“So, today we take a look at the tiger and tomorrow we shall see the leopard,” said the lady while running an eye over the blackboard containing the tabulated details of animal sightings. The guide was desperately attempting to convey that a Nagarahole safari was not like a visit to a zoo and you could not pick the animals to see like you would select food from a menu. After a long and tiring journey from Bengaluru, this was the scene that met our eyes as we alighted in front of the reception of the Kabini River lodge.
The verdant surroundings and the clean air were such a change from the city that we felt invigorated even as we were stretching to get rid of the kinks in the body. On the last stretch leading to the lodge we had already seen a herd of spotted deer, with their accompanying langurs, and the children were all excited about the safari to come. One could also hear the twittering of birds and, even though the birds may have merely been discussing the dearth of worms these days, they do it so melodiously that we felt soothed.
After checking in, settling in our cottage and taking advantage of the sumptuous buffet lunch, we stretched ourselves out for a while since the safaris were on only in the evenings and the mornings. The boat safari, which was on offer, is best done in the evenings, apparently, since the mornings are likely to be too misty for animal sightings. Of course, while at Nagarhole considerations of what is best is done not on aesthetic grounds but based on the probability of animal sightings. Indeed, the conversation at lunch was a competitive affair – the jeepload which had sighted a tiger or a leopard lorded it over the chaps who had merely sighted wild dogs or elephants. The latter, of course, looked down their noses on those who had just spotted deer to show for their trip. Having just landed we were left out of this animated flow of verbiage and were eager to get into the flow of things.
Traveling through the jungle is a rewarding experience if you have your eyes and ears open. The blue flash of a kingfisher, the twittering flight of parakeets and the graceful glide of the Brahmi kite elude the eyes of the person who has his eyes peeled only for the sight of a tiger or a leopard. The best way, indeed, to go on a safari is to go with the flow and enjoy what is on offer – and there is plenty to enjoy if one is not obsessed with hunting trophies.
We had what amounted to a successful safari. There was the wild dog that looked on so disdainfully at us and refused to budge till we went past it. A couple of sambhar deer and the barking deer were also on offer, though the barking deer refused to bark for as long as we were there. There was the Indian Bison which cat-walked to the edge of the bushes, held a pose for some time and then, as though it had detected a wardrobe malfunction, ran back into the bushes.
There were the elephants, of course. There was the lone tusker which was happily taking a mud shower and could not care less if a bunch of homo sapiens were rude enough to intrude on its ablutions. Then there was the herd that was split on both sides of the road. Our driver wanted to take a right turn there while the lot on the left also wanted to cross over to the right. So, he used the jeep’s engine noises to keep them off till he made the turn. After having gone right to see the wild dog that was chased off by a trumpeting charge of elephants we returned to find the way blocked by the same elephants to which we had denied passage a few minutes ago.
We were stuck there till the elephants would deign to give us way and, as is the way with homo sapiens, there was a lot of noise and crowding about to get photographs despite repeated requests from the driver to keep silence lest the noise caused the elephants to charge. At last one elephant trumpeted and made a mock charge at the vehicle – after which there was not a cheep from the passengers. As ever, one threatening move was worth a thousand requests!
One of the jeeps on safari had, apparently, sighted a tiger and the message was passed on to all vehicles. Suddenly there was a mad rush to the point where the tiger was spotted. Just as we were approaching the spot, dust from a jeep before us blinded me and I was unable to see a thing. The rest of the passengers in the jeep were able to see the hindquarters of the tiger disappearing into the bushes. Truly, nowhere else can you hear such a note of pride in someone’s voice while confessing to ogling a tiger’s behind!
What the jeep safari drivers-cum-guides have to put up with was evidenced on our return when a chap in a passing jeep asked us plaintively, “Did they show you anything?” He, apparently, thought that the jeep drivers were deliberately keeping away from all the animals because he had some personal enmity with the passengers in his jeep!
The boat safari was another wonderful experience. While the possible crocodile sighting did not materialize, we did see a lot of birds. The eerie cry of the egret over the waters and the flight of spotted bill ducks created an enchanted fairyland marred only by the noise of the motor of the boat. Then our boatman found for us a true rarity – a tusk-less male elephant was drinking water. Apparently this is a rare sighting and he made much of it.
As with all good things, our stay at Kabini came to an end. I promised myself a return to this wonderland. After all, I still have not ogled a tiger’s behind!