First of all what is Nagarhole?
It is a tiny hamlet located in the middle of a large conjoining forest range in southwest India known as Nilgiri Biosphere. There are many designated wildlife parks within the Nilgiri Biosphere. Nagarhole National Park is one of them. Nagarhole National Park , also officially Rajiv Gandhi National Park , is special among other wildlife sanctuaries in the area , thanks to its significantly higher population of wildlife especially of tiger and huge elephant herds.
A short history of the park. Originally the forest area was the private hunting sanctuary for the Mysore royals. In 1955 the two adjacent forest ranges ( Mysore and Nagarhole) combined to form the Nagarhole National Park. Later the park is named after the late prime minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi. Still the old name – Nagarhole National Park- survives.
Naga means snake , hole means pond or stream in local parlance. There is a steam in the west side of the park called Nagarhole. So the name of the park.
In practice you are more likely to spot elephants and deers than that elusive tiger. The Safari takes you around in a predefined forest trail .
The thick undergrowth on either side of the safari path is cleared to enhance the spotting of wildlife. There are two safari slots , one in the morning and one in the evening ( 06:00 – 09:00 and 15:00 – 17:00 Hrs ). The possibility of spotting the animals are more during theses periods. Depend on the number of visitors , they operate a number of trips.
You’ve to park your vehicle near the guesthouse area and board the forest department’s safari van ( 16 – 20 seater). It’s a noisy affair, unless you are lucky to have a well informed and serious crowd. Now the van takes a slow circuit relatively deep into the forest and return to the base after about one hour. End of safari.
Usually they discourage taking private vehicle into the forest. However it is possible to get special permission. There is a fee for it and a guide would accompany. Check with the forest department if they allow and what are the formalities.
Same is the case for trekking. Prior permission is needed.
Common wisdom says that summer months are better opportune season to spot animals. The shrubs are not as thick as during the rainy period. That enhances visibility. Also animals come more closer to the water holes which are few and far in between during the summer peak. Again it’s just a theory. Your luck does matter a lot .
Location wise Nagarhole National Park spreads over two districts of Karnataka state – Mysore and Kodagu. Its a relatively large national park covering an area more than 600 sq. kilometers ( 230 sq miles) .
Though not impossible , accessing Nagarhole is not very easy. Of course there are options ranging from the local bus services to specially chartered helicopter services .
The humble one first. without much of hassle you can reach the places located around Nagarhole by bus. But buses operating right through the national park are few and far in between. So one of the best strategy is to reach one of these towns on the fringes of Nagarhole.
Kutta is a small town located right outside the southern entrance to Nagarhole National Park. There are frequent services from Kerala to Kutta , as it is located a few kilometers from the Kerala State border. There are a very few bus services from Kutta town that passes through the Nagarhole National Park. Remember the forest department office and guest houses are located about 6 kilometers into the park from this gate. If bus is not an option ( think of coming back also! ) from Kutta you can hire a jeep to reach the place where the safari start.
Virarajendrapete ( Virajpet ) is a larger town of Kodagu district . Its about 45 kilometers northwest of Kutta. Virajpet has plenty of bus services , especially to the neighboring districts. Gonikoppal , 16 kilometers from Virajpet is another village were the road from Kutta , Virajpet and Hunsur meet. You can get bus from Gonikoppal to Kutta .
Hunsur is another town near Nagarhole with good bus connectivity to other major towns are cities in this part of Karnataka. Its about 50 kilometers from Hunsur to Nagarhole.
Mysore, is the nearest big city and the nearest railway station for Nagarhole. There are a some odd bus services to Nagarhole from Mysore. You can access Nagarhole from Mysore via Hunsur or HD Kote. Both are entirely in two directions. Road via Hunsur approach Nagarhole from its northern periphery while DH Kote is located somewhar at the south of the park. There are many buses from Mysore that go to HD Kote and also to Kerala via the forest area. From HD Kote , in all probabilty you’ll heve to depend on some jeep services to reach the Safari point.
So that’s a quick scenario about reach Nagarhole by public transport.
Next we would see driving all the way to Nagarhole . See the map , a series of state highways encircles the Nagarhole forest range. And a few roads cut through the forest , the main one being the road connecting Hunsur with Kutta. This road passes via the Forest Department Guesthouses ( from where the safari start). So from wherever you are approaching Nagarhole , you need to get to this road to enter the National Park for safari.
Two whellers are not allowed to drive through Nagarhole. If you are on a bike trip, find out a suitable base to park ( for example the Kutta town, which is only a few kilometers from the Nagarhole safari starting point). and hire a local jeep.
The following is a detail for driving from Hunsur side towards Nagarhole. If you are entering from Kutta side, visualize the distances and other details in reverse order. In addition you can refer to the Nagarhole road map attached for convenience.
Road from Mysore to Hunsur , that is SH 88 , is excellent . From Hunsur town take the road that passes right through the Nagarhole National Park. This road is located just behind the Hunsur bus station. Do not move an inch from here till you are doubly sure that you are on the right road. The entrance to this road is unassuming and a little tricky to find from a distance.
If by chance you’ve missed this road, in all probability you are driving towards Gonikoppal, which is a roundabout route to Nagarhole.
Ask for direction to Nagarhole before you’ve crossed the Hunsur bus station ( that appears on your left) and the Nagarhole road is also on your left as you pass the bus station. Just after the bus station is a fuel station. The Nagarhole road passes adjusent to the fuel station.
The road now is very narrow and and conjested as it is passing right through the village lanes. A couple of kilometers later you wriggle out of the congestion, but the road still remain narrow.
From here onwards things are more or less straightforward, though you may have to ask a couple of more times as you encounter a few more village squares on the way.
After about 10 kilometers from Hunsur you’ll reach a village called Nallurpala. The road splits here. Take the right branch to Nagarhole National Park. The left branch goes towards HD Kote. From Nallurpala drive another 10 kilometers , you would reach the Forest Department gate across your road. The gate is always closed and attended by a guard who sits in the cabin next to it.
There is a register with the guard. You’ve to write down some details ( Vehicle number, no. of people traveling, from, to, your name etc and sign). It’s a two minutes formality, if there is no queue. Usually there is no queue. Then he opens the gate. No fees to be paid. Note, beyond this point no two wheelers are allowed.
Vehicle traffic is allowed only from 6 AM to 6 PM , as the night traffic is not safe ( for you as well as the wild animals ! )
Just before this gate on your right are two the private resorts called Jungle Inn and The King’s Sanctuary. You’ll find Jungle Inn first and The King’s Sanctuary immediately after that on the same (left) side. Both The King’s Sanctuary and Jungle Inn are upscale resorts for people interested in wildlife holidays. You can see the electrified fence around the compound , as this is in the vicinity of the forest area.
From the forest department gate, ‘Nagarhole’ proper is another 28 kilometers drive. You are now already into the forest. Though there are not too many deviations, frequent signposts assures you of direction to Nagarhole.
A few minutes from the above gate , you’ll see another gate ( that is usually kept open) across your road. There is a tribal settlement as well as the an elephant camp at this point. The place is called Murkal and hence the camp as Murkal elephant training camp.
You can spot many elephants of the camp and the mahouts going about their daily routines. On your right is a huge cage made of logs , that is used to lockup the captured (?) elephant. Beyond that is a large water hole. Murkal has the forest department’s guest houses. Close to the camp are some settlements of tribal folks. You can even spot some jungle trails radiating out of the main road.
Ahead you proceed on the main road. A signboard on your left ( if it is still not pulled out by some wild elephant !) says Karmad 6 kilometers.The road to Karmad starts on your right. This goes via a settlement and a less used exit out of the National Park. There is a forest check post as the road crosses the national park border. That’s just for information as theses are the easy landmarks in the forest. You are not going to turn right here. Drive straight for Nagarhole.
You can easily know that you have finally arrived at the base camp in Nagarhole. There are huge bungalows and other buildings by forest department in this area. Somewhere on your left is the place where you can park and from where safari ( by the department’s van) starts.
