Leopard Land of India - Mystic Kabini
Asian Elephant Tusker at Kabini
The Bold one of Kabini - Male Leopard
Kabini is a small river in Southern India, that originates in Wayanad district of Kerala, flows eastward and enters Karnataka and then meets the Ganges of South - Cauvery river near Narsimhpura in Karnataka. This river passes through one of the most beautiful parts of Southern India, the Western Ghats forests and is a major lifeline to the flora and fauna of this region. A small dam at Sargur near Mysore on this river creates a huge reservoir which is known as Kabini Reservoir and creates a long trail of backwaters that enriches the forest of Nagarhole National Park and Bandipur NP. The Kabini river and reservoir divides the two protected areas with Bandipur NP on it's South Bank and Nagarhole National Park on it's North Bank. The river meanders through most of the Nagarhole National Park and sustains the animal life of the forest. Hence the Nagarhole national park is also popularly known as Kabini National Park or just Kabini.
Nagarhole gets it's name from 'naga' meaning snakes and 'hole' meaning streams - literally meaning streams of snakes. It was an exlusive hunting reserve of Wodeyar dynasty, rulers of Mysore. Set up as Wildlife Sanctuary in 1955 it's status was upgraded after adding more area under protection to a National Park in 1988. In 1999, Nagarhole NP was included as the 37th Project Tiger Reserve of India for the protection and conservation of wildlife and biodiversity under the umbrella of Save Tiger mission.
Influence to visit...
What influenced me about Kabini, were the umpteen posts on social network like Facebook, especially posts about the most elusive of the Big Cat species, Leopard. Leopard spotting seemed to be very common with the kind of photographs were being posted in online photography communities that it gave me a feeling that what I have not experienced in all of the decade of scouting thru the forests of Gujarat and Central India, I will be able to see my first leopard in wild here in Kabini.
Tiger being the premeier predator, other flagship species that are resident to this habitat are Asian Elephant, Indian Wild Dogs, Leopards, Giant Squirrel, Wild boar and many resident and migratory bird species. But what makes Kabini special are it's bold Leopards. It is still a matter of awe that how an elusive cat species, which is solitary and shy and very hard to spot in the other national parks and protected areas of the country, have been spotted and sighted regularly in Kabini.
After much contemplation to visit this amazing forest, the dates of trips were fixed in December 2013. As the visiting period coincided with one of the most busiest holiday period, I was careful enough to plan the trip and accomadation well in advance (6months) before the trip dates.
Even in any other part of India, if you are wishing to plan a vacation in a protected area or national park, you will have to book the trip well in advance as bookings for wildlife safari generally opens 90 days in advance and are booked very fast.
After the Dec 2013 visit, I again visited Kabini in August 2014. Well this is a good part of national parks in Southern India, unlike the parks of north India, these parks of South India are opened for tourism in monsoon season as well. And the forest is totally surreal and green duirng the monsoon season and a treat to watch. Though sightings are issues, as water is available every where due to rains, so animal movement is very restricted. But the scene of lush green forest and wet safari track is immensely beautiful.
Kabini - Location and How to Reach?
Kabini is nicely tucked in the South western corner of Karnataka, along the Karnataka-Kerala State border. It is surrounded by Bandipur forest in South and the beautiful coffee laden hill slopes of Western Ghats in Coorg in North. Towards East is the beautiful historical town of Mysore, which is a major IT hub. Kabini is located 90 km west to Mysore and some 250km from Bengaluru.
Proper planning is required before one decides to visit Kabini. One should plan their trip keeping in mind the Safari timings and availability. It becomes important to be aware of the Safari timings as one may not want to unnecessarily miss any of the available wildlife Safari by improper travel plans and delays in travelling.
Kabini is not directly connected by rail or airways. Only option of travelling to Kabini is by road trip either from Mysore or Bengaluru. As Bengaluru is very well connected by railways as well as domestic and international airways, it is recommended to first fly to Bengaluru on the evening of previous day and then take a cab/taxi next early morning to reach Kabini by noon. It is imperative to take cab in early morning as the road travel from Bengaluru to Kabini is quite busy and it takes almost more than 6-7 hours to travel this 250+ km of road distance. Hench leaving early and reaching by noon to Kabini will provide you an extra 1-2 hours of rest before taking your first wildlife Safari - the second scheduled Safari for the day in the afternoon around 2:30 pm.
Kabini - Location and travel Map
Kabini - Widllife Safari
Questions that may arise in your mind while planning a vacation to Kabini.
Why I should visit Kabini?
What should I expect from this trip/visit?
Who conducts Wildlife Safari?
What are the timings? and etc
When you are planning for a visit to Kabini, only thing you should expect is peace and tranquility that you may experience. Sighting wildlife during wildlife safari and especially Big Cats like Tigers and Leopards is a matter of shear luck. Though sightings in Kabini has always been good but one should not over expect that going on a wildlife safari, you will always spot big cats. No, this is where most of the people gets disappointed and loses on to enjoy the experience of being in wilderness and nature.
Wildlife Safari and viewing is facilitated by a firm called Jungle Lodges and Resorts which is 100% owned by Karnataka State Government. Today JLR is an Eco-tourism brand that has 16 resort properties spread across the Karnataka state. Wildlife safari across all of the protected areas and sanctuaries across Karnataka are conducted by JLR in partnership with the Forest Department of Karnataka.
So How wildlife safaris are conducted?
Wildlife safari in Kabini are conducted in two ways - 1. by a 4WD vehicle on designated safari tracks on land. 2. Motorboat safari by a motor boat in to the backwaters of Kabini reservoir. Both safari experiences are different. Though more popular is the overland safari by a 4WD vehicle. If you are planning for a 2 night stay and take 4 safaris, you can opt for 1 motorboat safari and 3 vehicle safari.
