Tiger Tiger burning bright
In the sunny afternoon light
(with due apologies to William Blake, with whose poem I am messing 😉)
She glided out into the glade, from deep within the dense woods. I had come for her but had not expected her to show herself so soon and so easily. Holding my breath, I tried to capture her every movement. She was at quite a distance and I worked hard to make the most of the opportunity, hardly expecting her to grace me with a closer presence.
But that day she was in a very generous mood and mode and as she nonchalantly sauntered nearer and nearer towards me and sashayed right past my safari bus, I thanked my stars (and her stripes) and as the driver cruised skillfully and gently alongside, my hyper active camera greedily seized her every frame until it had had its fill of her.
But can one really have one’s fill of the tiger in the wild? As she swished her tail and eventually strolled back again into the cover of the forest, I gazed longingly at her retreating rear, wishing that the magic would continue and that she would turn and return to do the cat walk for me once more … at least once more.
Yes, spotting animals in the wild is an insatiable thirst but I had to be satisfied with what was considered a very fortunate 10 minute sighting, on my maiden safari in the Kabini region of the Nagarahole National Park and I thanked the glorious jungle for its magnanimous gesture.
This was my first safari in South India and in addition to the Diva whom I just spoke of, I also encountered many other exciting jungle beings and if you are curious to know about them, then all you have to do is read on!!!
Kabini refers to a section of the Nagarahole National Park and this lies in the Mysore district of Karnataka state in India. Since this is the part that I visited, my narration will cover my experiences here. Hopefully I will have the pleasure of exploring a different safari via the other gates of this forest in future.
About Nagarahole National Park –
Nagarahole National Park is one of South India’s premier forests and a major attraction for wildlife enthusiasts. Earlier known as Rajiv Gandhi National Park, it derives its present name from the literal translation of serpentine stream, many of which flow through the forest (in Kannada, naga is serpent and holaey is stream).
Straddling the districts of Coorg and Mysore, this park is a part of the Nilgiris biosphere reserve and occupies a core area of around 645 sq km and a buffer area of around 200 sq km, totalling to nearly 850 sq km.
Originally considered the private hunting ground of the Mysore Maharajas, this forest was eventually designated as a wildlife sanctuary in 1955. It was accorded the status of National Park in 1988 and further in 1999, it was declared as the 37th Project Tiger Reserve of India. India currently has 54 tiger reserves across the nation.
The Kabini river is a major river that flows through the park and Kabini also refers to a part of the Nagarahole National Park which has its own gate for the safari.
Nagarahole is contiguous with the Bandipur Tiger Reserve which is located to its South East. The Kabini River separates the Nagarahole National Park from the Bandipur National Park.
The Nagarahole road through the jungle is open for general traffic other than 2 wheelers, 3 wheelers and goods vehicles. However there are timings and vehicles are prohibited from 6 pm to 6 am every day by closing the entry gates into the park. Also during the daytime, entry and exit times for each vehicle are recorded and one cannot loiter indefinitely in the forest.
Apart from the general vehicular movement, there are safaris which are operated so that the public can enjoy the forest and the beautiful life forms it holds within.
The deciduous forest is home to several species of fauna and flora. Some of the notable inhabitants are tigers, leopards, gaurs, elephants, sloth bears, wild boars, barking deer, sambar deer, mongoose, Malabar squirrels, Asiatic Wild Dog also called dhole and of course lots and lots of spotted deer (chital) and langurs.
Avifauna thrives in this jungle with over 250 species of birds and the park has its fair share of reptiles too.
Safari options at Nagarahole –
The safaris are operated by Jungle Lodges and Resorts (also commonly referred to as JLR), an eco-tourism hospitality brand by the Government of Karnataka which has its presence across destinations that cover adventure, beaches, heritage, nature and wildlife.
Apart from this, the other option is the safari operated by the forest department.
It is useful to know that the park has 2 separate zones for the safaris called Zone A which is mostly through wooded area and Zone B which is closer to the Kabini waters. The safari conducted by JLR is permitted to cover only one of these zones at a time and their vehicles are accordingly labelled as Zone A or Zone B. However, the Forest Department canter bus safaris are allowed seamless access across both the zones.
There are 3 safari gates for the park namely the Nanachi Gate near Kutta, the Kakanakote Gate near Kabini and the Veeranahosahalli gate near Hunsur (which currently does not seem to offer bookings on the online portal)
One can choose the gate as per their convenience.
The Kakanakote gate is nearer for travellers from Mysore and Bangalore and the Nanachi gate is convenient for those approaching from Coorg side.
