TO THE WATERING HOLE
WORDS SHARMEEN HUSSAIN
PHOTOGRAPHS T KRISHNA PRABAKAR
GREAT FROM Bangalore, Mysore, Mangalore
GREAT FOR Experiencing the jungle in the rains
A rustling in the bushes betrays the location of a hiding spotted dove. As the jeep draws nearer, the bird darts out, frightened by the deep rumbling of the engine. The car rounds a bend and a herd of Asian elephants presents itself, quietly munching on some grass. At 4.30pm, there is a calm in the air at Nagarahole National Park that a city would never be able to muster. A wildlife break in the rains might seem like a crazy idea, as the chance of sightings is pretty low with most animals retreating deep into the forest now that water is no longer a scarcity. But the jungle takes on a new life this time of year, making it more beautiful than in any other season. Plus you have the entire park to yourself!
Officially known as the Rajiv Gandhi National Park, the park derives its name from the Kannada words for snake (naga) and streams (hole – pronounced ho-lay), for the many streams that meander through the forest. The Kabini River runs along the park’s southern edge, which is home to leopard, sambar, wild boar, gaur, and a variety of birds. In the monsoon, the forest gets a makeover, the greens becoming more vivid and the undergrowth spreading over the ground like 5 o’clock shadow. While the animals might not make as many appearances as they do in the summer, you know you’re being followed by hundreds of tiny beady eyes – they’re watching you from among the thickening foliage, and it’s quite a thrill. The park’s status as a tiger reserve draws many in search of the elusive striped beast, and safaris by land and by boat along the Kabini Reservoir.
But the beauty of the forest doesn’t end at the boundaries of the park. It is, in fact, all around. At the eco-friendly Red Earth Kabini, a bird-watching tour around the property with the in-house naturalist will reward you just as well. Watch tiny, rotund ashy prinias with bulging bellies, purple-rumped sunbirds with yellow breasts that look like they’ve spilled juice on themselves, and vivid green bee-eaters flit in and out of the rain-soaked foliage. These are just some of the 270-odd species that call this park home.
The resort also offers bicycle tours through the surrounding villages to the backwaters of the Kabini River and even to a nearby Buddhist monastery. And the best part? The landscape is awash with shades of green, making bike riding more “Ooh, how pretty,” than “Eww, how sweaty”.
At the Kaav Safari Lodge, which shares a boundary with the park, you have the chance of spotting elephants from your balcony. In the night, alarm calls and other jungle sounds float through the trees and the atmosphere is deliciously spine-tingling. Come daytime and the shade provided by the heavy monsoon clouds makes for the ideal conditions for a coracle ride along the river’s backwaters. But if you prefer to get closer to nature without getting your feet dirty, the luxury tents, complete with a bathtub smack dab in the middle, are perfect. And, when it finally begins to pour, listening to the rain beat down on your tent as you soak in a hot bath is nothing short of delicious.
There is something about Nagarahole National Park that makes it difficult to resist while it’s raining. Maybe it’s the joy of sighting wildlife and birds in weather that you don’t expect them to be out and about in, or maybe it’s the blanket of green that covers the region. Whatever it may be, when the place is as pretty as a picture postcard, does it even matter?