made my choice known - "If I was given the choice, I would have loved to visit a wildlife sanctuary. A tented accommodation with a campfire, silence of the forest with the occasional roar of wild animals - isn't it mind-blowing?"

    There was a little pause - an indication that the idea is being seriously considered by all.

    "I am with Debo. We have never been to a forest together. It would be a great adventure" - I was relieved to see Biplab stand right beside his best friend - as always.

    After a short spell of 'analysis' on the feasibility part, Bandipur was unanimously decided as the final pick. It was now the time to look for our accommodation.


    A glance at MakeMyTrip and Go-IBIBO revealed that the popular resorts around Bandipur are all sold out for that particular weekend. 'Tusker Trails', 'Country Club' and 'MC Resort' had no vacancy, while The Serai was well over our budget at INR 19,000 per night. Last time around, when I went to Bandipur with my family members, we had stayed at the Dholes Den. I called up the manager, Mr. Murali, to check on the availability, but no luck there too.

    Then I asked him to suggest us an accommodation near Bandipur for 5 persons. With the promise that he would call me back, I hung up the phone. Meanwhile, I thought to check out the options in hand at Nagarhole & Kabini Wildlife Sanctuary as well.

    True to his words, Murali gave me a call back after couple of hours and it provided us with a ray of hope. He informed us about a new resort, Deep Jungle Home, which could accommodate us, but it was on the Tamil Nadu side of the national park, near the Madumalai section.

    On learning that the resort was located at a distance of 20 KM from the Bandipur main gate, I readily gave him my consent. He told me that the manager of the resort, Mr. Karthik will call me up shortly.

    Within 5 minutes, I received a call from an unknown number. It must be Karthik - I told myself and picked up the call. It was indeed him. They had four different types of cottages available with the price ranging between INR 2400 to INR 4500 - which I thought was pretty reasonable. I requested him to book a deluxe tree-house for the five of us.

    He politely informed me that the tree-house was meant to accommodate only 4 persons and for the extra person, there will be an additional charge of 1200 per night. I had no reason to disagree and gladly accepted the offer of INR 5200 (4000+1200) per night for 2 nights. I offered him to pay the booking advance, but he told me that I could make the final payment on arrival. He just requested me to inform him at the earliest, in-case our plan gets cancelled for some reason.

    When I coined the customary 'It was a pleasure talking to you, Karthik' at the end of our conversation, I really meant what I just said. It was indeed a pleasure to interact with such a thorough gentleman.


    Next in line was the transportation. I have a hatchback in Alto-800, while Rauben owns a Ford Figo. Biplab too has a 5-seater in Matiz. All three vehicles could accommodate our group of 5 members, but still a SUV/MUV would have been the best for such a trip. Saurabh has a Renault Duster, but sadly, that was residing in Hyderabad. We considered renting out a self-drive vehicle from Zoom, but the scattered geographic location of our residences meant that a single vehicle would be a sheer waste of time.

    While I stay in South Bangalore, Biplab's place was far away on the North side and Rauben's apartment is off the Outer Ring Road. Tapan had recently relocated to Mysore, so we could just pick him up on the way.

    Finally, it was decided that Saurabh will travel with me on my Alto-800, while Rauben will pick up Biplab from his residence. One of us would subsequently pick up Tapan from Mysore before proceeding towards Bandipur. Although having two cars could potentially result in compromising on the fun part, yet we had no better option.

    With the 'mission accommodation' and 'project transportation' finally accomplished, we all were eagerly waiting for the D-Day - 14th August, when Saurabh will be landing at Bangalore airport in the evening.

    The D-Day:

    Saurabh's Jet Airways flight was supposed to arrive in Bangalore at 17:00 hours. However when it finally landed after one and a quarter hours' delay and he emerged out from the terminal, the clock had already gone past the 18:30 mark. After a frustrating 3 hours drive maneuvering the Friday evening mad-rush that Bangalore is known for, when we arrived at my place, it was almost the dinner time.

    I asked him to freshen up and went to refuel the vehicle for our trip. I rushed to the Shell bunk near my house and tanked up the vehicle fully. Checked the air pressure and engine oil level. My 'Red Devil' had recently gone for a scheduled service, so quite expectedly everything was in fine tune.

    After finishing off our dinner, we chatted for a few minutes before asking Saurabh to retire on the bed. Saurabh had a tiring day, and I wanted him to take as much rest as possible before embarking on the journey.

    The Journey:

    My alarm went off at 4:45 AM. Immediately I called up Rauben to check on the progress made. Rauben was supposed to pick up Biplab from his house at 5 AM. So by my calculation, he should have been on his way to Biplab's house by that time. I was wrong though. The guy who is often at the receiving end of jokes for being late, I was utterly surprised to find that Rauben had actually arrived at Biplab's place and they were about to set out on the journey.