Types of safaris –
There are 3 types of safari possibilities which are the Jeep, Boat and Canter (bus) safaris.
The jeeps are almost exclusively offered only to guests of JLR and guests of resorts which have a safari tie up with JLR. The safaris are usually a part of the booking package.
Boat safaris are conducted on the Kabini Backwaters Forest by the Karnataka Forest Department. Booking assistance is given by the resorts where one stays.
Managed by the forest department, the canter bus safaris are low cost and open to the general public and each bus can accommodate around 20 people. A newer and more comfortable bus has been recently introduced with a more expensive ticket. This vehicle has plush seating in a 2 + 1 row pattern unlike the older buses which have 2 + 2 seats in every row.
Safari details –
The forest department bus safaris are operated in the morning and evening and the timings are the same throughout the year irrespective of the season.
On weekdays (Monday to Friday) the duration is 2.5 hours and timings are –
Mornings – 6.30 am to 9.00 am
Evenings – 3.30 pm to 6.00 pm
Weekends (Saturday and Sunday) offer 4 safaris per day of 1.5 hour duration each.
Mornings – 6.00 am to 7.30 am and 7.30 am to 9 am
Evenings – 3.00 pm to 4.30 pm and 4.30 pm to 6 pm.
Booking and contact –
The canter safari can be booked at the Forest Department booking counter at the safari gates or can also be booked online.
Online sales begin a month in advance and only 4 tickets can be booked from one person’s account.
The live counters open an hour before the safari begins and only 1 ticket is given per person.
50% of the tickets are reserved to be sold across the counter but it is advisable to pre book online since one cannot predict the queues and on-the-spot availability especially on holidays.
Also, seat number allotment is done just before the safari begins, so even those with pre-booked tickets have to visit the counter at least 30 minutes ahead of time, to get the seats assigned.
The safari tickets are non refundable and non changeable.
Kabini bus safari booking link
Choose the Kakanakote gate option while booking the Kabini safari. This is also referred to as the Dammanakatte gate.
The Nanachi gate option is for the Nagarahole safari.
Current charges for the safari –
Bus/Canter Safari –
Monday to Friday – Rs 600 + tax for Indians and Rs 1000 + tax for foreigners
Saturday and Sunday – Rs 450 + tax for Indians and Rs 750 + tax for foreigners
Note – The tickets for the new bus are not listed online as of now and have to be bought at the counter. I paid Rs 855 inclusive of tax on a weekday. The pricing details are not yet available on their website.
Safari charges are periodically increased, hence please refer to the website for the latest figures. Camera charges are extra and depend on the equipment.
We also had to pay parking charges despite the parking being by the roadside outside the gate. We paid Rs 59 for the car.
My safaris –
Well after imparting so much knowledge to you, I think I can snatch a paragraph or two to brag about my own experiences during this trip 😎 So allow me to give you a quick narration of my time in the Kabini jungle.
I had booked 3 safaris because as they say, the more the merrier and of course statistically one would hope for greater probabilities of spotting creatures of interest. While every being in the forest is a blessing to behold, one can be forgiven for being partial to the big cats who up the excitement quotient whenever they are sighted.
My first safari was on a Thursday afternoon which meant a 2.5 hour ride through the jungle. The new bus which I have mentioned about, was fortunately available and we had a very comfortable drive with a decent amount of space to move around during sightings.
And yes we were granted the ‘darshan’ (sighting) of the big one, albeit mostly only the head because he was too comfortable sitting among the tall grass to bother moving around for us. Well a tiger is a tiger is a tiger … and a good enough capture for a first safari, so my camera and I were reasonably satisfied.
The gaurs were more generous with displaying themselves and I got my fill of quite a few, including one thumpingly large chunky specimen who seemed to be quite ancient.
The rest of my catch included a big, plump mongoose who was too fast to get a sharp shot, barking deer, innumerable spotted deer and langurs, a very sedate peacock and an a couple of elephants who revealed a baby in their midst when they began moving.
And yes there was a fleeting glimpse of a distant leopard and big black sloth bear but if my camera does not capture, it does not count for me 😏
The second safari was on Friday at 6.30 am, for which I was at the gate at 6 am as stipulated. This bus was the regular canter and after being spoiled by the better bus on the previous day, I found it a bit cramped.
However the sight of a pack of Dholes loping along the jungle trail, soon made me forget all discomfort and I revelled in their antics until they eventually slunk back into the woods. The dhole is the Asiatic wild dog and in India it is found in a few regions of the Western and Eastern ghats and the central Indian mountains. It is categorized as Endangered, on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list.
