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Bangalore India
Amongst best parks to sight big cats in the wild!
May 23, 2017 10:53 PM 13439 Views
(Updated Jun 17, 2017 11:24 PM)

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Wanting to visit a tiger national park for sometime where I would potentially have a good opportunity to sight them in the wild, I had come across the facts and figures about Nagarhole National Park on several occasions among others. Although the statistics don’t leap out as the best, but just one of the best in the country, there are other factors which drew me to this place – the increasing numbers and density of  the big cats, the increasing density of prey base, the secondary predators, the climate and environment supporting the possibility of good sightings at certain times of the year. The National Park spans Coorg and Mysore districts of Karnataka having a core area of 640 – 645 km^2. Apparently, it was declared a tiger sanctuary in 1955.


I had actually done a bus safari from the Coorg district entrance to the national park last year. That was a short endeavor and didn’t lead to sightings of any big cat although we had seen some uncommon things like a baby elephant leaving its parents to give our bus a chase. Also, an ambitious dhole (wild dog) trying its best to catch a chital. There were 2 other dholes with him, who were watching the proceedings. Anyway, that side of the national park is in any case, considered to be a less probable destination in terms of sightings of the big cats. Also, there isn’t a lot of difference between jeep safaris and bus safaris there.


This time around, I wanted to do the safari from the Kabini side entrance to the park located in the Mysore district. The scope of doing proper tiger safaris is far greater on this side both because of the strategical location and resources on offer. I was put up at the Kabini River Lodge located in Karapura area, around 220 – 230 kms away from Bangalore. There are around 10-12 other resorts in close proximity. It is advisable to have some form of transportation booked from Bangalore, as no concrete public transportation exists between the 80 km stretch from Mysore to Karapura. I recall seeing a “Daripura”, “Jayapura” and “Laxmipura” sign by the road on my way to “Karapura” when I visited the place this May.


I believe the resort premises are several kilometers inside from the entrance of the park. The lodge package during the normal season includes a boat and a jeep safari a day. But since it was peak summer time and waters were shallow, visitors were supposed to have a morning and evening jeep safari with a short boat ride late morning. The lodge itself had provisions of various cottages and rooms. I had been booked in a tented cottage for one day and in a room in the north bungalow the day after. The drive from Bangalore to the resort was pretty smooth. I headed out between 6 – 7 A.M. in the morning to reach there around 11 – 12 A.M. on a Saturday.


DAY 1


Having checked into a tented cottage, I had a look around at the premises. It appeared to be rather well maintained. One also has a good view of river Kabini, with Bandipur National Park on the opposite bank and Mudumalai and Wayanad sanctuaries further away, along the river. After closely watching some monkeys in the premises, eventually I had lunch at the “Gol Ghar” at 1.30 p.m., the place where the meal buffets took place. It was also a place of recreation and chitchat. The starting point of safaris was also just outside the building. All meals I had at the lodge were of a pretty good quality.


[EVENING SAFARI]


3.30 p.m. was safari time. I hopped onto the jeep, along with others assigned to the same. We were assigned ZONE B and set out at 3.40 p.m. ZONE B is one of 2 buffer zones allocated for Safari here. It includes the Kabini backwaters and the Mysore to Kerala highway, which is now also a tourist spot. We were told there are 4 packs of dhole (wild dogs) in these parts, but they hadn’t been sighted very recently. We saw a wild boar, red mongoose, a roller bird, before coming across a female elephant beside the road. We saw it toying around with the neighbouring trees for a while,  before moving on. Several peacocks and jungle fowl also graced us with their presence. On the way, a vehicle coming from the opposite direction mentioned to our driver that there had been a tiger sighting further down the road. We moved on, also spotting several chitals, peacocks a Malabar squirrel and other birds in doing so. All of a sudden, we came to a green clearing where there was a conspicuous yellow spec in the distance. Upon making use of the binoculars, it turned out to be a tiger staring straight at us. As some grappled for their cameras, it disappeared into the adjacent densely forested area. I think everyone felt a bit surprised to have discovered one so soon. The guide and driver felt certain that it would reappear from the other side of the forested area. So, we got there and waited. When it didn’t for some time, we felt inclined towards checking out the original clearing again. We continued this to-and-fro exercise 2-3 times checking out both the openings of the forested area and suddenly saw the tiger back in the green clearing once again. It was nicely sitting on the green grass this time, definitely beyond 60 feet away. Perhaps closer to 80 feet. It sat quietly looking about, also looking at us, on occasion. It sometimes opened its mouth to reveal its teeth and at other times, seemed contemplative about something. 2 or 3 other jeeps had arrived by this time. Everyone shot whatever pictures they could. After some 5-10 minutes, the tiger got up and idled back into the forest. We saw some deer, peacocks and gaur on the way back and that concluded our DAY 1 evening safari.


