My first tryst with Nagarhole national park (India) began in 2006 when I had volunteered for a Tiger census. We would start early in the morning, walk miles in the forest, wait hours at the watch tower and at times not even spot a deer. But each day morning I would wake up just to enjoy the fresh rays of sun hitting the forest. It was magical to say the least.
On the last day we went in a boat on the Kabini river and that's when I discovered a whole new world of Nagarhole. A water world of wonder, well known as Kabini. I was enchanted to say the least and the love of Kabini was to stay with me for life.
The river Kabini flows from the state of Kerala into Karnataka, while doing so it passes through one of the most pristine wildlife reserves in the country. This forest patch has been famous for its wildlife for ages. The area served as prime hunting grounds for the Maharajas of Mysore along with Kings and Emperors from other nations. The oldest photograph of hunting dates back to 1891, that of the Grand Duke of Russia.
Kabini has also been known for its Khedda operations, where trained mahouts drove wild Elephants into stockade traps known as Kheddas for domestication. Seen here is the Khedda operation of 1913.
In 1974, a dam was built near Beechanahalli village, submerging parts of the National park and also creating a very unique habitat. It was around the same time that this area was also declared a national park.
During the summer, the waterholes inside the forest dry up, but the Kabini reservoir retains water even during peak summer. This brings herds of Elephants and other animals in search of water to the backwaters of the reservoir. Elephants congregate in such large numbers here that it is said to be the largest congregation of Asiatic Elephants in the world.
The banks of Kabini are also lush green with grass through out the year. Water along with fresh green grass brings not just elephants but other herbivores like Spotted Deer and Indian Gaurs. The congregation of animals and the beautiful habitat makes for some amazing photography. Over the years I've made sure not to miss Kabini summers.
The banks are also relatively safe to raise the young ones. Elephant and Gaur calves spend joyful days in the open without fear. It is one of the few places in India where one gets to see so many animals in the open.
Here's a mother showing her calf how to kick mud onto themselves to protect from the harsh sun and pesky insects
This large congregation also brings predators in search of easy prey. One such stealth predator is the Leopard. The Leopards spend a large part of the day on trees and come down mostly for hunting. They are so well camouflaged that at times even when they are few meters away, the trained eyes miss them. 3 Jeeps ahead of us failed to spot this leopard which was just a few meters from the road.
The backwaters of Kabini are also rich with bird life, one gets to see an amazing variety of water birds in Kabini. Painted storks are among the most colorful ones.
While most of the birds are local, the Osprey is a visitor from Europe. This bird of prey is known for its excellent fishing skills. I've almost always seen an Osprey with fish!
The other excellent fishers of the Kabini backwaters are the rare Smooth coated otters. These are excellent fishers and are quite rare to spot. In my many trips on the river, I've been lucky enough to witness them very few times.
The Smooth coated otters get their name from their coat which is smoother and shorter than the other otter species. Along with the coat, the webbed toes also help them swim easily.
The abundance of food on the banks and in the river has made Kabini home to the famous Mugger Crocodiles. The crocodiles come out of the water during the heat of the day to bask.
While summers are great to sight animals on the backwaters, the monsoons have their own charm. To watch monsoon clouds over the backwaters is a magical experience.
The onset of monsoon also means mating season for the Peacocks. Each male puts forward his best performance to earn himself a mate, the one with the most colorful plumage and the greatest dance skills wins the mate.
This great mecca of wildlife is under threat today. Stray cattle and humans encroaching into the forest land has put a lot of pressure on this delicate environment. Each year human settlements keep growing on the edge of the forest, shrinking the forest area.
Roads passing through the national park are also a great threat and there have been several road kills in the past forcing the govt to roads during night time. However there is now a proposal to build roads that connect towns without passing through National parks. This could be a new lease of life for these forests.
The effect of climate change has also had its effect on Kabini. Owing to the unseasonal rains, each year the numbers of elephants congregating has been going down. The pressure of tourism is also being felt heavily on Kabini with resorts with bad practices mushrooming around.
Kabini is a natural heritage, one that is rare and unique. The least we can do is be responsible wildlife tourists and be sensitive to this fragile eco-system. Read more about this in the links below: