I dare you. I double-triple a double dare you. Tell me one good thing about this ‘national’ park, seriously, not even a good thing, one frigging positive thing, and I will re-think my decision of writing. Agreed my intro isn’t the best of the class, nor does it begin in praising the whole conversation act, but please do not mistake it as a stranger-in-new-lands kind of a rant. I know my shit well, to talk in BOLD about it! Gonna take a deep breath, wait.
If I were to be writing a song, instead of just a rapid ranting stream of words, I would not know where to begin crying, a river of complaints. Again, apologies for pulling this so far into your read, I am sure you were looking for a cute praise article, but all you got is hate. That’s what you get after a visit to the Bannerghatta National Park!
Gonna dive straight into the action and specifics. 9am, is when the Zoo is thrown open to the animal-hungry masses coming in from all directions in and around not only Bangalore, but the world. 10am is when the Safari opens up. Bangalore being Bangalore, we safely assumed a Holiday would mean rush would mean traffic would mean chaos. 8am is when we reached the Park, to overcome this chaos. Reaching the Park is another level of hurdle you need to overcome, and this, ladies and gentlemen, holds true for any standup comedian’s set that rips into the Indian road habit of missing/no SIGNAGE! Imagine, a NATIONAL park, with just 1 board indicating where the park is. 1 SIGN Board! To many it may feel that well, there are more boards, you didn’t see them… YESSS!! That is the whole point, had there been enough I would have seen more than one!
Let’s move on to getting lost for a bit, re-checking Google Maps, and realizing that the way lies through a wild gathering of religious/non-religious/shopping frenzy/hungry looking folks, thousands in number, gathered for a street flea market, for some reason. I have to admit quiet shamelessly though, the over use of a Royal Enfield’s blaring horn that I immediately took full advantage of. They JUST WON’T MOVE! I had my share of fun, but the thought remained lingering for a long time… No/Little signage, this human gathering at 7.30am in the morning, that is bound to stretch for long, how on Earth is one supposed to feel welcome to a NATIONAL PARK?
8am, we reach a sleepy state of shops/carts near the Main entrance. Seems legit, it is we who are early. Let’s wait this out. Oh, where do we sit/relax till the gates open? Not me, but many early risers and planners like us came to this one thought on reaching the main entrance. The National Park does not care if you reached early! You came, your problem, no pun intended. FINE, MY LEGS CAN DEAL WITH THE MISTAKE I MADE OF REACHING EARLY! UNLESS OF COURSE THEY MAKE ME WALK BACK TO MY BIKE AND SEEK SOME REST!
The Park opens, we reach empty ticket counters, shut. Still, some relief, in-case you wanted to seat your royal self. Let’s talk about the tariffs now. You’re charged separately for the zoo entry, separately for the Safari, separately for the use of Camera or a Video Camera and, wait for it, if you’re not from a SAARC country! I felt my heart skip a beat on reading this! I wanted to thank my dear stars for having set me to birth in a SAARC country! So basically your being Firangi or Cheeni is a problem, since we directly assume your economy does well enough, to pay us the deserving extra amount towards an entry ticket. Yeah?
I was pretty bowled over by what I saw, but being an Indian, I quickly, very instinctively looked away to the combo deals that were up for grabs. A weird mix, but at least flexible, for those who wanted one of the 2, zoo or safari or both. Complex variations form around a 6-seater ride with AC or NON/AC options. The same was observed in Bus for the Safari – AC or non-AC. Again, choose as per your convenience. Right. So now I know what I am doing, what activities are included, and I’m going to choose the value for my buck, the 500rs pack that takes me into the Safari, the Zoo, the Butterfly park and the Camera Fee. Yay! But did you check your wallet? Does it have enough cash for 2? If no, then run away. Demonetisation’s effects were seen much far and wider in villages and a lot of those recovered, except for this piece of work. Bannerghatta National Park does not agree with your non-cash state and any amount of Plastic money on you makes no sense. Go run around for the ATM that you saw at the gate, or simply ask around folks if you’ve got that in you(as we witnessed someone do this)
Safari Time nears. Our safari arrives for the 10.10am slot. A Mid-size AC bus. The driver drives along, takes a U-turn and stops near us. He gets out, walks away, leaving the bus doors closed. It is 9.15, he came early, so stand till 10.10 since he’s the driver who believes in keeping the vehicle’s cool air trapped in the vehicle till 10.10. Yes, that’s what he said on being asked. The conditioning will escape! This dude, just got out of this bus, kept a rear window open, his driving seat window open, and says it’s to keep the conditioning intact? Really? All in the queue to get in, are dumbstruck as the driver walks like a hero behind whom the scene is of a massive explosion.
The driver takes his time on being asked a second time to open up the bus and let us sit, instead of burning ourselves in the heat. We sit, wait. 15 minutes later, at 10.15 we move. Finally. Time to draw your big-ass lense-wala camera and turn on your volumes to spot/distract/disturb any wild animal that anyone may spot. I’ve been on a safari earlier, during a trip to Singapore. The crowd comparisons are on a different level. Some Bihari couple with their daughter cannot keep away from blurting things like “Beta woh dekh lady Lion” or “White dekha na, yeh toh normal wala tiger hai” or “Bhaiya Gaadi roko, Haathi dikhraha hai” add to it a newly married BONG couple, rapidly throwing the ‘video’ tag around in their as-good-as-shouting conversations. Animals don’t really like you, but pointing at them or whistling makes them look at you probably in pity.
