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Nagarahole National Park

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Photo: Nagesh Panathal/Sanctuary Photo Library.

Mists in winter and bird song all year round, Nagarahole is an ethereal wild haven that is home to elephants, wild dogs, gaur and tigers. A dense tropical forest, situated between the Mysore plateau in Karnataka and the Nilgiri mountains of Tamil Nadu, this tiger reserve gets its name from the Kannada words Naga - snake and Hole - stream. Many serpentine streams do indeed drain this exquisite jungle, which has now been renamed as the Rajiv Gandhi National Park. Situated in the picturesque districts of Kodagu (Coorg) and Mysore in Southern Karnataka, the area abuts the Bandipur National Park and the Kakankote Reserve Forest to the south.

  • Plan your trip
  • Wild life
  • Habitat
  • Places to see
  • Useful Tips
  • History

Best season

Summer extends from February/March to May when maximum temperature rise to 300C. The monsoon washes through the jungle between June and September when between 1300 mm. to 1800 mm. of rain falls. Winters extend from November to February, when minimum temperatures hover around the 140C mark.

The best time to visit Nagarahole is between September and May. During the monsoon months the forest is lush and verdant, but the roads are rain-soaked and muddy. You might wind up doing little other than sitting in your rest house. Unless you are an avid naturalist you would be well advised to avoid a trip during the monsoons.

The summer months are hot, dry and stifling, but wildlife viewing is much easier because the animals cluster around water sources and the understorey and ground vegetation is thinned by nature. This is a fine time to go birdwatching as nesting activity is at its peak. Dawn and dusk are the best times to spot wildlife.


Sanctuary Asia encourages sustainability in travel, so you can choose from one of the TOFTigers, PUG eco-certified lodges in the park vicinity and help sustain this destination.

Orange County, Kabini – Near the Bandipur Forest Check Post Gate

KAAV Safari Lodge – Near the Udbur Gate

Red Earth Kabini – Near the Dommankatte Gate

Waterwoods Lodge & Resorts – Near the Nagarhole Gate

There are forest rest houses or dormitories at Rs. 20 per person and bungalow type rest houses at Rs. 150 per double room. Book at least 15 days at least in advance with the Forest Department at Hunsur. 

The Kabini River Lodge near Karapur is a converted hunting lodge of the Maharaja. Room rates are around Rs. 5000 including board and jungle rounds. It is located in a thickly wooded picturesque area, about 65 km. away from the Park Reception Centre but accesses a major part of the park. There is a range of multi-cuisine and a bar is on the premises. For bookings contact, Jungle Lodges and Resorts, Bangalore. Tel.: 080-5597025; Fax: 5586163.


By Air: Mysore (96 km.), Bangalore (236 km.).

By Rail: Mysore (96 km.) away is connected to Bangalore.

By Road: Mysore (96 km.) is a two hour car ride and four hour bus ride. A bus leaves twice daily from Central bus stand in Mysore at 7 a.m. and 1.30 p.m. Motorable roads also connect Nagarahole to places around it like Bangalore (236 km.), Madikere (93 km.). and Hunsur. Bus services are available.

Nagarahole has a vast diversity of animals and the density of tigers is among the best in world.

Gaur Photo: Jayanth Sharma.

Four species of deer are found in Nagarahole, including the four-horned antelope or chousingha, normally seen in small groups in drier, open and hilly areas. About the same size as the muntjac, the chausingha has longer legs with two knob-like horns in addition to the usual sharp ones sported by deer. This is the only four-horned creature in the world! Sambar deer prefer denser vegetation and live in small family groups. The chital or spotted deer are numerous even where there is considerable human disturbance, such as near the Park Headquarters, rest houses and their adjoining open spaces. Herds of 200 strong animals is not a rare sight at Nagarahole. The rare mouse deer or chevrotain, less than a foot tall, is probably one of the least known animals in the park, not so much because their populations are low, but because they prefer coming out after dark.

Wild pigs are found in fair numbers and can be seen wallowing in the muddy edges of waterholes (called 'hadlus' in the local language) and even the shores of the reservoir. An outbreak of rinderpest in 1968 decimated gaur populations, but with protection these have now recovered and gaur can again be seen quite easily.

The dhole or Asiatic wild dog and the leopard coexist here as do other predators, including jungle cats. Visitors have often been able to see wild dog packs hunting deer in broad daylight. The park supports a healthy population of leopards and they can be seen at fairly close range, if you take care not to disturb them by talking loudly or making jerky motions in your vehicle. Karapura is a good spot to look out for leopards.

A major stronghold of the Asiatic elephant, Nagarahole supports as many as 1,000 to 1,500 elephants that migrate long distances in search of food. One of the major attractions of the park is the sloth bear that can be seen feeding on termites or wandering around in search of honey or carrion.

