The beautiful forests of Kabini, housed in the Nilgiri Biosphere have nurtured numerous wildlife lovers and pro photographers alike, making it the ideal destination for everyone, from the veteran wildlife photographer to the amateur tourist taking their first steps into the lap of nature.
Our skippers have grown up exploring the intricate network of paths that snake through the jungles of Kabini, and have led hundreds, if not thousands of budding photographers, wildlife enthusiasts and tourists into these myriad jungles and have seen the impact that the very journey has had on the travellers. That impact, however, is surpassed only by the wonder of seeing the glamorous stars of the jungle, the Bengal Tigers and the Leopards, in all their awesome glory.
As you go through this blog, you’re offered a glimpse into our hearts at Toehold, as we tell you why we love Kabini, this unique Tiger Reserve, and why it is the perfect destination for your next holiday.
1 – The Forest
The first drive into the beautiful roads of Kabini is one that no one forgets. There is little that can be said about the rush that comes with tracking an elusive cat while blazing through the forest, the wind whipping through your hair, as your heart races with the prospect of sighting the sought after big cats. You feel every bump in the road as the safari vehicle rumbles across the beaten track, every speck of jungle dust settling in your hair as you peer through massive camera setups, or through binoculars, hoping for the magnificent cats to make an appearance.
When you finally lay your eyes on the beast you’ve traversed the jungle in pursuit of, you know that it is a sight you’re not likely to forget. These are feelings that, in our humble opinion, no words can ever accurately describe. These are feelings that have to be experienced. These are the experiences you will have, in Kabini.
2 – The Sightings
In the past decade, Kabini has garnered the reputation of being the best park in South India for wildlife sightings, taking the crown from the famed Bandipur National Park (Click here to read about how Kabini and Bandipur differ). The lack of highway traffic passing through the forest, the increasing boldness of the animals over the past decade and the network of easily interconnected roads have made Kabini the go-to hub for consistent, unparalleled sightings.
Kabini’s gorgeous forests have no dearth of wildlife, with wild dogs, elephants, sloth bears, mugger crocodiles and splendid species of birds like the Asian Paradise Flycatcher, the Changeable Hawk Eagle, the Malabar Trogon and the Malabar Pied Hornbill dotting the forest. One of Kabini’s most iconic sightings is the massive herds of elephants trudging down to the gorgeous Kabini River, which is something you see only in Kabini.
3 – Year Round Sightings And Access
Kabini is one of the few forests in the country which can boast sightings throughout the year. Forests like Bandipur are highly seasonal in nature, with peak sightings coming around the months of March to June, in summer, while forests from Central India like Bandhavgarh and Ranthambore are closed in during the monsoon.
Kabini however, offers a different spectacle with every changing season. Summer brings dry unforgiving heat where wildlife is often seen around the numerous water bodies, like the Tiger Tank, Hosakere, the Temple Tank or around the Backwaters. The longer daylight hours mean better photo opportunities. But the highlight of the summer is the elephant herds that move towards the backwaters in incredible numbers, making an incredible sight from land and water alike.
Summer melts into the monsoon, which seems to envelop the forest in an emerald drape, with heavy showers making way for mysterious shadows, and the forest seems to be glowing in all its resplendent glory. There are few sightings more pleasing to the eye than the striking burnished glow of a royal tiger, strutting against the glistening green carpet of the monsoons.
As you round the corner after the monsoon, comes the season shrouded in mist and fog where every denizen of the jungle is coated in a blanket of mystery and shadow. Sightings are incredibly consistent throughout the year, which is why you are guaranteed to fall in love with the forest, no matter when you visit.
Want to be a part of our next tour to Kabini? Or want to travel on your own schedule while we design your itinerary for you? Check out our Kabini Travel Offerings and get in touch with us!
4 – The Ambience
We don’t just love Kabini for the forest, we also love Kabini for the comfort of the lodges around the forest. We at Toehold operate our famous Photo Tours out of the Jungle Lodges and Resorts for its proximity to the forest and the opportunities for wildlife safari, but other lodges like the luxurious Evolve Back, the lavish Serai, including niche properties like the Bison Lodge on the outskirts of the forest provide incredible comfort to tourists.
Want to learn more about the various accommodation options in Kabini? Check out our blog on the same, or check out our opinion on the Top 5 Resorts of Kabini. But what do each and every one of these lodges have in common? Why is it that we fell in love with these places?
We fell in love with them for the atmosphere. We fell in love with the sounds of the Great Outdoors all around us. We fell in love with the sight of the stars in the night sky, which is an almost alien sight for our city sore eyes. We fell in love with the way we were woken by the buzzing crickets and fell asleep to the hooting owls. You’ll have to be there to experience it.
5 – Experienced Naturalists
The unsung heroes of Kabini who make our trips as successful as they are, the ones who know the forest like the back of their hands, the ones who guide tourists through the forest with unerring intuition and accuracy, are the naturalists. Through our decades of experience in Kabini, we have developed close friendships with the skilled naturalists who put in hours of thankless work, day in and day out, to ensure that every tourist venturing into the park has the best possible experience.
They’re some of the most friendly, good-natured and sincere people we have ever had the pleasure of working with and they are a significant reason why we hold Kabini dear to our heart, and can never have enough of the place, year after year.