Well the morning had begun well and was continuing likewise with the next offering, which was a glimpse of a Crested serpent eagle glaring from its perch high upon a tree.
Our hopes rose equally high, expecting a continuation of great sightings but alas fate had other plans for us and our bus suddenly broke down right in the middle of what could have been a very fulfilling safari. The rescue bus which came to pick us up was an old, ramshackle, out of commission contraption and just like the sorry state of the vehicle, our fauna count also remained very poor and the rest of the safari went by with nothing significant to show.
Well, as they say ‘Hope springs eternal etc etc’ … and since we had one more safari to look forward to the next morning, we tried to remain optimistic, though the shorter duration of the Saturday safari, meant less chances of spotting wildlife. Also, our 7.30 am safari being the second one for the morning, it not do much for our spirits to learn that the earlier batch had returned with nothing significant.
But sometimes even though one goes in with low or no expectations, the moody forest likes to surprise them. So it was with a rush of adrenaline that we spotted this majestic being stroll out of the woods and onto the road right besides our vehicle, giving us a full 10 minutes of full tiger, for our eyes to feast on from all directions. The thrill and awe and excitement that I felt, is not easy to describe, hence I will let my camera present the rest of this encounter.
Well after this I was so satiated and happy, that I even bothered to generously click a picture of the ubiquitous deer which my camera normally snobbishly ignores.
The weekend safari albeit shorter, managed to be the best of the 3 and this goes to prove yet again that safari sightings are quite the gamble and heavily dependent on the vagaries of fate.
Safaris are a very addictive activity and I will hopefully be back again someday, sometime, some-forest.
Visitor Profile –
Guests of all ages are permitted at on the safari. However, it is unwise to bring little children who may not understand the need for silence in a forest. There is also no access for the mobility challenged and the jungle trails can be quite bumpy and uncomfortable and hence not suitable for those with relevant health issues.
Where to stay –
Kabini is generally known as a high budget destination due to the many luxury resorts which have been established here. However, there are a few homestays too for the budget conscious traveller.
During my trips to Kabini, I stayed at the beautiful luxury resort Red Earth Kabini when I visited in 2017 and during my recent visit in October 2023, I stayed at a homely and comfortable homestay called RathnaPrabha Farm.
Jungle Lodges and Resorts (JLR) the government run chain of jungle stays, also has it presence here and is one of the preferred stay options, being a ‘one stop shop’ for boarding, lodging and the safari which is accompanied by experienced guides. One can choose from a range of combination packages while booking.
Many of the private luxury resorts also have an association with JLR, which permits their guests to avail exclusively of the JLR safaris.
Best time to visit –
Kabini is a year round destination and is open through all seasons.
However, the peak time is considered to be during October to March weather wise and April and May for better sightings in the jungle. June to September is the monsoon period and while this is also a great time to be amidst the lush and verdant rain washed surroundings, there is a chance of safaris getting cancelled due to bad weather.
Phone and internet connectivity –
Signals are not all that bad inside the forest and to some extent, phone and internet access is sufficiently reliable, barring a few random spots along the way.
What you should carry –
Warm wear is advisable in the non summer months because mornings and evenings can get quite chilly on the safari.
In the warmer seasons, it is better to wear light cottons.
Caps, masks (the safari trails are quite dusty), cameras, binoculars, comfortable footwear, drinking water and such items will come in handy. Food items are not permitted on the safari.
As always, carry your Aadhaar or any photo Government id copies.
Additional Information –
The Kakanakote gate has a reasonably usable washroom. There is no option to use the washroom for the duration of the safari.
There is a small stall selling basic packaged snacks and water.
Parking is available and is kerbside outside the gate but despite that, it is to be paid for.
Getting there –
By air – The nearest Airport is the Mysore Airport, which is less than 100 km away. This airport has very limited flights.
The nearest major airport is the Kempegowda International Airport in Bangalore which is 270 km away from the park.
Train – The nearest major railway station is the Mysore Railway Station (70 km) followed by Bangalore (210 km).
Cabs or private vehicles are the best means of transport from the airports/stations.
Road – There are excellent roads leading to Nagarahole National Park from the surrounding major cities. Getting there by private vehicle or cab is the best way from Mysore (around 90 km) and Bangalore (around 220 km).
Please Note –
My narration is based on the inputs I received from various sources as well as my personal experiences.
I would really appreciate your feedback and comments in the comment box below.
For more pictures see My Facebook – Kabini Jungle Safari (Coming soon)
This itinerary was specially curated hence some of the features might have been personalized accordingly. Before booking, please check the facilities offered in your package.
Oct 26th – Oct 28th, 2023