Saturday, May 23, 2015

Kabini: A Magical Forest

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Day 1

After Bandipur, my next destination was Kabini (Nagarhole National Park). All the online trip reports that I read gave the impression of Kabini being a magical forest, with lots to offer to tourists, in terms of wildlife sightings. The most popular online photographs from Kabini were of leopards resting on treetops.

Needless to say, the expectations were sky-high and the excitement was palpable!

After the morning safari in Bandipur, we returned to JLR (Jungle Lodges & resorts). I had my breakfast, finished packing, completed the check-out formalities and set off for Kabini by 11 a.m. Kabini was approximately 100 kms away from Bandipur and the expected travel time was around 2 hours by road.

 Bandipur to Kabini by road (Source: Google Maps) 

The road journey started on a pleasant note. The roads were in good condition, the traffic was minimal and the countryside was lush green after the rains. The green fields, blue skies and open spaces as far as one could see, were a treat for my eyes. We drove past numerous villages and towns. The eye-pleasing scenery and wide open spaces, along the way, were just what a city dweller needed to see.

 Karnataka Countryside - Blue skies and green landscape 

 Karnataka Countryside - Cloudy skies and open landscape 

 Karnataka Countryside - Beautiful and Scenic 
After one and a half hours of travel, we reached the Kabini river. Kabini river originates in the Wayanad district of Kerala and flows eastwards to join the Kaveri river in Karnataka (source: Wikipedia). We went past Kabini dam as we started the last leg of the journey.

 By the Banks - Kabini River  

 Kabini River 

 Kabini Dam 
The last leg of the journey was a struggle. The poor state of the roads (or whatever was left of the roads), turned the last several kilometers into a slow and arduous journey.  We covered the final kilometers at a snail’s pace and finally reached the Kabini River Lodge. The journey had taken us slightly less than 3 hours, which wasn’t bad considering the state of the roads towards the end of the journey.

 As far as the eyes can see - Kabini Riverscape
The Kabini River Lodge (run by JLR) was an impressive piece of property. It was originally a hunting lodge, covering 54 acres, during the British Raj. There was a sense of grandeur and history about the place. The staff were welcoming and their conduct exuded professionalism. After having a delicious lunch, I had a short walk exploring the property. The property was beautiful and located right on the banks of the Kabini river.

 On the banks of  Kabini River 

Afternoon Safari

All the safaris in Nagarhole NP are run by Jungle Lodges and Resorts (JLR). The safaris are conducted in open gypsies (6-8 seaters) or canters (20 seaters). The safari timings are early morning and late evenings for a duration of approx 2 to 3 hours each.

We set off for the afternoon safari at about 3.30 pm. It took us some time to reach the park gates as the main entrance to the forest, Veeranahosahalli, was some distance away from Kabini River Lodge. After finishing off the paperwork, we finally entered the forest at 4 pm.

 Rajiv Gandhi National Park a.k.a. Nagarhole National Park 
The first impression that one got about Kabini on entering the gates was that of a dense and healthy forest. This bode well for the wild residents of the forests. Just like Bandipur, Kabini is also considered a safe haven for the wild elephant population of South India. Though tiger sightings were rare, leopard sightings were more frequent.

 Kabini Forest - Green, Dense and Healthy 

Our wildlife sightings started with the omnipresent Langurs and some wagtails. A short while later we came across some Indian Gaurs, partially hidden by the vegetation. A female gaur and a baby gaur glared menacingly at the trespassers in the gypsy. If glares could kill, I wouldn’t be alive to write this blog!
 If glares could kill - Indian Gaur 
Inspite of the intimidating glares, we spent some time taking photographs and admiring these powerful animals.

We continued our safari and came across some Grey junglefowls. This was my first ever sighting of these jungle fowls. Next up, we came across some spotted deer grazing in the meadows. One particular male stood out, due to it’s majestic antlers. Soon after we spotted a Crested serpent eagle sitting on a branch with it’s back towards us. As their names suggest, these magnificent Birds of prey feed on snakes.

 Fowl-play - Grey Jungle Fowl 

 Proud Antlers - Spotted Deer 
The evening light had a beautiful golden hue to it. The eagle turned it’s head towards us, allowing me an opportunity to take some photographs.

 Save the last glance for me - Crested Serpent Eagle  
We continued the safari and came across a pair of elephants. The elephants were having their fill of the abundant grass. The gypsy was parked at a safe distance from these gentle giants. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the younger of the two elephants charged. The speed at which the huge animal covered the distance towards the gypsy left me breathless with astonishment. It’s bulky appearance belied it’s speed and agility.

