Weekend trip to Kabini River Lodge in Kabini, Karnataka, India

Would you travel six hours for a small chance of catching a glimpse of a big cat?  We did! 

The big cats themselves stayed elusive….  for most of us except one special group on that day.  We got to see fresh paw prints of a big cat.  However, the thrill of seeing large herds of elephants, deer and gaur along with numerous other wild animals and birds in their natural habitat is an experience we will never forget…. and we did not have to go all the way to Africa to experience it.   For a city dweller, it was magic indeed!

Okay.  Given that mystery is out of the way, I would like to spend some time detailing our trip to Kabini in Karnataka, India during the month of May.

While planning the trip to Kabini, one of the most intimidating aspects is the price.  Majority of the accommodations feel very expensive and you wonder whether the prices demanded are justified.  I wasn’t any different.  So, why did we go?  Here are things that compelled us to answer yes:  1) Unlike the main river, the backwaters have some water even in May, which means, the animals do depend on the backwaters and therefore sightings are possible; 2) Nagarahole Tiger Reserve is known to have a decent population of tigers, leopards and recently, even a black panther was spotted several times.  If you are a wildlife enthusiast or photographer, then, the opportunity to see animals in the wild (rather than in a zoo) is palpable; 3)  experiencing the energy of old growth trees in a unique way.  The reserve has areas of lush forest which contain an incredible energy; 4)  opportunity to show kids that animals in the wild are enthralling to watch; and 5) the price is often all-inclusive, which means, your accommodation, meals and safari rides are taken care of, so when you add it all up, it is not too much of a stretch.  Having justified the expense, we went ahead 🙂

We started our journey from Bengaluru around 7:30am.  Once we reached the Bengaluru/Mysore highway, we stopped over for breakfast at a place called “Adyar Ananda Bhavan” which serves tasty, quick serve Indian breakfast.  It is a simple but clean and well maintained place.  After breakfast, we continued our journey towards Kabini.  We passed through Srirangapatna but did not stop there.

We reached Kabini around 1:45 pm. After checking into our room, we headed to the dining area to enjoy our lunch. 

Important note: one of the members in our group was a senior citizen and we were allotted rooms in the North Bungalow.  This particular building is the farthest from the dining, river and safari pick up area.  So, if you have people in your group who cannot walk too far, then I would strongly recommend you speak to the resort folks ahead of time to determine the best location for your rooms and book accordingly.

After lunch we decided to hang around the river area as we had only about 45 minutes before we had to get ready for the safari and walking back to the room felt like it would be too long : ). It was a great decision.  The kids had a blast playing in the kids play area.  A couple of monkeys (the real ones) joined in the fun.  Around 3pm we had tea and then hopped into a jeep and headed out to the safari in Nagarahole Tiger Reserve.

Important information regarding jeep safaris in Nagarahole Tiger Reserve (starting from Kabini River Lodge)

The jeep safaris travel in one of two zones – Zone A and Zone B. 

In Zone B, you have an opportunity to see many deer, elephants, gaurs.  This is where they will most likely take you for your first safari ride (which happened to us).  You will have an opportunity to see animals near the river in large herds and it is indeed a beautiful sight.

In Zone A, you have an opportunity to travel in big cat territory… and this is where you will have your best shot of spotting a tiger, leopard or the elusive black panther.  Most of the the wildlife photographers head to this zone directly.  In this zone also you get see deer and elephants. 

The pictures accompanying this post have been labelled to show in which Zone the picture was taken so that you have an idea of the terrain and the animals we saw.  All photos are straight shots – no photoshop magic.

Normally you are entitled to one jeep safari and one river cruise (which I also understand is spectacular).  On the day we went, there was a little bit of flexibility available and the resort obliged for which we are extremely grateful. 

In summary, we explored Zone B during the late afternoon safari and Zone A during the early morning safari.  We were told that out of the 14 vehicles that ventured into Zone A during the early morning safari that day, one lucky vehicle got to see a leopard.  We had to settle for fresh paw prints 🙂

Back to the schedule

Our afternoon safari was cut short by about one hour due to heavy rain.  We headed back to the resort and had lovely tea.  Afterwards, we stayed back to watch a documentary on wildlife.  We were expecting to see a documentary specific to Nagarahole and Bandipur Tiger reserves.  Unfortunately, the documentary focused on the wildlife in Rajasthan and Gujarat.  Afterwards we headed to have dinner and called it a night.

The next morning we woke up early, and after a quick coffee headed out to Zone A of Nagarahole Tiger Reserve.  

Watching the animals at sunrise in a beautiful forest was a spectacular experience by in itself.  We thoroughly enjoyed traversing the forest in search of the big cats.  The fresh paw prints made after the heavy rains the previous night teased us all along, but, alas, we did not have any luck.  Here is the very important thing to remember:  if your goal is to see a tiger in the wild, then, you need to increase your chances by staying more than one day and going on more than one jeep safari.  We were told that most wildlife photographers spend three to five days and get lucky only once in a while.

After we came back from the safari we headed back to the room and freshened up.  Afterwards, we headed to the dining area and had our breakfast.  Once we finished our breakfast we checked out of the resort and headed back towards Bangalore.

Final thoughts

Spending time in Kabini, away from the crowds, traffic and concrete cities is awesome.  You truly do get a chance to wind down and honestly 24 hours does not do justice.  If you can afford it, do spend two or three days… yep, it is expensive but, the flip side is that you will not run into too many people either, so you will truly be at peace… so your call!

Chasing wild animals – my thoughts on this are – chill.  There were many folks staying at the resort whose specific objective was to capture the perfect big cat shot… amazing cameras, disappointment on their faces.  Yes, chasing the big cats is thrilling but watching the deer, elephants and gaur are equally enchanting.    If you are after the big cats, then you must spend at least two full days to give yourself multiple opportunities to spot the animals.  For example, during our safaris, in many cases, the animals that we saw on the way in were no where to be found on the way out (and vice-a-versa) even though we took the exact same path both ways.

Forest energy is truly refreshing… enjoy it if you can!

The drive to Kabini is nice.  Our driver told us that the road between Mysore and Bangalore is currently being widened (we could see the work underway) and the drive might change in the future… may be for the better.

Kabini River Lodge

The staff are friendly and helpful.  The rooms are large and comfortable.  The food is decent.  As mentioned earlier, if there are people in your group who cannot walk too far, then do not pick the North Bungalow as it is furthest from the dining area.  The best part of staying at the resort is the jeep safari offered by the lodge instead of sitting in a canter safari bus.  We spoke to people who went on the river cruise offered by the lodge and they mentioned that it was also amazing.   

Only cautionary piece of advice – follow the itinerary as outlined on the card that they give you when you arrive.  I mis-placed it and thought it was okay to follow the itinerary posted online and realised that the timings were different for dining and reporting.

So, bottomline – if you enjoy the outdoors, then Kabini will not disappoint you!

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