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Bangalore India
Nice place, achieved most intended objectives!
Jun 28, 2020 11:59 PM 193 Views
(Updated Jul 05, 2020 12:05 AM)

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I had first visited this place back in 2017. I wanted to do open jeep safaris in the forest in pursuit of sighting the big cats and that right is only reserved by "Jungle Lodges and Resorts" here in Nagarhole National Park, Kabini. That was the main reason behind choosing this place for lodgings.


This also marked the second time I was visiting this place, in 2020. I was really bored of the lock down period and so with the situation in Karnataka and in India, it seemed like a good option to exercise after the "unlock" period, away from the increasing Covid cases in populated human settlements in Bangalore, to open up my mind.


THE JOURNEY


The fringes of the "National Park" itself is close to some 260+ kms from Bangalore and only around 30 kms from the Kerala border. This is actually the border of the National Park and not the core zone although parts of it do join the core area, at places. I travelled by car and it can be anywhere from close to 5 hrs to 6 hrs journey to get there, depending on traffic and circumstances. One will also pass Mysore on the way. I set out early morning on a weekend to have enough time, before commencement of my first safari.


ABOUT KABINI RIVER LODGE


The main purpose of this establishment is people staying over amidst the forest, while they carry out their forays into the jungle. However, before touching upon the main aspect of safaris, I would like to touch upon other aspects of the lodge.


Layout and Composition


Upon entering it, your first stop would be the reception on the right, where you need to inform your arrival and be assigned an accommodation based on your booking. This is also where the main management is mostly available. The sightings during safaris are also registered here. You might find some naturalists hanging around here too.


Other than that, there is a 'Gol Ghar', which is the dining place for all tourists with 2 floors, where you'll be served breakfast, lunch and dinner depending on your stay. Both a variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian food are available.


There is an 'interpretation center' not far from the cottages or 'Gol Ghar'. This a place for watching animal documentaries for those staying over at the lodge. In 2017, we were shown an interesting documentary on Kanha in the evening. This time, that was closed, as an anti-Covid precaution.


Close to the 'interpretation center', there is a 'bar', for those interested in such.


Outside above mentioned area, is an extended seating place, close to all the visitor accommodations. In 2017, there was a white cat, who was climbing onto the lap of all visitors who were seated outside and very friendly. In 2020, the interpretation center / bar being closed, it wasn't so.


There is some massage and other Ayurvedic facility here, although I've never used it during both my stays.


In between the buildings, there are many green patches of gardens and foliage with a view of the Kabini river, not far from our accommodation. Amidst all that, there is a cement path paved to travel across the lodge premises with signboards at every nook and corner. "Don't feed the Monkeys" sign stands out, owing to the numerous monkeys that could possibly be present in the premises. On one occasion, in 2017, even wild boar had entered the premises.


Accommodation


There are different kinds of accommodation available to those visiting. "Tented Cottages", as the name suggests, have a tented exterior. There are 6 such accommodations in close proximity with an artificial machan nearby, a well maintained green expanse just around it, surrounded by a fenced border, separating the section from Kabini river. There are hammocks outside, should one want to use them. There was a black and white cat this time, in 2020, who was climbing on top of all visitors. Less monkeys around, perhaps owing to more rainfall.


There are also "Cottages", "Maharaja Cottages" and "Rooms" in bungalows available. There are 4 bungalows in all. The cottages have better view of Kabini river and its surroundings, from slightly above. Those in "Maharaja Cottages" are guaranteed all open jeep safaris. For the rest, it depends on the understanding of the booking and the circumstances. In 2017, I had stayed in a tent on 1 day and in a bungalow room on the next day. This time round, I had decided to stay in tented cottage on both days. Bungalow rooms are significantly larger by comparison.


TARIFFS


The tariffs tend to vary with season, type of accommodation and circumstances, like we have Covid19 situation going on, in India right now. So, does the plan about things that unfold there. So, I'm not going to touch upon that. The interested party would anyway enquire about the same.


But it is probably fair to say, if you go for peak season, weekend or the best accommodations, overall price of this package is bound to be higher. It can be quite a pricey proposition per person per night, depending on what your preferences or plan is.


Covid19 Considerations


During my 2020 visit, keeping Covid19 in mind, Interpretation Center / bars were closed. Accommodations were being sprayed before new arrivals / after departures. There was a sanitizer placed just outside every accommodation, for use. Food was served by people in masks / wearing gloves. We were also wearing masks (at least most of the times). I was carrying 5 N95 masks with me. The safari jeeps had the older folk sitting alone on a 2 seater row. There was also a sanitizer available in the jeeps. Before we went on safaris and at the time of arrival to / departure from that lodge, our temperatures were checked.


