Worried about making a costly mistake trying to decide between Kabini or Bandipur for your next wildlife vacation? Don’t be stressed. We will empower you with everything that you should know to make an informed decision.
So let’s help you pick between Kabini vs Bandipur?
Home to some of the country’s most magnificent big cats, including the majestic Bengal Tiger and the elusive Leopard, Kabini (Nagarahole) and Bandipur, forests are ones that we at Toehold place very close to our heart. These forests are magnetic, drawing in budding wildlife enthusiasts as well as veteran wildlife photographers. (These two parks contribute a lot to Karnataka’s No. 2 position in Tiger populations in 2020 report. Madhya Pradesh takes lead by just a few more Tigers.)
But before you visit these places and become a regular visitor, you may surely be wondering where should you go and how to choose between Kabini vs Bandipur?
Both these forests have a wealth of wildlife to offer and boast their own set of spectacular sightings, prolific cats and fantastic photo opportunities. In this article, we will break down the process of making this decision by considering these five aspects of both these destination. Hopefully, by that, we can help you decide where it is that you want to go.
1 – What’s easier to access, Kabini or Bandipur?
Often the most important factor in making a decision about a holiday destination is its accessibility. Both Bandipur and the Kabini side of Nagarahole are easily accessible by road, between 60 and 70 kilometres from Mysore, and around 210-225 kilometres from the nearest metropolitan city, Bengaluru. Both forests are part of the Nilgiri Biosphere reserve and are divided by the Kabini River, which flows through the forest. Both the forests of Bandipur and Nagarahole were famous hunting grounds for the Maharaja of Mysore, which was then converted into Tiger Reserves.
Is Kabini and Nagarahole the same?
In short, yes. Kabini is an area in the south of the Nagarahole Tiger Reserve and National Park. Because of the Kapila river also known as the Kabini river and the famous Kabini dam, this area of the park is commonly known as Kabini. But technically, it is administered by the same department as the other side of the national park.
Disclaimer: While we may refer to Nagarahole in this article several times, when we are comparing Bandipur with Kabini, we aren’t considering the entire Nagarahole National Park, but just the Kabini area for wildlife and natural history opinions on sightings, vegetation and topography.
2 – What is the difference between Bandipur and Kabini?
Bandipur is the larger forest at about 874sq. kilometres, whereas Nagarahole clocks in at just under 650 sq. kilometres. Bandipur is divided into 12 different ranges, safaris driving through the Bandipur range, while Nagarahole is divided into 6 ranges, and tourism is carried in the Veeranahosalli, Mattiguppe, Nagarahole and Kallahalla ranges in the north while D B Kuppe and Antarasante range in the Kabini side of the national park.
Bandipur is located at an extremely interesting juncture in the Nilgiri Biosphere, bordering Mudumalai and Wayanad, where the forest is extremely dry and arid, almost akin to a scrub jungle. While in close proximity to each other, the forests have varying types of vegetation, Bandipur consisting mainly of dry deciduous forest, at a higher altitude than Nagarahole.
Bandipur is a forest of unforgiving, daunting terrain, with rocky outcrops and thick vegetation, with the grasslands at the hilltops providing the only relief from the dense cover of wildlife that envelopes the forest.
Nagarahole, on the other hand, consists mainly of moist deciduous forests, interspersed with teak and eucalyptus plantations, and is at a lower altitude, with open areas, which makes it easy to spot wildlife, and provides amazing photographic opportunities. Nagarahole and Bandipur are both traversed by safari through the jungle, but Nagarahole is much more connected by a comprehensive yet predictive network of roads, which make it considerably easier to track wildlife.
3 – What wildlife can you expect in Kabini and Bandipur
The resident wildlife in both Bandipur and Nagarahole is very identical, with both parks being havens for rare, majestic and elusive animals like Tigers, Leopards, Asiatic Elephants, Gaurs, Dholes (Indian wild dogs) etc., while the Bandipur hosts a few unique species. The scrub forest surrounding Moyar River, which separates Bandipur and Mudumalai is home to rare species like the Indian Hyena, Blackbuck and the India Gazelle, or Chinkara.
Both parks are venerated Big Cat kingdoms, though the dynamic of sightings has shifted over the past 2 decades. In the early 2000s, Bandipur was the go-to hub for cat sightings, especially tiger sightings in South India, while Nagarahole could boast very few sightings. Tigers of Bandipur like Gauri and the Aralikatte Male remain some of the most well known, widely photographed Tigers of South India to date.
Leopards on trees – Kabini’s speciality
However, about 10 years ago, Kabini rose to prominence as the best place to photograph Leopards in South India, with iconic images of Leopards on trees, climbing, and even hunting began to make waves throughout the country. The reason for this may be the fact that about two dozen leopards started growing more accustomed to safari activity in the park, and were bold enough to face jeeps without scampering off into the bush.
This is something that can be said for the Tigers of Nagarahole as well, with the past 10 years seeing a monumental increase in the Tiger activity in the park, which has led to a surge in tourism in the forest. The increased convenience of the Kabini’s grasslands for tracking wildlife has led to a large number of popularised Tiger families, like the Tiger Tank family, the Russell Line family or the Backwater family, and well-known leopards, like the famous Scarface and Cleopatra, or even the latest addition to the Kabini Hall of Fame, the phantom Black Panther.
