The backwater of the Kabini reservoir gives a magical touch to the serene green landscape of the Nagarhole National Park. The backwaters and the surrounding green grassland provide the required food and drink to the inhabitants of the forest – grass for the herbivores and herbivores for the carnivores and the life-saving water for all. Kabini river originates from Pakramthalam hills in Kerala and flows to the east to merge with Cauvery. In its course, near the town of Sargur, it forms the huge Kabini Reservoir and the backwaters extend meet the forest. Let me take you to this immensely beautiful land of tigers and leopards by this tranquil waterbody.
I had Kabini in my mind for a long time and this summer brought me the opportunity to visit this erstwhile hunting lodge of the Wodeyar Maharajas of Mysore beside the Kabini backwaters, close to the forest. Once a hunting lodge of the Maharajas is now converted into a responsible unit to conserve the forest. The Kabini River Lodge of JLR (Jungle Lodge and Resort Karnataka) was our home for a couple of days where we enjoyed the wonderful view of the calm waters from the balcony during the breaks of forest safaris.
JLR has always been our choice wherever they have their property as they follow environment-friendly policy and alongside provide a peaceful stay in the vicinity of the forest. The Kabini River Lodge is an immensely popular property of JLR and getting the reservation of rooms is definitely a tough job. You have to plan quite in advance to get the booking. Some beautiful old bungalows and traditional buildings are tastefully built around the property within the shade of various trees. There is also a butterfly park within the property. There is ample scope for a nature lover to laze away the time on this property when there is no safari happening.
Though the main attraction of this property and the place is wildlife watching, we came here to experience the forest life as well. I have always loved to be in the forest, it has a different feel altogether. The moment you enter the forest area there is a sudden feeling of respite from the worldly chaos, a welcoming calmness soothes your troubled souls. The little sounds of the birds and animals appear to be music to the ears – sometimes it’s the chirping of the birds, sometimes the rutting call of the deer, sometimes it’s the alarm call of the macaques and sometimes it’s the roar of the big cats. Almost every sense in the human body comes into action together while you are in the forest.
My first safari in Kabini started with no major expectation of sighting. I wanted to see the jungle and feel the jungle – see the vegetation and the habitat of the wild and feel the charm of being within such an environment. From the beginning, the expert and experienced eyes of our jeep driver were on a lookout around the forest. While he was on the lookout he also kept a vigilant eye on the curvy uneven road through the trees.
Flocks of spotted deer were all around confirming the abundance of food for the predators. Langurs were also monkeying around on the branches, while a variety of woodpeckers kept working incessantly on various branches and trunks. A good number of Indian Rollers were also seen spreading their magnificent blue wings to move around the green. Summer time is said to be the ideal time for animal sightings here as the green of the forest dries up to some extent and so do the numerous watering holes. The animals come out of the deep to the backwater and the adjoining grassland to quench their thirst and feed.
This gives ample opportunity for sighting the wild in open. But the pre-monsoon showers were making their presence felt for a couple of weeks then. We were sceptical about any sighting as there were alternate spells of the shower and clear sky. But our driver was hopeful and he drove around holding the steering wheel with a steady hand while using the other hand to inspect the area with the binoculars.
Thus, searching through the jungle he got a call from another guide of another gypsy and he rushed our vehicle to the site. A magnificent Bengal tiger appeared from the forest. It leisurely walked out to the clearing in front of a waterbody. It was the ‘Magga’, the female, our driver exclaimed. Then our vehicle was in complete halt, the news of the sighting broke and one after the other, all the vehicles of the forest safari in that particular zone arrived and placed themselves in a strange and disciplined order so that all can have a view of the beauty.
After filling our souls and filling our memory cards with various moments and various movements of this young lady of the forest we moved ahead to look at what else the forest had to offer. But other than a few peafowls, jungle fowls and deer there was not much of a sighting. Then on a certain turn, there was a group of wild Elephants with their tiny calves. As our vehicle approached closer, the protective group of females along with the respective moms formed a defensive barrier around the babies.