SAFARIS


I did not do the safaris, independent of the lodge, like in most other national parks. In these parts, "Jungle Lodges and Resorts" affiliated with this lodge has the legal rights to conduct open jeep safaris although one can also do canter safaris by the regular method from Damanna Katte Gate. There are 10-15 lodges nearby who come here to conduct safaris for their visitors as well, I believe. Unless they are doing it by some other not so legal means. It must be noted that one also has the option for a "boat safari" or sometimes even a "coracle ride". You are randomly assigned routes, vehicles, drivers and other fellow passengers by the management. You cannot choose your preferred zone / route here. Thankfully though, it has worked out well for me till now.


The safaris of 2017 were mostly eventful. The highlights were:


In 1 safari, I had seen a tigress from very far (maybe 100 feet away) with binoculars and a female elephant from not so far in Zone B. On another safari in Zone B, we had seen a male tusker elephant from pretty close, a leopard 35- 40 feet away and almost a tiger who roared while eating his kill, but didn't come out of the dense bushes. Zone A safaris went largely result less in 2017. I had done 2 safaris in Zone B and Zone A each on that occasion.


They are covered in more detail in my other review on Nagarhole National Park:


https://mouthshut.com/review/Nagarhole-National-Park-Mysore-review-lnmunotmpum


2020 SAFARIS


We were told that the guides wouldn't be accompanying us, considering the Covid19 situation. The driver would try to serve both purposes. I can't honestly say I necessarily approved of this, as it would be harder for the driver to cope under these circumstances. But thanks to the drivers assigned and the people doing the safaris, it sort of worked out well. Lady luck had not deserted us, it would seem.


I had taken a bit of a gamble of sorts, this time, in 2020. It hadn't rained as much in May or June this time, in these parts. Normally, it would. Hence, I'd considered visiting at this time of the year.


DAY 1 EVENING - ZONE B


We started off the safari with some good sightings of langurs and chitals in normal forested regions. We eventually came upon the backwaters region, a part of Zone B, we had not covered too much in detail during my last visit in 2017. It had started drizzling a little. I took some great shots of grazing deer and herds of several elephants both in Nagarhole and also across the backwaters in Bandipur forest area region.


Since it was getting foggy, we thought "elephants in the mist" would be a good shot too. Going a bit ahead, we also came across an area where 3 elephants were grazing, not too far away. We had some good sightings of wild boar, gaur, langur, peahen, peacock, mongoose, spotted dove and a female elephant within 30 feet towards the close of the safari, who appeared out of nowhere. It had started pouring towards the end. I had seen 20+ elephants in this safari. 4 of them not too far away.


I got news that some other vehicles in Zone B had spotted a sloth bear towards the end of the safari. Tiger sightings were in Zone A on that day.


After returning to our cottages, dinner and some chitchat with occupants of other cottages, I hit the sack.


DAY 2 MORNING - ZONE A


It was the same jeep and driver for me this morning. But the jeep occupants were different and more familiar. I had talked to them the day before. This time, we were going into Zone A.


This was a very eventful safari. We had good sightings of gaur, chital, peacocks, sambar, a jungle fowl, wild boar and kingfisher. All of a sudden, a sloth bear also made its presence known by crossing our path. It also stopped to have a good look at us. It was probably 30-40 feet away from us, when we sighted it before it scurried off into the bushes. Shortly afterwards, we came across a pack of 3 dhole (wild dogs), who came towards our jeep, head on. After briefly regarding them, we also came across chital, a crested serpent eagle and another pack of 8 dhole, who seemed to be in a bit of a hurry. Following that, I got in some great shots of peacocks, langur and mongoose, who are pretty fast. Amidst all this, our jeep got stuck in the mud owing to the previous day rains and we had to get down, as the tyres had to be brought back on the road again. Generally, it is not recommended to be on foot in a forest, abound with predators. We had to make the exception, in this case. We eventually came upon the pack of 8 dhole again, who seemed more relaxed now. We were able to witness their playfulness and some intimate pack behaviour in great detail, before the safari came to a close. We also saw a giant malabar squirrel on our way back.


Right at the end of the safari, we came upon a point where, a lot of vehicles lay in wait, as they had heard a tiger roaring from some bushes 45 mins-1 hour ago, around 30 feet away. I was in favor of waiting. But our driver wanted to exit, as it was time. So, did most vehicles. I later got to know, the vehicle that left last, saw the tiger exit the bushes. It was probably some shy tiger. I felt sorry for the missed opportunity! There was also news that the tigress who had been sighted the day before in Zone A had crossed over to Zone B, with her cubs in the morning.


