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Nagarhole / Thirunelli / Kushal Nagar trip in March 2009

Another long weekend was coming, thanks to Ugadi, and we had to go somewhere. We checked up couple of resorts around Nagarhole, Kabini, Masinagudi and Dandelli, but most of them were booked well in advance or were too expensive. Now, we were left with the usual mode of operandi - hit the road and worry abt accommodation only when needed!

The problems we faced due to Versa's malfunctions during our Hampi Trip and numerous other drives towards Kozhikode was already history. The problem was diagnosed and repaired by a good mechanic in Kozhikode - something that numerous renowned workshops in Bangalore and Kozhikode could not do! Since then, we had driven up to Kozhikode and back a few times and did not have any trouble.

Excited by the renaisance of Versa, I was thinking of a really long drive, the choice being Rameswaram, but that was ruled out quickly. Preethu was all excited after checking up the JLR and resorts at Kabini. So, we decided to hit Nagarhole, followed by Thirunelli and then spend the remaining time in Coorg. We could also spend some time @ Mandya where Preethu's parents stay.

On a thursday evening, after another hectic day at the office, we headed out of the city. It was a mad long weekend traffic, moving at snail's pace. To give an idea of the traffic, the 4km stretch from Mysore road flyover till Ring Road junction took us about an hour! Smitha, Preethu's sister, joined us from here as she was heading to Mandya for the long weekend. Once out of the city, Versa was back to its vintage best and we reached Mandya in a little more than an hour.

Shooting Birds
Attempts @ Bird Photography

After a late dinner, we hit the bed past 12. There was no way we could have that early start I badly wanted. So, after a nice breakfast, we headed back to Mysore road by abt 9.30. Past Srirangapatnam, we took the right turn towards Ranganathittu, which will ultimately reach the Hunsur / Madikeri road. The road was not in good conditions and had numerous potholes. The road finally joined the Mysore - Madikeri, which was a 4-lane for some distance.

Shooting Birds
Cattle Egret and its Reflection

Shooting Birds
Two Cattle Egrets this time!

We took frequent breaks in between for various reasons ranging from 'nature-room' breaks to shooting birds. It was almost 11.30 by the time we reached near Hunsur, where we entered the town instead of taking the bypass. At Hunsur town, we took the left turn after the bus stand into the HD Kote / Nagarhole road. About half an hour into this road, the road forks into two, with Nagarhole to the right and HD Kote to the left.

The first sighting we had within the sanctuary was a Red-wattled Lapwing - a beautiful bright colored bird. We slowed down the vehicle for a better shot and since the bird stayed there without going away, I got a little greedy and got out of the car for a better shot. While, I was lying down in the ground for a good shot of the bird, an ambassador car approached us and a man in it shouted at me for stopping the vehicle within the sanctuary limits.

Tusker @ Nagarhole
Tusker @ the Waterhole, Nagarhole

I realized the mistake, quickly got back into the car and moved ahead. We never got out of the car after that, even with few more sightings. The best moment came after I heard some rustling of the trees and looked inside as soon as we got a clearing - there he was ... a tusker enjoying his time in a waterhole!

A little later, we reached Murkal forest office. Here, the man from the ambassador car - now wearing a forester's uniform - stopped us and warned again for not stopping within the sanctuary limits. I accepted my mistake and apologised, but he went on and on. He first startled me by saying that there is no safari at Nagarhole now. Then, he said that its illegal to take photos inside the national park and my camera may be seized. Now that I've taken photos, I should wait for his boss and talk to him. Meanwhile, we could also check out the domestic elephants they have around there! Now, that sounded incredulous and I smelled rat. Obviously, he had other interests and we immediately got out of the place.

Preethu and Me
Preethu and Me @ Nagarhole.

About 15kms from here is the Nagarhole forest office. For the uninitiated, Nagarhole also known as Rajiv Gandhi Natonal Park is adjoining the Bandipur National Park and has a rich forest cover and small streams. Infact, the name originates from two Kannada words Naga (snake) and Hole (streams). The sanctuary is believed to have a higher density of elephants, bison and tiger, compared to Bandipur.

Stag @ Nagarhole
Another visitor @ Nagarhole

On enquiry at the office, we were told that the safari starts at 3'O clock. There was no food available at the place and it was only about 1'O clock by then. So, we parked the car and waited for the safari and had some snacks (yummy mangoes ... to be specific!) that we carried. I saw a stag inside the jungle and proceeded to take some shots. More people started coming and it was soon crowded. I soon realized that they were giving out tickets and hurried to the office, just sneaking in as the last two!

