Nagarhole gains its name from the snake like river that winds its way through it. The park was once an exclusive hunting reserve of the former rulers of Mysore in Karnataka. It's a place of unspoiled wilderness, with serene forest, bubbling streams, and a tranquil lake. Nagarhole teems with over 250 types of birds, elephants, sloth bear, bison, tiger, leopards, deer, and wild boars. It’s also officially known as Rajiv Gandhi National Park.
In Karnataka state, 95 kilometers (60 miles) southwest of Mysore and bordering the state of Kerala. The Kabini River, the largest of the park's waterways, lies to its south and separates it from Bandipur National Park.
How to Get There
The closest railway station is in Mysore, around four hours away from Nagarhole by road. Alternatively, there is an airport in Bangalore, around six hours away.
The park has two entrance gates -- Veeranahosahalli near Hunsur to the north, and Antharasanthe (Damankatte gate) at Kabini to the south. It takes about an hour to drive between them.
When to Visit
The best time to view the animals is during the heat of March and April, when the waterholes are dry and the animals come out and visit the lake. However, the temperature is more pleasant from November to February. The monsoon season, from July to October, brings a lot of rain. Hence, safaris may not operate then and wildlife sighting is challenging.
Park Entry and Safaris
The road that run through the park are open from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m., all year round. It's possible to drive along them in your own vehicle for free. However, if you want to go deep inside, you'll need to go on a safari. Jeep safaris using private vehicles were banned in 2011. Now, the two options for safaris are as follows.
Do note that the Forest Department recently increased the rates, effective November 1, 2018. And, unlike many other popular national parks, the safaris cannot be booked online.
- Noisy 26-seater minibus (canter) safaris, operated by the Forest Department from the Veeranahosahalli and Antharasanthe sides of the park. These depart early in the morning from 6.30 a.m to 9.30 a.m., and again in the afternoon from 4 p.m. to 6.30 p.m. The cost is 500 rupees per person.
- Jeep safaris, booked through hotels and operated by Jungle Lodges & Resorts (owned by the Karnataka government). Your hotel booking will get you a place on this safari. If you stay at the JLR Kabini River Lodge, the cost will be included in the hotel tariff. Otherwise, the cost ranges from 1,100 rupees to 2,750 rupees per person. The safaris depart from Kabini River Lodge in the morning at 6.30 a.m. and in the afternoon at 3.30 p.m. Depending on occupancy of the hotels in the area, you can expect four to eight people in a jeep. Government-operated boat trips also depart Kabini River Lodge at the same time.
A separate park entry fee is also payable. This is 250 rupees per person for Indians and 1,500 rupees per person for foreigners.
A camera fee is also payable for DSLR cameras with lenses. This is 200 rupees for a lens up to 70 millimeters, 400 rupees for a lens between 70 and 200 millimeters, and 1,000 rupees for a lens above 200 millimeters.
The park has two separate safari zones: Zone A is a wooded area and Zone B is close to 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.
In early 2017, the safari starting point at Veeranahosahalli was relocated from the park's core to the periphery. This was necessary to reduce the movement of vehicles and human disturbance inside the park, due to noisy tourists stopping their vehicles and littering the area with trash. As a result, visitors coming from Hunsur will have to travel 35 kilometers less to reach the safari point.
The Kabini side of the park is more tourist-friendly, with better (albeit expensive) accommodations and facilities for jeep safaris. On the Veeranahosahalli side, most of the accommodations are located further away from the park entrance.
Not all hotels provide safaris. If you're staying at a hotel that doesn't, you'll need to book your own canter safari through the Forest Department.
Be sure to arrive early to make ticket bookings for the Forest Department canter safaris. Tickets are issued from 4 p.m. the previous day for morning safaris, and 10 a.m. the same day for afternoon safaris.
The park offers the opportunity to see elephants close up in their natural habitat, and it’s not unusual to see herds of elephants on the river bank. The best option for seeing elephants is to take an afternoon boat ride (birds are mainly seen on the morning boat ride). However, the likelihood of seeing a tiger here is rare compared to parks such as Bandhavgarh in the north.
Where to Stay
Jungle Lodges & Resorts Kabini River Lodge, located on the river near the southern edge of the park, is a popular choice and they offer packages including boating, jeep safaris, and elephant rides. Other top options in the area include Orange County Resorts Kabini, The Serai, Kaav Safari Lodge and Red Earth.
At the northern edge of the park, Kings Sanctuary, set in 34 acres of mango orchards, is a good luxury option. Alternatively, Kutta has reasonably priced accommodations including homestays. Spice Garden is a recommended homestay in Kutta.
The Forest Department also provides accommodations inside the park. These need to be booked in advance by contacting the Conservator of Forests and Director, Hunsur on 08222-252041 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The rates for cottages were recently increased to 2,500 rupees per day for Indians and 5,000 rupees per day for foreigners. Cheaper dormitory beds are available.