DAY 2 EVENING - ZONE A


This time I was on a different vehicle with a different driver and different occupants. These guys were determined to see the tiger and were more knowledgeable about the forest. The driver was also in full josh. Amongst them, was also the person, whose jeep had seen a tiger in the morning. It had started drizzling. We made several rounds of areas, where there may have been chances of a tiger sighting, including the place where the tiger kill was reported to be. But no sign of the big cat. We witnessed few male chitals pursuing mating with females. We came across the pack of 3 dhole, we had seen the day before. They were quite relaxed and we got some great pictures. Some peacocks and wild boars were also sighted.


We later passed by a fresh chital kill, which we almost missed. Apparently, that was done by a pack of 8 dhole, I'd seen in the morning. While we had gone for a lunch break, they had also had theirs. Dholes, being 3rd level of predators after tigers and leopards, have to finish their kill fast as they are not likely to be able to defend it. Eventually, it started raining quite a bit and we knew we were unlikely to see a tiger in such weather.


The jeep tyres got badly stuck in the mud at 1 point. We closed the safari, with a sighting of a huge sambar stag. I also saw a female sambar amidst a huge herd of chitals.


I went to sleep, disappointed that night. With little hope of sighting a big cat.


DAY 3 MORNING - ZONE A


This was my last safari and I was doing it with the same vehicle, driver and occupants from previous day evening safari. We got off really early and entered the forest at around 6.20 A.M. We came across a forest department vehicle who had seen a male tiger crossing 2 mins ago. We were the third vehicle on the scene. We went to an alternate side of the bushes. The deer seemed to have moved away from that side of the bushes, probably fearing something. There were some langur and chital warning calls, which kept us interested. After a while, the chital started cautiously making their way back. We also moved on.


The forest had gone quieter. We saw some peacocks, langurs, jungle fowl, woodpeckers and came across 2 different packs of 3 dhole and took some pictures. Some in the car felt if I had come to the vehicle 5 mins earlier in the morning, we may have seen the tiger crossing the road in the morning at the start. But fact is I was awake since 5 A.M. If such a plan was there, it should've been conveyed the night before. Our scheduled entry into the forest was 6.30 A.M. We were already earlier that day.


We decided we would take pics of a crested serpent eagle, who was quite close. We also saw a crested hawk eagle and a white bellied woodpecker. Somewhere close to the powerline area, we got news that the a tiger called the tiger tank male had made a kill in the morning and was on the move. We supposed it may come somewhere close to the powerline and lay in wait, with 45 minutes of the safari left. 15 minutes had gone by. No sign of him. We then re-positioned ourselves near the waterhole close by. With maybe 25 mins left, we decided we would make a last ditch effort elsewhere and decided to leave the waterhole only to be informed on the way by another jeep, coming opposite us that the tiger had come and sat at the waterhole we had just left. We quickly reversed and hastily made our way back to the waterhole. I was not to be disappointed. Sure enough, it was resting at the left edge of the bank, around 65-70 feet away. Probably less than 20 mins left. We got busy taking pics. The tiger sat there in the water for 10-15 mins.


But that wasn't all. It then got up, looked anxiously to the right for some time, before turning towards us. It probably came until 45-50 feet away from us before disappearing into the foliage to its right. To the far right edge of the bank, upon inspection, we saw a huge male tusker elephant had appeared from the bushes, which had made the tiger nervous. I took a couple of shots of the elephant, before we exited the morning safari.


So, I did see a tiger in dramatic fashion with the male tusker etc, in dying minutes of the last safari. I had finally seen a male tiger and a sloth bear in the wild! No sign of a leopard in the past 3 days. Something generally tends to happen towards end of the safaris in these parts.


Upon returning, I thanked everyone for a good time and bid them adieu. I had probably interacted more with the people overall, this time round. Shortly afterwards, I had set off for Bangalore.


The forest region was Covid19 free until the day I left. During my stay there, I came across people who had done 4 or lesser safaris but had left without any sightings of the big cat. On the other hand, there were maybe 3 couples and another group who finally saw it in the end, along with my jeep. There was even one who had had another tiger sighting the day before in addition to my sighting. I probably missed two other opportunities to sight a tiger, as I've already narrated. I think more people had sighted a big cat, last time I had visited this National Park.


All in all, a good adventure to break free from this daily depressing Covid19 news and an eventful and enjoyable experience. My experience was perhaps better overall than last time round, although weighing all pros and cons in detail, would be difficult. I recommend it for big wildlife enthusiasts.


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