Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Call of Kabini

The season was not right. The time was short. The tickets were not confirmed. Yet, after a hectic period on the homefront, I badly needed a break and headed for one of my dream destinations – the Kabini River Lodge.

The primary reason I have always wanted to go was to achieve some decent photos of animals and birds in the wild, to see if I have matured as a photographer. However, now that a break was more than needed, I chose to execute my wish irrespective of the season. As I said, the season was not right because the forest turns lush green after the rains and with plenty of water available, animals do not come to the borders to offer a view. They prefer to remain deep inside in order not to disturb us. So, the primary purpose of my going was defeated to some extent, but we decided get the much needed break. Off we (my wife and I) set to Mysore on a Thursday night from Chennai, to arrive there on Friday morning.

Through numerous travelogues and reviews, I had learnt that a stretch of road was bumpy. We were prepared for that and I took that irritant off my mind. To my surprise, I found that every one of the bloggers and reviewers had failed to note or mention the scenery by the roadside. I was more impressed by what I saw throughout the way – farming activity was in full swing. Particularly impressive was the view of the tobacco flowers – both the overall view and the close-up of a bunch of flowers, as you can see here. Native villagers sending their children to school in neat uniforms. Non-farming adults, particularly men, sitting lazily at every shopfront on a bench or stool, doing nothing. The general mood was of no hurry, so we also reduced our speed and stopped at quite a few places to enjoy the countryside, its warmth and its take-all-the-time-you-want laziness.

After a 90-minute drive that took two and a half hours, we reached the Kabini River Lodge well ahead of the checking-in time, despite all our efforts to go slow. On signing the register at the reception, we were shown our accommodation – a tented cottage. Compact and clean, the place was a refreshing change from the hustle bustle of city life. What struck us most was the absolute silence of the woods and the fragrance of fresh air. Despite the unclouded sun, the vast expanse of tall trees made the place cool and comfortable. A view of the cottage, exterior and interior:

After a little relaxation and a good hot-water bath, some good food at their dining hall called “Gol Ghar”, and an hour more of doing-nothing, the jungle ride, in open jeeps, started at 4.30 p.m. We exited the campus, joined an inter-state highway that was partly good and partly worse than the approach road to the lodge, and then turned into the Rajiv Gandhi National Park, part of the Nagarhole forest area, to catch a glimpse of wildlife at close. Once into the jungle, the vehicles went through a beaten path but the experience was new for us.

We could see and hear a lot of birds and deer. I saw a butterfly called blue murmur, that was bigger than my palm stretched open, but could not catch it on the camera as it moved very swiftly. The escorts are well versed with not only the names of the animals and birds, but also their sounds and habits. At the sound of a typical high-pitch noise made by monkeys, they knew that a big animal (tiger or leopard) was near and stopped the vehicle. In about fifteen minutes, a leopard came out of the clearing at some distance from us and crossed the path. The guests seated in the first row could quickly snap a shot, but unfortunately, as I was seated in the last row, I could not photograph the animal as it vanished through the thickets. I seriously think he caught a glimpse of at least four stout men holding something in their hands, mistook our aiming cameras for guns and quickly bolted into the bushes! We also saw a lone tusker, who on spotting our vehicle decided not to sacrifice his solitude and quietly (and for his size, swiftly) disappeared into the jungle.

I now realised that this is why they say it is not a good time to visit if you want to see animals. Not a good time for people, that is. The animals and birds seem to enjoy this period the most, in view of the plentiful resources available and remain happy out of people's view. In summer, when the greenery is gone and water dries up, the animals have no other go and have to come to the river bank for a dip or sip and inevitably have to pose. I believe you can really see hordes of gaur and large herds of elephants if you visit just before the rains start, which is end-May or beginning of June, if you can bear the heat, sweat and the thirst.

As the sun set and darkness crept in, we returned to our nest – oops, tent. The cottage is well equipped with all modern amenities, so hot water, tea pot, everything is provided. I was free to enjoy as much tranquili-tea as I could cope with. After dinner, my wife and I sat outside the tent to individually enjoy the solitude and serenity – it is such a lovely feeling - I am not good enough a writer to spell out the feeling you get there, everyone has to visit and experience it for themselves.

I am an early bird and by default, get up at 5.30 am. My wife is a late bird and prefers to be woken up only after 7. Being vegetarians, we don't go after worms. What was surprising was that despite all the travel and jostling jeep ride, even my wife, who usually goes to bed very late, wakes up moderately late and hates to get up early, was brisk enough to get up at 6 sharp! The high and pure woods,the pleasant surroundings and a good night's undisturbed sleep had done the magic, in marked contrast against the city's blaring late-night TV, smoking traffic and obtrusive lights that we are used to!

We were asked to be ready at 6.30 for a boat ride (or again into the jungle by jeep, if you so wish). We had opted for the boat ride. However, all of a sudden, thick fog set in and literally dampened all my hopes of getting some good shots of the birds, which were available in plenty in this season. Still, I managed to catch a few:

After a late and (a little heavy) breakfast, we returned to our cottage to take in one last memory of our pleasant stay at the Lodge. Besides the rides, the place itself is a heaven for nature lovers, with all its flora and fauna some varieties of which are certainly new to us. The large expanse of trees, the beautiful lawn and well kept gardens, the old colonial style buildings and above all, the friendly staff and knowledgeable naturalist guides (and who knows, may be my photographs too!) all make it an unforgettable place.

To sum up, the Kabini River Lodge is certainly worth a visit – no, more than one visit. I have already made up my mind to visit the place again in peak summer to see what all it has to offer at that time. All I now have to do is gather some money that is required for a 2-day stay and keep a tab on the availability of rooms.

More information about Kabini River Lodge and their other resorts can be found at www.junglelodges.com.

If you are the type that can bear with me, do remember to watch this space after June 2010. Till then, bye!


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