Disney’s Maharajah Jungle Trek. The name alone evokes visions of a safari through ancient forests, surrounded by native flora and fauna, teeming with adventure and mystery; with danger around every corner. This is true, all except the danger part. This walk-through trail located in Asia is a marvelous way to see and hear exotic animals and plants native to Asia. Many guests don’t know about the trail, or pass it by in lieu of the more popular attractions and shows. This is a shame, because not only does it offer one of the best photo opportunities in the park, you get a chance to slow down, get away from the hustle and bustle of the park and take all the time you want to experience this magical walking path.
As with all things Disney, there is a fascinating back-story to the Jungle Trek. The story goes that the rajahs of Anandapur hunted the animals in this forest. One wealthy rajah, Bhima Disampati in order to make the hunting easier, enclosed much of the forest, trapping the animals. He built a hunting lodge for himself and guests and proclaimed the forest to be a royal hunting preserve. He was killed ironically in a hunting accident. Subsequent rajahs realized the error of this hunting preserve and they and the villagers now live in harmony with the forest and animals. All over the forest on the walls of the enclosure are murals of the past rajahs; memorializing them. If you notice at the entrance of the trek, the sign reads… “Royal Anandapoor Forest” evidence that the forest was once ruled by Imperial British settlers. There is also a shrine paying homage to the founder of the Kingdom of Anandapur, Anantah, in the form of a tomb and sarcophagus situated at the entrance to the Jungle Trek’s aviary.
You enter the preserve and trail through a covered walkway, once on the other side; you should obtain a map of the trail and also available is an animal pictorial guide. So many animals are on the trail; this will help in identifying them. The first animal you see will be the Komodo dragon. Although not a real “dragon” it is the largest lizard in the word, reaching the size of six to ten feet in length. You might see this “Carrion eater” sunning himself on the large rocks in his habitat. This is another point about the Jungle Trek. All the animals are in an indigenous natural setting, so they feel at home. The next animal on the trail is the Malayan Tapir. Malayan tapirs are primarily – although not exclusively – nocturnal and are native to the Asian continent. Living about 30 years and weighing between 550-700 pounds, these creatures resemble a black and white pig, but the colors render the tapir almost invisible in the jungle moonlight.
My personal favorite next in line are the bats! The two species native to Anandapur is the Rodrigues Fruit Bat and the Giant Flying Fox bat. But please do not be frightened, these creatures are harmless. They eat primarily fruit and roost by hanging upside down, as you will see if you choose to go into the “Bat House” Also in the house are chalkboard drawings of the different bats and why they are valuable in the ecosystem. You will also see several terrariums, containing tree frogs, pythons and more. Now if you do not want to view the bats, you can just bypass the adventure through a side walkway.
The next magnificent animals to be seen are the mythical tigers that the rajahs hunted. Now instead of being lured to the fountains to drink and becoming targets for the rajahs’ arrows, you can watch these beautiful creatures up close and personal. Did I mention the trek is one of the best photo opportunities in the park? These Bengal tigers or Royal Bengal tiger is a tiger subspecies native to India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Anandapur, and Bhutan. The average weight of a Male tiger is 488 pounds and a female is 308 pounds. And of course they are carnivores. Their diet consists of leopards, wolves, jackals, foxes, crocodiles, Asiatic black bears, sloth bears, and dholes (An Asian wild dog). The can consume 40-80 pounds of meat at one feeding. The fact that man has encroached upon and destroyed many of its hunting grounds, food is scarce. Sometimes they can become man-eaters. It’s interesting to note that tigers do not live in prides as lions do, but are solitary. Male tigers defend their territory with vengeance, often engaging in fierce fighting. The Female tigers are less territorial. Occasionally a female will share her territory with other females. It is for this reason that only female tigers are on the trail.
You leave this tiger viewing area and proceed to the next viewing area, which is the ancient hunting lodge of King Bhima Disampati. It is here you will see the beautiful mural of the King and subsequent Rajahs. Take your time in this area, there is much detail to see (Including several clever “Hidden Mickeys”) in the rajahs murals. Despite the ruins, you can tell that this was once a magnificent lodge. After leaving the lodge, you will see another area to view the tigers. Keep your cameras handy, a tiger could come into view at any moment.
Next up is a large open area with a magnificent view into the grasslands where you can glimpse Blackbuck and Elds Deer. From here you will pass through the formal herb garden, where the scents of jasmine and honeysuckle are in the air, and you can see the medicinal garden the villagers tend. After leaving the garden, you come to a personal favorite spot, the ol’ watering hole. The detail is amazing; an old brick wall with jugs on shelves, and a sign and station offering thirsty travelers on the trail that safe water is there for the taking.
After the watering hole, you will come upon an ancient bridge, and this is another place to observe the tigers. On the bridge are what the villagers call “Prayer Flags”. The flags are placed in the wind to ensure peace and wisdom, and if a prayer is answered, a flag is placed there. Looking to your left, you may see Elds Deer and Blackbuck. The Blackbuck is a variety of Antelope which can reach speeds of 50 miles per hour. Keep an eye out for the Banteng, a type of cattle. Looking to the right side, you will see a small pool; this is the last tiger viewing area. And here is where the rajah Bhima Disampati was killed in the hunting accident, so you can see a story is being told as you walk this trail. As you continue, you will notice several carved murals in the walls. These murals reveal how the villagers of Anandapur came to live in harmony with the land and animals. This first depicts man and animals living together. The second shows the animals retreating as man invade their land. The next mural shows man killing and destroying the forests. Next the Gods show their abhorrence to man’s ways. Finally, the last mural shows the present state as man and nature live in harmony.
The last animal theater is a huge bird aviary. Inside this enclosed (It’s completely fenced in from above, you have to look to see it!) sanctuary will encounter many species of beautiful birds native to Anandapur. You will encounter King Parrots, Fruit Doves, Masked Plovers, White-rumped Shamas and more than 50 other species. This is another opportunity to slow down and see all the details abundant on the trail. Beautiful ponds, birdhouses and architectural features are all around you. The jungle trek and its sister trail, Africa’s Pangani Forest Exploration trail are hidden treasures here in Animal Kingdom, giving guests a chance to slow down, escape the crowds and get a chance to get close and personal with the animals and forests. You can take a little or a much time to explore these trails. No fast pass, height restrictions or waiting lines, and fun for all ages. It does not get better than this.
Contributed by: Bill I. (NDH #35). Bill is our resident historian.