Sunday, March 20, 2011

Kabini and Jungle Lodges

The Kabini river originates in the district of Wayanad, in the state of Kerala. It flows for only a few kilometers in Kerala, forms the border for some 12 kms for the states of Kerala and Karnataka, and then enters the state of Karnataka. It joins with the Cauvery river in Karnataka, and finally flows into the Bay of Bengal. This is paraphrased from

Jungle Lodges, Kabini on Google Maps:

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Why is this description of the Kabini river important in the context of this post? Because the Kabini reservoir separates the Nagarhole National Park from the Bandipur National Park. Ok, so what is the Kabini reservoir? It is a reservoir on the Kabini river in the HD Kote taluk of the Mysore district, and submerges an area in excess of 15,000 acres.

There are several places to stay in Bandipur and Kabini; some of the better known places are and
(If these deep links do not work you should try the home page of these sites and then try navigating to the appropriate page. Sites sometimes undergo redesigns, and consequently some links stop working. It is generally considered a good practice to redirect a visitor to the most appropriate page in such a case, or at least to redirect the user to the home page of the site. Presenting the user with a "Page Not Found" error is the least acceptable response. Anyway.)

You could also choose to stay in the nearby towns of Mysore, Nanjangud, or Gundalpet. The parks are between an hour and two hours drive from these places. The best option however is to pick one of the places inside the park itself. Driving distance from Bangalore to the Bandipur National Park is approximately 240 kms, and depending on when you start your journey, can take between five and seven hours. The earlier you get out of Bangalore the better, since the morning traffic can add upto an extra hour to your drive. Once outside Bangalore, after you have hit the Bangalore-Mysore highway, the traffic does thin out considerably, and the towns you pass on the way, Bidadi, Ramnagaram, Channapatna, Maddur, Mandya, Srirangapatna, add little to the traffic. You are in and out of each town in a few minutes, except for Mandya, that can take as much as half an hour to drive through, and since you anyway will not speed through these towns, the time taken increases only slightly.

As to the resorts, Orange County is probably the most expensive of all, with prices touching Rs 30,000 per night during the peak season and New Year's Eve, and dropping by more than half, to a still stiff 14k thereafter. This is the per-room, per-night tariff, based on double-occupancy. Look at it this way - spending a weekend at this place could set you back by close to fifty grand - even with the greatly appreciated US dollar, that is still $1000 for two nights. The only explanation for these rates lies in its proximity to Bangalore. With golf carts to ferry your luggage from the car to the rooms, with private plunge pools, with a jacuzzi, the focus is on luxury. One could argue the wisdom of driving into a resort located in a forest and then spending the time there cooped inside a hot tub of bubbling water, but that may be what defines luxury, for some people. In economics, you could describe this as a very effective form of inefficient price discrimination and price discovery. Inefficient because you are still not charging a different price for every individual, based on their ability and willingness to pay. Such a form of price discrimination is actually illegal for the most part, because you never know when the discrimination on the basis of economics and not on account of other factors that could qualify for racial discrimination.
A luxury brand is built by establishing a sense of exclusivity, and maintaining an uncompromisingly high price point. The gentry would not take kindly to spending princely sums of money if it transpired that the exclusivity was temporal, and that the hoi polloi were granted admission during the lean season. Luxury is also built by restricting quantity, which also explains why these resorts have only a dozen or so rooms.

Jungle Lodges and Resorts, sometimes also called the Kabini River Lodge, used to be the hunting lodge of the Maharaja of Mysore. It is situated by the banks of the Kabini river, in Kharapur, near the Nagarhole National Park (also called the Rajiv Gandhi National Park). Colonial style bungalows have been converted into spacious double-bed rooms, with an attached bathroom with all the modern amenities you could hope for in the middle of a jungle. These include heated water, a bath, and a WC, with running water! No television. No air-conditioning. The ceiling fan operates quietly. A small refrigerator is provided. The dining hall is some twenty feet from the Kabini river, or literally speaking, a stone's throw, and you can watch the boats and coracles go by on the river. If you were to throw a stone, and while the chances are slim, you may well end up hitting a crocodile. There are lots of them in the river, which is why swimming in the river is not considered a good idea, if you are a human. The food is served warm, and heated over charcoals. A netting serves to keep out flying insects and mosquitoes, and to be doubly sure in the evenings, there are electric mosquito repellents plugged in.

