It almost seemed too easy. We were on a road trip, traveling through Karnataka state in South Western India, driving down the road when we pulled up to a gate house. There wasn’t a toll, and we didn’t really even stop. We just rolled through, our driver shouted something to the guards, and we resumed our speed. This was a typical highway.
But yet, it was anything but typical. Within a few minutes of entering Bandipur National Park, we saw a herd of spotted deer (which I later learned were called chital) frolicking along the side of the road. There were dozens and some had huge sets of antlers stacked on their heards.
Our driver pulled over, so that we could get a better look, but he didn’t stop. In fact, stopping isn’t allowed when driving in Bandipur. Cars are expected to keep moving at a moderate pace, though many of them speed through recklessly putting the wild animals in danger.
I was impressed to see animals so close, and sat up in my seat to see more. The chital looked over at our car, unimpressed and continued about their day. Pushing the limits of how slow we could go on the highway, we decided it was time to continue.
A few more miles down the road we noticed a car that seemed to be stopped. As we got closer we saw the reason.
An actual, wild elephant free of any restraints, was wandering in the grass not more than 100 feet off the side of the road. Seconds later, as we slowly pulled up in our car, we had a better view and could see that this wasn’t just an elephant, but a mother and calf, side by side.
At this point, I was literally squealing. These majestic animals were so close.
Rules are rules and our driver had to keep moving, so we snapped a few quick photos from inside our car and hit the road again.
Not even 5 minutes later, after passing a slew of beautiful deer and peacocks perched on tree branches, we saw another hulking beast on the side of the road.
I was shocked! Another elephant-it felt like Christmas for this elephant lover.
This one was a little hidden from our view, but was clearly enjoying playing in the brush. A bird was perched on its back, enjoying the ride.
We exited the park a few minutes later, overjoyed with seeing wild elephants. When our driver turned to us and asked if we wanted to hire a jeep to take a safari though some of the off-road paths we didn’t even bother. We had already seen what we came for.
Want to Wild See Elephants in India?
Bandipur National Park is a unique drive through-park, that’s technically a tiger reserve. To get there, just drive along National Highway 766, which runs Southwest of Mysore for about 80 km. The park lies in three different states, with Karnataka and Tamil Nadu being the two major shareholders. Note that in Tamil Nadu it’s called Mudumalai National Park.
I was warned that in order to see tigers I’d need to park the car outside the park and hire a jeep and driver (for around 600 Rupees if booked directly. Nearly double through a travel agent) to get to some points off the highway. Even traveling off the main road it’s still quite difficult to see tigers. But, from my experience, it seems like it’s quite easy (though certainly not guaranteed) to spot elephants.
I recommend driving from one end of the park to the other before hiring a jeep. The drivers wait at either entrance, so it won’t be a problem hiring one. This way, you can get a look at whichever animals are near the road already that day before committing to a safari.
It’s best to either go early in the morning or later afternoon to see animals at their peak of activity (though we had success at 3pm). It’s important to know that the park closes from 9pm-6am, which means that the highway also closes.
If you’re on a road trip, I suggest taking route 181 rather than 766, to travel through both the heart of Bandipur and Mudumalai. The road also continues on to Ooty and Coonoor which are fun towns to check out.
There’s a few elephant camps situated near the park that charge a fee to see these gorgeous animals in captivity. This is a common practice in many parts of Asia and I strongly discourage you from visiting.