A gentleman from Bangalore and a tiger enthusiast had finally spotted a tiger after 20 years of trying. Imagine his elation! Come to think of it, I’d done my first safari more than 20 years ago too. But I’ve been actively seeking this out only since the second half of last year. What I understood from my conversations with others was that, on several occasions when they didn’t sight things in their other wildlife outings, it was partly owing to some lack of planning.


Back at the resort, there was a provision of  watching a documentary at the viceroy bungalow, which would be followed by dinner. I skipped the documentary on this occasion, directly opting for dinner. Having talked to some new acquaintances, I hit the sack early to be able to get up early next morning.


DAY 2


[MORNING SAFARI]


Morning safari at 6.30 A.M. was with a different driver and guide but with the same tourists of the day before. This time we were assigned ZONE A. This buffer area to the national park is further inward to ZONE B and is the bigger zone. A densely wooded area, it has several waterholes, one of them in fact manually aided by a borewell.


It had drizzled a little the day before when we spotted the tiger and the present day was cooler. We additionally saw a woodpecker, mudpecker and some sambar this time, along with a couple of peacocks doing the dance they are so famous for, probably owing to the rain of the day before. Chitals were always plentiful in either zone. We came across a serpent eagle and a Malabar giant squirrel sighting was much closer that day. The peacocks were visible in various positions. No sign of an elephant on this safari. But several other birds. No big cat either. Several pug marks and clearly belonging to different tigers. According to the driver, it also included the tigress and her cubs seen on previous days. We even saw tiger scat somewhere (from last night) and a set of pug marks which appeared to lead to a pond. We came across a tribal temple, which was a popular resting spot for a leopard on drier days. There was little movement of animals that morning. Towards the end of this route, we came across what was supposed to be “the black panther” area. There was only 1 in this park. But we saw chitals resting on the ground, in no kind of hurry. The tree branches also seemed devoid of any leopard. There were some stray langur calls. But it didn’t lead to anything. At one point we saw 2 sambars crossing the road, and another 2 wading through a puddle of muddy water to enter the forest. We ended the morning safari without any sighting of a big cat and headed back to the lodge.


Back at the lodge, breakfast was waiting for us. After dealing with the same, we also had a short boat ride where we spotted some different birds including cormorants and spot-billed ducks before returning to the Nagarhole banks. The boat safari also happens here and if one travels further down the river, one can see crocodiles sometimes. Some of my new acquaintances of previous safaris were leaving that day. I checked out of the tented cottage and moved into the room allotted in the North Bungalow. Lunch was served at the “Gol Ghar” at 1.30 p.m. and having my fill, I headed back to my room to rest.


[EVENING SAFARI]


At 3.30 p.m. it was safari time again. I knew both the driver and the guide from previous safaris. There were some new tourists on this safari. This time we were to go through ZONE B again.


