The perennial question that remains in everyone’s mind while planning a wildlife safari down south is to visit Bandipur or Kabini? Both are in Karnataka, both the parks are kind of equidistant from Bangalore, both have properties and safaris run by Jungle Lodges and Resorts. So which one to chose for best tiger sightings? Is it the Nagarhole national park aka Kabini best for wildlife sighting or is it the Bandipur National Park that is good for safari? As someone who has visited Kabini thrice and Bandipur twice, here are my thoughts.
As a thumb rule, if you are looking for a hassle free safari experience then book your stay with Jungle lodges and resort. JLR is run by the Karnataka forest department. And per day cost includes all your stay, food and two safaris inclusive. The comfort of stay is pretty good and the food is yumm. Staying anywhere else would mean the properties would try to get a slot in these jeeps. This can be good and bad. If you are not looking for back to back jeep safaris or okay to sit in a canter then this works. If you need a confirmed safari in a gypsy then go with JLR. Given a chance, I would have the entire gypsy for myself. But that is not an easy option to get at both the parks. If we are staying with Jungle lodges and resorts, as part of the package it is always a shared safari. Meaning you will share the gypsy with other fellow travelers staying at the lodge. Problem is they may or may not turn out to be wildlife enthusiasts.
Bit of geography between the two parks. Both Kabini and Bandipur belong to the same range of forests, Nilgiri biosphere reserve. In fact it is Nagarhole, Bandipur and Mudumalai, the same forest range that extends across territories. The Kabini river separates the Nagarhloe tiger reserve and the Bandipur tiger reserve. And thus Nagarhole national park and Kabini are names used interchangeably. As in, Nagarhole has many regions but safari happens around the Kabini river area and hence called as Kabini safari / Kabini national park and so on. Between Bandipur and Mudumalai also is a small gorge with water that separates the two states. The animals though can easily and freely cross across all the three forests and the two states.
Based on Geography
In spite of all the three forests lying in the same forest range, they have glaring differences in vegetation. Bandipur is denser forest. Bandipur is dry deciduous forest and rocky at certain regions. The jungle is so thick that sometimes you can sight only if the animal comes bang on road. Open spaces are less. And it gets lot more dense as we proceed into Mudumulai. Not just dense, but rocky too.
But Kabini is kind of moist and dry deciduous forest with lot more open spaces. This is because most of Nagarhole national park was under the Mysore Maharaja. It was his hunting ground plus plantation ground. Today if you enter the park for safari, you will see neatly arranged teak and timber trees for acres. These were planted by the king and now the forest is preserved as a national park. During the British rule itself, the hunting for joy was soon dropped and these grounds were decided to be preserved. Also, the Kabini river flowing through the jungle becomes an added advantage. So there are more grasslands, open spaces and boat safaris as an option to explore and sight animals and equally good number of water birds.
Zones in the Park
Kabini has two zones for the jeep safari, Zone A and Zone B. And like any other park, the jeep from Zone A cannot enter Zone B. I cannot tell you the agony of standing on the road leading to Zone B and watching jeeps lined up in Zone A jungle having a sighting 🙂 But that is how the penance of of wildlife safari goers are. Hope the Tiger / Leopard would walk down the road from one zone to another. Anyways, both the zones are pretty huge and good to experience both sides of the jungle. A good six safaris would be your best bet to sight and go back and forth these zones.
Bandipur on the other hand has no zones. It is one big jungle spanning across the Ooty highway. So the naturalists try to drive to the area where there is maximum chance of spotting the big cats. As in, if they had spotted in the morning, they would tend to drive around that area for another round of luck. I need to emphasis on the word luck, cause most of the wildlife sightings in spite of being at the right place at the right time, undeniably needs a dose of luck too. Both these parks do not have any satellite phone communication between the rangers. But they exchange information through whatsapp and try to show you the best sightings possible.
Chances of Tiger / Leopard Sighting
Chances of Tiger or Leopard sighting in both Bandipur as well as Kabini depends on you luck. That is a standard statement you would hear on any wildlife safari 🙂 Kabini is often boasted for their Leopard on tree sightings. With trees planted spaced out, the leopard perched on a branch or climbing down a tree looks lot more beautiful and picturesque to shoot. But I got to also say, almost all of my sightings in Bandipur were leopard perched on the tree. And funnily along the highways, which even a passerby car could stop and spot. I think the leopards love to watch the passing trucks and cars.
