NAGARHOLE (“Snake River”) NATIONAL PARK (Rs200 [Rs75], camera Rs20), together with Bandipur (see “Moving on…”) and Tamil Nadu’s Mudumalai, forms the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, one of India’s most extensive tracts of protected forest. The park extends 640 square kilometres north from the River Kabini, which has been dammed to form a picturesque artificial lake. During the dry season (Feb–June), this perennial water source attracts large numbers of animals, making it a potentially prime spot for sighting wildlife. The forest here is of the moist deciduous type – thick jungle with a 30m-high canopy – and more impressive than Bandipur’s drier scrub.
However, disaster struck Nagarhole in 1992, when friction between local pastoralist “tribals” and the park wardens over grazing rights and poaching erupted into a spate of arson attacks. Thousands of acres of forest were burned to the ground. The trees have grown back in places, but it will be years before animal numbers completely recover. An added threat to the fragile jungle tracts of the region is a notorious female gang of wood smugglers from Kerala, who have developed a fearsome and almost mythical reputation. Consequently, Nagarhole is most worth visiting at the height of the dry season, when its muddy riverbanks and grassy swamps, or hadlus, offer decent chances of sighting gaur (Indian bison), elephant, dhole (wild dog), deer, boar, and even the odd tiger or leopard.