    Within 15 minutes, we were ready to hit the road. Wifey had already packed my backpack and Saurabh too had his bag ready. After a round of the special 'chai' that my better half is famous for, we started off at sharp 5:15 AM.

    [To be continued]

    Allow me a little time to pen down the reminder of the travelogue. For the time being, here's a couple of teasers for you.

    There's a lot to come. Stay tuned!

    ChaiNashta and Chahal like this.

  2. Debapriya Deb

    Debapriya Deb Active Member

    (Continued from Part-1)

    Here's the details of our trip plan -

    Destination: Bandipur (Karnataka).
    Destination Category: Wildlife Sanctuary.
    Travel Date: 15th & 16th August, 2015.
    Travellers: Saurabh, Rauben, Tapan, Bipla & Debo.
    Our Rides: 1. Maruti Alto-800 & 2. Ford Figo.
    Route: Bangalore - Ramanagaram - Mandya - Mysore - Nanjangud - Gundalpet - Bandipur.
    Total Distance: 220 KM.

    'Let's find out Rauben's whereabouts' - Saurabh was trying to connect to Rauben's mobile.

    'They are about to reach Kengeri' - Saurabh informed me putting Rauben on hold. By the time, I had already paid the toll and entered the NICE Road stretch.

    'We will touch down Mysore Road after Kengeri signal in another 20 minutes" - I asked Saurabh to inform Rauben, 'Let's meet up after the Bidadi signal' - Saurabh disconnected the call.

    We arrived at Bidadi at around 5:40 AM. By my reckoning, Rauben should have reached there already. But there was no sign of his Red Figo. I lighted a cigarette and ordered 2 cups of tea from the roadside tea stall.

    'They must have missed the signal and proceeded further towards Ramanagaram' - Saurabh opined. As Saurabh was about to give a call to Rauben, I could see that a Red vehicle was coming from the Bangalore side. After a few seconds, I was convinced that it was indeed Rauben's car. Soon he parked the vehicle besides my Alto and both of them came out of the car.

    'How did you end up behind me? When you were about to reach Kengri, I had just entered the NICE Road' - I was curious to know.

    Rauben dodged my question and brought out his pack of Kings Lights and passed on the packet to me.

    'Still smoking these girls' cigarettes?' - I passed on the Lights pack to Saurabh and brought out two from my own pack - one for me and the other for Biplab.

    'Oh, I forgot that you are the brand ambassador of Wills Navy Cut' - Rauben was certainly not happy with that 'girls' cigarette' remark.

    After a 10 minutes' break, we continued towards Mysore. This time, Saurabh accompanied Rauben, while Biplab took his customary seat besides me. Till that point, I deliberately kept the music system switched off as I prefer to listen to 'Rabindra Sangeet' to break my day, but Saurabh was far from being an admirer of those slow tracks.

    Biplab's taste - be it in music, sports, literature or anything else that you may think of - is surprisingly similar to me. 'Shedin Dujane Dulechhinu Bone' - a personal favorite of mine in the Godly voice of Hemanta Mukherjee was just the perfect integrant to set the tone of the day.

    The scarcity of traffic helped us in making steady progress and we reached Mandya at 7:30 AM. I asked Biplab to check with Tapan - whom we were supposed to pick-up from Mysore Ring Road junction. Repeated calls to Tapan did not fetch any response but each failed attempt to contact him did fetch some unprintable expletive from Biplab. As we were approaching Srirangapattna, finally Tapan picked up the call. As things turned out, he was in the bathroom to freshen up, that's why couldn't pick up our calls - although I had my doubts on the authenticity of his claim.

    We reached Mysore Ring Road junction at 8 AM. Tapan was yet to reach there. A quick call to Saurabh revealed that they are yet to cross Srirangapattna. So I asked Rauben to pick up Tapan as we went further towards Nanjangud through Mysore City. The idea behind getting in to Mysore City was to pay a visit to Saint Philomena Church. Biplab's wife had specifically asked him to do so without fail and I had no reason to hurt their religious sentiments. So after a quick visit to the beautifully crafted ancient monument, we continued towards Nanjangud. My increasing appetite was a reason enough to look for a road-side eatery. Nanjangud was another 20 odd KM away.

