The year 2020 has been quite a different year for all of us. Challenging for many, opportunistic for some, a retrospective for a few others. Perhaps the most affected industry during the year has been the travel and hospitality industry with crores of people forced to stay indoors, avoiding venturing out of their homes and minimal face to face interactions. For many like me, a passionate traveler, being stayed put at one place is mentally quite stressful. In fact, before the pandemic, I had already planned by travel calendar for the entire year. Little did I know that I would have to cancel all the bookings and most of the travel plans for the remainder of the year.
The first thing on my mind thus after the lockdown was lifted was where could I travel safely. Air travel being off the bounds, the travel had to be local within the state. After a wait and watch for a few weeks, I decided to visit one of my favorite places in Karnataka – the beautiful forest of Nagerhole Tiger Reserve. In the southern part of this forest, lies the backwaters of Kabini, the fringes of which is quite popular for sighting wild cats and hordes of elephants apart from a variety of birds and other mammals. Located at just about 220 km from Bengaluru and approximately a four-hour drive from the bustling city, it was the place to be, to relax the senses and enjoy peace.
Needless to say, this visit was not without the taking necessary precautions and background check. The serene Kabini River Lodge, an erstwhile hunting lodge of the maharajas was my place for stay and safari. The Kabini River Lodge is the first Eco Tourism Venture of Jungle Lodges & Resorts Ltd, a joint venture of Tourism and Forest Departments of Govt. of Karnataka. It is rated as one of the top 5 wildlife resorts in the world. The resort operates safari both on the land and water. Jeep or Canter safari and Coracle ride will be provided during the stay in the Resort.
Having visited many times before, I had made quite a few friends here and thus before my visit, I reached out to them to check the necessary precautions in place. Gingerly I reached the place on a cloudy afternoon and the number of precautions at the property was quite overwhelming. Highlighting a few here just to indicate of how the place was considerably safe to visit –
- The resort was operating at only 50% occupancy and only the tented cottages and bungalows were available for stay.
- The shared rooms (dormitories) were unavailable for stay
- Over the entire sprawling 54 acre property, foot-operated sanitizers were placed at every 100 – 150 meters.
- At the entrance, temperature checks and self-declarations forms were in place.
- Masks were mandatory for the entire duration of stay
- The rooms were completely sanitized and so was the linen. A mandatory check was done and only after inspection, we were allowed to enter.
- The dining area where buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner is served also followed social distancing norms with mandatory no self-service, diagonally placed tables and chairs, hand sanitizers in place. The staff wore not just masks, but also the face shields and gloves while serving guests.
The precautions were not just limited to the property but also to the wildlife safari that is arranged. The jeeps were completely sanitized before and after every safari and only 4 members were allowed in the vehicle as against the normal 7 + 1 naturalist. The drivers who were well versed with the flora and fauna in the region doubled up as naturalists. The canter safari which normally accommodates 12 – 18 members were unavailable.
A final check was done near the forest check posts, where the forest security guards and personnel did a temperature check, mask check again as well as sanitize the jeep. With all these precautions in place, it was finally time to enter the forest to try and sight the various birds and animals. Once inside the forest, the senses are automatically calmed down and you will enjoy the freshness in the air, the sounds of birds chirping, the deer grazing peacefully, the dense vegetation calming the eyes as well all of which together will take your mind off the raging pandemic that has gripped every part of the world. Over the next 4 days, 3 nights and 6 wildlife safaris, there was not a moment of insecurity or fear in the minds of me or others who were staying at the property. To top it off, I was blessed with beautiful sightings of tigers, leopards, wild herds of elephants, a couple of which even mock charged at our vehicle. Perhaps the most memorable sighting was to see a dominant female tigress with her 3 cubs strolling across the road one late evening and even sort of escorting us for 10-15 mins by walking right ahead of us on the road.
Satisfied with my heart’s content, it was a much-required break from corporate life and one that shall never be forgotten for the circumstances in which the travel was undertaken. Amidst the constant sense of fear, I had certainly found the tranquility to get through the next few months with a calm mind.
Sharing below some more glimpses from the wild. Cheers!