Published in Outlook Traveller April 2014
A sharp musky smell assailed our nostrils. There was no doubt what it was: elephants. They were out of sight in the thick forested slopes.
It was a steep climb up the motorable road to the peak of Gopalswamy Betta. At 1,450 metres, goose bumps erupted as a cool breeze blew. The temple was reportedly built in 1315 by a Hoysala king Ballala, just before the ancestors of the current Wadiyar dynasty established their rule over the area. The hero stones collected from the forest and installed at the Bandipur reception centre certainly make one wonder if Bandipur was once settled by humans and has since become rewilded.
Clouds hung low, mist blew in waves, and softly rounded, grass-covered hills undulated westwards. A couple of sambhar grazed on a distant hillside, no larger than specks in the landscape.
Arati was in photographer’s heaven, delighted with every slight change in light. Had we been granted more time, she would have happily shot a million pictures more. When our 30 minutes were up, I had to drag a reluctant Arati back to the car.
Gopalswamy Betta is about 25 km from the Bandipur main entrance, off the Mysore-Gudalur Highway. It takes half an hour from the park to the hill’s check post. You are granted 90 minutes, but the drive up is half an hour each way, leaving only 30 minutes at the temple. Taking photographs along the way is prohibited unless permitted by the Field Director. They can confiscate your camera if you do. Also prohibited are plastic bags and picnics. The reason for these strictures: Gopalswamy Betta is in the core area of the Bandipur Tiger Reserve. Entry is between 9 am and 3:30 pm. Entry fee: Rs. 50 a car.