This safari turned out to be quite eventful. As we went into the forest, we first came across some highly animated peacocks, who at one point completely blocked the path. Soon afterward, I heard a strange shouting call several times, which turned out to be a deer mating call. Going a bit further, there was a dead gaur lying below a tree near a pond. It seemed too young to die a natural death but at the same time didn’t seem to have any kind of injury around its throat, although we couldn’t see the side of throat hidden by the ground. We waited there for a while, before moving on. Suddenly, some very strong langur calling was heard. The chitals generally get nervous easily but they seemed especially perturbed at this. We saw them seem quite desperate to flee, pushing several others while they ran. They seemed as if they anticipated some serious danger. Following the langur calls, we quickly changed routes to arrive at where it was coming from. We had the same driver from my first safari, who was very adept in maneuvering the car in times of sudden need. Wherever we went, the deer seemed quite panic stricken and alert. Eventually, we came upon a place, where several members of the deer herd were limping. They appeared to have undergone some kind of struggle recently. We waited attentively for any sign. We were at a clearing adjacent to a densely forested area, where a male tiger was believed to be present. In the morning, some had seen the female crossing over from this part to another area, but not the male. There were  lesser sounds on this side, so we decided to go to the other side of the dense foliage. It took some time to get there. There again, the deer seemed especially alert and as if they were anticipating something. We waited there for a while amidst the consistent langur calling, who generally sound warning calls for leopards and tigers. Out of the blue, we heard a low roar, coming from the adjacent forest. Did not seem very far. It wasn’t particularly long and was followed by 2 or 3 yelps of some animal. Then, all went silent. Somehow, only the driver (who had 25 years experience) and I heard this. The others were focused on the clearing ahead, at the time. We assumed the tiger had hunted something inside the dense forest area. But it appeared it had no intention of coming out. We moved on after a while and came upon a herd of gaur. One of them was also limping. Some predator or predators had definitely been very active recently.


We drove on to a place where there was a huge green clearing, abound with hundreds of chital, sambar and 5 female elephants. If we looked far, we could also see a male bull tusker far away on the Bandipur side of the clearing. That was too far, even with binoculars. Upon marveling at this beautiful scene for some time, we again moved on. We had seen several birds along the way too – peacocks, roller birds, serpent eagles, woodpeckers and some others. There were plenty opportunities to take pictures of chitals on the way. At one place, there were chitals resting with langurs and langurs fooling around with a fallen branch. On going further, we came across another male bull tusker, hidden in the foliage on the left. It seemed to be quietly standing. As we went further, it came out of the bushes, looked at us for a while before crossing the road. We moved ahead. Our jeep seating had a step like structure and on moving a bit further, those seated at the back (at slightly higher altitude), shouted ‘tiger’. It wasn’t too apparent to those seated at the front and before we knew it had crossed into the bushes. The driver caught a glimpse and mentioned it was probably a leopard. We could also see another jeep far ahead, waiting. The langur calling subsided for a while after the leopard had crossed the road and disappeared into the bushes. We were preparing to move on, when the langur calling started again and we suddenly saw the female leopard sitting on a tree, nearby. Its hind legs were hanging down and it seemed comfortably placed on a branch. This was definitely 35 – 40 feet away and there seemed to be no real way to move closer. So, the driver re-positioned the jeep to find the best place for pictures and then we shot as many as we could. The leopard was looking ahead, turning its head to the other side, even opening its mouth at times to reveal its teeth. After we had clicked pictures to our heart’s content, we moved on. We saw some deer and peacocks along the way before the evening safari came to a close. That was by far the best safari where there seemed to be a good chance of sighting just about everything and with a sense of great anticipation and excitement during the whole time.


Upon returning to the lodge, we came across a group of wild boar trespassing the premises which took us by surprise, a bit. We had the option of seeing a wildlife documentary in the viceroy bungalow at 7.30 P.M., which I did that time. There was a cat moving around the premises, which seemed quite friendly and seemed to follow people to places, on occasion. It also wanted to see the documentary with the tourists. I chatted with a couple of safari mates from U.S.A. and discussed wildlife and national parks in general. They had been to several other places too. After that I had dinner, and after rummaging through some of the pictures I’d taken, I hit the sack. I hoped that I’d see a tiger from closer range the following morning.


