Nagarhole National Park and Tiger Reserve: A Complete Guide

Get a Glimpse of Elephants in the Wild

Elephants at Nagarhole.

kulliprashant / Getty Images 

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NAGARAHOLE NATIONAL PARK AND TIGER RESERVE

Address
Mysore - Madikeri Rd, Hunsur, Karnataka 571201, India
Phone +91 99720 91019

Nagarhole National Park and Tiger Reserve (also known as Rajiv Gandhi National Park) is a place of unspoiled wilderness, with serene forests, bubbling streams, and tranquil lakes and reservoirs. The park gets its name from the snake-like Kabini River, the largest of the park's waterways, which lies to its south and separates it from Bandipur National Park. (Nargar means "snake" and hole means "stream" in the native language). This area of India receives torrential rains during the monsoon season, providing a plethora of water resources to the abundant wildlife found in the park, including over 250 types of birds, elephants, sloth bear, bison, tiger, leopards, deer, and wild boar. This park was once an exclusive hunting preserve for the former rulers of Mysore in Karnataka. But today, the tiger population, as well as the park's other predators, are thriving. Book a jeep safari, embark on an elephant ride, check out cascading waterfalls, and visit a sacred temple for a bucket-list experience in Southern India.

Things to Do

Most visitors flock to Nagarhole National Park to check out the predator species and other exotic animals that call this place home. You can go about this in many ways: by booking a mini-bus safari tour and sharing the experience with 26 other people, arranging for a more intimate jeep safari with no more than eight people, hiring a boat or coracle to take you down the river on an unforgettable boat safari tour, or hopping on an elephant for a three-hour park stroll. It's possible to drive along the park's roads by yourself, as well, although you need to remain inside your vehicle, and stopping is not allowed.

You can also hire a guide and embark on one of the numerous walking trails in the park, some that follow the river's bank, putting you up close and personal with the park's wildlife. Don't try to hike by yourself or alone, however, as trained guides can alert you to the presence of dangerous animals and steer you to safety. Camping is not permitted inside the park due to the frequent encounters with tigers and other dangerous predators.

Visitors to Nagarhole National Park can also check out the neighboring Irupu Falls, a cascading waterfall that drops from a height of 170 feet in the dense forests of Western Ghats. You can also visit the town of Kutta. In fact, you might want to stay there, as it provides a central location for accessing the region's sites and immerses you in the authentic rural life in this country.

Some visitors also opt for a trip to neighboring Wayanad National Park, the second-largest wildlife sanctuary in the state of Kerala and home to many species of endangered flora and fauna.

Best Hikes & Trails

Nagarhole National Park is one of the few wild parks in India where you can hike in predator country with a trained guide. The walking paths are suitable for a range of hikers, from avid to novice, and some follow the river, while others take you through forested regions.

  • North Nagarhole Walking Trail: This trekking trail is located in the north section of the park on the banks of the Kabini River. Hiking this trail provides several options to view different species of birds and herds of animals as they congregate at this water source.
  • South-East Nagarhole Walking Trail: This trail is best suited for experienced hikers who don't mind wet and slippery conditions. It meanders through a deciduous forest where the trail sometimes becomes overgrown and not easily navigable. A guide will assure the best route and help lead you away from dangerous animals.
  • Central Nagarhole Walking Trail: This short trail is frequented by tourists and is one of the only trails that doesn't require a guide. It's a great jaunt to go on if you want to see elephants, gaur, and deer.
  • West Nagarhole Walking Trail: Forested valleys, waterfalls, and streams are among the highlights of this trail used for spotting tree-dwelling wildlife. But, stay away from the banks of the river, as crocodiles and snakes may be located underfoot.

Safaris

In order to venture deep inside the park, you'll need to book a safari. Private jeep safaris were banned in 2011, making the only drivable safari options a minibus or a jeep booked through Jungle Lodges & Resorts (owned by the Karnataka government). You can also book a boat safari through the government-owned lodge. Whatever you choose, make sure to pre-book your trip before your stay to assure your spot.

  • Minibus (Canter) Safaris: These noisy, 26-seater, forest department-operated buses run twice a day: from 6:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. in the morning, and then again in the afternoon from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. The cost to ride one is higher for foreigners than it is for India's natives and tickets can be purchased online or in person at the booking gates 30 minutes prior to departure.
  • Jeep and Boat Safaris: Your hotel stay at Jungle Lodges & Resorts will assure your place on this safari. If you stay at the Kabini River Lodge, the cost is included in the hotel tariff. If you choose to book another lodging option through Jungle Lodges & Resorts, expect to pay an extra safari fee dictated by the category of vehicle you book. The jeep safaris depart from the Kabini River Lodge in the morning at 6:30 a.m. and in the afternoon at 3:30 p.m. Depending on the occupancy of the hotels in the area, there will usually be four to eight people in a jeep. Government-operated boat trips also depart from the Kabini River Lodge at the same time.

