Monsoon magic: A trip to Kabini



“You just missed it,” said the photographer, trying hard to suppress his happy grin as he put the cap back on his camera lens. His day was done.

For a moment my heart stood still, and then shattered into a thousand pieces.

The last fifteen minutes that we spent hurtling through the bumpy jungle roads, chanting prayers, had gone in vain.

We had missed seeing the leopard by a whisker.

The fact that we were in Kabini Forest Reserve, or rather Nagarahole Wildlife Sanctuary - better known as leopard country, and on a safari by Jungle Lodges, famed for its almost guaranteed leopard sightings, rankled painfully in our mind. 

Back at our lodgings with Kabini River Lodge, Ravi, the naturalist accompanying us, shook hands with a sad smile as we alighted from our vehicle. 

I took a deep breath, shook off all the negativities, and beamed at him.

“It’s alright,” I told him. “The fact that we are in Kabini itself is rewarding enough for us. The leopard doesn’t matter.”

I meant it.

I had always wanted to visit Kabini, the erstwhile private hunting lodge of the Maharaja of Mysore, and stay at Kabini River Lodge, touted to be the jewel in the crown of JLR, partaking of the historical significance of this colonial structure located on the banks of the Kabini river. I had read reams about Kabini and gazed goggle-eyed at images posted from there, mostly of the magnificent leopard. The renowned tree-reclining/climbing leopards of Kabini/Nagarhole, as they are called. 

Thus, despite the monsoons and the reduced scope of sighting wildlife, we found ourselves at JLR’s reception porch on 22nd August. Bandipur had showed us that monsoons could be a fruitful season as well and we had based our hope on that. 

I found the property just as I had read about and envisaged it. The familiar sight of colonial architecture greeted us and I spent the time before lunch exploring its sprawling lawns, lanes, nook and crannies. The resort seemed to pay loving tribute to John Wakefield (endearingly known as Papa John), its founding Director, who had passed away in 2010.  The hospitality offered by JLR remains unmatched and I wonder how the management manages to keep the same level of enthusiasm and professionalism among its staff in all its resorts across Karnataka. The same goes for the sumptuous food served in the Gol Ghar.




Maharaja Bungalow




Beautiful garage for the safari vehicles

There was quite a crowd in the resort, running to full house, which was quite commendable given it was off-season. It quite proved the point that the Kabini Forest Reserve is one of the most popular wildlife destinations of Karnataka, owing to its accessibility, verdant landscape, pristine backwaters, and regular sightings of herds of elephants. It is approximately 205 km from Bangalore and comprises the south-eastern part of Nagarahole National Park. 

Nagarahole, together with the adjoining Bandipur National Park, Mudumalai National Park and Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary, forms the largest protected area in southern India.



Sambar deer (female)


Brown Fish Owl

Malabar Trogon (female)

Grey-headed Fish Eagle

As we moved out of the resort for our safari, a cold wind picked up and lashed at us. Inspite of the chill, I loved the moisture-laden wind – it was refreshingly different from the dry wind that you encounter in the hot summers. Perhaps monsoons are the best time to visit a jungle after all. As regards sightings of wildlife, I have given that up on luck. If I have to see a tiger or a leopard, I might just see it on the highway and not on a safari. Seasons don’t matter, too, in my case.

“How does it look like?” my mom had called up to ask about the jungle. “Is it the same like Bandipur?”

The question whirled in my mind as we drove around during the course of several safaris, spotting almost the same birds and animals. Nagarahole and Bandipur are neighbours and yet, no, they are not alike. What set them apart were perhaps the imposing electricity pylons that cut across Nagarahole. I remember seeing an image of a tiger playing with her cubs on the narrow path that ran along these pylons. No such luck awaited us even though we stopped at that point expectantly for some time. 



The electic pylons


Streak-throated Woodpecker


White-bellied Woodpecker


Purple Heron

Another distinct, beautiful feature of Nagarahole is its backwaters. We splashed our way through the lake’s fringes, disturbing a few egrets, herons and a fishing eagle out of their reverie. Just a few meters away from the water, the driver called our attention towards a camouflaged figure lying on the ground – a jackal. While we tried to catch a clear shot of the lounging jackal, its partner peered at us, unnoticed by many. 


Indian Jackal



During our stay at Kabini, heavy showers racked through the night, leaving the forest radiant and swathed in lush greenery in the morning. Rays of golden sunlight filtered in through the thick canopy and perked up the inhabitants of the jungle. The forest floor was an iridescent shade of green, the fresh new shoots pushing up their heads through the soft, wet earth. The tyre tracks were dotted with innumerable dents made by hooves of deer and gaurs, while tiger pugmarks stood out prominently. The king had definitely passed through the area at night, checking up on his subjects. 