    We found a decent food joint with adjacent toilets right before Nanjangud Bus Stop and decided to stop there. We also informed Rauben to give a halt there for break-fast. I parked the car on the edge of the road so that Rauben can easily identify the location. As we were about the grab the first bite of crispy Masala Dosa, the trio made their entry.
    After a satisfying breakfast of Masala Dosa with tea, we came out of the eatery to have a round of fag. Meanwhile, Mr. Karthik, the manager of the resort where we would be staying, gave me a call to confirm on our arrival and whether we would be interested to go for the jungle safari in the evening or not.

    It was just 9:45 AM and Bandipur was only around 55 KM away. There's no reason why we shouldn't be able to reach there latest by 11:30 AM. So I requested him to book a Jeep Safari for us around 3:30 PM.

    As soon as we crossed the Bandipur Check Post Gate and proceeded further towards the Madumalai section, we spotted a large gathering of spotted deers. We also had a glimpse of a herd of bisons and a couple of domesticated elephants. I had previously visited Bandipur twice, so it was nothing new to me, but Saurabh was all pumped up and he brought out his newly purchased Nikon DSLR to capture a few photographs.

    The rest of the journey was uneventful and we arrived at the Deep Jungle Homes at 11:15 AM. Mr. Karthik was there to receive us at the entrance. The resort was set up amidst lush green surroundings and the environment was peaceful. After the formalities, we checked in to our tree-top cottage. There were two rooms, with a single adjacent bathroom. I especially loved the nice little balcony - which offered a lovely view of the surroundings.

    Besides the tree-house, they also had Swiss tented accommodation and a few bamboo cottages - which were already occupied. All in all, everyone was happy with the staying arrangement. The weather was mild and the plesant breeze had a soothing effect. I just hoped that it remained the same for these two days.

    [To be continued]

    Stay tuned for the third and the last part of this travelogue which would cover the actual 'Jungle Safari' with lots of wildlife photographs.
    ChaiNashta and Chahal like this.

  3. Debapriya Deb

    Debapriya Deb Active Member

    (Continued from Part-2)

    At 3:15 PM, a housekeeping guy came knocking on the door to inform us that the safari vehicle is waiting near the entrance. Everybody was excited. We quickly got ready and came down. We had booked a Jeep Safari, but surprisingly it was an indica that came for the pick up. We were dumbstruck, but Karthik broke the mistry.

    It was not the actual safari vehicle, but it would just drop us to the Bandipur forest gate from where we are supposed to board the Jeep. Anyways, we got into the vehicle and the driver promptly took us to the destination - that is the main office of the tiger reserve to board the safari vehicle.

    There are different types of vehicles with varied seating arrangements that take visitors inside the forest. One common feature of the vehicles is the noisy diesel engines.

    'The noise of these safari vehicles would be enough to scare the animals away' - Rauben decided to air his expert opinion. To which our driver replied that the animals are used to this, so they are not bothered by the level of noise. But ironically, the same animals are supposedly not comfortable with human voices, so he advised us to keep our mouths shut inside the jungle.

    Our safari vehicle was driven by Hasmat, an elderly gentleman in his mid-50s. I was happy to see an experienced hand behind the wheels. These drivers are the actual wildlife spotter cum guide during the safari. So experience does matter here. He was a very sweet chap and soon turned in to our very own 'Hasmat Chacha'.

    I quickly grabbed the hot seat right next to the driver. Rauben and Saurabh occupied the second row, while Biplab and Tapan were pushed to the third. Sitting right beside Hasmat Chacha and watching him closely was a fun. I don't use spectacles and have a pretty good vision. Yet I was finding it extremely difficult to readily spot the wildlife. But Hasmat Chacha, with his aged vision was as sharp as a hawk. I have absolutely no idea how could he spot all those birds and animals on the go, while I was also seeing the same forest from almost the same angle!

    We crossed a gate with 'No Entry' signboard to enter the forest. There was no guard on duty at the gate. So our driver stopped the vehicle and opened the gate himself. We crossed the entrance and he went back to close the gate again. I didn't have much of a hope of spotting the King of the Bandipur Forest, but my co-passengers were highly optimistic of encountering the Royal Pride of Bengal aka Royal Bengal Tiger. The real fun was just about to begin.

    Monkeys are aplenty in Bandipur, or rather all over India. Due to their uncanny similarity and level of comfort with human beings, I find it extremely difficult to group them in the wildlife category. So the first real wildlife that we encountered was a magnificent peacock on a dead tree trunk.

    The driver turned our attention to the other side of the road where we could spot a Malabar Giant Squirrel leaping from one branch to another. It vanished from our sight in a matter of few seconds, but I those few seconds were enough for me to catch a decent snap. However, Saurabh, who was carrying a far better camera than me, took a little more time to zoom in and focus on the squirrel, - sadly for him, by that time it decided to move and hide behind the trunk.

    Up next, the driver took us near a water-body which is supposed to be one of the most coveted observatory at Bandipur for spotting wild animals. As far as animals are concerned, we found nothing more than a herd of spotted deers and a couple of male blackbucks with their distinctly erected horns. However, the place was lively with the presence of different birds species. This time though, it was Saurabh who got the best of bird shots with his Nikon 70-300mm Prime Lens.

    As we moved forward, we came across a herd of Wild Elephants by the side of the road. The group consisted of one tusker, 2 full grown females, one youngster and a toddler. Hasmat Chacha switched off the engine and allowed us the time to go on a clicking spree. There was another peacock on top of a bush, and I tried hard in vein to capture the elephant family with the peacock on the background. Tourists are not allowed to disembark from the safari vehicle, and from inside of the vehicle, it was not possible to get that proper angle.

    Yet, the big cat kept on eluding us. At one point, the body language of a group of deers gave us a bit of hope. They stopped grazing and looked very alert to a potential danger. We thought that we are very close. Everyone was expecting a black-&-yellow striped fellow to make a giant leap in front of us at any time. But in the end, it was nothing more than a false alarm. Hasmat Chacha was constantly in touch with other safari drivers but it appeared that the luck had deserted us for the time being.

    We had been inside the forest for almost 2 hours. Although we have spotted quite a lot of beautiful animals in their natural habitat, yet the disappointment of missing out on the King or one of his queens was evident on our faces. We did not have much of a time left on our safari when we came across this lone tusker that stood majestically in front of a bamboo grove. It was posing for us like how a veteran model on the ramp would do.

    While we kept on gazing at the elephant, suddenly Hasmat Chacha seemed to be very alert. He got to know from a fellow driver about a possible tiger sighting somewhere nearby. I could feel the excitement and a cold vive seemed to go down through my spinal cord. Within a few minutes we came to the spot of action. All we could see was a queue of safari vehicles in front of us with the visitors leaning forward to catch a glimpse of some invisible element. From the back of the queue, we could not spot anything as the vehicles in the front obstructed our vision.

    Hasmat Chacha appeared to read our minds and pulled the car back and took a diversion down the right side. I was wondering what the hell he was trying to do. I turned back to have a look at my friends, they appered to be equally confused, yet no one coined a single word. Suddenly I felt a tap on my shoulders and as I turned my eyes forward - I could see the famous yellow-&-black stripe walking majestically in front of us - barely at a distance of just 20 feets.

    Beyond the tiger, I could see the queue of safari vehicles on the opposite side. Instantly, everything was clear to me. Hasmat Chacha actually took the bypass to bring us to the other end of the passage. The majestic sight was simply unbelievable, although it lasted for a short duration. The tigress was visibly annoyed by this level of attention and she made her displeasure known by a huge roar followed by a leap to vanish in a matter of seconds.

    But those couple of minutes provided us with some amazing memory to cherish for a long time. At the end of the safari, when we returned to our resort, everyone was still talking about the tigress. We just couldn't have enough of it and booked another jeep safari for the following morning with the hope of catching her majestic gesture once more.

    We didn't take any evening snacks but decided to order our dinner a bit early. With the morning safari scheduled at 7 AM, catching up with sleep was more of a necessity, than luxury. But lying on the bed is one thing and dozing off is another. It was evident from their roaring nostrils that Saurabh and Rauben had safely made it to the dreamland. Tapan too joined them soon. Biplab was reading a novel. After around 15 minutes, I noticed that the novel ended up lying on his chest. But it seemed like an eternal penance for me.

    So I got up from the bed, switched off Biplab's bed-side lamp and went over to the balcony for a smoke. The atmosphere was quiet and soothing. The breeze had a chilling effect. I was listening to music with my earphones on. It seemed to work as I was feeling a little drowsy. So I returned to my bed.

    Next morning, I woke up to the alarm at 6. It was slightly drizzling outside, but by the time we got ready for the morning safari, rain started to come down with higher intensity. By 7:30, it was a heavy downpour which lasted for close to 45 minutes. So our plan for the morning safari vanished in the thin air.

    As the rain subdued a little, we went over to the food-court for breakfast. With the safari plan getting abndoned, we decided to go for a ride through the Bandipur-Ooty highway through Theppakadu till Masinagudi. This route goes through Bandipur National Park towards the Madumalai section. So there's a good probability of spotting wildlife on this stretch.

    But the rain God had other ideas as he decided to greet us with more thundershowers. So we confined ourselves to the comfort of our cottage. Rauben proposed a hand of '29' as we waited for the rain to go away. I was never good with cards, so decided to let them enjoy the game while I kept myself occupied with Agatha Christie.

