The Royal Bengal Tiger, India’s revered national animal, boasts a history of its own. During the British era, hunting these majestic creatures was deemed a source of pride for the maharajas and British officers alike, contributing to the alarming decline in tiger numbers. However, a turning point emerged in 1973 when a comprehensive plan was devised to rescue these magnificent cats. Why does this history matter, you ask? Because it sets the stage for an exhilarating journey—a wild escapade plunging into the heart of Southern India. Here, we’ll be immersing ourselves in the untamed beauty of the wilderness, steering the powerful Hyundai Exter on the Great India Drive, all in honour of celebrating 50 years of Project Tiger.
Our journey commenced in the lively city of Coimbatore, where the Exter stood gleaming, ready to conquer the open roads and weave its way through 1800 kilometres of adventure. Guiding us through this expedition was the seasoned naturalist, Sarath Champati, a real-life Mowgli set to unravel the mysteries of the Southern Indian jungles.
The first leg of our escapade led us to the ‘Scotland of India’—Ooty, a picturesque haven nestled in the Nilgiri Hills. Over a delectable lunch, we sensed the promise of an extraordinary journey. The Exter, with its SUV prowess, effortlessly manoeuvred through scenic routes, setting the stage for what lay ahead. Our night’s rest was at the heart of the Bandipur Tiger Reserve, where nature serenaded us, and the Exter stood poised for the adventures that awaited.
Under the stars, we gathered for an enlightening evening, delving into the 50-year legacy of Project Tiger. A documentary unfolded the profound impact of strategic conservation, habitat management, and community engagement. As the projector flickered, we felt a deep connection with the cause, knowing that our journey was more than just a road trip; it was a pilgrimage in the name of wildlife preservation.
Project Tiger, born in 1973, out of a deep concern for the plummeting Royal Bengal tiger population, this project was designed to safeguard both the majestic species and its habitats. Operating within designated tiger reserves, Project Tiger employs a comprehensive strategy encompassing habitat preservation, anti-poaching endeavours, and community engagement. As it celebrates its golden jubilee, Project Tiger stands as a beacon of hope, showcasing the remarkable impact that strategic conservation measures, habitat management, and community involvement can have on preserving India’s rich biodiversity.
The next day unfolded with the excitement of a Jungle Safari under Sarath’s expert guidance. Immersing ourselves in the rich flora and fauna of the Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Sarath shared invaluable insights into the wildlife, their current status, and fascinating facts and figures about the elusive big cat. While the master of camouflage, the tiger, remained elusive, the jungle generously revealed its wonders—deer herds, exotic birds, a giant wood spider, gaur, owl, kingfisher, sloth bear, and even the distinctive pug marks of the elusive tiger. Each sighting left us in awe, deepening our appreciation for the enchanting and untamed wilderness that surrounded us.
With Bandipur bidding us adieu, we charted our course toward Mysore, where the city’s zoo awaited—an essential chapter in our wild tale. The zoo, home to a tiger that seemed more docile than fierce, served as a poignant reminder of the critical role played by Project Tiger in preserving these majestic creatures and preventing them from being relegated to zoos or history books.
As we savoured the sweetness of Mysore Pak, our journey continued toward the Bhadra Tiger Reserve in North Karnataka, our tranquil haven by the Bhadra Dam.
The afternoon seamlessly transitioned into a boat safari—an exhilarating first-time experience for our team. As we drifted on the tranquil waters of the Bhadra Reservoir, we found ourselves captivated by the diverse tapestry of flora and fauna that unfolded before us.
Despite the tiger continuing its elusive dance, the journey was embellished with enchanting sightings of gaur, a myriad of bird species, herds of spotted deer, and playful langurs. Just as the sun started its descent, a captivating leopard made a graceful appearance along the riverbank, orchestrating a symphony of camera shutters clicking and our hearts racing in tandem.
As anticipation filled the air the next morning, another jungle safari beckoned. Despite the absence of tiger sightings, encounters with gaur, birds, spotted deer, and giant wood spiders painted a vivid picture of the untamed wilderness. The Exter, our reliable steed, carried us through the rugged terrain, proving its mettle as a companion in the wild.
As our 1800 km odyssey reached its conclusion, we reflected on the wild wonders witnessed during this extraordinary adventure. Our return to Coimbatore marked not just the end of a road trip but the birth of memories, lessons, and a deep appreciation for the delicate balance between man and nature.
The Hyundai Exter, with its SUV nature, outdoor spirit, and a touch of youthful charm, emerged as more than just a vehicle—it became a conduit for an unforgettable exploration of India’s untamed treasures. It stood as the pinnacle in democratizing the SUV space for Indian car buyers, offering safety, features, and efficiency wrapped in an affordable package. With the Exter, compromise was a word left far behind, and every twist and turn became a chapter in a story that blended the power of the Exter with the raw beauty of India’s wildlife.
Here’s to the Hyundai Exter and the Great India Drive—the catalyst for turning a road trip into a wild, unforgettable adventure. The Exter didn’t just drive us; it steered us through a journey where every moment was a revelation, and every mile was a testament to the spirit of exploration.
Photos by Nizar Thambi Sunil Jones