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Nagarhole National Park

Gorgeously verdant Nagarhole, falling in the Coorg and Mysore districts of Karnataka, is home to elephants, tigers and leopards (the two big-cat species can be elusive around here). In this national park, the jungle-like forest cover is as high as 30 metres, a screen of greenery that shelters a myriad of mammals and avifauna. For the best, and the most beautiful, views of the sanctuary, head to scenic Kabini Lake (the lake was created after the construction of a dam on the River Kabini, in 1974).
Nagarhole is still home to tribal folk, among them a tribe of honey gatherers called the Kurumbas. While continuing to follow skills that go back many a century, the Kurumbas also live side by side with the elephants, and look after the animals.
Nagarhole, along with Mudumalai and Bandipur (in Karnataka, extending into Tamil Nadu) national parks – the holy trinity of game parks in the south – make up the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, among India’s largest swathes of protected forestland.


Formerly a private forest of the local maharajahs, Nagarhole (meaning “snake streams”) became a national park in 1955. Its present area dates to 1974, when the park was joined with the forests of Mysore. In 2008, Nagarhole was declared a tiger reserve.
In 1992, a tense standoff between the sanctuary’s wardens and local grazers over the latter’s rights exploded into a series of incidents of arson. Many thousands of acres of forest went up in smoke. A lot of the park’s tree cover has recovered but the animal population is still below what it was pre-1992.


Located amid rolling hills and shallow valleys to the north of the River Kabini, towards Karnataka’s border with Kerala, Nagarhole’s habitat includes grassy marshland, scrub, streams, clumps of bamboo and deciduous forest (tropical-dry, tropical-moist and mixed-dry). The forests of Nagarhole fall between the Mysore plateau and the Nilgiri Mountains. The Kabini, a tributary of the River Kaveri, is one of several rivers flowing through the sanctuary, giving rise to an abundance of wildlife.


The dry months (February to June) are the best time to spot the wildlife (and also avifauna) here, especially on the banks of the river, in the area next to and around the reservoir, and in the hadlus (grassy marshlands) – though the heat from April onwards does tend to get uncomfortable. Herds of elephants are a common sight on the Kabini’s riverbanks.
Good viewing is also possible from the machans, situated close to the waterholes and saltlicks of Nagarhole.
The rainy season, between July and October, is best avoided, since much of the terrain here gets notoriously slushy (and leeches proliferate).

Flora and Fauna

There are around 60 tigers in Nagarhole – the park is known to have one of the healthiest tiger densities in the world. While here, one can also encounter leopards (best seen at Karapura), elephants, gaurs, muntjacs, bonnet macaques, common langurs, gaurs, jungle cats, sloth bears, wild boar, jackals, Indian wild dogs (dhole), pangolins and flying squirrels. Nagarhole also has a big concentration of elephants.
Of members of the deer family, you’ll spot sambar, chital, the chausingha (the four-horned antelope) and the rare mouse deer (also called chevrotain), which is seen only after dark. Mongooses (brown, common, ruddy, stripe-necked) are common in Nagarhole. And with waterholes abounding in the area, there’s a profusion of reptiles – among them marsh crocodiles, the common cobra, vipers (bamboo pit and Russell’s) and the Indian rock python – as well as common otters, soft-shelled turtles and Indian pond terrapins.
Among birdlife (almost 300 species-strong), you might just spot the rare Malabar trogon, Malabar pied hornbill and the lesser coucal. It’s more likely that you’ll sight the great black woodpecker, the Indian pitta, pied hornbill, grey-headed fish eagle, Brahminy kite, whistling thrush and green imperial pigeon, besides a host of water birds. Also, listen out for the iridescent-green vernal hanging parrot, or lorikeet (difficult to catch a glimpse of due to the tropical-lush surrounds).

How to reach

Nagarhole’s main entrance is 93km to the southwest of Mysore. There is also a second (south) entrance at Kabini Lake, 3km from Karapura village (80km south of Mysore). Two bus services run daily from Mysore to Hunsur, 10km from the north gate of the park, from where jeep pick-ups are available.
The nearest airport is at Mysore, as is the nearest railhead (96km).

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