4 – Sighting frequency, quality of sighting and experience
A likely major factor to the increasing frequency of sighting of cats in Kabini is the absence of highway traffic unlike Bandipur, which has always been a major menace , because of tourists driving through the forest on the way to Ooty. A common sight in Bandipur, especially during the holiday seasons is to see tourists stopping on their trip just for a safari, which is very uncommon in Nagarahole, where a majority of the tourists seek accommodation near the forest to stay for a longer period of time and do multiple safaris.
Another point of difference between the parks are the concentrations of wildlife through the forests. The graceful Nagarahole grasslands boast a higher density of wildlife than Bandipur does, while Bandipur sightings are concentrated to higher altitudes where deer and elephant retreat to graze, owing to the abundance of fresh grass in the region.
The advantage of Kabini
This change in the sightings over the past 2 decades has led to Kabini being packed with tourists year round, as they hope to catch a glimpse of the incredible wildlife that calls this forest home, while Bandipur is highly seasonal, with summers yielding peak sightings.
The main attraction of both destinations is the wildlife safaris, although there are some notable differences between the two. Due to the presence of the Kabini River flowing through the Kabini Backwaters, staying at a lodge affords tourists the opportunity to take a Boat Safari down the river, where they often spot enormous herds of elephants dotting the banks of the river, a sight unheard of in any other forest of South India, in addition to some beautiful species of birds, Indian mugger crocodiles etc.
Forest safaris in Kabini are either undertaken by the Jungle Lodges and Resorts in jeeps or canter buses, or by the Forest Department in canter buses which traverse a smaller area of the park. Kabini is divided into two zones, A and B, and safaris are split between the two. If not staying in a lodge, tourists are limited to safaris through the Forest Department, tickets for which are limited in number.
Bandipur’s exclusive private safari car possibility
Bandipur on the other hand gives tourists a little more flexibility. In addition to the jeep safaris operated by Jungle Lodges and Resorts and Forest Department canter safaris, tourists can book an exclusive safari with the Forest Department, which affords them the opportunity to be the only tourists in the jeep. As of 2020, there is no option in Kabini (Nagarahole) to book an exclusive jeep safari and tourists looking for jeep safaris are limited to the safaris conducted by Jungle Lodges and Resorts.
So why does having an exclusive safari matter to you? If you are someone who has been a regular traveller to wildlife parks in different parts of India, one thing you surely enjoy is to manage your safari the way you would like it to be. For instance, if you are a birder and would love to stop for interesting birds, or let’s say you simply want to enjoy watching that herd of Elephant or Gaur, then you don’t need to worry about anyone else.
Usually in Bandipur and Kabini, when you stay in a Lodge and buy a full-board package, you are entitled to shared safaris with other guests of the lodge, like Jungle Lodges and Resorts in both parks. But if you’d like to have an exclusive vehicle for yourself, then it’s not possible to do that in Kabini.
Instead of worrying about convincing your co-travellers who you most of the times don’t even know, you can in Bandipur choose to reserve the entire Gypsy to yourself, enjoying a safari at your pace, at your own terms making it entirely your own. Usually, if you are a pro-photographer and wouldn’t want too many people in your vehicle, this is an excellent option. We hope Kabini starts offering this too, but as of the end of 2020, we think this is Bandipur’s biggest advantage.
5 – Decide based on Accommodation in Kabini and Bandipur
There is a multitude of accommodation options around both forests, which are affordable, comfortable and well connected to the park. We at Toehold, however, operate our Photo Tours out of the Jungle Lodges and Resorts in both parks, owing to their incredible ambience and comfort, as well as the included access to wildlife jeep safaris. However, depending on the level of luxury preferred by the customer, we can tailor-make a package for your specific needs.
Some popular lodges in Kabini include the lavish Evolve Back, the top class resort very close to JLR (Jungle Lodges and Resorts) is The Serai, just next door is the trusted and cosy Waterwoods, while unique properties like KAAV and The Bison add to the variety of options around. A few kilometres away from here are options like Red Earth and the Kabini lake view. Want to learn more about various accommodation options in Kabini visit our detailed view here or check out our opinion on the Top 5 Resorts in Kabini here.
Bandipur, on the other hand, has similar properties like JLR in Bandipur, The Serai again in Bandipur, Tusker Trails – a property guiding tourists for a long time now, some boutique properties like Dhole’s Den and other budget options around the entrance of the National park like MC Resorts and a few other properties.
While both parks are extremely close to our heart and have given us a lifetime of memories and sightings, we boast an increased presence in Kabini, which has only bloomed over the past few years. The major reason is that Kabini never disappoints, and while we have had trips that passed without cat sightings, we have never had a Kabini trip without some spectacular photographic opportunities of wildlife.
The undoubted stars of the show in recent years at Kabini have been the Tiger families, the leopards, the elephants, and the icing on the cake, the Black Panther. Our skippers have led multiple trips into the forest in search of the Dark Lord and have returned successful on numerous occasions. It is our love and presence in Kabini that prompted us to open a brand new branch of the Toehold Store, in Karapura Circle, mere minutes from the resorts of the area.