The stripe-necked mongoose, ruddy mongoose, brown mongoose and the common mongoose are present in fairly large numbers, but are not easy to spot because of their small size and skulking ways. Common otters too are found in Nagarahole, near rivers and the larger water courses including the reservoir. Other mammals include flying foxes, jackals, pangolins, giant squirrels, flying squirrels, blacknaped hare, common langurs, porcupines and civets.

Commonly sighted reptiles include the marsh crocodile, the bamboo pit viper, Russell's viper, the common cobra and the Indian rock python. The golden tree snake or the golden flying snake can also be found in Nagarahole. Soft-shelled turtles and Indian pond terrapins may be sighted in marshy areas and waterholes. The Travancore tortoise and the cane tortoise, both extremely rare, inhabit the mountainous and moist deciduous areas of the park. Flying lizard or draco and several species of agamids can be seen hunting and hiding, perfectly camouflaged amidst the old-growth trees. Several species of geckos, skinks, tree frogs and toads also thrive here.

The mahseer, a big rare freshwater fish that lives in the rivers and the reservoir, is an added attraction. Large mahseer used to be caught here, but angling is completely banned inside protected areas across India.

Dhole Photo: Sudhir Shivaram.

There are 270 species of birds that have been catalogued in Nagarahole. The more commonly sighted ones include the Osprey, Grey-headed Fish Eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle, Changeable Hawk Eagle, Tawny Eagle, Shikra, Black Kite, Brahminy Kite, and the Black-shouldered Kite. Scavengers include the King Vulture, White-rumped Vulture, Long-billed Vulture and Egyptian Vulture.

Nightjars, Jungle Owlets, Great Horned Owls and Forest Eagle Owls are some of the nocturnal hunters found here. Hill Mynas, Common Babblers, Scimitar Babblers and Jungle Babblers, Blue-cheeked Bee eaters, Small Green Bee eaters, Red-whiskered and Red-vented Bulbuls, Little Brown Doves, Ring Doves and Spotted Doves are only some of the birds to be seen around the undulating hilly areas. With patience, in the more dense forests you could actually see the Malabar Trogon. Lesser Coucals, Malabar Pied Hornbill and the Great Hornbill are rare but distinctly possible to see, provided you know where to find the fruiting trees they love.

Another avian to look out for is the strictly arboreal Vernal Hanging Parrot (Lorikeet), a bright green parakeet whose sweet call is heard more often than the bird is seen. Scarlet Minivets, Blue-winged Parakeets, Alexandrine Parakeets, Plum-headed Parakeets and Rose-ringed Parakeets are major fruit eaters and these flying jewels lend a tropical charm to the forest. Painted Storks, Asian Openbills, Black Stork, Black-headed Ibis, Lesser Adjutant Storks and four species of egrets are among the larger birds visible near water sources. Other species include Green Imperial Pigeons, Black-hooded Oriole and Clamorous Reed Warblers. This is also a great place to watch woodpeckers, with species such as the Black-rumped, White-bellied, White-naped,  Heart-spotted and Yellow-naped Woodpeckers flitting through the forest glades.

The national park comprises 643 sq. km. of gently undulating slopes and shallow valleys at an average elevation of 800m. to 850 m. The highest point is the Masalabetta peak (959 m.) and the lowest the Kabini river (701 m.). Other rivers that flow through the park include the Taraka, Nagarahole, Hebballa, Sarathi and Lakshmanateertha. This vast network of water courses are supplemented by artificially created waterholes and these are together responsible for the rich variety and density of wildlife.

Asian Elephant Photo: Jayanth Sharma.

The Kabini is by far the most important river and drains the southern part of the park before entering the Cauvery. The dam that created the reservoir, which now dominates the landscape and separates Bandipur and Nagarahole, was built in 1974. In addition there are several perennial and seasonal streams and tanks, all of which drain into the four major rivers. Hadlus, unique swamps that form as a result of the large amount of rain that falls, are vital ecological niches for countless species.

Nagarahole National Park is part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. The forest is classified into southern tropical semi-evergreen forest, southern tropical dry deciduous forest in the southeastern part and southern tropical moist, mixed dry deciduous forest in the northern and western parts (where rainfall is usually above 1,200 mm.) and grassy swamps and scrub forest. Dense bamboo clumps are scattered through the forests and together with tall trees whose upper canopies may be as high as 30 m. they provide excellent food and cover for herbivores. Plant species found here include mathi, nandi, honne, tadasalu, and the hardy rosewood , ebony and teak.

The lower canopy has prolific fruit trees like nelli, kooli, kadu tega, randida and bende. The last one sports a bark favoured by elephants and is found almost all over. The shrub layer is usually very dense and varied, but weeds such as Lantana and Lupatorium dominate. Because of the dense upper canopy, grass does not grow profusely in Nagarahole, except in the clearings where several grass species compete for dominance. The open grassy swamps, locally known as hadlus are unique and the grass here is lush all year round. This is because the soil is rich in clay and stays permanently moist.

