In search of the elusive animal at Kabini Wildlife Reserve

A flight delayed due to fog and the infamous unpredictable Bangalore traffic made our start to the Kabini trip very shaky and dispirited. We would take at least 5-6 hours to reach Kabini by road, and that would mean we would most definitely miss out on our evening safari. It wasn’t the best news – for all four of us who are wildlife enthusiasts. We were so annoyed in our heads that we felt like blowing away every slow truck and bike which came our way on the so-called Bangalore-Mysore highway.

After what seemed like days we hit a smooth patch of the road – winding around lush green fields, stretching as far as the eyes could see, surrounded by patient looking less intimidating mountains. It instantly calmed my nerves. The sight of pure greens in the heat of the day had a therapeutic effect on our brains. And soon enough, we reached our resort – The Bison at Kabini. As we slowly made our way inside, we didn’t know what was waiting. The view from the resort entrance was – exotically stunning. Vastness, greenery and patches of gleaming blue water – all packed together to give us the most pleasant view of our lives. It took a few moments to get used to a dream like view. Soon enough we were escorted to our canvas tents. As we reached them, we realized that tents was an understatement. For a space distorted Mumbaikar like me, this was my dream palace. The tents were themed Masai Mara resort style. The balcony overlooked the huge patch of green, forests and the Kabini river waters. It had two very inviting chairs and a cot that made me feel like I should insist for work from Kabini all my life. The room had a fairytale four-poster bed which made me glad secretly that we missed that safari! Because now I’d get to jump onto it and sleep like a princess! My roommate and me spent a few moments of daze, before we realized that the sun was starting to set – right behind the forest. The view was breathtaking. It made us stop – as if we were playing the game of statue. Very soon it was dark and the only lights that gleamed were that of the moon and the trillion stars above and a few lights of our tents.At night we were treated to some amazing home cooked dinner that consisted of a few veg sabzis and some awesome chicken (and so my colleagues told me). It ended with a dessert of biscuit pudding – which was the yummiest I’ve ever had in my life. It was made up of thick custard, freshly crumbled Parle G and jam. Yes, Imagine how we lived to tell a tale after that heavenly sin 🙂

(Pictures below are that of The Bison resort – click to view in full screen)

Kabini – also known as Nagarhole reserve – spans across the states of Karnataka and Kerela and is a part of one of the lush green covers of South India. It is known by various names in various regions. Kabini gets its name because of the Kabini river that flows through the forest. Having been to a lot of forests by now, I realized that Kabini safaris were very different.

a. They were dominated by Jungle Lodges and Resorts – a government entity.

b. They were of a very short duration – 2.5 hours as compared to 3, 3.5 hours elsewhere

c. The Karnataka government is very serious about not disturbing the wildlife. Hence the highway that passes through Kabini is shut from 6 PM to 6 AM to avoid disturbance to animals.

d. The government has opened up just about 5% of the forests for wildlife tourism and hence tourists have access to a very limited circuit. Kabini for instance has just 2 zones accessible. And that too very few vehicles are allowed inside. A gypsy safari is a rare thing and you mostly get to travel in an open canter (truck).

As annoying as it might get for wildlife enthusiasts like me, the timing and restriction is actually in the favour of the wild – and that is how it should be. I was pleasantly surprised when I heard of all this from our tour leader. At least somewhere, animals are given preferential treatment versus humans.

Our first safari was going quite average. We spotted a few birds, and a tusker but the forests had dried up quite a bit due to the impending heat during the day. Even the river water had dried up quite a bit. Also we were in zone B which was a smaller circuit, hence it felt like we kept going around in circles. However just as our plain dry 2 hours came to an end, we encountered a call from the Sambar deer – and reached the spot just in time to see a shy tigress, crossing the road right in front of our canter. She was beautiful – but hardly paused to give us a moment of click. From frowns, we had smiles on our face. Mithoon, our naturalist from The Bison was relieved that we didn’t go back empty-handed. We went back to the hotel, to grab some ravishing hot breakfast that consisted of omelettes, bread, idli, chutney among other yum food. I must admit – I was rather peeved and scared of the cats and dogs loitering around the place and was forced to say the dialogue ” Tiger se darr nahi lagta sahab, kutte aur billi se lagta hai” when my friends kept laughing at my jittery behavior. Soon after the breakfast, I sank into the princess bed, and slept like a log. We woke up to quickly grab (needless to say yum) lunch and headed for our second safari in the noon. The second safari was a no-show. But slightly entertaining as Shaaz Jung, the owner of our resort had decided to join in and take us on the black panther quest. Kabini has just one black panther and it was spotted by another gypsy that same morning. We kept hovering around the likely places, stopping here and there. But all birds and animals had decided to go off to sleep in protest of our peaceful sleep in the resort. There was nothing and no one. Full anti-climax. Shaaz himself was disappointed. But the positive Mumbaikar blood in us said – this means, tomorrow will be exciting. It would be our last and final safari!