  A mock-charge - Wild Elephant  
Fortunately, it was a mock charge!  The elephant pulled up well short of the gypsy and I heaved a sigh of relief. This was my first personal experience of an elephant’s mock charge. And I must admit it was an unnerving experience. Had I been facing the mock charge alone, I would most probably have run, screaming and shrieking for my life, all the way to the park gates. The calming presence of the knowledgeable naturalists prevented any such drastic reactions from my side.

 End of the mock-charge 
Soon the safari came to an end and we exited the park gates. It had been a wonderful safari experience. The beauty of the forest was breathtaking. The varied wildlife in their large numbers was the icing on the cake.

So Day 1 ended on a very satisfying note. There were 3 more safari drives to go in which I hoped I could sight a tiger on the ground and a leopard on a treetop.

Day 2

Morning Safari

The morning safari started early and we reached the park gates by 6.30 am. There was a light fog in the air which added a mystical feel to the forest. The surreal atmosphere momentarily transported me into a magical and mystical world, full of tigers, leopards and elephants. In such a fairy-tale like atmosphere, even a Unicorn sighting wouldn’t have surprised me!

 Magical forestscape - Kabini forest 
Our first wildlife sighting in the morning was of a lone tusker. It’s proud tusks were a lovely sight to behold! The tusker was not affected by our presence and went about it’s task of eating grass. Elephant diet consists of grass, leaves, shrubs etc... in large quantities. We spent some time with the gentle giant.

 Mighty Tusker - Wild Elephant  
 Beautiful Tusks - Wild Elephant  
Very soon we came across a pair of peahens perched on a branch. In spite of their dull feathers (as compared to the male peacocks), the pair made for a beautiful sight. They appeared to be on alert and kept surveying their surroundings. The low light and their fast head movements made the task of getting a photograph difficult.

 Watchful and Beautiful Eyes - Peahen  
As the safari continued we reached a clearing in the dense forest. In the clearing were huge electricity pylons, erected right in the middle of the forest. The pylons were an eyesore in what was otherwise an untouched and unspoilt wilderness.

 An Electric landscape - Electricity Pylons in the forest 
The spotted deer, however, did not seem to mind the pylons. They were busy grazing in large numbers in the clearing. A quarter of an hour later, the birds made their appearance. First came a Racket-tailed Drongo, then a Yellow-crowned Woodpecker and a Common Myna. We also sighted a Malabar Giant Squirrel from a distance. Inspite of it’s size it was very nimble and scampered away in an instant.

 Just grazing - Spotted Deer  

 Yellow-crowned Woodpecker  

 Common Myna 

 Fluffy and fast furballs - Malabar Giant Squirrel 
Our naturalist then impressed us with his sighting skills. He pointed towards a branch a short distance away. It was only when the bird moved that we realized it wasn’t a part of the branch. The Crested Hawk-eagle was so perfectly camouflaged against the branch that we would never have spotted it but for the trained eyes of the naturalist. The contribution of an experienced naturalist to the success of a safari can never be overstated.

 Camouflaged - Crested Hawk-eagle  

 Crested Hawk-eagle  
The hawk-eagle was calling out in it’s loud high-pitched call. Sure enough, a second later we heard the response call of another hawk-eagle which was out of sight. Then, to add excitement to the moment, a mongoose walked into the scene. The mongoose was also well camouflaged against the brown branches. A few minutes later the mongoose and the hawk-eagle started eyeing each other. We half-expected to see a confrontation between the two, a la ‘Mongoose in the Eagle’s Shadow’. However, the characters in this scene appeared to be a non-violent kind and therefore nothing exciting happened.

 Face-off: Mongoose and Crested Hawk-eagle  
The hawk-eagle flew to a tree nearby granting us the opportunity to take photos from a closer distance. We moved on only after we had our fill of the eagle’s photographs. 

 Sharp and dangerous talons - Crested Hawk-eagle 

 Morning Raaga - Crested Hawk-eagle  

 Bonnet Macaque 
Driving further we saw a Chesnut-headed bee-eater, a Jungle Bush Quail and a couple of Indian Pond terrapins next to a water body.