Some of the things to do while at the Kabini lodge are take a boat or coracle ride in the river Kabini, a jungle safari through the forest, which is a part of the Rajiv Gandhi National Park (also called the Nagarhole National Park), and take a short elephant ride. These national parks are all contiguous, and form part of the Nilgiris biosphere reserve - Bandipur, Nagarhole (RGNP) in Karnataka, Mudumalai in Tamil Nadu, and Wayanad forest in Kerala (see on Google Maps and read more on Wikipedia). The elephant ride is dependent on the availability of elephants, as you would have guessed, and that is why it is called an elephant ride, because you get to ride on the elephant, so it is more a matter of luck than not. These elephants are not kept in captivity, but released into the forest every day after the morning. When these elephants return in the morning, it is at that point that the forest authorities know if elephant rides are going to be available or not.

The jungle safari takes a couple of hours. Part of the reason is that it takes about half an hour to get from the resort to the entrance of the forest. This again is partly due to the distance, and partly due to the condition of the forest roads, as you can surmise from a cursory inspection of some of the photos. Since only forest vehicles are allowed inside the park, it is somewhat clear that the need to keep the roads in pristine condition is somewhat less pressing than elsewhere. Secondly you may also question the need for roads inside a forest that allow for high speed driving.
You first drive through the buffer zone of the forest before entering the proper forest. Inside the forest the condition of the roads is better. Why? Because there are no tar roads there. Instead, mud roads serve for the jeeps and vans to travel on. This is actually better because the ride is smoother because of the mud, and is less potholed. It is said that the best time to spot wildlife is in the early morning or late afternoon. Because during the day the animals are usually resting under the shade of the trees and flora.

The best part of the year to spot wildlife is actually in the summers. Why? Simple. During the summer months most of the water holes have dried up, and only a few large ponds and water bodies have any water left. Which means that animals have to necessarily come to these places to drink. Therefore you are likelier to spot wildlife here. The other reason is that the heat of the summer months dries up most of the undergrowth and shrubs in the forest, leaving you with a clearer view of the forest. Animals are less likely to remain hidden during that season. Of course, the summer months will also see the scorching sun and high temperatures. The proper thing to do would be to spend the afternoons inside, or in the shade, doing pretty much nothing. You could find a tree with lots of shade to lie under, sip a nimbu-pani, read a book, and leave the BlackBerry inside the room, switched off. Unless it is required, per the customs of showing off and appearing to be busy, to fiddle with the device, appear to be checking and responding to emails that no one cares to see your reply till after your vacation. Maybe not even then. Unless, of course, you are playing Angry Birds. In which case you are excused.

Park yourself outside your room, sit on one of these cane chairs, and watch the day go by in the warm glow of the setting sun. Maybe sip a cup of Nilgiris tea or Coorg coffee.

Before you start complaining about the state of the road, remember that it will keep any vehicle from speeding, won't it? Eh. Didn't think about that, did you? The truth is that the environment does not get anywhere close its fair share of funds from the local, state, or national governments, which is a pity and shame. Once these forests are gone, they are gone. They will not come back. We can build roads and buildings, but we have not figured out a way to build forests. Not dead forests, bereft of wildlife, of lions, tigers, leopards, panthers, and herbivores, but live forests. No sir - we still do not know how to bring back dead forests to life, so let's do what we can to keep the ones we have alive and healthy.

Swirling swoosh of clouds on an overcast day, boating in the Kabini reservoir and lake.