That Feeling Called Kabini

One of the best places to sight wildlife in Southern India is at the fringes of Nagarhole National Park, and this spot is commonly called Kabini, named after the river that is home to this region. It is this water source that attracts animals to wander out from the comfort of their core jungle area in the dry summer months.

Over the years, Kabini has built a good reputation for cat sightings, mainly leopards. These spotted wonders are often seen either taking a snooze on the silver-oak tree branches or wandering about like they’re the apex predator here. Kabini also sees a good number of tigers that have made the fringes of Nagarhole their home.

I make it a point to go to Kabini atleast thrice a year; once in summer, once in winter, and once during monsoon. Each season has something different to offer. Summer will surely increase your odds of sighting a leopard or tiger; winter will give you those dreamy morning game drives that are covered in mist (a good time to bring out the blues in your photos), and monsoon for the lovely elephant sightings here. Kabini river sees one of the biggest congregations of elephants every year.

My most recent trip was in January 2017. A couple of friends and I randomly took a break from work and hit the road bang in the middle of the working week. As expected, Kabini’s weekday crowd was more of photographers unlike the most touristy weekend folks.

We had chosen to stay just for a day, and who’d know that’s all we’d need!

Day one’s evening ride was fun. We were greeted by a huge tusker and a couple of elephants who were with him, some birds, and an interesting late winter jungle. One and a half hours had passed, and we heard about a cat sighting near one of the popular waterholes in the park; Tiger Tank.

Off we went to tiger tank. It was about 20 minutes from where we were. We had to make it there in time to even stand a chance of seeing the cat. Tiger tank has had great tiger sightings in the past, and we were positive about seeing one on this drive. When we finally reached, we were pleasantly surprised – we saw a big male leopard chilling out by tiger tank. This was a quintessential Kabini moment.

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He sat unperturbed for a while as we eagerly tried to photograph him and just witness his graceful presence. He then stepped down to the pond to quench his thirst – from our angle, we could only see his tail. To our joy, he then got up and started walking somewhat towards our side; boy was he gorgeous! Although we expected a tiger, this leopard more than satisfied our eyes! We watched him for a good 15 minutes before he vanished into the bushes.

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The best part about this sighting was the light. It was perfect! Delighted with our images, we headed back to our accommodation and celebrated the success of our impulsive trip with a drink. Next morning, we had our final ride. We were already satisfied with our cat sighting because generally, you get to sight a cat once in 3 safaris or so. But, Kabini really wanted us to realize why it’s the leopard capital of South India.

We explored the backwater zone in the morning as we wanted to see the beautiful landscape. To our luck, we found another leopard, calmly resting atop a mound. We couldn’t believe our luck! – 2 out of 2. We watched this fellow for about 10 minutes before something in the bushes behind him sparked his attention.

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Being a stereotypical curious cat, this leopard forgot about us and vanished into the foliage for further investigation.

We then wrapped up the trip with a nice tusker sighting! Again, light was kind to us, as you see in the pictures. Ah, what a start to the new year.

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How to get there: Kabini is about 68kms from Mysore and 217kms from Bangalore by road.

Where we stayed: As always, the amazing Kabini River Lodge (don’t miss the old British pub when you stay here. The food is epic at the Gol Ghar)

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