Nagarhole National Park at the Kabini backwaters is one of the finest Tiger reserves in the country and the excitement of seeing a tiger in the wild here for the first time is only eclipsed by seeing it twice on the same safari. That it was our first tiger safari in India makes it even more special, beginners luck or not. However you will find this wasn’t the only highlight of our trip to Nagarhole Tiger Reserve, Kabini as we show you why you should consider taking your next safari here.
You can spot the lake from miles away as the mountains in the backdrop and the vivid cloud formations on the clear blue sky is beautiful enough to make you smile. Our safari was one without anticipation. One simply do not spot anything worthwhile on their first safari, it’s an unsaid rule which we had been made aware of multiple times. A few deer perhaps if the gods are benevolent but the truth of the matter remains that you will need a rite of passage, a few frustrating safaris under your belt perhaps,to be able to see something worth sharing. All around us wildlife enthusiasts, wannabe photographers and amateurs alike came with jumbo sized telescopic lenses and high end super zoom cameras with the sole intention of capturing a wild beast in action. There was a big chance we would be shuttled in with solo wanderers in a rickety bus which looked incapable to keeping up with the safari jeeps, thus ruining even the bleak possibility of a chance capture. However by luck or chance or fate we were allocated a jeep which had a budding wildlife photographer, two wildlife enthusiast couples and a guide who was supposedly one of the best spotters in the convoy! We were getting a little hopeful now.
We saw a small herd of elephants feeding almost as soon as we entered the forest and then a few birds and deer, none of them exciting enough for some hold on to your seats excitement, but fun nonetheless.
We were looking at our watches trying to figure out how much time was left and the probability of us managing to catch a sighting in the remaining time. Just then we heard an alarm call. Normally Chitals are an easily scared species and starts giving panic calls even if it catches a whiff of a predator. A second alarm call alerted us to the possibility that a predator was near and we rushed to a herd of chitals where the calls were presumably coming from. Then it was a waiting game. A few jeeps joined us and then soon left to try their luck elsewhere as the uneasy silence around us threatened to stifle us. Suddenly the deers started bounding away and making frantic screams as a faint roar reached our ears.
Tiger!! Within minutes, it ambled on the dirt road in front of us with a swinging gait, roaring at the assembled herd of chitals and then walked away slowly as if without a care in the world. The scene was over before we knew it and it was just beginning to sink in. A tiger sighting in the first safari wasn’t unheard of, but was rare enough to be given a couple of pats on the back as if our luck was an achievement of sorts. It sure felt that way though. The tigress was supposedly called the princess by regulars because she is the rumored offspring of a kabini backwater tigress and Matigudi a popular male tiger in the area. She sure was beautiful befitting her royal nickname.
We then rushed to the nearest watering hole on the opposite side where there was a high possibility of her exiting. The weather was hot and dry and the princess would be thirsty for sure.
We waited and waited at a good vantage point and then some more and finally left. We had stopped to take a picture of the Malabar giant squirrel, the biggest of its species, when we received an urgent call from a fellow driver/guide saying that the tigress was headed towards the watering hole and we sped back.
Right in time! As our car settled in its place the princess bounded out from its hiding place and looked ahead with its chin up, giving the image of a self confident and maybe a little haughty royal giving a pose for the royal painter. And boy did we paint! There would’ve been thousands of clicks in the short time that the princess took to cross the road as the entire battery of cars and their occupants took to capture what surely would be a prized click among their collection. That even our relatively puny camera got away with some wonderful clicks should say something about the opportunity. Evidently the tigress was scared off by the safari boats circling the area and was diverted towards us. Their loss was our gain.
We were excited beyond reason by this time and were getting greedy beyond limits, a leopard and dhole sightings will complete this safari we said. Having a leopard sighting with a tiger sighting is even rarer because leopards are scared of the bigger predator and will stay away and a dhole pack even more so. We decided to wait at another frequented spot by the lake but we would be asking the Gods for too much.
The sunset however was beautiful. A dried husk of a tree, the setting sun, the golden clouds, the pink sky with overtones of various colours looking much like a rainbow itself. It wasn’t easy to eclipse the sightings but this sight came pretty close, the peaceful serenity complementing well the adrenalin rush of sometime back. We were pretty happy with our safari as we made our way back to the Jungle Lodges where all the safaris are organized.
Some of us were discussing their previous safaris when suddenly someone shouted “woh kya hai?”, “what is that” pointing a yellow streak beside our car. As our jeep screeched to a halt, the yellow streak transformed into a leopard who changed direction midway and bounded off into the forest. All of this happened so fast that we were quite unable to get off a clear shot. That disappointed the ones with the missile launcher shaped lenses; we were very happy we had gotten to see the leopard in the first place.
We have done a few safari’s in Africa and though the feeling of excitement remains the same given the huge element of chance in sighting any of the big cats, it was a different experience here in Nagarhole, Kabini. Somehow, because the lower number of jeeps allowed in, the absence of walkie talkies to improve coordination & heighten the chances of sightings and the relatively shy cats in the forest vis-à-vis say a Ranthambore or Kanha, this felt natural. Safaris should not be taken with confirmed sightings in mind, there’s zoos for that. Given the man animal conflict at the ever receding fringes of the forests, the animal numbers are getting smaller by the day which means there might not be enough tigers left in the wild for our grandchildren to enjoy. Hopefully we as a nation will stand with our forests and its protectors, the animals and ensure that the picture of the tiger taken by this generation does not have a wreath on it as it adorns the living room for our future generations.
- Kabini is a 5 hour drive from Bangalore and about 1.5 hours from Mysore city. Connectivity is infrequent and it is recommended to bring your own conveyance.
- Nagarhole National Park is separated from Bandipur National Park by the Kabini Reservoir and together with the Mudumalai National Park & Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary is the largest protected region in Southern India.
- Nagarhole National Park has three main predators – Bengal Tiger, Leopard & Dhole (Asiatic wild dogs) which feed on herbivores like Chital (spotted deer), sambar deer and gaur (Indian bison) which are found in great numbers. The elephants can also be seen in great numbers though Bandipur National Park holds the distinction of the highest density of wild elephants in the country.
- All safaris are organized by the government run Jungle Lodges, which is a good option for budget accommodation.
- Safari’s are of two kinds, Land & Water, both organized twice a day. Every safari has a fixed number of vehicles/boats allowed so its prudent to book in advance during high season.
- We stayed at KAAV Safari Lodges which replicates an authentic jungle lodge feel being situated right at the edge of forest, but in a cradle of luxury and simplicity.
Some more photos of our safari