Even for a foodie like me, lunch had been a bit too extensive; or may be expansive is the right word. Just when I thought we were done, the smiling waiters brought in yet one more course. After this ‘foodorgy’, I was contemplating whether to lounge on a deck chair in the garden and pretend to read a book in the balmy wind blowing in from the Kabini river or give up all pretence and just take a nap. I must have drifted off while trying to make such a difficult decision when there was a knock on the door. Another smiling face. This time it was the resort’s driver. “Madam, its three o’clock and we are leaving for the safari in thirty minutes”.
I was in Kabini near Mysore for a few days of relaxation and photography. The scenery was breathtaking with a meandering river, green fields and the parched red soil. The sky was a brilliant shade of aqua, as if somebody had pumped up the vibrancy slider a tad too much.
Kabini is one of the most popular destinations for wildlife enthusiasts in South India and forms the south-eastern part of Nagarhole National Park. Spread over 55 acres of land, this area was once the favourite hunting ground of Maharajas and British viceroys. It’s now known for its extremely successful conservation projects. The National Park is the habitat for the largest number of Asian elephants in the world and also has a sizeable tiger population. You can also frequently see leopards, wild boar, wild dogs, spotted deer, barking deer, Malabar squirrels, hyenas, sloth bears and a variety of birds.
My destination is just a short drive away by the forest department’s safari vehicle which is ideal for viewing as well as photography. It’s late March but not unreasonably hot and the trees are rustling in the wind. The forest is brown and red, the monsoon now a distant dream, and there is a palpable excitement in the air as we wait to spot the most majestic of animals, the elephant.
A blue roller watches us sceptically. There are six of us in the vehicle, talking in hushed tones while scanning the trees for any signs of life. Everyone has a binocular or a camera or even both ready to fire. Suddenly the keen eyes of the driver spot something and he whispers “A Bull” and points between a cluster of trees. There between the towering crocodile trees is a patch of grey; it moves slowly and comes to my line of sight.
The elephant walking through the forest is not fully grown but impressive nonetheless. He looks around and gradually starts walking towards the other side of the road, where there was a largish water body for it to bathe and drink water. Branches brush against his body but they might as well have been twigs for all the attention he paid. I remembered reading somewhere that the elephant’s skin is about an inch thick. All around me I hear the click of camera shutters like AK47s in a war zone.
There was another elephant next to the watering hole and a wild boar was keeping it company. But I don’t think the elephant was impressed and soon chased the boar away. And when an elephant chases you, you stay chased!
As the sun dips more and more pachyderms join the group. Soon they are knee deep in water, spraying themselves with their trunks, the droplets forming liquid sculptures.
And the forest is silent except for a coppersmith barbet going “duk, duk” in the distance and the commotion in and around the waterhole. A rather irritated cormorant flies off after a while unhappy about the ruckus. In the golden hour, I watch these gentle giants play like children until it is closing time.