Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary’s size belies the promise it holds within. About 50 kilometres east of Panjim, Goa, the eight-square-kilometre park presents charming vistas of the Western Ghats, more than 100 bird species, and endemic butterflies and orchids. Bondla’s undulating landscape is part moist deciduous, part evergreen forest, ideal for those who want to mute the hum of Goa’s beaches and markets.
Bondla does not offer jeep safaris. Most visitors arrive in private vehicles and drive five kilometres in from the sanctuary’s entrance to its zoo and deer park. But those who slow down and explore the stretch on foot stumble upon Bondla’s best-kept secrets. Walking on the uphill road is slightly strenuous, but it snakes through a forest that has a varied palette of colours when its trees bloom. Amblers walk under canopies of the stately teaks, or past round clusters of orange flowers on ixora shrubs. The entada climber, famous for its unusually large seed pod, thrives here. Small streams gurgle along the way, completing the picture of tranquillity. Crocodiles laze on the banks of a lake located roughly midway down the stretch, with the Malabar gliding frog frolicking nearby. Resorts near Bondla offer guided walks on nature trails inside the forest.
Mammals aren’t part of Bondla’s draw—the Malabar giant squirrel is an exception—and at most, visitors may spot the occasional spotted deer or bison. What Bondla lacks in large animals, it makes up for in its birds. Avid birdwatchers come here seeking the Ceylon frogmouth, crimson-backed sunbird, and Goa’s state bird, the ruby-throated bulbul.
Bondla is open year round, but it is especially delightful during winter (November to February). The nippy air is filled with the calls of the stout little velvet-fronted nuthatch and bright grey-headed canary flycatcher. Between October and March, the gorgeous southern birdwing, India’s largest butterfly, with a wingspan of 15 to 20 centimetres, flits across Bondla’s flowers. It is endemic to the Western Ghats.
Bondla is quite the botanist’s laboratory. At the start of the monsoon, rare and endangered species of wild orchids flourish here, and study groups visit to observe and collect samples.
The sanctuary gives visitors a chance to experience the forest intimately. It is best explored at leisure, one step and one wonder at a time.
In Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary’s Eco Complex, there are two dormitories which accommodate 48 people and seven eco-tourism cottages that accommodate 14 guests. The canteen nearby serves delicious vegetarian and non-vegetarian meals (0832-2935800; www.goatourism.gov.in; open 9 a.m.-5p.m. except Thursday; entry fee ₹5 for adults, ₹2 for children; dormitories at ₹200 per person, doubles at ₹1,000 in the cottage).
Nature’s Nest, a resort at Tambdi Surla 25 km/30 min east of Bondla sanctuary, offers nature trails with a bird guide (naturesnestgoa.com; ₹1,800 for a halfday tour to Bondla; ₹2,500 for a full-day trail; Oct-Mar).
Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary is in the hills of central Goa, 35 km/ 1 hr northeast of Margao and 50 km/ 2 hr east of Panjim. The best way to reach the park is by taxi, which can be hired from Panjim or Margao (₹1,600 per day, for 8 hr/80 km).
Appeared in the October 2015 issue as “Small Wonder”.
Kareena Gianani is the former Commissioning Editor at National Geographic Traveller India. She loves stumbling upon hole-in-the-wall bookshops, old towns and collecting owl souvenirs in all shapes and sizes.