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The Ghost, the Stripes and Chariots of the Last Empire: Karnataka - One State, Many Worlds


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3 hours ago, madaboutcheetah said:


JLR isn't going to reply to the question - that's going to take bookings away from the monopoly they've become.  All you need to do is get to the park office in Bandipur and book on the spot. You can't do this in advance, but, can do on the spot and it's usually always available. FYI for next time ;)


Thanks for clarifying that @madaboutcheetah. I could have stayed at serai and taken advantage of that. That's a really helpful piece of information for future travellers. 

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"Hello darkness, my Old Friend I come to you again".    Black Panther: these words immediately exude an aura of mysticism, supernatural power, wisdom and elusiveness. From the wise Bagheer

Next day we were once again allocated jeep safaris in Zone A on both occasions.  I thought the last safari on third day morning would be a boat safari and pleaded with them to change that to a jeep sa

The desperate attempt of Mysore Royal family to please and emulate the British Raj is forgiven for their support to propagate art and culture and keeping the Hindu tradition of Dussehra very much aliv

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Sundari  pretended not to notice me and carried on her mesmerising "catwalk" with swaying hips and occasional flick of her tail, which sent my heart racing. I followed her like a man possessed and from time to time she turned around just enough to have a momentary eye contact with me. She knew I was hooked.  Then she sprayed her scent and even opened her bowels (which had the slightly pungent aroma of overcooked basmati rice),  which I observed like a  shameless voyeurer.  The whole world had stopped to exist for me , including my ex-darling who was sitting next to me and enviously looking at her rival. After about ten or fifteen minutes Sundari had enough of this Wicked Game and left the road to go to her private chambers to decide on her next move.  The endorphins had flooded my system and I ended up kissing Mr Kuttappan. 



Our first look at Sundari







She stops, sniffs, turns around and then carries on nonchalantly 














She decides to some unladylike business in public 







Then she finds the right tree to scent mark








And then leaves the road




I spot a healing wound on her body





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That is the best description of a tiger sighting I've ever read. Crying with laughter :D

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1 hour ago, Galago said:

That is the best description of a tiger sighting I've ever read. Crying with laughter :D

I could have made it even more hilarious and you'd have been rolling on the floor laughing, but the mods would have thrown me out for unparliamentary language:D:D

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23 hours ago, Chakra said:

I could have made it even more hilarious and you'd have been rolling on the floor laughing, but the mods would have thrown me out for unparliamentary language:D:D

What about sharing the uncensored version via PM to interesting parties :P? Count me in.

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45 minutes ago, xelas said:

What about sharing the uncensored version via PM to interesting parties :P? Count me in.

We two would be branded as dirty rotten scoundrels  ;):D

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This was our room at Bandipur safari lodge  ( the Chital room). More than adequate.






Some pics of the Gopalaswamy ( Lord Vishnu who maintains the balance of the universe) Betta ( hiil)  temple, perched on a hilltop.  I liked the fearsome golden Garuda guarding the four corners of the temple.  The temple had a fresh coat of paint for a religious festival and devotees were arriving.  





The fearsome  half human half bird Garuda  who carries Lord Vishnu on his back and is the nemesis of serpents according to  Indian mythology. 


















The wooden chariot used to bring the idols out 







The temple perched on a hilltop







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We then proceeded towards K.Gudi wilderness camp. I had selected this camp for couple of reasons. Firstly, I thought it was off the usual touristy route and I’d have some peace and solitude. It is high up in the BR Hills which makes the weather very pleasant even in summer months.  I was also told that birding was good here with decent chances of spotting bigger mammals.

The camp is extremely scenic, just a few huts, well separated and staff were good. Food was at par with other JLR resorts. But we ended up staying over a weekend and many families have arrived from Bangalore. The jeeps were packed, and the interest and expectation mix were not optimum.  Despite that we even managed to spot a tiger, but the visitors made so much racket that the tiger decided to leave within couple of minutes.  One lady in my jeep was actually standing up and waving her arms at the tiger.  I have heard from my friends that they had spotted a Tree Shrew here, which is a rare find. I did request our drivers to try and find one but they just went round and round in two standard safari circuits looking for tigers. One of the drivers was better and showed some interest in birds, but the sightings were much less than what I was expecting.

I enjoyed the walk around the camp with the Sausage tree in fruiting and many other trees in full bloom. 

On Monday morning the camp was peaceful and quiet again. This proves my point again of trying to avoid reserves during school holidays or weekends I possible.

With hindsight I felt I could have spent those two days more effectively at Bandipur.


