Thursday, February 11, 2010

My Bangalore Adventure, part 19: Bannerghatta

After the bus trip, arrival at Bannerghatta seemed a little abrupt, most likely because I had the mistaken idea the bus stop was associated to a hotel when really it stopped at a parking lot outside the formal zoo with a cafe pavilion across the way in the other direction. The lodge van was already there to pick me up.
Bannerghatta morning hikers by MPries
It was a about a 15 minute drive winding uphill into the forest. At two points, we glimpsed native deer browsing near the road or dashing into the brush. Then we passed a large lagoon complete with a night heron fishing for dinner and pulled into the lodge compound.

After a gracious welcome and check-in, I had a little less than an hour to settle in before assembling with the other weekend guests for a whirlwind “safari” minibus tour of the large animal exhibits including a butterfly park.

When I say "whirlwind" I really mean it. We took a drive that could have taken most of the day if you stopped at every scenic overlook and animal enclosure for twenty minutes of photography and/or bird-spotting. But, it only lasted about two hours. The driver only slowed down when the featured large animals were in easy sight; and since you were always aware that each area was carefully enclosed by moats and fencing, it was just like going to a zoo.

Until we got to the butterfly park. Our short-changed time was paid back with 20 minutes at the butterfly park. Of course, since butterflies are things that can fly away, they aren't just loose in a park, you have to go inside a building to see them. But unlike a zoo where you are separated from the wildlife, in the butterfly park, the butterflies are fly freely about in a greenhouse garden and you can walk among them. They may even land on you. In such a setting, sheltered from the wind and with consistent lighting, if you have the right camera gear, you may have excellent photo opportunities. I was not so lucky that day but it didn't matter.

Hunting Butterflies by MPriesWhat was more interesting to me was to learn in a conversation with one of the caretakers that the butterflies are merely to entertain people and maybe raise awareness and money for the zoo and environmental causes. Due to the risk of disease and parasites, no butterflies raised in this building are released back into the wild, instead wild butterflies or their eggs or caterpillars must be collected outside to maintain the stock in the garden.

Even though I was a little sad to discover this twist on conservation, I really liked the butterfly park. The garden grounds surrounding the conservatory were just as lovely as going inside the building itself. And good for birding, too.

The tour guides hustled us through the garden way too quickly, maybe because it was a weekend. I probably could have talked them into leaving me behind to visit the zoo and come back for me later but I didn't bother. I wanted to explore the lodge grounds which have a small hiking trail. And I wanted to get some quiet time outside with a good book before dinner.

Actually, I didn't get so much quiet time. The lodge staff knew I was interested in birding because I had emailed about that when I made my reservation so while I was reading, someone came running to the restaurant pavilion to find me, “Quick! Come quick! A paradise flycatcher!” It was great!
Asian Paradise Flycatcher by Koshyk, Creative Commons
After that, there were other birds to show me, including some members of a threatened species, the white-naped tit that had built a nest under the office roof overhang.

I ended up sitting at the park office for an hour or so talking with several of the staff about the birds and wildlife there, then there was dinner, a National Geographic video, and sitting around a campfire chatting (or zoning out) with the other guests. All of this was way much better than reading alone.

The next morning, S. Karthikeyan (aka. Karthik) came to lead the advertised nature walk. He is their wildlife and birding expert and to my surprise, Chirdeep from ThoughtWorks was with him. Chirdeep explained that Karthik had told him the Sunday hike would probably be interesting because there was a serious birder visiting at the lodge and Chirdeep told Karthik that he bet he knew who that was.

Since we were past migration season, there were not too many birds about but the ones sighted were excellent birds. And we got good looks at them. Probably the very best moment for me was being the first person to spot a pair of white-browed bulbuls. I didn’t know the name then but I knew I was looking at something really different from anything I had seen before. It’s a plain sort of bird but Karthik identified them and told me they are only found in these scrubby hill areas in southern India and Sri Lanka. We hiked for about three hours and I got 8 new birds for my list; too bad it couldn’t have gone on longer.

In the end, I never got to the zoo but that little weekend of hiking and sitting in the open-air pavilion surrounded by nature becomes more and more one of my favorite times in Bangalore.

Right now, if I knew that in about two hours I could be at Bannerghatta sitting on the mosquito-screened pavilion eating dal, some kind of chicken dish, and rotis with a big Kingfisher lager while twilight sets in and the evening birds and bats flit about, I’d be making arrangements in a hurry. It was the most relaxing weekend I had in my entire three months adventure in Bangalore.

To be continued...