Safari are conducted in early morning and evening. Timings for safari are 6:30 AM in the morning and 3:30 pm in the afternoon.
Kabini: Options for Stay
So now you know who conducts, what are the safari timings etc. Now what you have to decide is on a cool place to stay.
As said, Kabini River Lodge is the eco-tourism destination, provides aesthetically placed and designed accomodation facilities. Also as all the wildlife safari start from Kabini River Lodge, one has to anyhow visit this beautiful lodge to start his/her safari. So why not opt for actually staying at this property. As JLR provides a complete all inclusive package that includes stay, meals and both morning and evening wildlife safari.
If you are unlucky not being able to book your stay at Kabini River Lodge, there are many resorts around Kabini and few I can recommend.
Though I visited Kabini twice, I did not stayed at Kabini River Lodge, as on the first occasion, I was not much aware about Kabini, I booked a beautiful private resort which I came across online on Tripadvisor. The resort is called Bison Wilderness Resort which is probably the best located resort right at the fringes of Nagarhole National Park forest boundary on the bank of Kabini reservoir. The next time I stayed in one of the luxury resorts operated by The Serai group. This visit was a part of a photography workshop hence stayed at this resort.
Kabini Resort images
Few of the noted resorts that provide quality accomodation at Kabini are:
1. Kabini River Lodge
2. The Bison Resort, Kabini
3. Serai Kabini
4. The Orange County, Kabini
How did I plan my travel? Well I started from Mumbai, and reaching Kabini from Mumbai is possible by two ways;
1. By Air till Bengaluru or Mysore and then travelling by road till your place of stay in Kabini.
2. By train till Mysore or Bengaluru and then travelling by road.
Train travel is very time consuming and it would have taken almost a day travelling by train to either Bengaluru or Mysore from Mumbai, so travelling by train was out of option. And Bengaluru is better connected by Air than Mysore with Mumbai or rest of the India, hence I took an early morning flight to Bengaluru and booked a cab in advance which was waiting at the Airport for us to take to Kabini. We started from Bengaluru Airport around 8 am and expected to reach kabini around 1 pm. But it turned out that the journey was a lot longer thanks to numerous speed breakers on a State Highway between Bengaluru and Mysore. We reached Kabini around 3.30 at our resort, Bison Resort. Though the resort managment requested that they can serve us our lunch, we skipped that idea as we needed to take the evening safari which was about to begin in few minutes. So we just kept our luggage in our Deluxe Tent and freshen up fast to get ready for the Safari. So after a 3 hour flight, and 7 hours of road trip, here we were ready for a Wildlife Jeep Safari for another 4 hours. It was a hell of a hectic day and here where I made a mistake in making my travel plans which I realised after this experience.
I should have reached Bengaluru a day earlier, stayed there overnight and then take a Cab very early in the morning around 6-7 am so that to skip the morning peak hour traffic and reach Kabini by around noon 12pm. This would have given us a window of 2-3 hours to rest before the 4 hour Jeep Safari. These are the kind of mistakes we tend to make when we make our travel plans to a new place.
So if you want to travel to Kabini with ease and not getting tired of a whole day travel, plan accordingly so that you reach Bengaluru a day earlier, take Cab to kabini early in the morning and reach Kabini well in time to experience your first jeep safari in the evening.
Distance of Kabini and time taken to travel
6 to 7 hours by road
First Leopard Sighting in Wild - Double Dhamaka
Wildlife Sightings at Kabini
When on a wildife safari, one should not just expect to sight a Tiger or a leopard all the time. there are many wildlife games to be experienced and one should not get disappointed if unable to see any wildlife.
Wildlife sighting on a safari is a matter of pure luck, also the wildlife tracking experience of forest guide comes in handy, but one's luck also matters the most. You should never enter a national park on safari with tons of expectations of sighting a Tiger, but you must enjoy every moment of being in wilderness. The peace and tranquility it provides, one should experience that. Once you enjoy your stay in forest, wildlife sightings will happen.
Wildlife sightings to expect in Kabini are:
Mammals like Tiger, Leopard, Wild dogs, Elephant, Spotted deer, Sambar deer, Indian Bison, barking deer, langurs, malabar giant squirrel and many more.
Reptiles like, many species of snakes, monitor lizard, other lizard species, crocodiles, etc
Birds species like, crested serpent eagle, Malabar hornbills, malabar trogon, verditer flycatcher, paradise flycatcher, Kite, etc.
Other Activities at Kabini
Wildlife Safari through Jeep or motorboat is the premier activity here. But one can also indulge in various in-resort activities such as
1. Nature Trail in and around resort
2. Visit to a tribal village near resort - to understand the lifestyle of local people and how the live in harmony with wildlife and efforts taken by them to minimize conflicts with wildlife
3. Boat ride in reservoir in evening
4. Coracle boat ride - Coracle is the local circular boat made up of bamboo and other wood that the local people use to cross the reservoir.
5. Yoga meditation sessions (if available at your resort)
6. Spa sessions
7. Visiting nearby places such as Dubare Elephant park and Iruppu falls.
Wildlife along the state highway running through the park
Another thing people visiting Kabini can do is take a long drive in to the Forest with their own vehicle. A state highway passes through the park towards Kerala which is open for public from sunrise to sunset. If people have their own vehicle, they can enter the park and travel thru till kerala and come back before sunset. Only thing to consider is that the private vehicles are not allowed to venture off the state highway. But as the road passes through the forest there are chances to see a lot of wildlife along the highway. Many times people had seen tigers and leopards while driving along this highway.
So ready your gear, and visit this amazing park and I bet you will not be disappointed.
Do visit Kabini and share your experience here. Enjoy. Happy travelling.