There are a couple of forest department guesthouses with about 6 cottages and a dormitory for the convenience of the visitors who wants to stay back. Book well in advance , as your chances of getting accommodation after arrival is pretty grim.
For booking accommodation, contact the Chief Wildlife Warden’s office in Bangalore ( Malleswaram ) or Field Director’s office of Project Tiger at Mysore ( Ashokapuram ) . Even for the Murkal elephant camp accommodations you can enquire here.
If you could not get accommodation here look for some in Kutta. That’s just 6 kilometers south of the forest department guesthouse and outside the national park. There are many home stays kind of accommodation in this south Kodagu town bordering Kerala.
Then there are the upscale wildlife resorts located outside the periphery of Nagarhole National Park. We’ve already found way to The King’s Sanctury and Jungle Inn earlier. There are two more popular ones at the southwest of Nagarhole National Park – Cicada and the more popular Jungle Lodges and Resorts Ltd. Both are located on the banks of Kabini reservoir. One can reach Kabini via HD Kote from Mysore. It’s possible to reach Kabini via Kutta too.
As premised earlier, there is a Helipad too to reach Nagarhole forest area . The Helipad is located on the banks of Kabini reservoir. There are private helicopter services operate on a charter basis.
A word of caution for those of you who are not familiar with driving in forest roads.
The vehicle part first and then the forest etiquettes.
Scan through the typical checklist as far as the vehicle conditions are concerned. Have you got the punctured spare tyre alright? No procrastination here, as help is hard to come by in a forest road. Is the any nagging issues pending attention? What about that unusual noise from engine at high speed….a worn-out fan belt, may be? Have you kept the tool kit back in the car?
In other words do the checks days in advance. The day before your departure, you would be in no mood to do all these things nor have time to leave the car at the service station.
Fill enough fuel. Top it up at regular intervals. Commonsense , but it is worth repeating. In forest areas the fuel stations are usually located at the towns far from the forest limits, leave alone the possibility within the forest. So fill fuel as if you are flying a plane.
Leave all those worries behind as you start driving into the forest area. Remember you are not doing a city to city driving where there are puncture shops at every few kilometers. A hopeless car breakdown midway in the forest is the easiest thing that can spoil your otherwise well anticipated holidays. Of course you can blog about the incident and solicit a lot of comments. But it’s not worth!
It is often said that the most dangerous part of a car is the ‘Nut Behind the Wheel’. All the men thinks that they are above average drivers. Keep that pride aside for a while and be extra careful while driving inside forest. Roads inside forest are notorious for poor quality. On top of it , there could be giant boulders protruding on the surface , waiting to damage any thing accessible at the bottom of the car. Damaged gearbox, kinked exhaust pipe , broken bumper are all common damages, not to mention an extraordinary dent in the wheel.
There might not be a police man standing to catch the speeding vehicle in the forest. But the same can not be said about a wild elephant , as you zoom past that curve.
Yes, there are etiquettes and protocols to be maintained inside the forest while driving or otherwise. There is a big list of ‘NO’s. Do not honk. Do not park. Do not get out of your vehicle. Do not deviate from the designated path, Do not over speed………it’s all for your safety.
It’s no picnic yet , do not make noise as it scares (and may even provoke ) the wild animals. Think as if you are in their home and they are right, always. If you spot wildlife on the road, keep distance and wait. You may be new to them, but they are familiar with vehicle traffic. Usually they shy away quickly into the undergrowth.
Jungle roads are riddled with uncanny hairpin bends , especially in the ghat sections. Two vehicles can not negotiate the hairpin at the sometime. It is tempting but dangerous. Slow down well before the bend and look for any oncoming vehicle. Stop well ahead of the hairpin if the oncoming vehicle is a large one like a truck or bus. They need more turning space and you being close to the bend would do no help. The matter is worse , if there is a slop. Usually hairpins come with a slope and a gorge at the edge. Be patient and prudent.