The matriarch looked straight at the vehicles, her body language was clear enough that she was not happy with our presence. She then made a trumpet call loud enough to warn us. Then the vehicles moved away and they happily took their path through the forest. Such a lovely encounter it was with the gentle giants of the forest. We ended our first safari with a list of birds and the big cat and the grand Elephants.
On the next safari, we were in a different zone of the forest. What I have observed in four of my safaris in the Nagarhole National Park (previously known as Rajiv Gandhi National Park) is the safari area is probably divided into two zones, zone A and zone B. While making the forest entry the vehicles are allotted the particular zones and they move around that zone for the designated time.
This zone had a different scenic beauty than the previous one. There was a high tension electrical lining that traversed through this area, it was said that it came from the neighbouring state of Kerala. The initial phase of the safari got us some peafowls, Indian Robin, Serpent Eagle, a pair of Ruddy Mongoose and a few Jungle fowl. Then after some twists and turns through the tall Teak and Rosewood, we found a small pasture where a group of Gaurs were happily grazing on the greens. The massive bull in the group looked intimidating. The frequent pre-monsoon showers have painted the forest fresh green.
Our Gypsy ran through the same place and again to the newer ones in search of the unknown while the occasional spells of showers kept pouring on. Finally, the sun came out spreading a bright yellow aura within the forest. Meanwhile, many vehicles returned and we were to take an about turn to end our safari when the vehicle ahead of us signalled our driver he rushed a few meters ahead and the majestic tiger appeared. The Male T99 gave us an indifferent look and walked out of the woods. Gently strolling in the open for a minute before crossing the road to get to the other side of the forest. It was such a sight to behold. The spectacular striped beast in its full glory walking in pride.
We happily ended our safari in bright sunny weather with an outstanding sighting. Every morning and afternoon safari sightings for a week’s span are recorded on the board in the reception area. The day went well with little to no rainfall and the sky was mostly clear with scattered clouds. We were hopeful for our next safari. The sky changed its colour as we entered the forest and it was getting darker and darker. Then the downpour started and it was pretty heavy. We had to pull down the wind and rain cover around the gypsy. With the rain, we kept moving through the forest for the designated safari time and finally came out.
On our final safari, we were not concerned about the sighting but were worried about the rain. We prayed for the rain not to spoil the safari and entered the forest. There was the mongoose pair at the same spot where we saw them previously. It was their habitat better said it was their locality. Thus moving through the forest and greeted by the same sociable wildlife we were relishing our last few hours in Kabini when a vehicle ahead of us spotted the sighting of the day.
A male Leopard peacefully sleeping on a high branch of a tree far away. It was quite a tough job to spot it within the foliage of the other trees in front. But the trained and expert eyes of the drivers and the naturalists do such wonders. I am terrible at sighting and it took me a good amount of time to see this beauty in its slumber. Photographs showed that the beast went to sleep after having a sumptuous meal. There was a half-eaten carcass on the branch above the Leopard. Though the hunt could not be identified it was definitely that of the Leopard. Trying all possible angles to get the best picture and spending enough time we moved ahead in search of the others that the forest had to offer.
This time it was the large Tusker coming out after a bath in the backwaters. The gorgeous animal was looking intimidating with its huge white tusks. It gently loitered around in the grassland after coming out of the waters. What a magnificent sight it was! Adult male elephants (or the bull elephants) generally are solitary in nature and move out of the herd at the age of 12-15 years while the females (or the cow elephants) stay and move as a close-knit group headed by a matriarch.
We were nearing our end of the safari when suddenly a pair of Dhole (Indian wild dogs) came running out of the bush, they were seen chasing a herd of spotted deer. We were anticipating a hunt in front of us when the Dholes decided otherwise and the herd ran to safety and the hungry dogs rested calmly on a small waterhole. Were they really hungry and missed the opportunity or it was just a mock chase we could not make out and happily captured the pair in our cameras.
A monitor lizard was silently watching this hustle adhering to the trunk of a nearby tree. Our final safari seemed like a jackpot that opened one after the other. We could not be happier. The weather Gods too were on our side and there was no rain. We enjoyed every moment in the forest of Nagarhole National Park and also our stay at Kabini River Lodge, the sightings were the added blessings. Our much coveted, much-awaited trip to Kabini became memorable and we headed back home with a promise to return again.