A jewel in the crown of the Nilgiri Biosphere.

The Nilgiri Biosphere covers vast areas of mountainous and plain lands in and around the Nilgiri mountain ranges of the Western Ghats of India.   Many of its parts are fairly close to Bangalore and make up some of the most coveted destinations for nature lovers and general tourists. Places like Ooty and Coonoor are the stars on the tourism map while other places of natural beauty and the wild life reserves and sanctuaries are the hot spots of the informed nature lovers and wild life enthusiasts. These make for some interesting trips from Bangalore and, quite on expected lines, these places have ended up as my favourite short haul destinations.

In this post and a few others to follow, I will share with you some of the most diverse experiences that the Nilgiri biosphere can offer. I start off here with one of the most celebrated national parks of Karnataka, the Rajiv Gandhi National Park (Nagerhole). So switch on your wild side as I lead you into a tryst with nature’s wild.

Rajiv Gandhi National Park, Nagerhole.

This National Park stretches along a part of the Karnataka Kerala border and is regarded as one of the most beautiful forests in Karnataka. It has two tourist zones (that offer organized jungle safaris), one at the Kodava (Coorg) end and the other at the HD Khote side along the Mysore-Mananthawady highway, more popularly known for the backwaters of the Kabini reservoir that lines the forest’s southern fringes. The Kabini backwaters provide an interesting visual confluence of the Bandipur National Park, the Wayanad Wild Life Sanctuary and the Nagerhole National Park, with the waters separating the first two from the third.

Nagerhole is extremely rich in wild life, with a great balance of predators and prey. Though spotting wild life is a matter of chance as most enthusiasts would know, I have experienced some amazing encounters with wild life in the forests of Nagerhole.

Unlike the highways that cut through Bandipur National Park (one to Tamil Nadu and one to Kerala), the Mysore Mananthawady highway through the Nagerhole National Park ferries lesser traffic and the overall human interference is well controlled. Consequently, animal crossings are less accident prone and when one does use the highway to head to Kerala, animal sightings around the road is very common. Part of the original highway has been discontinued and a new route skirting the park introduced, in order to minimize the drive time through the core forest areas.

Sighting predators like tigers, leopards and wild dogs is a matter of great luck, mainly because of their active nocturnal behavior and relatively low level of activity during the day. However, if you are lucky enough, you could spot the wild cats at a water hole at the end of a warm day or find one lazing on a dirt track in the wee hours of the morning after a night full of action that likely ended in a hearty meal.

Leopards are more reclusive than the tigers. While tigers can amble down the forest tracks without much care, leopards are wary of crossing paths with wild dogs and the obsessively territorial tiger. So most often you would find them atop a tree or on a rock, the excellent climbers that they are.

The naturalists who accompany the tourists in the safari trips are well experienced and extremely knowledgeable. The excitement of tracking down a predator by following the alarm calls of langoors, chitals (spotted deer) and sambhar deer makes you long for an encore. Of course, on your lucky day you may find one of these majestic creatures just walk out of the bushes into the open for your eyes and cameras to feast on it.

But Indian forests are not just about the predators or the majestic cats. Among the herbivores, spotted deer and elephants are quite common, followed by the gaur, sambhar deer and the more elusive barking deer. The list of fauna is a long one and it is a treat to see these animals in their natural habitat. Nagerhole, like many of the other forests of Karnataka, is also a birder’s delight. It is a recognized bird area with hundreds of bird species. In our very first safari, we were treated to a real preying action, that of a serpent eagle swooping down on a snake and making a kill. The vegetation is a mix of moist deciduous, dry deciduous and montane, making the seasonal changes quite noticeable. The winter months leave most of the forest quite dry and wilted, but the first hint of spring showers seem to bring the forest back to life. And with that, you will almost definitely be treated to one of the most exotic courtships in the animal kingdom: peacocks in full plumage puffing out their tail feathers while in an amazing dance ritual to attract the peahens.

So, while in any of these forests, do not get obsessed with making a tiger or a leopard sighting. Leave that to lady luck and instead soak in the jungle atmosphere, its eeriness, accentuated by the sounds of birds, animals and crickets, the smell of the vegetation, the stillness of time, the vastness of nature when left untouched. For us city dwellers, it is a fantasy come true, a reminder of what nature was conceived to be and what precious bit is left of it.

Some information about the wilds of Nagerhole: the Rajiv Gandhi National Park is about 60 kilometres from Mysore. While you could camp in Mysore and drive down for the safaris organized by the Karnataka Forest Department, you could also stay in the vicinity of the National Park in the handful of properties located around the Park. The resorts are quite exclusive in that they are either located on the banks of the Kabini, or at the edge of the National Park and, in some cases, both. Jungle Lodges and Resorts (a Govt of Karnataka eco-tourism initiative) operates a sprawling property there. It also operates well guided safari trips that are used by other resorts in that area for their guests at additional charges.

This park is in the plain lands adjoining the Nilgiri mountains. As we move from the plains to the foothills on way to the Blue Mountains (the Nilgiris), I shall bring to you two more wild wonders of this land, the Bandipur and Madumalai tiger reserves. Stay tuned.

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