Sunday, November 21, 2010

On a Tiger Trail

“Tiger near boat point”, blared a voice over the walkie-talkie. Wasting no time after the tip-off we set out on a rugged track, soft and slushy due to the heavy overnight downpour. With thumping hearts and crossed fingers we looked around with eyes wide open. As the driver parked the jeep in a clearing near the boat point, another one screeched to a halt on our right. A third jeep pulled up to our left. While shutterbugs aligned their cameras in position, others scoured the surroundings anxiously with eyes and ears on high alert. After a short while, a tiger walked into our line of sight. Being in close proximity to a big cat in the wild had our adrenaline pumping and our hearts thumping. But the joy was short-lived as the tiger disappeared into a thicket and hid from our peering eyes. The glimpse of the tiger filled the atmosphere with an eerie calm as we waited with bated breath for the tiger to reappear. Five tense and intense minutes passed then ten. The wait in stillness and silence made it seem much longer. The tiger probably sensed our intrusion into its space and stayed away from the glare of our eyes and lenses. Photographs later revealed that the tiger was watching and waiting for a suitable moment to set its foot forward. It emerged from the bushes and darted across the road oblivious to the fact that cameras captured its every move. Once the tiger crossed the road, it looked back to assess the situation and then disappeared without a trace.
We effervesced with excitement on sighting a tiger in the Rajiv Gandhi National Park (formerly and popularly known as the Nagarahole National Park). “This is a big tiger! ”, remarked Prem, our driver cum naturalist who has been driving into the forest twice a day for the past 22 years. In this time and age when survival of tigers in the wild is under threat, Prem’s remark was reassuring.
Before the tiger trail we were entertained to a private dance performance by a peacock. Photographs do no justice to the spectacle that unfolds when a peacock decides to wear its dancing shoes. The peacock turned a full circle flaunting every angle of its feathery outfit, seldom brought to public view. Although there were no peahens in sight, the solo performance left us bedazzled.
The well-scripted tale of our journey in jungle had an exciting twist prior to the peacock dance. A lone tusker mock charged our jeep. Unfazed by our constant picture shooting, the young tusker retreated. He probably did not perceive us as a potential threat. A herd of elephants led by a matriarch, playful and cherubic little ones snuggling between the senior members of the family and solitary tuskers displaying their might were few memorable elephantine encounters during our safari.
With swings, jumps, twists and turns, langurs, the ace trapeze artists of this forest entertained the onlookers with their stunts. Choreographed to perfection, the performance was flawless. While one hung from its tail, the other jumped from dizzying heights, the third leapt from one tree to another as we watched amazed and amused. Gaurs are perceived as being shy creatures and we were lucky to see them quenching their thirst at a water hole. While one member stayed on a higher ground to guard the herd from predators, the others enjoyed a dip in the water on a warm summer afternoon.
Blue jays, woodpeckers, peacocks, peahens, elephants, wild boars, giant squirrels, stripe-necked mongoose, langurs and bonnet macaques are regular sightings on safaris in the Nagarahole National Park. Gaurs, tigers, leopards and wild dogs are also fairly well sighted. Malabar trogons, ospreys, white-bellied fishing eagles and black bazas are some rare birds seen in the forest. Crocodiles, cormorants, painted storks, grey-headed fishing eagles, egrets and spoonbills are regular sightings on boat safaris.
The Nagarahole National Park gets its name from a meandering stream called Nagarahole (translates to “snake river”) that snakes its way through the forest and joins the river Kabini, a tributary of River Kaveri. River Vishanashini originates in Waynad and is called Kapila or Kabini as it flows through Karnataka. This moist deciduous forest has the rare distinction of being one of the few habitats where tigers, leopards and dholes (Indian wild dogs) - three aggressive predators co-exist. The tiger density is one of the highest in the country. Being at the apex of the food chain, a healthy tiger population is a fair indicator of the health of the forest.
Extending over 642 sq. km the Nagarahole National Park shares an unfenced common boundary with the Bandipur Tiger Reserve that stretches over 700 sq. km. The Nagarahole National Park and Bandipur National Park in Karnataka together with the Mudumalai National Park in Tamil Nadu and Waynad Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala are part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve home to several rare species of flora and fauna many of which are endemic to the region.
Six miles to the edge of the Nagarahole National Park is a century old property that once served as the hunting lodge of the Maharaja of Mysore. Colonial bungalows beside the quietly flowing Kabini, antiques and black and white photographs that are reminiscent of an era bygone add to the rustic charm of the lodge. The renovated bungalows are a part of the Kabini River Lodge, the flagship property of Jungle Lodges and Resorts, a government of Karnataka undertaking. For over a century, this lodge located in Kharapur has been playing host to the high and mighty. Kharapur and the neighbouring Kakanakote forests were sites for elephant trapping operations called kheddas. In old photographs that show their age, Maharajas, dukes and viceroys are seen posing with their spoils after hunting expeditions and kheddas.
Colonel John Wakefield was the master of the Kabini River Lodge for three decades since its inception in 1980. ‘Papa’ as he is affectionately called, was instrumental in the inception of Jungle Lodges and Resorts, successful endeavor in the government’s efforts to promote tourism. Papa’s jungle tales date back to days when he shot a tiger at the age of 9 and a leopard at 10. His rendezvous with the jungle continued for the rest of his life, 94 years in all. The man and his mission live on in Kharapur even as the world bereaves his departure to the heavenly abode in the summer of 2010. An entry in the guest book by Oscar winning Hollywood actress Goldie Hawn reads, “I have fallen unexpectedly in love, with Papa! Ofcourse, the wildlife too”.
The area under forest cover is shrinking by the day. At present only 3% of the total land mass of India is designated as protected forests. Despite the heavy inflow of tourists and hazards like forest fires, the forest officials have done well to maintain the sanctity of the Nagarahole National Park. The locals and naturalists laud the forest officials for the good maintenance of the park. During the hot summer months, one is spoilt for choice when it comes to wildlife sighting by the River Kabini. Birds add colour to the crystal clear waters. Herbivores are abundant. Carnivores are sighted often enough to lure the visitors to come back for another visit.

Quick Facts:


In 1995, the Tattlers Travel Guide rated Kabini River Lodge as one of the top five wildlife resorts in the world.
In 1997-98, Jungle Lodges and Resorts won the prestigious National Tourism Award for the best-maintained eco-friendly tourism project of India.
In 2008, CNBC Awaaz Travel Awards conferred Kabini River Lodge with the award for the “Site with the best Eco-tourism Practices”.

The Kabini River Lodge is situated off the Mysore-Mananthavadi Road. It is located in the Kharapur village of the Heggadadevana Kote (H.D. Kote) taluk of the Mysore district of Karnataka.

Getting There:

By Road: It is a pleasurable drive from Bangalore and Mysore. Kabini River Lodge is at a distance of about 210 Kms from Bangalore and 80 Kms from Mysore. The roads are in good condition.

By Train: Mysore is the nearest railhead. You can hire a taxi for a one-way drop from Mysore.

Kabini River Lodge is an all-year tourist destination. March through May is the best season for wildlife sighting. July though September is the rainy season when the forest is lush and the river is exuberant. The weather is at its best in the months of December and January.


Accommodation is available in the tented cottages, cottages and rooms in bungalows. The current rate of the tented cottage is Rs 3500/-, room is Rs 4250/-, cottage is Rs 5000/- and Maharaja cottage is Rs 5500/-. The rates mentioned are per person per day on a twin-sharing basis. The package includes of breakfast, lunch and dinner, accommodation, coracle rides in the river,boat safari and safaris in the Rajiv Gandhi National Park.

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