The camp area :


I had requested the hut farthest away from the dining area as one of my friends had spotted a leopard from this hut. Sadly no such luck for us. 






Other huts




Sausage tree and its flower













Forest department elephant having a spa





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The animals and birds that we managed to see despite less than optimum safari experience.  Lot of them spotted near the camp. I need help with couple of birds as I was unsure 


This Brahminy kite lives  just next door to the camp  by the side of the water tank, with its mate 




This Scops owl is also guaranteed sighting, living in a tree close to the camp





I have never seen this bee eater before in India





Barking deer making a face at me :P




Barking deer male





Plenty of fishing owls around












Colourful agama 












I had to physically stop the driver to shoot this squirrel as the light was perfect. Others were oblivious. 









Big bottom




Pug marks aplenty




The tiger who did not stay for his tea. He was looking straight at me. Would have been a fantastic shot.  Only if the tourists could control their excitement a little better and we could creep forward. 











Some sort of pigeon which looked different from the usual yellow footed one. 





I believe this is malabar Thrush. ? Correct 





Yellow wagtail 









ID please ? 




Edited by Chakra
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Great birds! I just happen to have my Indian Birds book out for our trip next month so...


Your last photo is a Blue-capped Rock Thrush.


The Bee-eater looks good for the Blue-bearded Bee Eater.


Pigeon looks like the Mountain Imperial Pigeon.


Malabar Whistling Thrush looks right.


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Great photos! The giant squirrel is terrific and I love the way the Brown Fish Owl is lazily peering through one eye.

And I agree with @janzin's id's.

I think the quail is a male Painted Bush Quail.

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@janzin & @Galago  Thanks very much for taking the trouble. With help from you ladies I'm getting better every day. Now that you mention Mountain Imperial pigeon my memory is returning. I think the driver said something similar  but clearly I have forgotten. This was the driver who was more knowledgeable and interested in birds and tees.  All the Thrushes look similar to me :rolleyes:

Appreciate your input very much. 


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On 12/24/2019 at 12:44 PM, Galago said:

That is the best description of a tiger sighting I've ever read. Crying with laughter :D

What a way with words!  Your description went just far enough.

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10 hours ago, Atravelynn said:

What a way with words!  Your description went just far enough.

Thanks @Atravelynn. Living dangerously 😲

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I think you are the luckiest Safari goer @Chakra - Awesome sightings!!!  and it's really really tough to get a good shot of the barking deer.  Well done!


So, K Gudi is BR Hills?  Wow - I would never have expected to get a Tiger sighting there! 

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8 hours ago, madaboutcheetah said:

I think you are the luckiest Safari goer @Chakra - Awesome sightings!!!  and it's really really tough to get a good shot of the barking deer.  Well done!


So, K Gudi is BR Hills?  Wow - I would never have expected to get a Tiger sighting there! 

Thanks very much @madaboutcheetah Indeed. I wasn't expecting either. I believe there is a healthy population of tigers numbering approximately sixty to seventy in BR hills.  But the safari routes are very restricted so chances are minimal.  JLR has monopoly there.  Hopefully they will improve the safari facilities and quality of naturalists in future.

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On 12/24/2019 at 1:44 PM, Galago said:

That is the best description of a tiger sighting I've ever read. Crying with laughter :D


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many thanks for taking the time to produce this trip report that has the rare quality of being both highly informative and extremely humorous. Your photographs and narrative of the wonders and parks in Karnataka were most insightful. Your wildlife spotting luck was indeed very good.

From Chettinad chicken culinary details to landscapes of Mysore palaces and of course quite rare pictures of the black panther, tigers galore but most importantly, the natural wonder of the lovely landscapes and smaller creatures in the Nilgiris and some of the lesser known parks ( I was not familiar with BR Hills) with the well known Kabani and Bandhipur - I enjoyed your description of the Zone B drive where the tiger obsessed would likely not voluntarily wonder. No wonder @madaboutcheetah waxes poetic about these places in his backyard. 

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@AKR1 Thanks very much for taking the time to read.  Now it's time for you to find a proper south Indian restaurant in NYC to taste the Chettinad dishes. :D

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The next section of my trip is heavy with architecture and history so I won't bore you with details. I don't expect you to travel to these far off places unless you are mad like me. Just want to mention that within thirty km of Mysore there is a stunning example of Hoysala architecture from eleventh century which can be easily seen if you can spare couple of hours.  The  interior of this temple was desecrated by Malik Kafur , the slave general of Delhi Sultan Alauddin Khilji, who was the bane of the Hindu rulers of Southern India. Thankfully the exterior survived. 