We got the seat next to the driver, which was good for sighting but not so much for photography, since the glasses came in between the camera and a good shot. As soon as the bus moved into the jungle, I realized that the camera was running out of power and I did not take the backup battery! Couple more shots and it was dead! To make matters worse, Preethu's S3IS also started flashing a red battery sign!!!

Nagarhole Forest
Into the Jungle.

The whole safari went without any good shots, though we witnessed a few beautiful sights. The place had packs of spotted deers, with many stags. The best moments being a pair of spotted deers galloping across the bus and some family moments involving an infant and mommy deer. A group of Vultures were parked near a lake, where we also had a close encounter with a beautiful blue king fisher. There were sambhar deers as well, one variation with stags and albino variations.

At about 5, we were heading towards Kutta, about 10kms from Nagarhole. We've passed through Kutta town a few times, on our way to Thirunelli, for treks to Brahmagiri or Pakshipathalam. We were looking for some eateries with a decent restroom, but none of them passed Preethu's restromm test :) Finally, we headed towards the Kerala border. The road in this stretch until the Kerala border is abysmal and non-existent. In the last few years traveling across South India, I've found that the roads in Karnataka towards other state borders is ignored. And ... invariably, its such a relief to cross the border. It was not very different this time also. As soon as we crossed the border, the road became a lot better.

I was extremely hungry by now and badly wanted to eat something. So, next to the border and near the check post, we stopped at a small tea-shop and had some food. I had stopped at the same place and had some delicious 'puttu' and fish curry before. But, this time, the food was somewhat cold, wrong timing I guess!

Thirunelli temple is about 20kms from this place and is associated with a lot of sweet memories to both of us. Every time, Brahmagiri hill ranges pops out of the horizon, Preethu would turn to me and smile! It is our 3rd visit to the temple together and I believe there are many more to come. The sky was soon brimming with dark clouds and a slight drizzle followed ... exactly like our first trip to Thirunelli.

We soon reached the trijunction with Kattikulam to our left and Thirunelli to the right. The roads were smooth by now, with some occasional potholes, and we sailed past to reach Thirunelli before dark. While on the last ascend to the temple, rain provided us the beautiful misty background for the temple and the hills on all four sides. I took the car inside the Panchatheertham rest house and parked it there. But, to our dismay, the rest house was full and only had an old dilapidated room. We initially decided to take it, but later changed our mind. Versa fuel tank was almost empty and we had to go to Kattikulam to fill it up. Finally, we ended up paying the room rent (Rs. 150) and then deciding to head towards Mananthavady after a brief visit to the temple.

We filled fuel @ Kattikulam and then headed to Mananthavady, a small, yet important, town in North Wayanad. We first stopped at a restaurant for a sumptuous dinner (Biriyani, Chappathi and Chicken) and then looked around for rooms. To our dismay, we couldnt find any rooms, even after checking in about four hotels. Finally, we found a lodge near the bus stand and settled for a small room, much to Preethu's dislike!

Night went quickly and we started back only by about 9 after having a light breakfast @ Mananthavady. We already visited two of the main places we wanted to go to and was thinking of going back to Mandya for a while. At Kattikulam, we turned towards Thirunelli and then took the road to Kutta. There is a road connecting Mananthavady to Mysore, via Kattikulam, Bavali and Kabani, but the road is broken and not motorable.

Kerala - Karnataka border
The road starts once u enter Kerala!

Soon, we crossed the border and crawled along the uneven road leading to Kutta. We got some kids for company who were taking a small cycling trip and was moving faster than our vehicle :) They accompanied us till Kutta, were we headed to the Srimangalam, T Shettigiri, Hudikeri, Ponnampet road towards Gonikoppal. The drive was very slow and leisurely, enjoying the sceneries around. We did not want to cramp the trip and skipped Iruppu falls, which is a small detour before Srimangala. Iruppu is a beautiful waterfalls at the foothills of Brahmagiri peak.

Preethu, Me @ Srimangala
Re-living the past @ Srimangala.

At Srimangala, we re-lived the past once again and stopped at an ice cream shop, which we had visited last time. The road was narrow here, though in a reasonable shape. So, we continued the drive in a leisurely pace. We noticed several homestays along this road and considering how desperate Bangaloreans are to get out of the city, was sure that all of them will be full for the long weekend.

We reached Gonikoppal and had lunch there. Since, there was enough and more time left, we decided to head towards Kushal Nagar. Kushal Nagar is about 40kms from Madikeri and about 80 from Mysore in the Mysore - Madikeri highway. It has a few picnic spots, including the Namdroling Buddhist monastery @ Bylakuppe, Nisargadhama nature camp and Dubare Elephant camp. I'd been to most of these places, but did not mind a second visit, especially to the Golden Temple @ Namdroling monastery.