    We had our lunch at 2 PM. It was still raining a bit and the weather was cloudy with a strong wind blowing over. Finally at around 3:30 PM, the sky ran out of its stock of water. So it was time for some action. We decided to go for the pending ride through Theppakadu till Masinagudi. This time though, instead of running with 2 vehicle, we all boarded Rauben's car. Saurabh was seated on the front seat, while Tapan, Biplab and myself occupied the rear.

    We proceeding towards Theppakadu with the Madumalai section on our right. This stretch of Mysore-Ooty highway is very scenic indeed. Although we did not have too much hope of spotting wildlife after the sustained raining, we did come across a family of elephants crossing the highway near Masinagudi. Spotted deers could be seen everywhere around Bandipur and Madumalai. We also spotted a group of wild dogs (dhole) and a herd of bisons in the fading daylight.

    After returning to the resort, we started to pack our bags. There is a ban on night traffic movement through Bandipur check post from 9 PM to 6 AM. It was always playing on the back of my mind. As Saurabh had to catch a 7:45 AM flight from Bangalore, we had to cross the check gate by 9 o'clock anyhow.

    We had an early dinner at 7:30 PM. Finally, it was the time to bid adieu to Bandipur after a highly satisfying trip. We started our journey towards Bangalore at 8:15 PM with the promise of returning again to the amazing wildlife at Bandipur in the near future.

    We got in to a bit of traffic around Bandipur Check Post, but managed to stay clear of the 9 PM dead-line. Then we drove non-stop and reached Mysore at 10:30 PM. Halted for 10 minutes near the Mysore KSRTC bus stand for a round of tea and smoke. From there on, it was again a non-stop journey till we reached Bangalore. As I parked the car in the basement of my apartment, the clock was yet to touch the 2 AM mark.

    Next morning, when I refueled at the Shell outlet on Hosur Road and calculated the mileage, I was shocked to see that my Red Beauty returning one of the highest trip mileages in her life. It was a whopping 21 KMPL. The car roughly consumed 23 liters of petrol for the total trip distance of 490 odd KM. AC was scarcely used on this trip, so that's one of the reasons behind such an amazing mileage.

    'Let's Go' in an Alto (800) :)


    PS: A special 'thank you' to Saurabh (saurabh.das1982@gmail.com) for providing me with his share of amazing photographs from our Bandipur Trip.
    princess and Chahal like this.
  4. princess

    princess New Member

    Lovely pictures and very well written trip report. Tree house looks so tempting. I am too planning for a family trip to Bandipur. Could you please share the contact details of the resort?
  5. Debapriya Deb

    Debapriya Deb Active Member

    Thanks @Princes. Here's the requested contact details -

    Reception - +91-9900087611
    Manager - +91-9448485160

    Kindly note that the resort is located near Molapalli Village, around the Madumalai section.

    princess likes this.
  6. princess

    princess New Member

    Thanks a lot.
  7. Gabydi

    Gabydi Member

    Your story is so entertaining, you have a good writing style! The pictures are amazing! I can’t believe the beauty of that place. I’ve seen spectacular places everywhere in India but this safari experience is really worth trying. The tree house is so cute, if I go I want to make sure they give me a tree house. I also noted you shared the contact information and that is awesome so all of us who want to visit already have a reliable source. Thank you for taking the time to write this!
    Debapriya Deb likes this.
  8. Steve Dawson

    Steve Dawson Member

    Thats a fantastic piece of work, well put together and written in a great engaging style. Thank you very much for sharing with everyone. The pictures are superb, particularly the ones with the animals. It sounds like you had a fantastic time, I'm going to have to see some of these places for myself now so thanks again for sharing all the contact information you set your trip up with.
  9. CaptainOblivious

    CaptainOblivious New Member

    Hey Deb, thanks a lot for sharing this. Having lived all my life in the confines of the city, I actually had forgotten how beautiful the Indian landscape can be. As you have already made this trip (and documented it so well), can you please advise me if it would be a good idea to make this journey as a road trip? Me and some of my batch mates have always wanted to do one, but always end up arguing over the destination :) Based in Delhi, btw.
  10. Debapriya Deb

    Debapriya Deb Active Member

    Considering the distance factor, it makes little sense to go for a road trip to Bandipur from Delhi. Corbett National Park can be a better option for you. For more details, you can refer to this article - Top 10 Wildlife Sanctuaries In India.

  11. CaptainOblivious

    CaptainOblivious New Member

    Thanks for the suggestion! We have already been to Corbett, and are currently looking for some other alternatives :) The linked article was pretty informative too, thanks. I'll be sure to post when we are able to make up our minds!