DAY 3


[MORNING SAFARI]


I got up early and was ready for the 6.30 A.M. safari in no time. Before I knew it, we were at the gates of ZONE A. Upon entering the forest, we were greeted by peacocks, jungle fowl and chitals, as usual. Shortly after that, we had a clear sighting of a wild boar which was drinking from a puddle. It did an about turn after a while, and joined its 2 other companions. We came to an intersection of paths near a pond, where we saw a Red Water Laughing Bird. It made a strange laughing noise. I hadn’t seen it on earlier safaris.


We drove on, in hopes of locating a big cat again. This time we chose a path, which had a short clearing on both sides but with a stretch of bushes next to it leading into densely forested areas on either side of us. I noticed there were deer hidden in the bushes while some were just outside. After a while, we made a turn to another similar path, and almost immediately I thought I saw the shape of a big cat in the bushes walking stealthily forward. This did not seem like a leopard. Nor was this the black panther area. But doubting whether tigers do this kind of thing, I remained silent. We moved on. After a while however, I mentioned this to the guide seated in front of me. To my surprise, he mentioned someone had sighted a tiger in the bushes, the morning before, in that very zone. ZONE A. This filled me with a slight pang of regret. Perhaps, if I had mentioned that earlier we could’ve stopped and found out what it was. At times, I do spot some unique things. Sure enough, there was no langur calling when I had seen what I’d seen, but I hadn’t noticed langurs in the trees at that point.


We passed an anti-poaching camp soon after that. There was also a tribal temple at some point, different from the one sighted the morning before. Shortly afterwards, we entered an area which  seemed to have a lot of langurs. One funny thing that happened was an American tourist behind me was wearing a leopard patterned shawl that morning. And a langur who had been silent all this while, upon sighting it, started its warning calls. He only stopped when she removed the shawl away  from its sight. It probably thought there was a leopard inside the jeep. :D We moved on ahead and after a while, stopped at a place where there were some langur calls. Not our doing this time. This was outside another densely forested area. We were some 10-15 feet away, in a clearing. Soon after, some chitals and a sambar sprinted out of the area, across the clearing and into the foliage on the other side. We waited patiently, but only to hear the langur calling get more distant. So, the tiger or leopard in question, was moving away from us. The driver started the car and we moved into the familiar area where we’d seen the “laughing birds”. They were still there. Soon afterward, we veered into a stretch, where we were surrounded by dense bushes on either side. I noticed some deer too, hiding in them. Upon asking the guide, he mentioned sometimes tigers are suddenly sighted in these type of regions. I also recollected that I’d seen such a Nagarhole internet picture and someone mentioning a tiger had crossed over from one side to the other. It was a relatively uneventful morning in terms of confirmed sightings though. Just some pug marks. There was little activity from the herbivores as well. We took some pictures of the usual animals and headed back to the lodge eventually.


It was breakfast time and I mentioned my gut feeling about the possible tiger sighting I had kept to myself all this while (except the guide) to a fellow tourist who was with me during the last 2 safaris. I wished some of my safari mates goodbye, before checking out and leaving for Bangalore.


BIT ABOUT THE RESORT: All in all, “Kabini River Lodge” was quite well maintained. Good accommodation, food and relevant people attending to your needs. One could also have an “Ayurvedic Wellness Centre” massage, for those interested in your rooms. :D They had a good programme overall. Although the jeep safari tourists were strangers to each other, they tried to put together tourists who got along well. Even the drivers and guides. During summers, one may perspire a bit, even with the coolers and fans on. The 2-day stay together with the travel cost me a little north of 30K rupees including some seasonal and circumstantial discounts.


TO CONCLUDE: Although I have great zoomed up images of the big cats, it would’ve been awesome to sight the tiger from closer quarters in the wild. Who knows, maybe I even spotted one relatively close in my last safari! :D Perhaps, I could’ve also tried an evening safari at “Damanna Katte Gate”, the regular bus safari route at Nagarhole, Kabini and then headed out to Bangalore late evening. They were also doing decently with tiger sightings this season. But I was dog tired and have no real regrets about that. I reached Bangalore with a good feeling, having witnessed a tiger and a leopard in the wild, among other nice memories. I would certainly recommend Nagarhole Kabini National Park to other wildlife enthusiasts.


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