A veritable bonanza for deer and gaur, these animals can be seen grazing here in large numbers. In the dry deciduous forests, the canopy is relatively lower and the trees grow further apart from each other. Their trunks are often contorted and shrunken in size. Here it would take an expert eye to even make out the 'second canopy'. Many moist forest trees like the dindalu, kakhe and flame-of-the-forest can be seen here.

Photo: R. Dev/Sanctuary Photo Library.

The overall look of the forest, where water is scarce, is open woodland, with patches of grassland in between. Plantations of teak and eucalyptus have largely changed the original mix of vegetation and botanists and naturalists are now divided over what should be done to remedy some of the mistakes of the past. Some suggest that exotics be slowly removed, allowing indigenous species to regenerate. Others feel this might give timber merchants just the excuse they need to go on the rampage in search of windfall profits that would take a serious toll of local species of trees.

The Mule-hole River, Nagarahole Tourism Zone and the banks of the Kabini river are all excellent spots to look out for elephants in summer. A drive out from Mastigudi reveals scenes reminiscent of Africa, where long stretches of the Kabini River are dotted with elephants herds.

Kabini river Photo: Jayanth Sharma.

The Nagaraja Game road is dark and mysterious in the evenings and is great for viewing muntjac. A drive out to Karapura in the evening (permission is required in advance if you wish to return after dark), may well reveal a leopard in search of its favourite prey, the langur. 

Go otter spotting to the Kabini Reservoir (you will probably see plenty of gaur as well). Observation towers are scattered through the park. Talk to guards and local guides to find out which ones deliver the most satisfying wildlife experiences. And always, always take prior permission from the park staff.

The Kabini Lodge offers coracle (country made circular boats) rides on the river, which are definitely worth the effort. Go boating on the lake at Karapura, which is both scenic and splendid.

If you do go to Karapura you may wish to visit the old khedda site at Mastigudi and the camp for elephants at Balle. Khedda is an ancient method of capturing wild elephants. In the 19th Century Capt. G.P. Sanderson developed a method using stockades that was particularly effective for the Kabini river surrounds. The old stockades can still be seen when the river waters recede. Although the custom has been discontinued it is a reminder of the barbaric abuse of the gentle giants.

There are people who advocate the continued capture of wild elephants even today, because herds isolated by deforestation are coming into conflict with humans.

Timings to enter the park: 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 6.30 p.m. Special dirt roads called game roads usually pass by grazing areas, salt licks and waterholes that are good for sightings. The undergrowth is manually cleared by the park authorities to allow visibility for the tourist and this also attracts the ungulate populations for easier grazing.

Almost all species of animals that are in the area can be seen within 14 m. of the vehicle. Visitors' vehicles are permitted to the park only when accompanied by trained guides who are good spotters, on payment of prescribed fees.

No walking is allowed inside the park. The Forest Department arranges for wildlife viewing in minibuses.

Photographers are best advised to carry 300 mm. /400 mm. telephoto lenses. Remember that light levels are low and a tripod is therefore always a good idea.

Useful contacts

Range Forest Officer, Nagarahole National Park, Kutta.

Conservator of Forests, Wildlife Division, Hunsur.

Wild elephants and their capture in kheddas or corrals and their subsequent existence in the camp at Hebella for training as domestic elephants was the forte of Captain Sanderson who started doing so in 1873. Hyder Ali had tried and failed and is said to have inscribed in stone that no one would be able to do so. Sanderson however set his plan in motion in the Biligiranjan Hills. The old kheddas at Mastigudi can still be seen.

Photo: Jayanth Sharma.

Designated a sanctuary in 1955, Nagarahole was enlarged to its present size in 1974 by combining the adjoining Mysore forests with the Nagarahole Sanctuary. Two towns, Nagarahole and Murkal, lie smack inside the reserve and as many as 6,000 people live inside the park where they survive by cultivating small holdings and by collecting minor forest produce.

Initially, while a part of the commission of Coorg, the sanctuary was oriented to the sale of certain forest produce. Many villagers still graze their livestock here and therefore come into conflict with the forest authorities who are now instructed to ensure its protection. Hundreds use the forest merely as a place to stay from where they must travel daily by bus to distant plantations for work.

A major fire destroyed huge tracts of forest in 1992. The fires are believed to have been set by disgruntled locals, who were targeting park officials who had arrested people in connection with poaching offences. They received support from local farmers and graziers who have always sought access to the nutritious grasses inside the forest, ever since the stocks on the outside vanished. Fortunately, with protection, the forest has now regenerated.

In 2008, Nagarahole has been designated the status of a Tiger Reserve.


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