24 hours at the Kabini River Lodge

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‘An erstwhile hunting lodge of the Mysore Maharaja’ – this description of the Kabini River Lodge (http://www.junglelodges.com/kabini-river-lodge) is enough to conjure visions of grandeur and luxury. The lodge  is as famous for its heritage and old world charm as it is known for being a wildlife aficionado’s dream. Spread over 54 verdant acres near the Nagarhole National Park, the lodge lulls you to a time gone by – a time jealously captured by the many photos of the Maharajas and their trophy catches which adorn the walls.

This travel feature is about a day well spent at the Kabini River Lodge. I find the term ‘resort’ too impersonal – especially for a place so warm. The lodge soaked me in; its people – I cannot refer to them as staff! – surprised me with grins of familiarity; its nooks and corners comforted me as haunts of yore – I was not a guest there, it was my home.

Breaking dawn

Days start early at the lodge. At the break of dawn, a beautiful blue calm envelopes the horizon, reflecting over the backwaters of Kabini.

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Wake up and smell the coffee (or tea!)

Sharp at 5:30 AM, the bell rings and a Room Boy calls out for you wake up and get ready for the wild. Groggy you may be – but as you step out of your tent (or cottage) and take in the crisp morning air, it all disappears. Everyone assembles at Gol Ghar, the dining space for a steaming cuppa.

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Choices, choices

Every morning, you can choose between a jungle 4×4 safari or a boat ride on the Kabini river backwaters. Its a tough choice really, given both are such invigorating experiences. The good part – you can enjoy whichever one you do not opt for, in the afternoon on the same day. Naturalists – expert animal spotters and jungle guides – assemble and chalk out 4×4 and boat allocations. Most of the naturalists are locals who have grown up in vicinity of the Nagarhole jungle and understand the topography like no other.

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Row, row, row your boat

I chose the boat ride for the morning sojourn. As people scurried and settled into seats of their choice, the naturalist got busy- helping people put on their safety jackets, thoroughly checking all the loops and of course, smilingly volunteering to take your perfect holiday picture – one for keeps, and Facebook!

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Fifty shades of green

The Kabini river’s backwaters and its banks offer stunning landscapes, besides being the bird watcher’s delight. I got to see a variety of storks, cranes and kingfishers. As well as deer, crocodiles and elephants. If you are lucky, you may just spot a tiger along the banks – busy with his morning orisons. As the day got brighter, the hues of pink and blue melted away into fifty (or more!) shades of resplendent, rich green.

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 2013 A River Odyssey

Boat rides are possibly the best way of getting a glimpse on the lives of the village folk who live by its banks. As the boat headed back to the lodge after a two hour long ride, the jungles gradually gave way to fields. Along the banks one could see villagers tending to their farms, heading out on their morning business and children on their way to school on coracle boats.

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The Office

Back at the Lodge, the staff were getting ready for a busy day while the guests were away on their 4×4 jungle safaris and boat rides. The first service was a hearty breakfast – served immediately upon the guests’ return.

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Amma shepherds her team

Housekeeping at the Lodge is led by the very efficient Anna Mary (fondly addressed by everyone as Amma). Having come from Bangalore to the Lodge more than 32 years ago, Amma – in her own words – lives, breathes and dreams the Lodge. With an intense personal attachment which has shaped her life, she is the backbone of the Lodge and marshals her team as they clean up the rooms and lay out fresh linen. Hospitality is not a skill or a mere job at the Lodge; it is a warm, honest and imbibed way of life.

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The food chain

Meanwhile the cooks in the kitchen start preparing lunch. Indian, Chinese and Continental dishes are typically served each day. Most of the vegetables and raw materials used are local produce. The team prides itself for having created an excellent waste management system. All waste – be it food from the kitchen, meal leftovers or even beer bottles – is used for composting or recycling.

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We, the People

The Kabini River Lodge truly believes in including the local population. 90% of the staff employed are from the nearby villages – many of them having worked for more than 20 to 30 years at the Lodge. There are many stories of how the Lodge has helped rehabilitate locals and given them avenues for employment. Nagendra, the in-house carpenter, was provided training and is now very much in demand amongst all the other resorts in the area. Somanna retired from the lodge after thirty years of service – his son, Vijay, is now employed with the lodge as a Naturalist.

The local village community also partakes in celebrating festivals. On important occasions, the children of the staff are whole heartedly welcomed inside the campus to join in the festivities. I was lucky to have been there at the time of the annual Ganesha festival. And I caught up with the Elephant God himself, in the administrative block of the Lodge.

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What is this life if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare

As the afternoon wafted in, a sumptuous lunch was served at the Gol Ghar. Siddhu, the local celebrity (he is the pet Labrador of Kunal, the gregarious Manager of the Lodge) stretched in anticipation of a well-earned siesta after a meal. And the Naturalists start prepping their 4x4s and boats for the afternoon safaris.

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Adrenalin junkie

At 3:30 PM I was happily plunked in my 4×4, ready for the jungle. The ride on the vehicles, as they scrambled through seemingly impassable jungle terrain, is the perfect antidote to a life more ordinary. Shrill cries of langurs and birds rented the jungle air. Everyone kept an ear out for the Sambar’s call – the definitive harbinger of the arrival of the ultimate predator, the big striped cat. The jungle is a great leveler. And if I can quote from the Jungle Lodges and Resorts website, the Kabini River Lodge beckons you with the promise of elephants, gaur, deer and the rumour of a tiger.

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Teatime conversations

 The safari got over by 6 PM. At sundown, the Room Boys embarked on their rounds, serving much-welcome cups of tea and coffee and hot, comforting pakodas. People settled down amongst easy bonhomie and chatter, with the raconteurs reliving their safari highlights.

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In high spirits

It had been an amazing day – I wish it had lasted even longer! And what better way to round off the evening than a drink at The Viceroy Lodge, which was once the residence of the lodge’s iconic founder and well-renowned forest conservationist Col. John Wakefield or Papa John as he was so fondly known. This now hosts a well-stocked bar and an evening movie screening on the Nagarhole jungle. Over shared anecdotes and conversations, I then headed for dinner at Gol Ghar. For who knew what tomorrow held in store for me!

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