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The Kaveri River Basin is one of the most exciting areas for wildlife viewing—the Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, Nagarhole National Park and Bandipur National Park in Karnataka, the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala, and the Mudumalai National Park in Tamil Nadu, are nourished by the Kaveri or its tributaries creating habitats for a huge variety of mammals, birds, reptiles and other wildlife forms.

The backwaters of the Kabini River, a tributary of the Kaveri, are especially rich with wildlife especially in summer when the water level recedes to form rich grassy meadows. The stretch of the Kabini flowing through Nagarhole National Park is extremely productive for watching wildlife—a visit in the hot months of June and July can yield sightings of large herds of elephants and other ungulates making the most of the remaining fresh grass along the receding waters, and at times a tiger, leopard or sloth bear coming to the river’s edge for a drink.

On a warm day in July we set out from Bangalore Airport for the Kabini reservoir. Once out of the congested areas of Bangalore, the highway took us past Chennapatnam where shops were selling wooden toys, a huge coconut market, the sugarcane market of Mandya and a number of other market towns. From the road, we admired ancient rock formations, some of them really fascinating. Presently, we came to Srirangapatam, Tipu Sultan’s island fort on the Kaveri River, and just after that took the turn for the Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, a cluster of islands in the Kaveri River famous for the huge heronry that forms here between June and October.

Ranganathittu was declared a Bird Sanctuary in 1940, making it perhaps South India’s oldest bird sanctuaries, and the famous birdwatcher and author of field guides to Indian birds, Salim Ali, was instrumental in bringing attention to these islands as bird havens.
This sanctuary offers amazingly close views of storks, ibises and herons at most times of the year, and egrets in breeding plumage during the monsoon months.  At the jetty where we hired a boat for our sanctuary tour, we were rewarded by the sight of hovering terns and kingfishers, occasionally diving to catch fish.

From the jetty, the boatman rowed us out towards the islands for better bird sightings. At the first island we saw a flock of Asian openbill stork and at the next we saw painted storks. One of the highlights for me was an astonishingly close view of a black-crowned night heron which is not easily seen elsewhere because of its nocturnal habits. The trees on the islands were covered with nests of birds—cormorants, a darter, egrets, black-headed white ibis, openbill stork, painted stork and spoonbill.  It was especially enjoyable watching the little egret, otherwise a common snow white marsh-dwelling bird, in its breeding plumage with dainty ornamental feathers sticking out at the back and from the breast. The cattle egret which is also usually a pure white bird acquires a conspicuous orange hue to its head, neck and back.

On an islet we got an excellent view of some great stone plovers looking for crabs and other prey among the stones.  Presently we came to an island where a marsh crocodile was basking—the boatman rowed us right to the crocodile, perhaps the closest we have ever been to this dreaded reptile. Nearby we saw baby crocodiles basking on the aquatic vegetation. Along the shores of the Kaveri the trees also support a large colony of flying foxes (a type of fruit bat) and birds.

From Ranganathittu, we started out for the Kabini reservoir formed by the 2,284 feet high dam. The last stretch of road after HD Kote to the reservoir goes through tribal areas and presently we arrived at the Kabini Orange County, a resort on the waterfront.Seen from the road, the resort looks like a tribal village with its mud-plastered enclosing wall and traditional entrance, and thatched roofs of the low-rise buildings inside.

From the longhouse like reception and facilities area, a stone paved pathway led to the cottages which are clustered together in an enclosure rather like a tribal hamlet. Each of the cottages showed the initiative of the promoters in giving the local touch of a village with mud and dung plaster, niches that house lanterns and a cane door framed by Eucalyptus poles. The look inside was contiguous with the exterior, with the exposed thatched ceiling, pleasantly old-fashioned furniture and a floor which the room boy explains has mud mixed into the cement to give the rustic look but without lacking in luxury. In the courtyard was a Jacuzzi (some rooms have a plunge pool) surrounded by the mud-covered walls of the cottage.

For lunch we had chicken curry called koli saru, chitranna rice, a flat sweet bread called obattu, the meat dish called handi mamsa huridu, paliya (a side dish with beans), with a sweet note given by khus khus payasa (poppy seed dessert). Over lunch, George Ramapuram, director of the Orange County resorts explained, “The tagline of Orange County is Spirit of The Land. Thus, we followed the Kurumba tribal village style of architecture and used mainly locally available materials, planted indigenous trees and grasses in a natural manner rather than doing formal landscaping so that the resort blends with the riverine and forest landscape, and used clean and renewable energy sources. Sewage water and organic solid waste is used for gardening, foam flow faucets reduce water consumption, wine turbines generate a considerable share of the power requirements of the resort, and guests are encouraged to drink water pumped from a reverse osmosis plant to each room rather than bottled water to prevent plastic generation. We have incorporated many other environment-friendly principles too, including more subtle ones like reducing noise and light levels considering that we are just across the river from the core of the Nagarhole National Park.”

