Kabini Chronicles: Tiger Tales from the Safari

Tigers are hypnotic. Their majestic form and imposing demeanour make it impossible to tear away one’s eyes when in their presence. All one can do is admire their grace, transfixed on their every move.  And no matter how many times one may have seen them before, every new safari generates the same excitement for a fresh encounter and every sighting is met with the same euphoria.  

Every time I go on jungle safaris, I try to condition myself to keep expectations low. I tell myself that spending time in the jungle, amidst unspoilt nature should be an end in itself. Sighting a tiger should not define the “success” of a safari. But whom am I kidding? The hype around the animal is inescapable. 

About an hour and a half into our evening safari in Nagarhole National Park, our jeep’s driver got a call from a fellow driver. A tiger had been sighted. Immediately, we sped through on the dirt track to reach the spot where it had purportedly been spotted. Our hearts were racing with anticipation. It took us about fifteen minutes to get there but we found the spot deserted when we reached. We lay in wait for over an hour, now going a few feet ahead, now retreating back, in search of the elusive beast. Every once in a while, we would get excited by some rustling in the bushes, only to realise that deer or langurs were behind this.  Alas, it wasn’t our day. 

The day had started with a drive to Kabini from Bangalore along mostly brilliant, occasionally bumpy roads. Cruising along on the Bangalore – Mysore highway, we made it there in about 5 hours, including a pit stop for breakfast at Kamat Lokaruchi. 

Delish Breakfast at Kamat Lokaruchi on Bangalore-Mysore Highway

We had booked our stay at the Kabini River Lodge, an erstwhile hunting lodge of the Maharajas of Mysore.

Tents at Kabini River Lodge

The best part about staying here is that it includes two safaris in the package and eliminates the hassle of booking the safaris separately. It is also the starting point for all safaris from Kabini into Nagarhole, meaning that guests from all other properties in the area also need to come here to commence their safaris. The quality and upkeep of rooms here could be better though, especially since the tariffs are not modest.   

Inside the tents – the most flattering angle

After enjoying the delicious and extensive lunch spread, we started the jeep safari at 3 pm. Every few meters, we found flocks of spotted deer busily munching on leaves. A healthy population of prey is a sign of a thriving tribe of predators. If the abundance of deer was anything to go by, the tigers here, numbering around 150, must be a happy and well-fed bunch.        

Abundant Prey at Nagarhole National Park

We also met quite a few elephants up close. Some had long tusks, almost scraping the ground. They seemed unperturbed by close proximity to humans and continued enjoying their leafy diet even when we drew close. Imagine that the dreaded bandit Veerappan was wreaking havoc in these very jungles a couple of decades ago!  

Showing off its Elegant Tusks

During jungle safaris, while most scan the ground, I tend to keep an eye on tree tops in the hope of spotting our feathered friends. We were lucky to spot a flock of Malabar Pied Hornbills and also a White Bellied Woodpecker. Both of these were the first spottings for me of these species and assuaged my disappointment at not meeting the more illustrious inhabitants of the jungle. 

White-Bellied Woodpecker
Pied Hornbill

As the light started falling and it started raining quite heavily, we abandoned our hopes of tiger spotting and turned back towards the lodge. 

I had come across a brilliant advertising campaign by Jim’s Jungle Retreat, a lodge in the Corbett National Park. Their maxim of “seek the tiger, find the jungle” is something I try my best to follow, but it’s easier said than done. We still had one more foray to make into the jungle the next morning, but that was to be a boat safari and tiger sightings on it are generally very rare. 

After a hearty dinner, we retired early for the night. The next day was to begin before dawn. 

The dam on river Kabini, built in 1974, has created a reservoir and backwaters. It is in these backwaters, adjacent to the Nagarhole National Park, that the boat safari takes place. Summers are a great time to spot wildlife on the boat safari when the water recedes, drawing the animals out. In October, with the rains in full swing and the reservoir brimming, our chances of spotting anything were slim.    

The Kabini Reservoir
Osprey spotted on the Boat Safari

We set off on the safari, expecting it to be nothing more than a pleasant boat ride in a lake. I could not have been more wrong. 

Once again a phone call with reports of a sighting. Once again a dash for the spot. But this time we got there just in time to witness the gorgeous form emerge from the thickets. The collective, hushed sigh from a boatload of people when the tiger first came into view was testimony to the awe they inspire. Our boat was less than 10 metres away from the shore along which a mighty tiger was strolling regally! There were no other boats around and our boatsman shut off the engine and kept the boat perfectly still. Left undisturbed, the tiger paced along the shore for a good five minutes, maybe longer. With every step, it seemed to stamp its authority on the jungle with effortless, self-assured grace. Finally, it disappeared behind the bushes, as silently as it had emerged, leaving us all incredulous of our own good fortune.    

An Unforgettable Sighting

Their hypnotic attraction is such that I had begun planning the next jungle excursion before I even got off the boat.  

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