Wild encounters

Wild encounters

Royal Bearings

The tiger has always eluded me. The only tryst I have had with the wild is watching monkeys hang from tree tops from my balcony, regular strays that bark incessantly throughout the night, or pigs coating themselves with mud in a drainage closeby.

Therefore, I jumped at the opportunity of visiting Kabini, to get a taste of what truly a wildlife safari is, especially when you feel left out every single time when people brag about having close encounters with a tiger, watching an elephant bathing its calf by the riverside, or capturing peacocks as they spread out their feathers and dance to woo their mates.

A bag of nerves, I was. Fingers crossed, completely effulgent with joy, I then embarked on my journey to have my much awaited date with the wild. Leaving Bangalore behind, a five-hour drive later, I was in tranquil Kabini.

Checking into The Serai, located at the Karapura Village near Mysore, our host for the three-day stay, I immediately rushed to my room and got ready. Minutes later, armed with my modest camera, binoculars and anticipation, our group set out for a boat safari on the Kabini backwaters. During our river trail, I was self aware of the sights, sounds and smells around me.

The sound of boat cutting across the water, birds chirping, the occasional thunder and lightning as overcast clouds covered the blue sky, the smell of wet earth wafting through the air while little drops of water created impressions on the river flowing by. It was dreamlike, watching spotted deer grazing near the river bed, peacocks dancing and wild boars lazily loitering around and suddenly, “silence in here,” cried our naturalist, Sukanta Das.

Sitting in the boat, right in the middle of the Kabini backwaters, we waited with bated breath to catch a glimpse of a tusker. The boatman took us a little closer and there he was, hiding behind a stretch of thick, tall trees, busy having his afternoon meal. We then spotted a herd of Asiatic elephants led by its matriarch, gradually walking towards the river. “During summers, the decrease in water levels lead these docile creatures to the riverbed where they come to cool themselves,” said our guide.

Out came the cameras and after a brief spell of clicking, we set out, hoping to capture varied birds and animal species on our river trail. As the boat gathered speed, it splashed water on our faces, while we feasted our eyes on Malabar trogons, ospreys, egrets, yellow wagtail, river tern, spot-billed duck, painted stork and many more such beauties.

At dusk, as we were returning back to our hotel, we felt there was something more in store when we saw Sukanta jumping, trying to contain his joy, when he said in a shivering voice, “Look there! My first jackal sighting!”

As everyone leapt to the other side of the boat, we saw the wild beast running back into the thick jungle. In the whole excitement, unfortunately, I could not click a picture, but it was still worth it as we were fortunate enough to spot a jackal, rarely found in the open, during the day. Back in the hotel, we chatted up with M Venkatesh, director, Coffee Day Resorts. “The resort is an endeavour to bring people closer to nature. Apart from sensitising and creating interest about wildlife among city folk, we are also involved in varied eco-friendly practices, here, at the resort, which include waste water recycling, sourcing local produce. We also employ  locals at the resort,” he said.

Later, we all browsed through our pictures while sipping hot coffee as it poured outside. This wasn’t perfect, yet.  Kabini, the land which was once the hunting ground of the Maharaja of Mysore, is now part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve which includes the Nagarhole National Park and the Bandipur National Park in Karnataka together with the Mudumalai National Park in Tamil Nadu and the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala. The Kabini River bisects the Nagarhole and Bandipur national parks and is blessed with rich biodiversity.

It plays host to over 300 species of birds and animals, including the Indian Roller, woodpeckers, warblers, grey jungle fowl, ducks, herons, red vented bulbul, spotted deer, sambar, barking deer, wild boar, gaur, wild dog, elephant, leopard, mongoose, giant malabar squirrel, Indian marsh crocodiles, and of course, the tiger.

The very next day, we thought of visiting the local temple across the river to soak in the local culture, before we explored the jungle in a three-hour wildlife safari. A 15-minute boat ride and we were standing in front of the  Bhimana Kolli (Kolli means river in Kannada) Temple. Although the structure looked new, apparently, the story behind the temple isn’t.

“The temple is believed to be 800 years old,” informed our guide. Legend has it that during their exile, the Pandavas visited this part of the village and Bhima crossed this point of the river, considered to be the deepest, in just one leap. Thus, a temple was built on the same site and named after him. A few pictures later, we were off to the much-anticipated jungle safari.

As our jeep fought against the bumpy road, suspending us in air every other minute, we finally entered the Rajiv Gandhi National Park, renowned as the Nagarhole National Park. We were first greeted by a herd of elephants bathing in a small lake, then by langurs. Later came the spotted deer and rat snakes, slithering on dried leaves. A couple of hours into the drive and still no sign of the tiger or leopard. We passed by a few other groups who were lucky enough to spot a leopard. “All the best!” they screamed.

As the park is only open between 3 and 6 pm everyday, we had little time at hand and gave up all hope. I was heartbroken. I made a silent prayer which was disturbed by the sound of a few deers. “Did you hear that?” asked our guide.

“They are alarm calls. I am sure there is a tiger or leopard nearby,” he added. As I tiptoed and walked towards the driver, our guide called, “Behind you! There it is!” I turned back and smiled. A leopard was casually crossing the road, pausing at times, staring at us. And then, it was his moment. Like a celebrity, he posed for some pictures, and a few minutes later, disappeared into the jungle. I returned back home, satiated. But, the tiger still evades me.

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