After lunch, we started out in motorboats for a river trip which goes through the Nagarhole and Bandipur National Parks. These national parks are part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, comprising of wildlife sanctuaries and national parks in Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. We saw lesser adjutant stork, black-headed ibis, a flock of spotbilled duck, cormorant, a basking crocodile and river turtles in the first 30 minutes of the trip.

As we chugged past stands of forests, we were treated to the sight of a herd of spotted deer, the noble visage of a magnificent sambar stag walking along the river with its huge antlers, sambar deer and their hinds drinking on the riverfront, and a herd of gaur or Indian bison.

The great prize came when we reached a wider expanse of the river—a huge herd of cow elephants, with their sows, on the banks, and a massive lone tusker wading in the river, pulling out aquatic grasses which it downed at regular intervals. By evening a number of elephants had begun to arrive at the waterfront for their evening drink. During the dry season and the beginning of the rains, elephants are drawn to the Kabini not only for water but for the fresh grasses that grow along the receding river. Some of the herds comprised more than 30 elephants each, and the sight of more than 100 elephants in all within a short distance is remarkable in India. As the boat brought us back to the resort, we witnessed a spectacular sunset.

In the morning we set out for a drive in the Nagarhole National Park. This involved taking a boat from the resort to the other shore where open-topped vehicles were waiting to take guests into the park. Right at the entrance we saw a spotted deer. Soon after entering the park, we saw fresh pugmarks of tiger but they led into dense forest tract—waiting produced no result and we moved on. The trees were trilling with birdcalls. One of the striking birds we saw was a pair of Malabar pied hornbill, a large black-and-white bird with a massive yellow bill capped by a concave casque, feeding on the figs of a tree. We watched attractive birds like green pigeons, woodpeckers, parakeets and flycatchers among the trees, and ground-dwelling birds like grey jungle fowl, red jungle fowl and quails scuttling among the bushes. This being the breeding season of peafowl, we saw the peacocks strutting with their gorgeous trains of feathers fanned out to attract the peahens. Further ahead, we were rewarded by the sight of a sloth bear engrossed in digging up a termite mound.

As we headed back to the gate, a bull elephant with long tusks was standing near the track. He fanned out his ears threateningly and began to come menacingly forward with a curled trunk but the driver drove us out safely back to the gate.

How To Get There Nagarhole is about four hours drive from Bangalore. Kabini Orange County is one of the luxurious places to stay beside the river. The Kabini River Lodge is an excellent place for wildlife enthusiasts, in close proximity to the Nagarhole National Park entrance with excellent natural history services. Cicada, Bison and Kings Sanctuary are other good places to stay in Nagarhole.

You can combine a visit to Kabini with BRT Hills Sanctuary as well as Bandipur National Park.

BRT Hills Sanctuary The Biligiriranga Hills is a wildlife reserve located in Karnataka. These forested hills are important habitats for elephant, tiger, leopard, sloth bear, gaur (Indian bison), sambar deer, spotted deer, etc. They are also good for birdwatching. The BRT Hills sanctuary gets its name from the Biligiriranga Swamy Temple, the shrine of Lord Ranganatha or Lord Venkatesha in the forests.

Bandipur National Park The Bandipur National Park and Tiger Reserve has sizable populations of elephant, gaur or Indian bison, barking deer, sambar deer, spotted deer, wild boar and other ungulates. It is also an important habitat of the dhole or Indian wild dog, leopard and tiger.

Anil Mulchandani is the author of travel guidebooks published in U.K., India and other countries. He travels and writes on tourism, industry, business, food and cuisine, environmental and social development initiatives and not-so-usual people for books, magazines and newspapers.

Dinesh Shukla has traveled extensively across India shooting photographs for his collection that covers myriad subjects like pictorial scenes, landscapes architecture, interiors, religion, food, wildlife, fairs/festivals/events, automobiles, handicrafts, art, agriculture, etc. His photographs have been published in numerous coffee table books, travel guidebooks, prestigious magazines, newspapers and journals.