Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Paradise Found

Spent the last couple of days at the famous Kabini River Lodge that is run by Jungle Lodges and Resorts and the place has left an everlasting impression in the mind. The property is set in the banks of the Kabini Reservoir about 230 kms from Bangalore and as the cliche goes, you really need to be there to get a feel of the surroundings. Simply brilliant.

The drive from Bangalore took me about 4 hours and 30 mins. The road from Mysore to entrance of the Nagarhole National Park (also called the Mysore - Mananthavadi Road) is superb and is scenic too. Now the only problem is that from Mysore getting directions is a real pain. Everyone seems to have a route of their own and it took me a good 30 mins to get out of the city. I reasoned that the best way to ask for directions is to ask a traffic cop for directions to H.D. Kote.

The Kabini River Lodge occupies about 5 or 10 acres of land beside the Kabini Reservoir. There are other private resorts that have come up in and around the area too but are way beyond the budget of the middle class Indian. The entire Nagarhole area was the private hunting property of the Maharajah of Mysore before good sense prevailed (god bless Indira Gandhi) and the area was sealed off the the public and made a National Park.

The resort has 3 kinds of accommodation. Tented cottages (the one I chose), bungalows and individual rooms. The tents are the cheapest (3500 a night per person incl food and 2 safari rides). The middle of the property houses an old British type bungalow which houses the quarters of Col. John Wakefield (affectionately known as Papa John and the person responsible for making Nagarhole what it is today) on one side and has a conference room, with an attached bar of course.

I also noticed over the course of my 2 day stay that the property attracts the following categories of visitors:

  • The typical Indian family (papa, amma and the kids) visiting the jungles for the first time.
  • The honeymooners who obviously have other interests in mind than wildlife and being one with nature and such mumbo jumbo.
  • Retired people who come down to probably get a last and final glimpse of the big cats in the jungle.
  • Typical Indian group of men who stop over for weekend booze party and chat politics
  • Last but not the least the avid wildlife enthusiast and photographer to which I feel I belong
Part of reason why the facility attracts all kinds of people (and I have nothing against any of them as long as they learn to appreciate silence) is the comfortable accommodation that is provided and the food which I must say puts most city restaurants to shame.

Almost everyone who comes to Kabini wants to spot the tiger and leopard and is totally un-interested in anything else. Whilst this is understandable, it is rather sad that people come with set notions on what they want to see when coming to such a place. I for one and guilty of wanting to spot and photograph a big cat but I also have learned to appreciate nature and for a lot of city dwellers, this seems hard to come by. My hill billy instincts may have come to the fore here but again it's just my opinion.

The evening safari on the first day was not very eventful. I however did manage to get the first picture of an adult male Sambhar. Truly magnificent. A fully grown male weighs about 200+ kgs and maybe stands about 5 feet 8 in plus and it makes you truly appreciate the strength of the Tiger which is known to bring down such adults in one swift move!

Photograph 1: Male Sambhar, Nagarhole

We spotted a herd of female gaur towards the end of the safari but that was it. The monsoon season is clearly not ideal for spotting wildlife. The jungle is so green and the undergrowth of lantana so dense that we would miss spotting a tiger even if it were 10 or 20 feet away. But nevertheless the appearance of the Indian jungle after the rains is a sight worth beholding. Even for someone who is totally color blind like me, the array of colors you see in the forest is dazzling to say the least. The air is a little damp but the smell of the jungle is totally intoxicating.

I was left cursing my luck the next day morning. The driver turned up 10 mins late and the jeeps in front of us had luck on their side. They spotted a leopard just off the main road. We spent most of the time that morning waiting for the leopard to show up again but lady luck didn't want to do me any favors. The highlight was that the jeep got stuck in several inches of slush and without the 4 wheel drive it was left for us to heave and push the vehicle out of mess it found itself in. I met a couple on the safari and the guy has been visiting Nagarhole for the last 20 years! As he narrated his tales of seeing 5 tigers, tigers chasing gaur the likes I was left depressed wondering when I would have the chance to see such a spectacle.

The morning was spent reading a Kenneth Anderson book and was truly enjoyable! The evening safari was uneventful too till we came up to a herd of about 16 elephants consisting of both females and young males. I took a few snaps only to find that my battery died out! Was left cursing myself again. The Canon battery that I have seems to have developed some problem and it's going to cost me a fortune to get a new one. I also had to tolerate the constant giggles of a newly wed couple that came along with me on the evening safari and the chatter of an elderly gujju couple. I had half a mind to give them a mouthful but restrained myself. People who cannot keep quiet should not be allowed to go into the jungle and if that is made a rule, it would actually rule out 99% of the Indian population. We just cant seem to keep quiet for an extended period of time. It is a pity!

Photograph 2: Young male elephant, Nagarhole

Earlier in the day I also managed to get some snaps of the black cormorant and the painted stork. and afew close up photos of the Serpent Eagle. You can view these photos here. I was left feeling even more exasperated when I was told that the last group (made up of 6 old folks) spotted a leopard on the way back!

The safari on Tuesday morning was uneventful too bar the sighting of a mother and baby elephant. This time I had a Palakkad Iyer family for company and we spotted almost nothing and I found myself showing the children a few photos I had taken. Had a fleeting glimpse of the Malabar Pied Hornbill.

Each trip to the wilderness has taught me something and the I have come away with the feeling that I have been extremely privileged to be able to not only afford going on such trips but to have the god given ability to truly appreciate nature and silence. I left Kabini, committed more than ever to spend as much free time as I can in the pursuit of what truly is closest to my heart.

More pictures can be found at:

More Info on Kabini River Lodge:

Bookings: Reservations can be made online at Weekends are almost impossible to get. My suggestion would be to use a weekday.

Time to Visit: Dec to April is probably the best time to visit Kabini.

Getting There: Approx 240 kms from Bangalore. From Bangalore head to Mysore and then towards HD Kote. Detailed instructions are found here

Clothing: Wear either greens or browns. Most people seem to wear all kinds of dark colors which is not advisable when visiting the jungle. Winters are pretty chill.

Other Tips: Carry medicines with you if you are the type that falls sick due to weather changes. The nearest medical shop is about 20 kms from the property.

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