 Clockwise Top L-R: Chesnut-headed bee-eater, Jungle Bush Quail, Indian Pond terrapins and Wood-spider Cobwebs
The final sighting of the morning safari was of a Crested Serpent Eagle, from very close quarters. The Serpent eagle did not budge from it’s perch when we approached. It eyed the gypsy’s occupants closely with it’s large eyes. The eagle’s cold stare had the potential to make the blood run cold of the bravest of men/women.

 The Inquisitive Look - Crested Serpent Eagle 

 The Cold and Intense Glare - Crested Serpent Eagle 
The eagle provided the best photo opportunity of the morning. I gratefully clicked away to glory. It was a happy ending to the morning safari. We exited the park gates soon after.

Due to unavailability of rooms at Kabini River lodge, my second day’s stay was booked at Waterwoods, a resort located just a few minutes away from Kabini River Lodge.

I completed my check-out formalities at Kabini River Lodge and moved to Waterwoods. Waterwoods was a much smaller property, but beautiful and well-maintained. It was also located on the banks of the Kabini river. The remainder of the morning was spent clicking the flowers and birds in the premises. The birds included White-browed wagtail, White-throated Kingfisher, Little Cormorant and some domestic Geese.

 Beautiful by the river - Waterwoods 

Clockwise Top L-R: White-browed Wagtail, White-throated Kingfisher, Domestic Geese and Indian Comorant

Afternoon Safari

The afternoon safari started at 4 pm. It was a dark and overcast evening. The first hour of the safari was spent roaming around the forest without a single wildlife sighting. Understandably the mood in the gypsy was gloomy mirroring the dull weather outside.

The first moment of excitement was provided by Oriental Pied Hornbills. The hornbills were partially hidden by the dense foliage as they glided from one tree to the other. This was my first ever sighting of a hornbill and I was thrilled. However, due to the poor weather getting even a record shot proved difficult.

Malabar Pied Hornbill

After a few minutes we came across a herd of elephants. Most of them were digging the soil for salt and other minerals. The salt and minerals in the soil help supplement their diet. A few others were rubbing their trunks against the tree trunks. We spent quite some time observing their behavior before we resumed the safari.

In search of Salt and Minerals - Wild Elephants 

When trunks meet - Wild Elephant
We saw a Racket-tailed Drongo but getting a photograph was next to impossible. We reached a lake in the middle of the forest. It was a very beautiful location. On the banks of the lake we saw a Sambhar deer in the company of a herd of Spotted deer. Also on the banks was a mongoose, presumably searching for food amongst the logs.

Picturesque - Kabini Landscape
 Deer oh Deer - Sambar deer in the company of Spotted deer 

 Ruddy Mongoose 
And then the most exciting moments of the Kabini trip unfolded. The startling sound of a spotted deer’s alarm call broke the calm and silence of the forest. There was probably a predator on the move, in the vicinity. The deer herd stopped grazing and froze. They were on high-alert and focussed their gaze towards the direction of the alarm calls. 

And then the alarm calls sounded again and again. This was more or less a confirmation that a predator was definitely around. Our excitement was at a peak and the suspense was killing. With bated breath, we strained our eyes in all directions in the hope of spotting the predator. However, to make matters worse, it was getting darker and the time to exit the gates was fast approaching.

 Let the excitement begin - Spotted Deer alarm calls 

                      The excitement and suspense continues - Spotted Deer alarm calls 

The alarm calls kept ringing out at regular intervals, sending our heartbeats racing. But... Alas... inspite of our desperate prayers, a predator sighting was not on the cards that evening. Much to our disappointment, we had to leave the scene and proceed towards the park gates. It was heart-breaking to say the least. A case of ‘Being at the right place at the right time but not long enough’.

The evening was spent mulling over our missed encounter with either a tiger or a leopard. Intense disappointment and gloom were the flavours of the evening, with most of my thoughts beginning with either ‘What if…’ or ‘If only…’.

There was one more safari to go. I desperately prayed for a leopard sighting.. on a treetop, if not a tiger sighting.

Day 3

Morning Safari

We were up early in the morning and entered the forest around 6.30 am. At the park gates, the forest officials informed us that a tiger had made a kill, at the very same spot we had been waiting, the previous evening. All I could do was sigh in disappointment.

This being my last safari, I was desperate to catch a glimpse of a leopard on a treetop, I had decided to keep my eyes trained on the treetops throughout the safari.

Our first sighting was of a Crested Serpent Eagle perched on a branch. Then came a magnificent tusker with the longest tusks I have ever seen. The unbelievably long tusks almost touched the ground!

