‘An erstwhile hunting lodge of the Mysore Maharaja’ – this description of the Kabini River Lodge is enough to conjure visions of grandeur and luxury. Spread over 54 verdant acres near the Nagarhole National Park (also known as Rajiv Gandhi National Park), the lodge lulls you to a time gone by. Colonel John Felix Wakefield arrived here in late 70s, and his passion for wildlife and conservation has been the key to making the Kabini River Lodge what it is today. Three years after his death, the legend of Papa John (as he was lovingly known) lives on, reflecting in how the lodge has embraced inclusivity. Most of the staff employed is from the nearby villages – many of them having worked for twenty to thirty years at the lodge.
Great from: Easily accessible from Bangalore (225km) and Mysore (94km). And worthy of an exciting road trip!
Great for: Spotting tigers, leopards, wild elephants, spotted deer, barking deer, sambar, wild boar…and for sighting birds – osprey, crested serpent eagle, orange headed thrush, spot billed ducks, brown fish owl, blue faced malkoha, white throated kingfisher, black hooded oriole et al.
Indulge in: Wildlife safaris, nature trail walk, coracle ride, birdwatching.
Top Tip: Plan the boat ride in the morning to catch the misty backwaters of Kabini, as well as for excellent bird sighting. In the afternoon, head out on the jungle safari and count your blessings for that elusive glimpse of the big cats.
Days start early at the lodge. At the break of dawn, a beautiful blue calm envelopes the horizon, reflecting over the backwaters of Kabini. Every morning, you can choose between a jungle 4×4 safari or a boat ride on the Kabini River backwaters. It’s a tough choice really; given both are such invigorating experiences. The good part – you can enjoy whichever one you do not opt for, in the afternoon on the same day. Most of the naturalists – expert fauna spotters and jungle guides – are locals who have grown up in vicinity of the Nagarhole jungle and understand the topography like no other.
The Kabini River’s backwaters and its banks offer stunning landscapes, besides being a birdwatcher’s delight. If you are lucky, you may just spot a tiger along the banks. As the day gets brighter, the hues of pink and blue melt away into fifty (or more!) shades of resplendent, rich green. As the boat heads back to the lodge, after a two-hour-long ride, the jungles gradually give way to fields. Along the banks, one can see villagers tending to their farms, heading out on their morning business and children on their way to school on coracle boats.
Indian, Chinese and Continental dishes are typically served during all meals. Most of the vegetables and raw materials used are local produce. The team prides itself for having created an excellent waste management system. All waste – be it food from the kitchen, meal leftovers or even beer bottles – is used for composting or recycling.
It’s late afternoon, and time to plonk yourself in the 4×4, ready for the jungle. The ride on the vehicles, as they scramble through seemingly impassable jungle terrain, is the perfect antidote to a life more ordinary. Shrill cries of langurs and birds rent the jungle air. The naturalist keeps an ear out for the sambar’s call – the definitive harbinger of the arrival of the ultimate predator, the big striped cat. The jungle is a great leveller.
The safari gets over by 6 PM. At sundown, the Room Boys embark on their rounds, serving much-welcome cups of tea and coffee and hot, comforting pakodas. People settle down amongst easy bonhomie and chatter, with the raconteurs reliving their safari highlights.
And what better way to round off the evening than a drink at The Viceroy Lodge, which was once the residence of Papa John. This now hosts a well-stocked bar and an evening movie screening on the Nagarhole jungle. Over shared anecdotes and conversations, one can then head for dinner at Gol Ghar. Tomorrow is another day!
An economics graduate from Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi and an MBA from Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneshwar, Gitika started flirting with photography in 2011 and it has been a constant companion ever since. She enjoys taking photographs related to travel, humanitarian causes, festivals and celebrations and once in a while, likes to connect dots and find the common thread between images of people and places. You can view some of her work here.
For more information on Kabini River Lodge, please refer to our Short Escapes from Bengaluru travel guide.