Pugmarks

Sambar deer (male)

Grey Junglefowl (female)


Jungle Owlet


I always find morning safaris to be more exhilarating, although the evening ones promise more sightings. Perhaps it has got to do something with the early morning mist and the dewy grounds. Besides, it is nice to catch the birds busy with their breakfast. It is the only time of the day that you can watch a crested serpent eagle feasting on its prey, not perched on a tree but on the ground. Shy herds of Gaur would wait patiently by the side of the road to let us pass before they resumed their grazing. Small, scattered herds of elephants would come upon us, try out a few half-hearted mock charges and allow us to move ahead. Jungle mynahs, riding piggyback on the elephants, remained the blasé witness to these antics.



Misty mornings...


Jungle Mynah on elephant-back

Indian Gaur


Crested Hawk Eagle

The monsoons released its onslaught at us well and proper on the evening we had opted for boat safari. It started out as a light drizzle while we coursed along the backwaters, straining our eyes out for any movement along the banks. A smattering of colour would show up from time to time, revealing itself to be a peacock out for its evening amble, while dull browns in the distance turned out to be a herd of spotted deer.


The jetty



Tranquil waters


Spotted deer herd

Peacock

The action in the water involved the ‘skim, dip, and surface-with-a-fish’ exploits of the cormorants and the ‘whirl, swoop and surface-with-a-fish’ exploits of the osprey. We were enthralled with these ‘live shows’ and hardly noticed when the light drizzle turned into a torrential downpour. To my utter delight, the person handling our boat went about the safari nonchalantly. It is not every day that one gets to observe nature and its creations while in the middle of an act of nature. The cormorants ceased their activities for the moment and perched themselves on dead trees, folding their heads beneath their wings. The osprey had flown towards the tall trees on the bank.


Great Cormorant


Osprey


Grey Heron


By the time we finished the safari, the rain had stopped and weak rays of the setting sun were in the horizon. I could not thank the monsoon gods enough for that experience.




Lesser Whistling Duck



However much I try to tell myself before embarking on a jeep safari that I am here just for the jungle, that I am here to breathe in the fresh air and listen to the chirping of birds, I know I am telling a tiny lie. Just as nobody goes khaali haath from a shrine, nobody goes without catching sight of a leopard in Kabini – goes the unofficial saying if you look at images uploaded on Facebook communities. Of late, there have been quite a few sightings of tigers and black panthers as well.


Indian Wild Dogs



So, this brings back to my story about the leopard that eluded me. I had immense hopes of seeing a leopard on this trip and did not leave a single branch un-scanned. I strained my eyes to the maximum and found myself imagining leopards at every perpendicular bough of a tree. There were leopards doing ramp-walks in my imagination as we passed trees with sloping branches. Imagine my palpitations then when our driver got a call informing him about a leopard sighted in another zone. We drove at top speed to the spot, requesting all the gods fervently to keep the leopard on that tree.

You know the rest of the story.

We sat at our vehicle for some time even after the other vehicles had left, filled with happy people who kept on peeking at their camera monitors. And then, an amazing thing happened. While we fixed our gaze on the left hand side of the road, on the tree that had held the leopard in its branch, something stirred amid the foliage on our right hand. Slowly, a daunting form emanated, followed by another. 

They had the largest tusks I had seen in a long, long time. 




These giant tuskers strolled around casually, just a few meters away from us, while we gawped at them with our jaws dropped. We had forgotten the leopard cleanly.




And that is why, ladies and gentlemen, I love the jungle. It never disappoints you. Thank you Kabini, thank you Nagarhole. You have been absolutely kind to us. We will come back again.




PS: We had gone on a nature walk and coracle ride, and stumbled across several gems. Shall write about them soon!






Comments

  1. Beautiful pics. Its OK you have missed the leopard but have seen plenty of birds and other wild animals.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Arun. The birds and other animals really did make up for the missed leopard :)

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  2. Sangeeta beautiful pictures! I can almost see the jungle through your eyes.

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    1. Thanks Ankita! Next time you should come with us :)

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  3. Sangeeta I think your writing is flawless. Loved it :)

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much Yashi! I am totally flattered :)

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  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  5. lovely writeup and images. missing the leopard might have been just a small blip, otherwise, you seem to have had a good trip :)

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    1. I would like to think of it that way, too :) Thanks!

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  6. This is the third time I have come to this blog - this write up is so fascinating that a birder like me would like to pack the bags and go running all the way to Kabini. I am sure looking forward to this place some time. Great, motivating blog.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much, Sir. Kabini is definitely worth packing your bags :)

      I have not been able to update my blog for a very long time now, though I have been travelling a lot. Hopefully I will be able to write soon :)

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