 Crested Serpent Eagle 

 Endless Tusks - Wild Elephant 
The visible ivory tusks on elephants are made primarily of dentine and include small amounts of enamel. One-third of the tusk's length is actually hidden from view in the animal's skull and is technically a pulp cavity comprised of tissue, blood and nerves. (Source: We spent quite some time observing and photographing the majestic animal.

Next to come in view was a Crested Hawk-Eagle perched atop a tree. This particular bird was a delight to watch and photograph. It gave us so many different poses, straight head, tilted head, front-on eye contact etc. It appeared to be a natural in front of the camera. Further on, we also came across a Wild Boar family busy feeding themselves.

 Eye contact - Crested Hawk-eagle 

 Wild Boar 
We drove through the forest for the next half an hour without any sightings. My strategy of focusing only on the treetops did not yield any leopard sightings, just branches and leaves. Finally, we reached a small water body surrounded by tall trees. It was a most picturesque scene. And, as if to add life and excitement to the scene, three elephants emerged from the tall trees, two adults and a young one.

They approached the water body and started quenching their thirst with their long trunks. It was a joy to watch these elephants. The tender care and attention shown by the adults, towards the young one, was heart-warming. They ensured that the young one was safely positioned between them, when drinking. Also, whenever possible the adults tried to shield the young one from the hot sun using their bodies. Through their behavior they displayed that were not, just gentle giants, but, gentle, tender and caring giants.

 Charming elephant-scape - Wild Elephants 

 Safe in between - Wild Elephants 

 Shade in Mom's shadow - Wild Elephants 
After the elephants had quenched their thirst, they moved back into the forest. The next 45 minutes went by without any action or excitement. We were nearing the end of the safari when the grand tusker from the morning made it’s appearance. I was still awe-struck by the long endless tusks. The grand tusker was the finale to my Kabini trip as the safari came to an end.

 Tusk..Tusk - Wild Elephant 

 When Tusks meet - Wild Elephant 
The Kabini trip had been a most enjoyable and satisfying trip. After Ranthambore, Kabini was one of the more beautiful forests that I had visited. The lakes/river within the forest added to the beauty of the landscape. Kabini was indeed a magical forest and I knew I’d be visiting it again in the near future. The Tiger and Leopard sightings would have to wait till my next trip.

 Kabini - A magical forest  
It was time to pack-up and set off for my next destination, B.R. Hills Tiger Reserve.

Hasta Manana Kabini


  1. wow..clouds in 3D..i only saw them in US and wondered why we do not see them in India. But your picture proves me wrong. :)
    The kabini river looks so serene and hte surroundings untouched. Perfect place to meditate and retrospect :)

    You got a glorious shot of the eagle basking in the morning sunlight.In the picture, The crested serpent eagle doesn't look as menacing as its name.

    wow, so the elephant gave you guys a false scare. Maybe they were having fun and thought of playing a prank on their human admirers :-P
    The elephant that charged looks like a young boy or was he a full-grown adult?

    A bee-eater in India too. That is such a revelation for a bird-illiterate like me who feels all exotic looking birds must reside in foreign locales :)

    Terrapins = tortoises?

    And on my first read, this post seemed very similar to Bandipur. But now that have come back to this post after a few days, it feels very different. So, I was wrong. :)

    Kabini forest covered in mist surely does remind me of a magical land like in the movie "the chronicles of Narnia" :)
    Thanks for the beautiful virtual trip through the forest. Keep posting.

    1. Dear Amita,

      Thanks a lot for such a wonderful feedback. You've made my day if not week and month. :)

      You're spot on about the Kabini riverside being the perfect place to meditate. It was so beautiful and peaceful by the riverside.

      The charging elephant was a young one. Different kinds of Bee-eaters are commonly found in India. Yes, Terrapins = Small turtles.

      Blogs and photos may not give the actual feel and atmosphere of the forest. Kabini was way more beautiful and an untouched wilderness as compared to Bandipur. It truly felt like a magical place.

      Keep reading and posting your insightful & spot-on comments. Cheers.

  2. Nice post and beautiful pictures. The wildlife reserve at the banks of the expansive river of the same name, Kabini offers a vacation amidst greenery and wildlife at its prime.Kabini is 3 hours drive away from Bangalore and is a great weekend getaway from the city. Also, explore other tourist place near Bangalore and plan your vacation.


Hope you enjoyed reading about the joy, thrills and experience of a wildlife safari through this blog and also liked the photos of wildlife.

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