The black leopard – a dream chase for every wildlife enthusiast; such a beautiful beast. no doubt that the Tiger has its own might and audience, but personally, Leopards attract us far more than that. They are beautiful, agile and one of the most shy felines. Whenever we go to any safari (most of times, it is a Tiger chase), there is always a moment where we pray for even a blink sighting of a Leopard. And what more can you dream of if the leopard is the melanistic black beauty; just like the “Bagheera” from the Jungle book that most of us are intensely connected to from our childhood. But are there any chances to spot this black leopard? – a question we always wondered until recently. A few years back, its sightings went viral on social media. And that was the moment where we started planning to chase one. Apparently this beautiful beast had been sighted in the Jungles of Nagarhole National park and also in the Jungles of South India.
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With Kabini (part of Nagarhole National Park) being the closest to where we could plan a long holiday safari, we put a pin on the plan and started looking for lodges.
There are many lodges that offer the safari and stay, but most of them are very expensive and privately run. We dug a bit deeper and found one of the forest lodges – Kabini forest lodge. This is a government run lodge and with that our expectations were very low (all the blame is on our previous experiences with Government lodges). But when we went ahead to book it, we did feel it a bit pricey for a government run lodge. But our desire to meet “Bagheera” made us click on the book button without a delay. We booked the lodge for one night that included a bungalow room, hi-tea and dinner for one day, breakfast for the other day, one evening safari and one morning safari the other day – all for the price of ₹10,000 per person (₹20,000 for a couple).
We reached the lodge by 12 PM, checked in and freshened up. The room assigned to us was very cozy. Designed in wood in Victorian style, the entire lodge gave a very boutique resort feel. Though Government run, yet it was very clean and provided all the necessary facilities. The services were prompt with a very few exceptions. The lodge is spread over 54 acres of lands. It is artistically designed with bungalows and hutments, park/children area, a classic old-styled bar and dining area. Located on the banks of river Kabini, one can easily have beautiful views of Bandipur and Periyar forests across the river.
Apparently all the safari jeeps for Kabini are operated by Kabini Forest lodge, thus providing an aided benefit of confirmed availability to the guests of the lodge. The private lodges/properties nearby make the safari bookings via Kabini Forest lodge.
We had our safari call for 3 PM. So after settling in our room we quickly headed for lunch. Lunch was decent and we were super hungry as we had skipped our breakfast to start early from Coorg for Kabini. After the lunch we had sometime with us so we explored the lodge a little. The property is really lavish and lush green with varieties of birds within the campus. Its a treat for bird watchers. We got engrossed in enjoying the surroundings and capturing the subtle beauty of nature around. By now it was time for safari that we were eagerly waiting for – afterall it was a long awaited encounter with Saya – the lone black leopard of Kabini…
We were assigned a jeep with an elderly couple and a family of 4 which comprised of 2 kids which disappointed us a little owing to our earlier experiences with kids on safaris. But we had no choice. Finally we embarked on our journey into the beautiful forest of Kabini. The first look of the forest enchanted us with its lush green canopy and spectacular views. Our driver first took us to a water point where we saw an elephant taking dust bath. We were told that the pond there has a crocodile also but we didn’t sight it. Also since we were more interested in sighting Black Panther, we did not spend much time there and started going back. Right then a beautiful and mighty tusker happened to cross our path. Driver stopped the jeep immediately but it seemed the tusker wasn’t happy seeing the guests there. It made a run for the other side of the pathway but not without letting us know about its unhappiness – it showed its anger by making a loud sound. And also it kept looking at us for a while as if asking us to leave its territory. We quickly dashed forward and left him alone.
