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Kabini - Third Time Lucky

By Anamika Mukherjee


At 7.30 in the morning, the car was fully loaded with a battle-scarred backpack, several cameras, a tripod you could probably murder an angry elephant with, a tankful of petrol and the two of us, grinning cheerfully despite it all.

Kabini beckoned. We had been twice before, but it beckoned nevertheless. Greenery, wildlife, and good food were serious enough enticements, as were many of the things we wouldn’t have – no TV, no computer or internet, no newspaper, altogether no reminders of the outside world at all. On our previous visits we had had no cellphone connectivity, but this time this had changed: there was a tower a stone’s throw from the resort.

The Jungle Lodges Resort, when we reached after a pleasant five hours’ drive, was the same as it had always been. The cottage we were pointed to had an extremely spacious room with attached and equally spacious bath and a comfortable two-seater verandah. Everything was just so – neither plush, nor lacking any thought of convenience. Lunch was excellent and immediately made us irresistibly sleepy.

Jeepers!

Jeep safaris at JLR are twice daily, starting early morning and mid-afternoon. We had two full days in hand this time, which meant we got four full safaris. As usual, we requested to be assigned to a small vehicle with as few others as possible. We got a jeep which we shared with two other couples, one of whom had a young boy.

The jeep had several interesting features. It had no doors or windows: you simply clambered in over the body and under the metal frame. The glove compartment housed a walkie-talkie set and for some reason which was not apparent, the glove compartment could not be closed. The back of the seat at the back kept falling down and periodically had to be pushed back and held upright. But the most interesting feature undoubtedly was the speedometer. When we were moving, it showed our speed as 0 kmph. When we came to a halt, the needle quickly swung anticlockwise and pointed to 130 kmph! When we did a U-turn to the left, I noticed, it moved smartly from 130 kmph around to 0 in the anticlockwise direction, thus completing the circle.

Jeep safaris are not all that easy, let me tell you. Standing up on the (torn) seat (with or without shoes) with the top half (or more, in Amit’s case) of your body sticking out of the top of the jeep is more or less de rig. This is fine, but for the solid metal bars that frame the jeep at the top and sides, especially when the said metal bars are taken in conjunction with the terrain we covered. The trail was a rough sand-and-stone path which were neither smooth, nor straight, nor level (despite all of which, they might still have put some Bangalore roads to shame). Standing up in one’s quadrant of the metal frame involved either holding on with both arms (and using as many other body parts as possible, such as legs, teeth, and hair) or risking being thrown around like a marble in a tin can (only, less noisy). During all of which, the neck swivels autonomously on the shoulders and the eyes bounce back and forth between the thickets on either side and the bare track in between.

To See and Be Seen

That afternoon being the first safari of the trip – and me not having gone anywhere at all for quite some time – we both had trigger-happy fingers and the photo count shot up without us seeing anything more exciting than spotted deer (an old sikka a dozen), a lone tusker, plenty of black-faced langurs, and a chameleon which was startlingly green at that moment. No gaur, no sloth bear, no sambar deer, no wild dogs. Not even a tiger or a leopard or two.

The woods were already wearing a frilly undergarment of green. A few stretches were bare and dry and brown, almost crackling in the afternoon heat, but many areas had visible signs of life and hope in the fresh, new grass and leaf. The earth, too, was just a little moist and firm, not as dry and dusty as we would have liked. And, to add to our woes, thunder roared overhead and then a brief but serious spell of rain came crashing down on us, causing us all to duck for cover as the canvas top was hurriedly unrolled and closed in over us. Once it started to rain even a little, the vast herds of elephants who had been forced to graze on the denuded banks of the river, could gladly retreat deep into the forest, where the water holes would be quickly replenished and the sudden explosion of grasses and leaves promised a healthier supply of food. No wonder the rain had a perceptibly dampening effect on the crowd in the jeep – in more ways than one.

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Kabini on the Map

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Comments and information welcome. Write to anamika dot mukherjee at amukherjeeworld dot net
Copyright 2008 Amit and Anamika Mukherjee. All rights reserved.