The boat safari at Nagarhole National Park (Kabini) is a very different experience and is in no way inferior to the land safari which is often preferred due to the higher probability of sighting a big cat. From a personal perspective, even considering our fantastic sighting during the land safari, we can easily recommend the boat safari if you have the time. If not the birds, the unique perspective of seeing in from the water into the forest, the various amphibians including crocodiles & otters and the picturesque setting for the sunset is unparalleled and should not be missed.
After the spectacular results of the previous day’s Land safari we were pretty gung-ho about the second day’s safari. PK, our host at KAAV had recommended the boat safari to complete the basic tour of the sanctuary but had also added that there were many who chose only to do the land safari because of the greater chances of sighting the big cats. After a bit of deliberation we decided to take PK’s advice and go for the boat tour. We started off on a similar note as the last safari, having no expectations from it. Minimal chances of big cat sightings meant no edge of the seat excitement and that is probably what we feel led to it being such a great experience.
The boat is accompanied by a guide and a driver (if that’s what they’re called) and for all practical purposes our encyclopaedia for the evening. However, with us sitting right at the back and near the engine, more than half of what the guide told us was lost in transit. For what feels like a long time and probably was, we did not approach the actual forest and it was easy to spot couples and families lounging about on the shore. When we finally approached the forest and we suddenly started spotting animals left right and centre. Elephants, deers, sambhars, boars, bisons all of them could be seen grazing, playing and drinking as we pulled near the edge to view them closely and get a few good shots in. We spotted a couple of crocodiles sunning themselves on an embankment and as we pulled in closer they suddenly dived into the water, their privacy impinged upon by us stalkers.
Not being birders we didn’t hold any special significance to the birds we sighted except the occasional, “wow, so pretty” which aptly described the extent of our knowledge about them. However the guide was quite knowledgeable and kept pointing out different birds to us as we passed them. We would’ve have probably not understood as much were we not surrounded by some birding enthusiasts who kept passing on what the guide was saying from the front and adding in a few pointers of their own. It was a lovely experience and increased our affinity towards bird watching however it’s safe to say neither of us has the patience to indulge in it as a full time hobby.
We were told that a female tiger had been sighted just the day before approaching the lake front for a drink but had scampered soon after and though we couldn’t be sure, it might’ve been the same tigress we had seen. The guide did concede that such sightings were rare and happened more in the summer months when the other local water sources inside the forest dried up. We waited impatiently for a chance sighting as a déjà vu to the previous evening but as they say, lightning does not strike the same place twice, and apparently neither does this tigress.
We soon approached the extreme periphery of our safari as the sun began its downward journey seemingly in tandem with our trip. Our guides enthusiasm however showed no signs of dying as he pointed out bird after bird in the beautiful expanse of the lake. There were numerous trees in the middle of the lake, polished smooth and with rings of various shades of brown encircling it. Though the mystery behind the trees stayed in our mind till then, when we were told the reason behind the peculiarity first by the guide and then through the documentary at our lodge in the evening, it all clicked into place.
The lake was formed as part of the Kabini reservoir after the river was dammed. Some of the trees previously on the banks of the river now became a part of the lake. The bark of the tree was softened in part by the wind as well as the ebb of the lakes water. The rings on the bark marked the various water levels during different seasons. The highest was just post the monsoons while the lowest signified the water level during the height of summers just before the monsoons arrived. As enticing as the story behind the trees is, the scene with the birds perched on the slender curving smooth trunks with the forest in the background highlighted with the rays of the dying sun colouring the billowy clouds with an array of shades of red, orange and pink.
The sunset is indeed incomparable. We’ve been sunset chasers our entire life and we were amazed at the beautiful vista we were presented with and that should count for something. As the motorboat chugged back to our jetty we tried to take the scene all in, first with a photo every 10 seconds and then seeing the futility of capturing such a sight through a lens, we went about soaking it up in our souls as the birds chirped away our last few moments of what was indeed a magical evening.
- 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.