MB had work obligations in Bangalore and I was thrilled to tag along. She also scored some time off so that we could relax a few days in the area. She set us up on a trip to Bannerghatta Biological Park, about 20 kms outside of Bangalore. We planned to see the animals there and certainly didn’t expect that we would encounter Holi!
Getting there and Holi First, we awoke early and took a taxi to the Chennai airport. We took a short domestic flight to Bangalore on India air (which was kind of a time trip with the 1960’s style uniformed stewardesses) then negotiated with a taxi driver to get us to our hotel inside the park. This ride was about an hour long. Arriving at the hotel, we were in an area with several hotels and a large temple. It was not a pristine natural area, but it is popular with domestic travelers. We saw no westerners there at all, and the prices were quite low. We settled into our room and relaxed. At one point I looked out the window and saw a party gathering on the lawn below. There were several women in fancy saris, drummers in sparkly clothes, a catering area, some kids running around, and- could it be? A wooden cart with small colorful mounds of Holi powder! We both looked out the window and saw the kids with squirt guns shooting colors at each other. But it only appeared to be three or four young kids, maybe 10 years old or younger. Meanwhile, our observation of the scene did not go unnoticed. The sari clad women could see us and beckoned us to join the party. We waved and made ready to go down and check out the goings on.
There was a small stage with a bunch of men singing and dancing in a circle. These men started to play Holi and the women were mostly just watching. MB and I were trying to stay clean at this point and only got a few smudges on our faces. But then we saw the spray tent, the wave pool, and more grown ups, specifically women, throwing Holi powder and cups full of colored water at each other. And people were turning colors as they threw and were thrown pink and green and blue water all over. We briefly consulted and realized we had some clothes we could ruin and we ran back to our room to change. I couldn’t take photos for the colorful Holi splashing that ensued but we had a great time! We took photos after.
What a great party! We chased people with powder and water, and we were chased in return. We jumped into the pool and danced on the lawn. We joined the revelers in the spray tent and drank the sweet milky drink we were offered. My suspicions were confirmed that this was ‘bang’- a marijuana laced beverage sometimes drunk during Holi. I might have worried if we had been in Pushkar like last year, cavorting like this with strangers, but here we were at a family party at our hotel and it all felt very playful and fun. A lot of people spoke English, so after the splashing madness calmed down, we learned that this was a child’s birthday celebration. MB was elated because she thought she wouldn’t be able to experience Holi, it being more of a north India holiday, but we really lucked out and had an amazing time.
The Park But the reason we had come here was Bannerghatta. We bought tickets the next day for the park. The ticket includes a bus safari through the park as well as admission to the butterfly museum and a zoo on the grounds. We started with the safari.
We sat right next to the driver as we went through the herbivore area and then the carnivor area, separated by sturdy gates and what is known as an Elephant Proof Trench. The elephants and barking deer and other herbivores seemed to have plenty of room to roam and I enjoyed watching them. We didn’t stay long, though, and it was off to the lions and tigers. These were in smaller enclosures, more like a zoo.
It was a very different kind of safari compared to our more natural and tiger-free Sawai Madhopur safari last year. It is not a true wildlife safari in a reserve where animals fend for themselves. It is more like a large zoo, especially the carnivore area. The elephants did seem to roam more freely and I would like to have watched them for much longer. Oh, we also saw these adorable sloth bears!
We decided to skip the zoo, but we did want to see the butterflies. It turned out to be a hatchery as well as a butterfly garden and museum. An eager guide showed us around and even let us release new hatchlings!
Funny enough, the best thing about Bannerghatta wildlife did not involve the species advertised at all. We really enjoyed watching the local monkeys just being themselves. There were two mana monkeys with toddler aged youngsters who were very entertaining. The mamas would hold the babies’ tails like leashes to keep them close as they ventured into the world.
You can see Holi powder on the ground in that last picture! Some young men showed us around the barn and the temple. I thought they might be angling for a payment, but my cynicism was unfounded. They not only accompanied us to the temple but they gave us flowers and also a ride on their motorbike!
Above is the altar area of the temple. We went to the front alter and kneeled there, a monk gave us a swipe of red on our foreheads then a spoonful of water in our hands which we were to put on our faces, then brushed us each on the head with a kind of feather duster then gave us each a little orange ball of some kind of grain he pinched from a large bowl of the grain. Then we walked around the alter three times. I’m not sure what we were supposed to do with the ball of grain; I discreetly abandoned mine in a temple shrub. It was nice to join the other temple visitors and get a blessing there. Near the ceiling of the temple were paintings depicting events in the life of Krishna, like a Catholic Church would have stations of the cross. Out front were colorful flags along the stairs.
That was our time in Bannerghatta. From there, we took a taxi to the Kormangala section of Bangalore. Stay tuned!