Nevertheless, the Safari was meant to be a scripted path.
Follow ROAD A > GOTO B > THEN C > THEN D > End at Exit gate.
We began at Road A > Spotted a herd of Deers/Sambar Deers/Barasinghas/Neelgai, to which the Bihari couple could not control the excitement level. Trust me, I wouldn’t have cared what they say or think, had they shut up and kept their comments to themselves instead of shout. So, take Road A > Spot deer herd > Move on Road A for 15minutes > Miss a Wild Elephant, since the driver was busy in his Need for Speed pursuit of reaching B, and could not back since we ha 3 Buses and 2 Cars. No elephants were given that day. But NFS now shifted down to cruising in the ocean, and not caring about the massive holes in the superbly maintained, 1974 constructed roads. Our history is well preserved in these roads as well.
Bangalore has taught me a lot about traffic. Why we have roadblocks out of nowhere, why a road remains normal by day and dense as an ant’s nest in the evening, why why manned signals exist and the likes. You escape city, expecting to experience something you may have seen elsewhere, but something that’s of National heritage. Hold that thought. Let’s go back to traffic. You think you get out to escape this? No!
On the way, to Point B, we’re hit, by TRAFFIC! 3 Buses, 2 4-wheelers have got stuck on the single-lane road, with us being 5th in line, and 3 vehicles behind us. I’ll give you a moment to realise this incident in your head. Single Lane road, between a forest, 8 vehicles in a state of chokeblock. All the drivers are out and looking at the problem. The problem? Gate to Point B, is locked, since the key-holder hasn’t come to work till yet. I could have laughed my ass off at this situation had it been cast in a movie. This however smells different, with you innit doesn’t it?
A lot of reversing and off-road driving later, we’re back at Point A, taking a diversion. What follows is probably the only ‘good’ portion of the day. Point B was a BEAR SAFARI, that very well rewards us with Bears in the wild. We stop, click from our long lenses and move onto the next point, the LION SAFARI where the graceful couples(yes 2 Males and 2 Females) lay chilling under dense trees. Another 30 clicks later, we move on in our guarded bus towards the WHITE TIGER and then the BENGAL TIGER SAFARI. The safari ends.
We’re back to the section with the Zoo entrance. By this time heat and hunger hit hard. We sat, contemplating a visit to what I’ve been told of a massive zoo that lies in the gates. Our reasons to maybe avoid it was the fact that we’ve seen enough wild animals on a trip to Singapore earlier, and this was not going to be a beyond novelty experience anymore. A little bit of Yes/No later, we thought of letting our combo pack be and revert back to the city, with the impending Sun and heat bearing down onto us while riding a Classic 350.
As I end my mega rant, I’d quickly throw open certain facts about the National Park straight in your face. You’re feeling hungry you said? Gonna buy something from a shop inside the Park you said? It’ll be chargable at Rs 2/- or more on the MRP and rightfully so, as quoted by one of the sellers there. Fine. I’m hungry, my problem.
You said you want to take a dump/pee? Yes we have toilets! Got 5/10 Rs? Depending on what you’re going in for, the Park charges a FEE! Yes, you want to pee or take a dump? Carry them moolah, and yes, that is your problem.
You said ok, I’m thirsty. I’ll get normal water, maybe someone’s stocking it or something. Yes, they do! Got a rupee? That’s what you need to get a litre. Fair pricing you said? Sure, say that to that kid who came thinking, “Oh yes, WATER!”
The Bannerghatta National Park, to me resembles this massive Paid Game(goes by the term Premium) with multiple In-App Purchases! So not only are you paying to get in, but you’re paying to keep up your day in here! Bravo, you authorities!
My problems with the park, are again not with how many animals were shown, how big/small was the zoo, or even how people in the Bus smelled or talked. I could easily get along with them, at a point even share small talk or jokes. My massive discomfort is with how we’re treated in a Park of such high importance, with such storming amount of footfalls a day. Basic amenities are either missing or paid. No security in the morning to look after my bike. No signages. Entry is so stacked up and chaotic. Mismanagement in the Safari folks. Overpricing!
Most of you, if you’re still reading might think boy, this one really can cry a river of complaints, but hey, I went expecting the Basic if not the best and got a royal slap in my face. The return journey squashed what was left of the excitement we got off the Safari. Yes, Bannerghatta Road on a Saturday takes an hour to cross on a 2-wheeler. Again, my problem. Why ride when you could have driven?
P.S. To all those enthusiastic 5-star rating folks on Google/Tripadvisor or any other such platform, STOP being excited about the fact that your kid saw a live Wild animal today, or how cool that Butterfly Park was! Discuss the cons of this National Park and how basic things can really uplift the experience.