Where to Camp

While primitive camping is not permitted within the park, you can choose from a few glamping options in Mysore and Kabini. Do note that this style of camping comes complete with resort amenities. Still, you'll be sleeping in a canvas cottage surrounded by the sounds of nature.

  • Kabini River Lodge: The Kabini River Lodge is a Jungle Lodges & Resorts property located on the river in Kabini. It's a popular lodging choice, as they offer packages that include boating, jeep safaris, and elephant rides. Enjoy your stay in one of their tented cottages, complete with two twin beds, a bathroom, a coffee maker, and a wake-up service. (You can also upgrade to a cottage or a hotel room for an additional charge.)
  • Jungle Inn: The Jungle Inn in Mysore offers Swiss tented cottages, complete with en-suite bathrooms, a veranda area, toiletries, and housekeeping (upon request). Packages here include breakfast, lunch, and dinner, a film showing, a campfire, and seasonal hikes.

Where to Stay Nearby

Nagarhole National Park is surrounded by accommodations, ranging from simple retreats to luxurious stays. Choose from rustic cottages with en-suite bathrooms or villas with private jetted pools and an on-site spa.

  • JLR Kings Sanctuary: Located at the northern edge of the park near Veeranahosahalli, JLR Kings Sanctuary is set among 34 acres of mango orchards and is a good budget option. Safaris are not included in the lodge's packages, but you can book one for an extra charge. For accommodations, choose from a cottage or suite, complete with a private bathroom, refrigerator, coffee maker, and television. There is also an inground pool on site.
  • Evolve Back: The luxury accommodations at Evolve Back in Kabini include your choice of a safari hut, a pool hut, and a pool reserve hut. But don't let the word "hut" mislead you, as these luxury villas all come with private jetted pools, a separate bedroom and living area, and private bathrooms. Choose from three on-site restaurants or a candlelit dinner cruise, and stop into the Ayurvedic spa to freshen up with a treatment post-safari.
  • Kaav Safari Lodge: Enjoy one of the luxury rooms with balconies at the Kaav Safari Lodge in Mysore. You can also choose from a luxury tent, complete with a clawfoot bathtub and office nook. Property amenities include a common-area lounge, a viewing deck, al fresco dining, and a pool. A bonfire barbecue is available on request, as well.

How to Get There

To reach Nagarhole National Park by air, book a flight to Kempegowda International Airport in Bengaluru, and then get a connecting flight from Bengaluru to Mysore. Mysore is the closest city to the park (94 kilometers or 58 miles away), where you can book a train directly to the park or make the journey by car. You can also hop on a bus in Mysore. The bus drops you at the HD Kote Bus Station (about 30 km or 18 miles from the park) where you can hire a taxi to take you the rest of the way.

The park has three main entrance gates, which are also the starting point for all safaris: Veeranahosahalli (near Hunsur) is on the northern side, Nanachi (near Kutta) is on the western side, and Antharasanthe (near Kabini) is on the eastern side towards Mysore. It takes about an hour to drive between all three entrances.

Tips for Your Visit

  • The roads that run through Nagarhole National Park are open daily from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m., year-round.
  • If you're embarking on a safari, expect to pay a DSLR camera fee with rates indicative of the size of your lens.
  • The park has two separate safari zones: Zone A consists of a woodland area, and Zone B is a riparian zone on the Kabini backwaters. The Jungle Lodges & Resorts jeep safaris can cover only one of the zones at a time, while the Forest Department canter safaris can enter both zones, unrestricted, during one tour.
  • The best time to spot animals is during the summer, in March and April, when the waterholes are dry and the animals congregate near the lake. However, the temperature outside is more pleasant from November through February.
  • During the monsoon season (July through October) safaris may not operate due to muddy, impassable roads, and wildlife sightings are minimal.
  • The Kabini side of the park has the most tourist-friendly entrance and the best (albeit expensive) accommodations and facilities for jeep safaris.
  • Arrive an hour or two in advance in order to get tickets for the canter safaris. Demand can be high, especially on weekends. People start lining up early and seats are limited.
  • The best option for elephant viewing is by booking an afternoon boat ride.
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Nagarhole National Park and Tiger Reserve: A Complete Guide