To spot a big cat in the wild, especially a leopard, calls for a lot of luck. This shy, elusive and enigmatic creature has always been a great deceiver in terms of sightings in the wild. Through its speed and slyness it is known to remain secluded quite often. Though a country designated as the land of tigers, India boasts of a healthy population of leopards too. As per the current census, leopard numbers range from 14000-15000. Nagarhole is one of those few places where one may actually get to see this magnificent creature with better probability.
Location and History:
Nagarhole, one of the oldest national parks formed in 1955, derives its name from ‘Naga’ meaning snake and ‘hole’ meaning stream. Earlier it used to be the hunting reserve for the Maharajas of Mysore. With an urgency shown by the government to protect its precious animals it was renamed as Rajiv Gandhi National Park in 1992 and awarded the status of a tiger reserve later in 1999.
Nagarhole is located in the foot hills of Western Ghats, stretching down to Bhramahagiri hills and adjace
nt to Wayanad wildlife sanctuary in south. It has an area of 645 square kilometres, sheltering a wide variety of animals such as Tigers, Leopards, Dhole, Sloth Bear, Asiatic Elephants, Gaur, Golden Jackal, Chital, Sambar, Striped Hyenas, and Indian Giant Squirrel etc. and over 270 species of birds.
The Game Drive:
Since Nagarhole is divided into two parts one can either enter through Antharasanthe in Mysore dist. (The Kabini side) or through Kutta in Coorg dist.
After having visited so many national parks in north and central India, I decided to pay a visit down south. It was a toss between Bandipur and Nagarhole and I opted for the later one, may be because Nagarhole is said to be more commercial both in terms of accommodation and orientation. Also, the fact that it is one of the few places where one can actually get to see the rarest Black Panther aided this decision.
I was accompanied by my friend and we started from Bengaluru to Nagarhole early in the morning. The road was winding, hugging the hills adding a dash of adventure to our drive and we reached our resort comfortably by afternoon. After freshening up we were picked up by the canter for our evening safari from the Kutta range. It was mid-December and cool enough despite the sun shining down at us from the skies. Here the evening safari lasts for 3 hours, of which 2 hours are spent in the buffer area and the remaining one hour is spent in the core area. As we entered the jungle, the majestic Sal trees towered over us and we could feel the silence of the forest engulf us. The big cats have always beguiled the visitors at Kabini range but same can’t be said for our zone. Still with least expectations, we proceeded further.
With herds of chital crossing the road we kept our fingers crossed regarding what might be the next visual treat we would encounter! It was around quarter to four when we entered the core zone. Our driver strictly instructed to remain silent and be patient. Within fifteen minutes or so we got subjugated to see a pair of Usuri dhole giving a head on shot. They were hanging around, playing, and simply enthralling each one of us. It was really a marvellous moment for us. As the light was rapidly diminishing we saw a large tusker standing at around 100 feet away, continuously staring at us. At first we were a bit scared so asked the driver to move ahead but he assured us not to panic so we enjoyed the mammoth’s presence. After waiting for a minute or so it moved away.
We were returning when our canter suddenly stopped and we were told that something was hiding in a bush. We waited anxiously and lo- an elusive sloth bear crossed the road right before us! What a brilliant sighting of a wild beast. I was able to capture the magnanimous creature despite it being a little dark. As I think back on the chance encounter, I literally fall short of adjectives to express that mesmerizing moment. A unique wildlife moment captured for life! That very moment made my visit to Nagarhole one of my best trips in recent times.
What I really liked about Nagarhole was its tranquillity mixed with the timeless Sal trees, making it a perfect habitat for rich biodiversity. Truly, Nagarhole is not only about big cats. Rather here the path of sound credence is to overcome the thick forest of scepticism, look beyond the obvious and celebrate hidden beauty.
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Being an ardent wildlife freak I had been associated with wildlife photography since my childhood days. I didn’t lose a single opportunity of visiting wildlife destination during school days .But the real transition came after completing my graduation andgradually shifted to wildlife conservation and photography.