6 – The Leopards of Kabini
Over the past decade, Kabini has been crowned the best place in India to photograph Leopards, for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most significant, as previously mentioned, is the lack of highway traffic cutting through the forest, which is a serious menace in forests like Bandipur. The increased presence of mainstream vehicles leads to the already timid leopards getting shyer and shyer, and darting away at the very sight of a vehicle.
But, over the past few years, about two dozen leopards in Kabini grew accustomed to safari vehicles and got bolder. Some of the stars of the Kabini Leopard scene include the magnetic legend Scarface, his fairytale mate Cleopatra, Monk, the ruler of the temples and the rugged Torn Ears. To read more about the Leopards of Kabini, check out our detailed account of the stars of the forest.
No trip to Kabini is said to be complete without the iconic sighting of the spotted cat lounging on the bough of a tree, peering down at the awestruck tourists craning their necks to see him. Occasionally, he struts down from his treetop hideout and walks across the road in all his spotted glory, the radiant sun glistening of the gorgeous rosettes. There is a reason Kabini is called the Leopard’s Lair. To know why Kabini is the best place to photograph leopards, check out our blog on the same!
7 – The Tigers of Kabini
The legendary tigers of the South from the early 2000s include Bandipur giants like Gauri and the Aralikatte Male, but the past decade has seen a tremendous surge in tiger activity in Kabini, while the beautifully interconnected network of roads makes it easy to track India’s most prolific cat, the Bengal Tiger. The expansive forests are home to some of the highly popularised Tiger families, including the Tiger Tank family of Tigers, the Backwater family, the Russell Line family and the Temple family.
The reigning Tigers of Kabini are impressively bold, often walking head-on towards the jeeps, prowling through the forests, marking their territory, scowling as they take in the scent of the other tigers in the area, and some of our tour groups have been fortunate enough to even sight massive tigers brawling for territory, or even hunting. If you want to read our Skipper’s account of our recent tour to Kabini, check out the Kabini Trip Report!
8 – The Black Panther
Over the course of the past 4 years, the undoubted headlining star of the nonpareil forests of Kabini is a Lord that has taken on many names, from BP, to Blackie, to Saaya. He is one of the biggest reasons why Kabini shot to stardom in recent years, as the home of the venerated Black Panther.
He went from being an incredibly shy, bashful attraction who sprinted for cover when the jeeps were a mile away, to be one of the boldest Black Panthers documented, his face rife with the scars of battle, often drinking out in the open while glaring at the onlooking jeeps, or walking head-on towards the jeeps with his tail held high as he sauntered through the forest he had come to call home.
It is no wonder that he was National Geographic’s choice for their meticulously filmed documentary, which soon became a worldwide phenomenon, The Real Black Panther. He sometimes goes unseen for weeks at a time, but the very day he is sighted again, his appearance makes waves among every wildlife enthusiast and Kabini lover.
Our skippers have led multiple groups to successful sightings of the Dark Lord, and even those who weren’t fortunate enough to see him returned with an implicit sense of triumph of the knowledge that they might have been in his presence. The very pursuit of the Panther is electrifying, and you can listen to Skipper Jayanth’s firsthand account of his tryst with Black Magic by checking out our Spell of Black Magic Blog!
9 – The Boat Safari
Kabini boasts a unique feature, of the Kabini River, also called the Kapila River snaking through the midst of the forest, which plays host to one of the largest elephant congregations seen anywhere in South India in the summer. Hordes of elephants make their way down to Kabini from the surrounding forests and dwell in these jungles during the dating summers. And in Kabini, you can see them up close and personal on the boat safari.
Boat safaris are an excellent way to gain a very unique perspective on the living giants as the calves gambol about in the water, while the solemn matriarchs watch on cautiously, spraying themselves with water to beat the unforgiving heat. Boat safaris also provide fantastic sightings of adorable and playful otters, mugger crocodiles that look like modern-day dinosaurs, and dozens of species of birds. To read more about why you should do a boat safari while in Kabini, check out our Boat Safari vs. Jeep Safari Blog!
10 – The Photo Opportunities
The holy grail of why we wildlife lovers fall in love with Kabini is for the fantastic photo opportunities that the forest provides. That is not to say that other forests in India do not provide gorgeous photo opportunities. We have had clients make spectacular Tiger images from Bandhavgarh and mind-blowing Leopard images from Bandipur, but the very sight of a Leopard on a tree, in the heart of Kabini, is a sight that makes your heart grow light, and immediately reach for the camera, to document the spotted delight under the dappled sunlight that kisses its rosettes, as they almost seem to glow.
The majestic stride of a massive tiger as it sets out in the early morning fog to quench its thirst is just one more in the massive repertoire of Kabini sights that will have you firing away, your hands trembling ever so slightly in awe.
Kabini’s open stretches of grassland, abundant water bodies and towering trees are just some of the settings that make for textbook photography, and that is why we at Toehold love Kabini, because we aren’t just photographers, we are photography mentors, and in our humble opinion, there is no better place to learn than the forests sings with life throughout the year.
Summarising why we love Kabini
For the better part of the past, Kabini has been one of the best destinations for a wildlife holiday, not just in South India, but through the entirety of the country. The resplendent forests aren’t just for the avid wildlife photographer or the expert cat tracker, but for anyone looking to get out of the city, spend their time in the lap of nature, and possibly sight some of the most magnificent wildlife they will lay their eyes on. It is our love and presence in Kabini that prompted us to open a brand new branch of the Toehold Store, in Karapura Circle, mere minutes from the resorts of the area.