" Trees are Earth's endless effort to speak to the listening heaven." ~ Rabindranath Tagore

Snake River

Bittu Sahgal, Editor, Sanctuary and Cub magazines describes Nagarhole National Park, a haven for elephants.

The elephants vanished into the mist having drunk their fill in the early hours of a winter morning. I could hear the distant call of birds echo across the lake and I was quite lost in the magic of the wilderness when the voice of my guide, a forest guard, rose above the soft paddle of coracle oars: "Why should people be concerned about the destruction of nature… if they have never experienced nature first hand"

Nagarhole means "snake-river" in Kannada. Both the river and the forest take their name after the winding path of one of the seven major rivers that drain the region - Kabini, Taraka, Nagarhole, Lakshmana, Teertha, Hebballa and Saruthi. The 17 natural tanks within the forest are supplemented by 23 artificial tanks to improve the water regime. Situated in the Kodagu and Mysore districts of Karnataka, the 643 sq. km. Nagarhole National Park (renamed the Rajiv Gandhi National Park in 1992) is one of the last homes of the Asiatic elephant.

More About Karantaka
An Overview
About Nagarhole

Spirit of the Jungle
The Wilderness
Last of Asiatic Lions
Childhood Dream
Hunt for Indian Tiger


Beasts of Nagarhole

elephantThe highest point in the Park is Masalbetta (959 m.) and the lowest (701 m.) along the Kabini river. Also resident here are gaur, wildboar, the diminutive mouse deer and over 250 bird species. Nagarhole's moist deciduous forests are connected with the Bandipur National Park to the southeast and the Wynad Sanctuary of Kerala to the southwest. To the west, the forests used to be connected to the Brahmagiri Sanctuary ... until a coffee estate disrupted this vital continuum. The animals most affected were the elephants. They must feed for up to 18 hours a day, consuming a hundred litres of water and perhaps as much as 200 kg. of leaves, bark, or shoots every day. To cater to this elephantine appetite, they wander. And when their home is fragmented... they come into conflict with humans, often with tragic consequences for both.

A popular and accessible part of the once-vast forests of Kodagu (Coorg), Nagarhole is still a major wildlife tourism centre, which attracts thousands of visitors from all over India and overseas. Well-watered, with abundant pasture for wild herbivores, Nagarhole is, predictably, a favourite haunt for scores of amateur and professional wildlife photographers living in nearby Mysore and Bangalore. With its quiet grandeur and untamed ambiance, this is a wilderness of which the people of Karnataka are understandably proud, but which they should have defended more effectively.

Those who have visited Nagarhole will confirm that it typifies one of the best experiences of elephant-inhabited tracts. While indolence pervades the air, you always expect 'something' to happen at any moment. Consequently, you cannot seem to avoid sitting at the edge of your seat... and the lantana-dominated undergrowth, rocks and shadows, easily assume the form of tigers, dholes and even elephants!

This is a great forest for elephants. For their size, the peaceful pachyderms move with improbable silence, though their shrill trumpeting calls can be heard for miles around. Often, therefore, you could be within 50 metres of a herd without even being aware of their presence. Watching their family life is an enchanting way to experience nature. Herds, are led by a matriarch and `aunts' enthusiastically look after calves which are playful and confident in the company of adults in their family. Male suitors are kept at trunk's length till the matriarch decides that it is the right time for them to approach. Elephants are skittish and very protective of their young. It is always a good idea to insist that the guard accompanying you `knows his elephants'. Though they are innately peaceful, the large beasts are easily spooked and visitors must therefore take great care not to make sudden movements, loud noise... and to respect their 'space'. Only the very foolhardy (suicidal?) would approach an elephant on foot. Which is why "stay in the vehicle" is a refrain you can constantly expect to hear in forests where elephants roam free.


leopard Tigers are not easily spotted, but evidence of their presence exists along almost all mud trails, paths and waterholes, by way of droppings or pugmarks. Just before dawn and dusk their moaning calls may sometimes be heard floating across the jungle gloom. Leopards, on the other hand, are silent and may often be encountered in broad daylight. So are those awesome hunters, the dholes, or wild dogs. Many tourists relate first-hand accounts of dhole packs hunting down a sambar, or chital. The strategy of the hunt is remarkable for its ruthlessness and efficiency. Using high-pitched whistling calls, a pack of as many as 15, or as few as four, dogs will isolate one animal from a herd and pursue it relentlessly until it tires. At this point an all-out assault will be launched with the dogs attacking their hapless prey from all sides, one hanging on to the muzzle, another its hind quarters, while others attempt to rip open the soft underbelly to disembowel the prey. There is no element of cruelty in all this. The food will be shared, even among pups for whom food will be regurgitated when the pack returns to its den. The dogs serve to weed out defective, weak or ailing individuals from the herd, thus furthering the `objectives' of natural selection. Nagarhole is a vital, living forest and hopefully nature's `plan' will be allowed to unfold with a minimum of interference from humans.

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Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.