“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Kabini Wildlife Forest. And the forest is on fire.” This is how the naturalist on board the boat on the Kabini Wildlife Safari addressed the group on the safari. Before you panic, though, the fire he is referring to is a part of the controlled activities by the forest department to ensure that overgrown weeds do not catch fire. It is common to see the forest department clear out these weeds by setting them on fire. And to add to the fire (pun unintended) is the beautiful flame of the forest tree that has bright red flowers in full bloom that add to the eternal charm of Kabini.
Once a private hunting ground of the erstwhile Maharaja of Mysore, Kabini is among one of the unique natural forest reserves in Karnataka as it has the River Kabini flowing through the national park which makes it a great spot for varied wildlife. Kabini has three native tribes called Kurubas — the honey gatherers or Jenu Kurubas, Hill tribes or Betta Kurubas and the Kadu Kurubas or the forest dwellers. Karnataka has the highest density of tigers in the wild, and Kabini is a great place to spot these elusive and majestic beasts. However, whether you see tigers or not, this is the land of elephants and the boat safari is the best way to see wild elephants. The elephants are usually seen in large herds when they come to bathe and drink water on the shores of the Kabini River. If you are lucky, you can also spot them sand bathe or be privy to a tusker battle as well! Incidentally, the River Kabini originates in the Wayanad District, then joins the River Cauvery, and is the largest river in the Nagarhole National Park separating the Bandipur and Nagarhole National Parks. The topography here includes the Giant Bamboo plant which is also the most-loved ‘cuisine’ of the tuskers. Apart from this, Chital, Sambar, Gaur, Wild pig, Muntjak and Common Langur are spotted over the 55 acres the forest is spread across. Safaris happen twice in the morning and evening, and you can choose between a jeep or a boat. You must do a coracle ride (rustic country-made boats) which are great fun too. What sets Kabini apart is the sheer choice of activities that allow you to enjoy the jungle in all its majesty.
The backwaters of the Kabini reservoir are a hotspot for bird watchers. While you are here you can spot the green bee-eater, grey hornbill, peacock, woodpecker, crested hawk eagle, Indian Pitta, green imperial pigeon, parakeet, bulbul, dove, great black woodpecker and owls among several others. Do keep an eye out for Karnataka’s state bird, the Indian Roller which has a magnificent blue colour that makes it impossible to miss. On the river you will see river terns, cormorants, Black Ibis, Brahmany kites, common kingfisher, osprey, darter, spot billed duck, purple heron, egret, stilts and more. The resident bird here is the stunning Scarlet Minivet and if you are lucky, you might spot several hordes basking in the sun. Incidentally, all safaris have naturalists on board which makes the experience memorable. Almost all resorts in the area organise early morning guided nature walks. These walks are particularly insightful as you will spot a large variety of birds and also come up close with the flora and fauna of the jungle and its vicinity. And most often, you are guaranteed a magnificent sunrise. Now, that is how you can holiday conscientiously and still have a lot of fun. So what are you waiting for? The jungle is calling.
— Photographs by Bindu Gopal Rao