In Nagarahole with Tigers and Elephants

First published in Sanctuary Asia, Vol. 40 No. 11, November 2020

By Amitava Banerjee

Shy forest streams, ancient emerald trees, fragrant forest herbs... The moist and dry deciduous forests of Nagarahole have attracted throngs of wildlife lovers from across the world.


The charming landscape, part of the Nilgiri biosphere, is dominated by sturdy trees like teak, rosewood, sandalwood and silver oak. The Nagarahole and Kabini rivers meander through the eastern and southern ends of the park.

Some of the most common sights here are the sloth bear, chital, barking deer, four-horned antelope, sambar, gaur, wild pig and elephants. Other species that are harder to spot are the jackal, striped hyena, mouse deer and Malabar giant squirrel. The sprawling Kabini reservoir is also home to the mugger crocodile, smooth-coated otter, Osprey, Grey-headed Fish Eagle and Brahminy Kite.


I arrived at Karapura, about 80 km. from Mysuru, on a cool, misty December morning and set off for the Kabini River Lodge. After freshening up, I was off on my first safari, welcoming the gush of air as the car sped towards the park gate. We had just turned into the woods when a young lady seated behind me cried for the car to stop. There, between two large bushes on the side of the road, sat a leopard, its long tail gracefully curled as it gorged on the remains of a deer. We were awestruck by our luck – this was a shy, elusive cat that most wildlifers searched the forests for days on end!


After lunch at the lodge and some much-needed rest, we left for the evening safari. As we rode through the undulating terrain, the sweet calm of the wild soothed my city-stressed nerves. We stopped at the lush green bank of a creek where a large herd of elephants was grazing with their young, and quenching their thirst. One huge tusker was creating quite a racket, uprooting and feeding on vegetation. Did you know? The Rajiv Gandhi Tiger Reserve has the largest population of elephants in India.

I watched the elephants go about their business, hypnotised, as the treeline gently quivered in the wind, creating constantly changing patterns of the warm, evening sunlight on the ground. Soon, the spell had to break.

We turned around and began riding back. Just as we thought the day was over, our luck struck again! Behind the lantana bushes, a sub-adult tigress slowly ambled out, eyeing us carefully. It doesn’t matter if you’re seeing a tiger for the first time or hundredth – no matter what, the sight will get your adrenaline pumping!


Early next morning, we left for a boat safari in the Kabini reservoir, which was created when a dam was built on the river, flooding part of the forest here, separating the Bandipur and Rajiv Gandhi National Parks. We glided across the green-blue waters, where a wonderful, lively scene greeted us.

Elephants, chital and wild pigs grazed lazily along the banks. Wooly-necked Storks and Grey Herons sauntered knee-deep in the water. An Osprey with a fish in its talons, soared above our heads. A flock of Grey-headed Fish Eagles scuffled over a school of fish. Snakebirds basked in the orange sun, perched on the remains of dead trees that stood unmoving as the pristine waters lapped at their trunks. We were spellbound, trying to look everywhere all at once!


Our last safari began without much excitement. We could see nothing but a few scattered groups of chital here and there. Just when we were about to call it a day, out from the lantana bushes suddenly appeared a leopard, and sprinted towards the chital at top speed.

In my 20 years of exploring forests, while I had been lucky enough to see tigers chasing prey, I’d never dreamt I would see a leopard do the same!

However, the leopard didn’t have the stroke of luck we’d been enjoying and would have to look elsewhere for a meal! Referred to as ‘Temple Male’ by locals, he grumpily sauntered towards a patch of green turf, hardly a few feet away from us and began to lick his paws! I returned to my lodge, feeling overjoyed by the success of my
wonderful trip.

Amitava Banerjee has been capturing images of wildlife since he was a teenager. Passion soon turned into a profession and today, he believes that wildlife photography has changed his life, bringing him utmost happiness.

join the conversation