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The moment we started from there, our guide got a call about a tiger sighting around 5kms away from where we were. He asked if he can drive the jeep fast enough to reach the spot of tiger sighting. We were all more than happy and gave him an unanimous positive nod to fly away. It was an exhilarating off-road drive of 10 min which thrilled us beyond expectation. And kudos to our driver, we reached our spot on time. It seemed as if the tiger was waiting for us. It was one of the best tiger sightings that we have ever witnessed. The tiger was a young male who was basking under the glory of sun. It was simply enjoying its paparazzi time by sitting and yawning and rolling on the ground. He gave us the show of good 20 min and then thought its enough. He stood and graciously walked past us, marked it territory and moved along. But amidst all this show there was a moment when our hearts skipped a beat. Our Jeep was the closest to the tiger, almost 7-8 feet away. Yeah – we were super happy about the fact until a canter came along and stopped right behind us trying to forge its way ahead which forced our driver to move the jeep a little ahead. I mean everyone wants to have glimpse of the king and you have to oblige. But suddenly when Mr. Tiger started moving there was a little commotion. Canter moved back but our jeep couldn’t because one of the tyres got stuck in mud. To make it move, driver put all the efforts and resulted in a lot of noise which caught the attention of the tiger. It looked at us and our hearts skipped a beat. But right then our driver managed to pull us out of the situation and tiger was back in its happy place. Now that was some experience to remember for a lifetime. Nothing over dramatic but a memory to last forever.
With our expectations set high after the Tiger sighting we continued on our trail hoping for the most expected rendezvous. The turns and trails inside the jungle don’t fail to amaze you. You get to witness variety of bird species and you are always engaged. But our eyes were set on our target. Unfortunately we could not sight it. Story doing the rounds was that Black panther had been involved in a big territorial fight with another alpha male leopard. As a result it was badly injured and hence had retreated deep within the jungles. With heavy hearts we headed back to the resort but definitely we were not disappointed.
Jungles of Kabini are mesmerising and magical. Even when you are just roaming around the pathways in the jeep you are not bored. Jungle keeps you engaged and excited every moment of your journey.
Back at the resort after our evening safari we headed for an early dinner. During dinner we came across a group of college students who were at the resort for past 3 day. Today was there last day as they had to checkout tomorrow but they were facing a very hard luck. They did not have any encounter with any big cat, be it the leopard or the tiger; not even today. And knowing the fact that almost all jeeps boarding from the resort got the chance to see the tiger today except for 2, one being their’s; it felt even the worse.
After the dinner, we headed towards the projector room. The resort organises a small documentary film on tiger conservation pan India – “project Tiger”. Its for about 30 min and is really informative. The project has lead to a Tiger population of Kabini alone to be 120 plus along with over a 100 leopards. The film educates us about the efforts taken by the government and forest officials to save the dwindling population of tigers. We really enjoyed the film and headed towards the bar from there. Bar area is really classy, designed in Victorian style along-with a good collection of liquor at not so hefty prices. With the right weather you can really enjoy your drinks in the lap of nature amidst the eerie silence. We had our morning call for 6 AM so after spending about couple of hours around the bar, we finally called it a day. A little earlier than our usual time.
Morning tryst with the officials
While doing our booking we were told that the morning ride could either be a water safari or a jeep safari. So we told the officials about our decision but we were told that is not an option. Since we had already been on an evening jeep safari the previous day, today has to be a water safari. And then began our series of calls to the booking contact to get this all sorted. All this fiasco started the prior day. So in the morning, we went ahead to the jeep safari location with full confidence since our booking agent had confirmed that she has already had a word with the team at the lodge and we were good to go. But when we arrived there, the discussion started all over again. This made us really mad and we called the agent again. After a lot back and forth, we were allotted a canter safari. This again disappointed us because we had paid for 2 jeep safaris. Finally our fight bore the fruit and we were given a Jeep safari.
All in all, please confirm every details with your booking agent before you go ahead with the bookings. Have it in written over an email so that the officials at the lodge know about it and can make the arrangements. Else you will have to pull up your socks and be ready for a fight.
We were not in luck for the sighting of a BIG CAT today. Neither Tiger nor Black Panther were anywhere in sight today. But still it was not a disappointment for us. As we have mentioned above the jungle of Kabini is really captivating. We got a beautiful sighting of a majestic Bison and 2 wild boars fighting. Our guide was really good and learned so he helped us with some bird watching. We are not avid bird watchers and and might nor recall the species that we saw, but we do enjoy bird-watching in a good company. And luckily our guide was able to spot some beautiful species for us to capture. Sadly, our lenses were not strong enough to capture their beauty.
All said and done, though there was no great sighting or should we say no sighting which we hoped for, but the morning jeep ride in the beautiful jungles of Kabini was blissful. We enjoyed the cool breeze at the start of Indian Summer enroute the enchanting Jungle.
This was our account for the Kabini National Park adventure, which we highly recommend. Our greetings to Bagheera are still due, and we plan to visit it again… for now – just waiting for the rendezvous!