Pictures below are that of the first and second safaris at Kabini. Click to view in full screen

The final safari day arrived. Today Shaaz and Mithoon were all geared up and so were we. It was as if not spotting a leopard wasn’t a choice. With a warrior like mindset, we set off for the search of the elusive one. Within 15 minutes of our journey inside the forest (in zone A), Shaaz’s sharp eyes picked up an almost camouflaged baby leopard walking around in the forest haze. We were thrilled. But unfortunately due to the haze the light was bad and the baby leopard had lazily sauntered deep inside. Thanks to my super zoom camera, I was able to see him and even click him – but it wasn’t all that clear. We had 15 minutes of gaping at the fellow from really far off, before he decided to walk into the bushes and disappear. The very talented Shaaz somehow had an inkling of where the little guy would come out from. And we rushed the canter on to the slopes, next to the power lines that ran through the midst of the forests. We stopped at one particular place. And within 5 minutes, sure enough the little fellow emerged. This time, the light was perfect and the baby leopard started coming head on, towards us. He gave us the ”maine pehle aapko kahin dekha hai” look and walked around lazily as we went trigger happy. And just as suddenly he disappeared again into the bushes. Shaaz again predicted that the guy will come out from behind the canter and that’s exactly what happened. He crossed the road, this time from behind us, but very hastily. I believe his PR time was over. He was a celebrity after all!

Having seen the guy up close, we were all smiles and resumed our safari, this time with little or no expectations. And within minutes, Shaaz the superman spotted two fully grown leopards sitting atop a tree, like monkeys. It was a hilarious sight but easy to miss against the sun. I for once was squinting and looking at every other tree expecting leopards to jump out of it. Soon, one of the leopards jumped off the tree while the other one remained lazily perched. But it din’t move. We continued our safari, hoping to (who knows!) see the black panther as well. But it was no avail. After going all around, we reached the same place again. This time the leopard was slightly more alert, but not looking in our direction. ”Guys, we are going to give a mock mating call! So it will look this way”, said Shaaz the dude. And Mithoon gave a grunt. Wham! The leopard looked straight at us. And click click click went the cameras. Mithoon continued his super natural performance of the call – and the leopard stared at us, occasionally jumping to lower levels of the tree and I am sure, wondering where the hell was the female leopard after all! Soon enough we asked Mithoon to stop before the inevitable happened and before he’d forget he was human. Everyone in the canter fell off laughing. And by then we had some fantastic clicks of the good looking fellow leopard. With great satisfaction (no pun intended), and even better clicks, we resumed back to our resort for the last time.

What a thrilling and beautiful experience it had been! Given the small length of the circuit, in the beginning it was unimaginable to think we could spot so many animals. But we did! Seeing these wild beasts in their natural surroundings is the biggest therapy one can ever get. Not to mention the scenic Bison resort had  me become a big big fan – especially after we got treated to dinner by the riverside, under the stars with bonfire! It was dreamlike to sit under the carpet of the twinkles, sharing stories, jokes and much more. It was for me a time travel to fairyland, to dreamland, to the land of peace, tranquility and purity. The air was crisp, cold and clean. The weather was perfectly pleasant at 15 degrees. And perhaps even lesser in the early mornings inside the forests. We felt the real emotion behind hunger as we ate food. I felt as if I just wanted to be here, in this moment and not think of the life I had left behind. I got transported in time – magically and surely. Kabini definitely makes it to my list of one of the favourite forests after Pench and Ranthambhore. And can’t wait to get back here to freshen up the soul!

So long nature 🙂

The pics below are that of the last safari at Kabini. Click to view in full screen.

Fact file:

Kabini is 5-6 hours drive from Bangalore and approximately 1 hour drive from Mysore. The road is in excellent condition.However keep some buffer time if you are travelling from the airport since the traffic snarls tend to get bad.

The BISON is a highly recommended place of stay with value for money rooms and excellent food – both veg and non veg

Kabini has very limited safaris so book yours in advance via Jungle Lodges and Resorts

Credit for arranging this tour goes to Mumbai Travellers – my favourite group for all wildlife journeys. It was a complete value for money and amazing trip



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