I also had my best Tiger sightings in Kabini! It could be just one in six safaris, but nevertheless the open spaces gives you a lot more time to watch the Tiger walk around before disappearing into the lush jungle.
Both the jungle scores the same kind of wildlife that you will spot. Dhole, Gaur, Elephants, Boar, Mangoose, Peacocks and birds, apart from the elusive tiger and leopards. They say it is lot more difficult to spot a Wild dog than a tiger. But most of the tourists are tiger centric. In terms of Wildlife as well, I would say Kabini has an edge. The boat safari would give opportunity to see snake birds, crocodiles, huge herds of elephants on the bank, sometimes swimming across crossing over to Bandipur too. Apart from it, the wildlife is lot more dense and undisturbed.
The thing about Bandipur is, the highway to Ooty cuts across the jungle. So lot of vehicle stops enroute to see the elephants and deers on the way. It is quite common to see them on the road. The safari jeep also drives on this road and cuts into the other side of the jungle. Once while we were returning from a dry safari in Bandipur, we saw a leopard dart across the highway. This is not only risky but the experience of watching it in the thick of the jungle is totally different.
Now this is where Bandipur scores.. And I return to Bandipur cause it is easy on pocket. If I can do two nights in Kabini, I can as well do three nights in Bandipur. And for someone who looks for jungle experience not particular about the cats, the joy and thrill of a safari would do. Plus Bandipur has never really disappointed. I have managed to see good number of Leopards on all my trips and tiger once. If you follow wildlife pages we do get regular updates on the sightings as well in Bandipur and can plan safari around it.
The Experience of JLR and Safari
My take when visiting these parks is to park myself at the respective Jungle Lodges and Resorts. They own the place and safari, run by KSTDC Government of Karnataka. The Kabini River Lodge is lot bigger than the Bandipur Safari Lodge. That is because those were British bungalows. There are more rooms and choices to accommodate. Dormitary rooms, tents, bungalow rooms and cottages available to chose from. On the other hand Bandipur has rooms and cottages, built in similar fashion as Kabini river lodge. The cottages, rooms look similar and so is the dining space and more. Kabini river lodge is also on the banks of Kabini river, making it a picturesque outing, you can opt for coracle and rides and boating too. While Bandipur safari lodge is bang on the Mysore Ooty highway. Once in the lodge you are cut off from the highway and it becomes tranquil again.
Coming to the safari experience, both offer only shared jeeps to hire. Kabini is frequented by photographers and ties partnerships with people like toehold, Mithun and Shahjung. And they are given preference when it comes to the jeep allotments. Not to mistake, everyone gets a slot in the jeep safari. But whom do you get to share the jeep with in your safari makes or breaks the whole safari experience. Kabini river lodge is lot bigger, has play area and boat safaris that brings a mixed crowd. So unless you own a camera gear, you will seldom be paired with wildlife enthusiasts. If you are paired in a jeep who are mostly looking for a tourism kind of experience, the patience to wait at spots gets killed.
Bandipur on the other hand is less frequented by families who come for fun. Or at least they don’t stay in the resort and opt for Jeep safari. There is canter safari tickets available on the highway and people queue up to take that canter safari. That is a one hour safari and through out the day apart from a lunch hour it keeps moving.
And for some reason I have felt Kabini is a bit snobbish. It is like the rich vs the poor attitude 😀 Kabini got super popular with the Black Leopard and they still ride on it. People rush to Nagarhole hoping to get a sighting of the elusive Kharia aka black shadow. Partly the wildlife photographers still ride on the yesteryear pictures of Kharia. But black leopard is hardly seen these days. They say he is old now, gone into the core jungle. Then in few days wildlife groups drops a message that the black leopard was spotted. But if you visit the park it would be kind of silence. Foreigners choice also seem to be Kabini River lodge.
Both the parks are equidistant from Bangalore and Mysore. Both the parks are teeming with wildlife and good sightings. So what is your choice? Did the points above help you conclude 🙂 Let me keep it simple. If this is your first time to the jungle, chose Kabini River lodge. All your experiences of jungle, river, resort, wildlife will be fulfilled. If you are looking for a different jungle experience, then Bandipur is your pick 🙂
Hope this helps.