We waited patiently at the docks of the Jungle Lodges, at Kabini. It was around 3 pm in the afternoon when the guide and the boatman arrived. They bundled us into the boat. After considerable giggling and yelling at each other, we got into the life saving vests that were handed over. And then we were off, cruising down the Kabini reservoir.
The river Kabini is also called Kapila and originates in Pakramthalam hills in Wayanad. It joins the river Kaveri later on and empties into the Bay of Bengal. The Kabini Dam is built near the village of Beechanahally, Karnataka. River Kabini has a deep connect with the Malayali mainly due to the 1975 movie, Kabini Nadi Chuvannappol, directed by P. A. Backer. Produced by Pavithran the movie had T. V. Chandran and Shalini as the lead pair. The movie which came out during the Emergency period talked about the naxalite movement and won many awards.
But as we float gently down the reservoir, with the water spray on your face, all you think about is the blue water all around you, stretching from one shore to the other. You see small tree stubs jutting out of the water. The tourist guide says, “we are on the Kabini reservoir, these are the dead trees, do you see that mark on the stub? The whole area will be covered with water when the rains come”. We look in awe, at the stubs, and then at the birds that swoop in and just sit there as if they are meditating.
Kabini reservoir is a bird watcher's paradise. As we cruise downstream the guide points and says, “that is a Brahminy Kite, that one there is a heron, and that one just taking off from the bank closest to us is a serpent eagle”. And we see the painted storks, egrets and wagtails that he said were common. We spotted river terns, and about a dozen kingfishers who would just swoop down and fly up again with a fish in their beaks. Never once did they miss a catch which stunned us. It was a different experience watching the ospreys hunt. They glide, back and forth, trying to zoom in on the fish in the reservoir and then plunge into the waters and fly away with the fish in their beaks. The river abounds in a variety of fish including the rohu and katla.
The forests around Kabini reservoir form part of the Nagarhole National Park which is home to tigers, elephants and other wild animals. The highlight of the river safari is spotting some of the wildlife. The guides know areas where the animals come down to drink water. We idle at a place 'we saw a tiger and her cubs yesterday, ' said the guide. We wait with baited breath. Seconds ticked slowly. The wait stretched to minutes and then the guide whispered something to the boatman and he started downstream again. “We will come back here and try our luck again,” he said.
We cruised along and then suddenly, the boatman killed the engines and stopped the boat. See, there is a family of otters out there” he pointed. We followed his finger and saw some otters frolicking in the water. There were about six that we counted, flapping along playfully in the water. It was the first time that we were seeing otters for real in a natural habitat. And beyond them on the banks were wild boars and farther away, near the woods was a herd of spotted deer. “Two weeks ago we spotted a tiger here”, said the guide. We decided to stay there a wee bit longer to try our luck, but Lady luck and the tiger had other plans.
The sun was steadily sinking and the two hour cruise was coming to an end. The guide said we were about half an hour off from the docks and it was about time we started back. We agreed, reluctantly. Birds were roosting on the dead tree stubs in the reservoir all along the way back. Some flew to the forests. The birds were heading home, like us. And as we looked back, the rays of the setting sun painted the sky in various hues of red.
The easiest is the Mananthawady-Mysore highway, if you are travelling from Kerala. The road runs through pristine forests. You may see some wild animals on the road.
You can find easy accommodation around the area; we stayed at The Serai Resorts, Kabini.
The nearest railhead is in Mysore.