NAGARAHOLE & BANDIPUR NATIONAL PARK

By road

Eighty km south of Mysore on the Mysore to Udhagamandalam (Ooty) road, this wildlife sanctuary covers 865 sq km and is part of a larger national park which also includes the neighboring wildlife sanctuaries of Mudumalai in TamilNadu and Wynad in Kerala. In the days of the Mysore maharajas this was their game reserve. The sanctuary is one of the 15 selected across the country for Project Tiger, a scheme launched in 1973 by the World Wide Fund for nature to save the tiger and its habitat. The sanctuary is noted for its herds of bison, spotted deer, elephant Sambar, sloth bears and langurs. There are supposed to be two dozen tigers but they are rarely seen. The best time to go is May and June, and again from September to November. If there is a drought, the park may not be worth visiting , as the animals migrate to the adjoining Mudumalai park for water. Visitors must pay a fee to enter the park but this includes a one-hour tour in the forest Department's bus. This 27-seat bus does one-hour tours each day at 6.30 ,7.30 and 8.30 am, 4 and 5 pm. Elephant rides are the only other means of game viewing . Private vehicles are not allowed to tour the park and the Bandipur road is closed from 6.30 PM to 6 am. Bus tours and forest department accommodation must be booked in advance . For reservations, contact either the Chief Wildlife Warden (Tel: 334-1993), Aranya Bhavan, 18th Cross, Malleswaram in Bangalore or the Field Director (Tel: 52-0901), project Tiger , Ashokpuram, Mysore.

Not surprisingly, the park has seen few visitors in recent years and facilities are still minimum. Foreigners must pay fee while in the park; the best time to visit is from October to May. In theory , the Forest Department has a minibus available for wildlife viewing but you'd be wise to inquire whether it's operating before going all the way to Nagarhole. All inquiries and booking should be directed to Chief Wildlife Warden (Tel: 3341993) , Aranya Bhavan, 18th Cross, Maileswaram, in Bangalore or The Deputy Conservator of the Forest & Wildlife Division (Tel : 08222-2041) at Hunsur.

By Road

Nagarhole is open year-round, but avoid the monsoons, when floods wash out most of its dirt tracks, and leeches make hiking impossible. To get there from Mysore, catch one of the two daily buses from the Central stand to Hunsur , 110 km from the park's north gate, where you can pick up transport to the Forest Department's two Rest Houses.

The Forest Department's huge deluxe bungalows have bathrooms and hot water . The caretaker (or somebody) will fix meals, and you can see chital (spotted deer) right from your windows. These bungalows must be booked and paid for in advance - if you turn up without a reservation, it's unlikely you'll be given a room (you may get one late at night when there is no chance of someone with a reservation turning up). The only private resort is Bush Betta, about four km from the Bandipur reception centre off the road to Mudumalai. It's only a few years old and has doubles including all meals, an elephant ride and a safari. Bookings must be made in advance at their Bangalore office (Tel:221-0504) at 8 Richmond Rd.

Forest Department's two rest Houses have to be booked well in advance through the Forest Department offices in Mysore or Bangalore. Turn up on spec, and you'll be told accommodation is "not available". It is also essential to arrive at the park gates well before dusk, as the road through the reserve to the lodges closes at 6 PM, and is prone to "elephant blocks". The other accommodation in Nagarhole is the luxury Kabini River Lodge (book through Karnataka Jungle Lodges in Bangalore; 080/5597022;), approached via the village of Karapura, 3 km from the park's south entrance. Set in its own leafy compound on the lakeside, this former Maharaja's hunting lodge offers expensive all-in deals that include transport around the park with expert guides. It's impossible to reach by public transport , so you'll need to rent a car to get there.

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