Photography was extremely difficult in most places because of harsh midday sun and little light inside these temples 


Somnathpur temple with its ceiling showing the stages of banana flower and the angular carved pillar with 64 angles, hallmark of Hoysala empire  





Banana flower 




The pillars 






Lord Keshava : defaced 





The huge statue of Lord Bahubali Gomateshwara standing on hilltop  visible from miles : my wife's pilgrimage was completed ! 




 Only four thousand steps !  This hill is one of the most sacred places in Jainism 




Belur Chennakeshava temple : undoubtedly one of the most intricate carvings I've ever seen 


Gopuram : the Entrance. 





The legend of Hoysala empire : an empire which ruled most of south India for several centuries.  Sala the Boy ( founder of the empire ) killing the Lion (Hoy ) = Sala the lion killer = Hoysala 





Betal : the  demon guardian of the temples : seen in a remote place called Doddagaddavalli.  Even my driver David struggled to find this place but armed  with Google I was like the Mongol army : unstoppable. I travelled one hour to see this temple and it was closed !! Thankfully resourceful David managed to track down the priest  interrupting his sleep, who was happy to open the lock and show me around. 







Sun sets over Hoysala empire 






The Last Empire : for nearly three centuries Vijayanagar withstood the onslaught of Islamic armies and developed its capital Hampi which was  as splendid as Byzantium, according to Portuguese traders. Eventually it fell and was sacked for nearly six months. People forgot and the ruins were covered by jungle. I'm eternally thankful to the British archaeologist Alexander Greenlaw who unearthed the ruins in 1856.  The British did gain a lot from India but they did show a keen interest in the history of  India. One of my favourite books in childhood was written by a British soldier : the annals and antiquities of Rajasthan 


My wife lost among the ruins of the Last Empire  : The magnitude of this city is mind boggling 




Ruins of the famous Stone Chariot : this is THE symbol of Hampi and is the logo of Karnataka tourism. The small elephants were added later. Originally it was pulled by four massive stone horses.  For nearly forty years i have dreamt of standing in front of this. 




Reference picture from 1856 . One can see the top part of the Stone Chariot  from 1856 which collapsed in 1928. 





Remains of the day 






The dance pavilion or Lotus Mahal 







Inexplicably this Shiva temple of Lord Virupaksha was spared by the sultans








Elephant stable





Probably the most famous Avatar of Lord Vishnu : Narasimha : Lion Man. who kills the demon Hiranyakashipu and saves the world. This massive statue was broken into pieces but after many years Archaeological Society of India had managed to restore it partially 




The only other UNESCO heritage site in Karnataka : Pattadakkal : the college of Archaeology from 6th Century Western Chalukya dynasty. You can see eight different architectural styles in one place  : from Dravidian to northern Indian. Students used to come here to learn about architecture 




This is the only remaining example of flat top Gaja-pristha ( The elephant's back) style of temple in India : at Aihole. In the middle of a village with open sewers and children defecating near the site.  

The parliament building of Republic of India in New Delhi is built in this unique style




Temples carved into the almond colored rocks of Badami : the capital of all conquering Chalukya dynasty of fifth century : the first empire of south India 





Lord Vishnu meditating sitting on coils the king of serpents Vasuki. This is  the oldest intact example of Chalukya art. Absolutely stunning.  Colours have faded completely. Local tourists show total disregard about the value of this  piece of their heritage while  touching and leaning to take selfies.

Had to process heavily as it was in deep shadow with bright light outside. 




Edited by Chakra
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Fascinating! What extraordinary carving and I'm glad the priest was willing to forego his nap and let you in because those statues are amazing. Some real off the beaten track stuff - thanks for posting.

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5 minutes ago, Galago said:

Fascinating! What extraordinary carving and I'm glad the priest was willing to forego his nap and let you in because those statues are amazing. Some real off the beaten track stuff - thanks for posting.

Thanks very much for your interest. I'm really keen to  motivate friends to explore India beyond the  usual circuit of Golden Triangle and Tiger reserves. I understand it's much easier for me  as an Indian but it is not too difficult even for foreigners if you have a genuine interest and happy to let go some creature comforts.  

I had written much more in details about these places in Facebook but looks like FB have stopped providing the album link to share.  See if you can fit Somnathpur in your itinerary. 



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Thanks so much for posting the detailed photos of Hampi, don't hear much about this place which is a shame because the carvings look significant.

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