Monday, July 9, 2012

Kabini – Tusker Paradise

Tusker ready to charge

The tusker put his head down and charged. From barely 30 feet away he let out an ear splitting trumpet. Then he stopped. Suddenly. Just like that. He then stood there, less than 15 feet away, with a smug look on his face that said ‘scared you!’ and then peacefully carried on feeding like nothing had happened two minutes earlier. While we, in the open jeep were still tingling! An awesome opening for our Kabini visit, this time with the whole family – 16 people!

Chital on a gallop 
As we left the elephant and moved on, we saw a beautiful herd of spotted deer at the backwaters of the Kabini reservoir and a herd of elephant at the far end of the water. A couple of them ran up and down the banks, giving us some great views. On the route out of the backwaters, we saw another jeep come towards us and he flashed his lights when we came near – a sure sign that there was a sighting nearby. The driver told us that they'd left behind a leopard on a tree a couple of kilometers away. Pulses racing, we hurried there as soon as we could, all our fingers crossed. Hoping that pantera pardus hadn’t got itchy feet and scurried away. He hadn't. From a distance, we saw another jeep with people lining up their cameras and we knew the leopard was still there.

And there it was, sleeping on a tree about 100 feet away. It raised its head a couple of times, looked at us, gave us some pictures and then turned away completely. And there we left it, at peace in the late evening. Our first trip and we’d already seen a tusker and a leopard! Great way to open a big family holiday.

Pantera Pardus gives us a rare sighting
We’d driven to Kabini from Bangalore in a mini-bus and the travelling party included my mother and aunt, neither of whom had been to a forest before and were seriously reluctant to come. My mum always believed she would see something gory (read kill) and hence always refused to come. But this time, with the serious emotional blackmailing of all her three children, she agreed to come to Kabini, but only to the hotel and not to the forest. In just a day, she would make a complete 180 degree turn!

The next morning, we saw more elephant. We reeled in one tusker after another, a mating pair and a herd with a really small baby. He was never allowed to venture very far from his mother or aunts but the naughty little fella had a mind of his own. He kept walking away and making the grown ups herd him in all the time. Little attention seeker! We also saw an Indian Roller, a yellow-footed pigeon and a beautiful peacock dance in all his feathered finery. And to top that we saw a couple of raptors as well - a honey buzzard and a crested serpent eagle.

That afternoon, we played hide-and-seek with another tusker. Three of them in the backwaters at a distance and one massive guy, probably the biggest I’ve ever seen, decides to check us out. So he walks slowly towards us, sometimes with his head down as if deciding whether to charge or not. At the last minute, he veered away and hid behind a thick bush and stayed there, occasionally glancing out to check if we were still there. Then he got tired and walked back without a backward glance.

We saw more elephants on our final safari, with one particularly frisky male trying to get fresh with a couple of ladies. He tried to climb on to their backs, twisted his trunk around their ears and generally gave them a tough time. But they remained impervious to his amorous advances. And like a spurned suitor, he stomped off to quench his thirst (and wounded pride) in the water. We ended our visit with a quick boat trip around the backwaters, more a peaceful ride then a wildlife-spotting safari really.

Kabini gave me the finest elephant sightings ever, of every conceivable size and kind. The mandatory leopard sighting also happened, though not really in its full Kabini-esque glory. But the highlight of the trip was the property itself. The Jungle Lodges’ Kabini River Lodge is one of its kind. And that deserves to be elevated to a tourist attraction in its own right, alongside the tiger, leopard, elephant and wild dog. 

It’s probably the one single resort where I wouldn’t mind skipping a safari to just spend time exploring the property. That hasn’t happened yet, but hey, never say never!

Frisky male

Mating couple - didn't get too close!

Trunk Call

One of the largest tuskers I've seen

Kabini Trip Guide

Getting there
Mysore (kms) is again the nearest big city, with excellent rail and road connectivity with Bangalore (140 kms). It’s best to hire your car at Bangalore and do a round trip. Or take a train to Mysore and arrange for your car from there.

Stay, food and service
The Kabini River Lodge is the jewel in Jungle Lodges’ crown. The erstwhile maharaja’s retreat, this 50+ acre property has lovely, old-styled rooms and newer cottages. The rooms themselves are cool (there is no a/c, not required even in peak summer) The Golghar is right next to the Kabini reservoir, so it if always pleasant and cool. The staff is excellent, led by Kunal Sharma, a keen wildlifer himself. When you’re there, do drop in and spend some time with him and his lovely dog Sidhu.

There are other private resorts as well in the vicinity and some of them have very good reviews, but the safaris all have to be booked through Jungle Lodges, as at Bandipur.

Along with the jeep safaris, do one boat safari at least, especially in summer. Great chances of seeing elephants on the banks of the reservoir and also several water birds.

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