Road to Periyapatna
Periyapatna via Nagarhole

From Gonikoppal, we took the road towards Hunsur and took a turn towards Periyapatna about midway. This stretch of the road is amidst the Nagarhole national park once again with vegetation all around us. At the peak of the summer, the forest had dried up, but thanks to some beautiful flowering trees all around us, it was a pleasant drive. Soon, we reached Periyapatna (in the Mysore - Madikeri road) and took a left towards Madikeri / Kushal Nagar. This part of the road is well maintained and we were in Kushal Nagar in no time.

Since, we had another day left, we could stay back for one more day. It all depends on the availability of accommodation and we found a few hotels in Kushal Nagar and settled for one. We booked the room to avoid last minute searches like the previous night and continued our journey after this without wasting any more time.

A few kms after Kushal Nagar is the Nisargadhama nature camp, but we found a huge crowd there and decided to go further. Couple more kms ahead we found the Siddhapura road to our left. Dubare is a deviation from this road and we headed towards Dubare. This road is smooth and is green all around for a pleasant ride even at mid noon. About 10kms on this road is the deviation to Dubare Elephant camp.

Elephant @ Dubare
Lambodara in a Wooden cage

Dubare Elephant camp is kind of like a concentration camp for Elephants. Its a taming centre for elephants, which created trouble straying into villages. At the camp entrance, we took a boat to the islet and looked around the 'rogue' Elephants kept in wooden cages. The first one we met was 'Lambodara', 32 yrs old and captured in January (2009). There were about four more elephants kept in cages there apart from some more 'tamed' Elephants. Preethu's day was made when she finally gathered enough courage to reach for and touched 'Lambodara'!

@ Dubare Elephant camp
Activities @ Dubare

Back at the entrance, there were facilities for boating and even rafting, entertaining a huge crowd. We decided not to go for anything and headed back to main road and back to Kushal Nagar and then to Bylakuppe, where we took a turn towards the Namdroling monastery.

@ Namdroling Monastery, Bylakuppe
One of the temples in Namdroling

@ Namdroling Monastery, Bylakuppe
Inside the Golden temple @ Namdroling

This Buddhist monastery is home to about five thousand monks, one of the largest and earliest Tibetan settlement in India. Its a haven for photographers and there is never enough time once you are inside. With pillars made out of gold, colorful paintings and monks dressed in their typical attire, this is an ideal place to roam around with a camera. We were at the monastery by about 4.30 - the right time for shots and roamed around the location till the light faded.

Back at our hotel room in Kushal Nagar, we spent time sleeping and in front of the idiot box going out once for dinner at a nearby restaurant. There were many more places worth a visit in this beautiful district of Coorg / Kodagu, including a few places I had never been to. There were places like Harangi dam, Abbey falls, Madikeri town (and spots like Rajah seat in the town) and Talacauvery. But, we did not want to make this a hectic trip and decided that we will head towards Madikeri only if we get up early in the morning.

Hanging bridge @ Nisargadhama
Welcome to Nisargadhama

It was about 7.30 by the time we got up and we instantly decided to skip Madikeri, Abbey and Talacauvery. Nisargadhama, being near was still an option. So, we checked out of the hotel and headed straight to Nisargadhama about 3kms from Kushal Nagar along the Madikeri road. Nisargadhama has a beautiful hanging bridge connecting the entrance to the camp. The camp has all basic facilities needed for tourists. We had a bread / butter / jam / poori / sabji breakfast at the small restaurant inside Nisargadhama and roamed around for a while.

Deer park @ Nisargadhama
Do u have anything to eat?

There are cottages in the camp where the tourists can stay. It has Cauvery / Kaveri river flowing on one side, some animals in containment and a forest-like atmospehere. We saw a rabbit park near the restaurant and a deer (both Sambhar and Spotted) park towards the river side. Add an elephant ride and a tree-house to it ... thats Nisargadhama. Next to the deer park is a small shop which sells vegetables like cabbage so that one can feed the deers. And the animals are so used to it and are not scared to eat right out out of your hands!

Once out of Nisargadhama, we headed straight back towards Mysore. We did not take the shortcut towards Srirangapatna (via KRS and Ranganathittu) and opted to go till Mysore ring road. At the ring road junction, we took the left turn and then joined the Bangalore - Mysore highway. This route was longer but took less time due to the good road conditions. In less than an hours time, we found ourself back at Mandya.

This time we had to shorten the trip and keep it leisurely. But, there were a lot more places to explore in Coorg / Kodagu and some places where an encore is not a bad option. So, we would surely drive again to Coorg, to Madikeri, Talacauvery and places around it.

© 2019 Sandeep Unnimadhavan