The secret forests of Karnataka

By: Radha Rangarajan, 11 Jul, 2018

The south Indian state of Karnataka is home to a number of lush forests. We’ve all heard of the better-known ones, like Nagarhole, Bandipur and Dandeli. But there are lesser-known forests, too – home to incredible wildlife, soothing views, and great for an escape from city chaos. 


Radha Rangarajan, a Bangalore-based nature photographer, has explored these forests over the years. We asked her for her stay-and-see suggestions in each of them to make your trip that much better. 


rainforests inagumbe
Photo credit: Vignesh Kamath/


Rainforests in Agumbe 

When it rains, it pours in the rainforests of Agumbe. Tucked away in the Malenadu region of Karnataka, it receives one of the highest rainfalls in south India. It’s got UNESCO World Heritage status too, and is considered India’s King Cobra capital! On walks in the forest, you’ll find hidden waterfalls, breathtaking views, and tons of pretty insects and birds. It isn’t for the faint-hearted though. When you visit – especially in the monsoon – be prepared for leeches.  If you find yourself stumped with déjà vu, it could be because scenes from the TV adaptation of RK Narayan’s evergreen Malgudi Days on DD channel were set in the village of Agumbe and nearby forests!


Radha’s Tip: If you stay at wildlife camps like the K?linga Centre for Rainforest Ecology (KCRE), request the staff to take you on a guided walk in the forest. You can also visit and stay at the house called Dodda Mane, where Malgudi Days was shot. The owner, Kasturi Akka, even cooks for her guests. 


wildlife-spotting in Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary
Photo credit: Vivek BR/


Wildlife-spotting in Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary

Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary is about an hour or two from Chikmagalur, a hill station known for its coffee, so it would make sense to drive up for the day from there. Named after the River Bhadra that cuts through it, the sanctuary is a haven for wildlife – keep your eyes peeled for leopards, tigers, dholes, elephants, sloth bear and Malabar giant squirrels, among others. Birdwatchers will have a field day here – there are lots of different bird species, some of which are endemic to the Western Ghats. 


Radha’s Tip: A boat safari on the backwaters of the Lakkavalli Dam is a must. You get to sail along the banks of the tiger reserve – it is an excellent way to spot wildlife, from large herds of elephants that come to the water to tigers resting on the banks, to a fleeting glimpse of the elusive black panther. The River Tern Lodge, run by Jungle Lodges and Resorts, can help you book a boat safari. 


Sunken churches in shettihalli
Photo credit: Shivram/


Sunken churches in Shettihalli

Tucked away in a corner of the state, Shettihalli Wildlife Sanctuary is home to wildlife like the tiger, king cobra and elephants, as well as rare birds like the white-backed vulture and the Indian nightjar. There are a bunch of hiking trails in the vicinity as well. But if there’s one major draw to the area, it’s the ruins of the gothic Holy Rosary Church in Shettihalli’s Gorur Dam. The church stands on a hillock by the River Hemavathi in the summer, but when the monsoon rolls in, the waters of the dam submerge it. It’s a sight for sore eyes and you can get up close, too, in a coracle ride! (When there’s no water in the dam, you can just walk up to the church.)


Radha’s Tip: Make a trip to the Mandagadde Bird Sanctuary, an island on the River Tunga in Shettihalli. You can watch birds from a watchtower or take a boat to go closer to the trees.


hikes in kudremukh national park
Photo credit: Vinu Sebastian/


Hikes in Kudremukh National Park

Kudremukh National Park, in western Karnataka, is all rolling hills and poofy clouds, especially right after the monsoon. The park is home to the state’s third-highest peak—Kudremukh—and it’s a climb that gives you amazing views of the forest. On hikes through the Kudremukh jungles, pause to take in the glory of gurgling streams, misty paths and colourful blooms. You can also explore the region on a hike to Durga Betta. To go hiking, first make your way to Mullodi village. This is the base for a number of treks in the area and a good place to find a guide. 


Radha’s Tip: Bhagawathi Nature Camp, run by Jungle Lodges and Resorts, offers tented accommodation and guided treks to the Kurinjal Peak. While on the trek, look out for the shy and endangered lion-tailed macaque as well as ground orchids all around the shola grasslands. 


quiet safaris in BRT wildlife sacntuary
Photo credit: Sasidhar Ravinuthala/


Quiet safaris in BRT Wildlife Sanctuary

This sanctuary is located in the Biligiriranga (BR) Hills near Mysore – and this is where the Western and Eastern Ghats meet! The sanctuary was declared a tiger reserve in 2011 and is prime big cat territory. Be on the lookout for tigers and, leopards. Birders, prepare to be rewarded with sightings of crested serpent eagles, nightjars, and jungle owlets. The potential is high and even if you don’t spot any wildlife, the drives through these forests are super calming and refreshing. For breathtaking views and panoramic shots of both mountain ranges, head up to the Biligiri Ranganathaswamy Temple - after which the sanctuary is named.


Radha’s Tip: The forests of BR Hills are home to the native tribes, the Soligas. Consider staying at Gorukana, a resort that is a community project. All proceeds from the resort go to the Soligas and many staff members are from the community. 

Discover Agumbe and Bhadra National Park with White Collar Hippie’s The Great Karnataka Journey.

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