Are you up for travelling for hours in the back of an old Indian jeep in the jungle with three little kids?
We left Mysore and made our way to Nagarhole National Park, one of the best known wildlife reserves in South India, home to large elephant herds and of course, tigers.
We were staying at a safari lodge called Kings Sanctuary. The other main option was beyond our budget. Kings Sanctuary had excellent rooms and good food, but the safari side of things were a bit suspect. The fact that the hotel was just outside one of the best known parks in Southern India appeared to be incidental. We had planned on an afternoon jeep safari as soon as we arrived, only to be told that it was impossible to enter Nagarhole that day and that left us with nothing to do. We were the only Western tourists at the hotel, but luckily for us, one of the other guests was a business person from Bangalore who had promised his wife that she would see a tiger in the wild. He was immediately on the phone to the powers that be and the result was that we would be allowed to visit Waynad Sanctuary in neighboring Kerala that day, and he had received special permission to enter Nagarhole the following morning and was happy for us to accompany them in their jeep.
Waynad is in neighboring Kerala and is an extension of the same jungle forest as Nagarhole.
The safari was a real experience. The shock absorbers were clearly worn as we bumped around the dirt roads of the park, hanging on to each other for dear life.
We didn’t see any tigers. We saw elephants, and various antelope, and by far the most impressive animals we saw were Indian Gaur – massive buffalo type animals, weighing up to about 2000 kg, that grazed meters from the road. Far far bigger than say the North American bison or even the Cape Buffalo. We saw Malabar Squirrel – also known as the Giant Squirrel. Squirrels aren’t that exciting usually, but these can grow up to a meter in length. Still no tigers, but people in another jeep claimed that they had seen a leopard. Just our luck – if we had left just two minutes before then it could have been us – but that’s part of going on safari.
After dinner back at the hotel, the beating of drums announced the beginning of the evening cultural program The main event was the lion dance where an employee dressed up as a lion would dance a local dance in front of the fire. It was pretty realistic, with the lion creeping up onto the stage from out of the bushes, and the kids freaked out, becoming hysterical. So much for the cultural show.
The following morning the gates of Nagarhole magically opened for our jeep alone as we entered along with the Bangalore businessman and his wife. We noticed that part of official camp was wrecked and were told that a crazy wild elephant had almost destroyed the rest camp some time before.
We spent the morning searching in vain for tigers – apparently it wasn’t the best time to see them – not that long after the monsoons and the grass was still high. But, still, it was exciting – a safari as good as any safari in Africa. We saw tons of other animals – elephants, various deer, crocodiles, gaur…
Back at Kings Sanctuary I was the first of the family to feel sick. It was clearly something I had eaten in Mysore – where we had dropped our guard and become adventurous, eating street food for the first time. We had come on the trip with two large bags of medications just in case and many Cokes and various pills later, I felt strong enough to join the afternoon National Park bus tour – if we had gone on the private almost luxury tour in the morning, this was the tour open to one and all. It was a lot of fun – we understood nothing, but language wasn’t necessary when people were pointing out the animals and birds to us all over.
Nagarhole was great, but our daughter Gal was disappointed. She had come to India hoping to see a Tiger and we hadn’t. It would have to wait for another time.
Is it a good idea to take kids to the National Parks – absolutely yes. The jeep rides are exciting – you feel a lot closer than if you were in your own car, the animals in India are very different from say Africa or North America, and these days many parks have high quality accommodation nearby.
With our explorations in the jungle complete, we were on our way to Coorg – the coffee growing district in the cool highlands of Karnataka.
PS These days I am planning great family trips to India. For more info on what I can do for your family, visit here.