It has been a while, but I want to share with you one of the most magical experiences I have ever had, during my trip to India last year. As many of you know, India is a land rich in culture, history, heritage and diversity with deep roots in religion, family and societal values. India still has many beautiful, unspoiled places of natural interests and can be explored by anyone willing to make the trip.
In one of my previous posts, I shared about my time spent in Bekal, which is an ancient fort located on the Western Coast of India. Today I would like to take you on another enchanting adventure deep into the heart of Karnataka, where elephants roam free and a thriving National Park exists. Trust me Africa is not the only country in the world where you can experience a wildlife safari.
Motto & history
Evolve Back’s Spirit of the land philosophy finds its most intimate expression at Kabini, where you are drawn into the vibrant social tapestry of the local Kadu Kuruba tribe. While you discover a vernacular dimension to luxury that’s truly liberating, the resort gives you a wildlife experience like no other. Inspired in design by the Hadis or tribal villages, this picturesque resort of sweeping panoramic vistas, is bordered on two sides by the Kabini River.
The Kadu Kuruba live in the forest regions of the state of Karnataka and they speak in the Kannada language. In Kannada, Kadu means forest and Kuruba mean tribal community. The Kadu Kuruba are Hindus and they worship their deity in a stone. They believe the stone nourishes the soil and the plants. The other tribes found in the area are the Jenu Kurubas (Honey gatherers), Betta Kurubas (Hill tribes), Yeravas and Soligas.
In 1955, a 285 sq km area was gazetted as the Nagarhole Game Sanctuary. The same was extended in 1974 with some reserved forests from the Mysore district being added to bring the total area to the present 644 sq km. This was also accorded the status of a National Park in 1974.
Nagarhole National Park of Karnataka serves as home to some of the most endangered wildlife species.
The term Nagarhole is a combination of two Kannada terms, ‘Nagara’ meaning ‘Cobra’ and ‘Hole’ meaning ‘River’. This National Park has been named after the river ‘Nagarhole’ which snakes through its rich tropical forests. Set up in 1955 in Coorg, in an area of 285 sq km, the park was accorded the status of a National Park and extended in 1974, with some reserved forests from the Mysore district being added, to bring the total area to the present 644 sq km. In 2000, the park was brought under ‘Project Tiger’.
The Kabini dam submerged large tracts of forest creating a huge lake, parts of which are within the national park. During the dry season, the lake dries out, leaving only the main river visible. The resulting open plain creates an abundance of fresh grass, more reminiscent of African savanna than tropical India. This unique microhabitat has proved to be a boon for the park, providing fresh grass when the rest of the park is drying out.
The river Kabini originates in the Wayanad district of Kerala, flows eastward to join the river Cauvery, which empties into the Bay of Bengal. This is the largest river in the Nagarhole National Park and was dammed in 1974 for an irrigation project. This becomes the life-giving source for the park during the summer months, attracting the largest concentration of Asiatic Elephants and other herbivores. The river separates Bandipur and Nagarhole National Parks.
An adventure to remember
Bangalore or Mysore are the closest options in terms of the distance to Evolve Back Kuruba Safari Lodge, Kabini. My sister and I visited in late July 2017 for a short stay-cation and little sister time to also explore Kabini together. We were picked up from my sisters’ apartment in Bangalore by the resort’s car at about 6:30 am. The reason behind for the early start was to try to avoid the morning traffic and people commuting to work. The highway can be jammed for hours if you leave anywhere after 7 am. In spite of this, we had a bit of bad luck and there was some construction work for the Namma Metro (Bangalore Metro lines), so we were slowed down by about 20 minutes. Once we were out on the highway it was a very smooth drive. of about 5-6 hours to get there.
Tour de property
Upon arrival at the resort, we were greeted to two local tribesmen playing the local instruments a tune of joy and we were greeted with a Tikka and garlands, followed by a cup of local coffee in clay pots, sweetened with Jaggery. We could enjoy our coffee overlooking the beautiful and mesmerizing Kabini river in the background. It was a sunny afternoon and the river glistened. The architecture of the main building is inspired by the Kadu Kuruba tribal huts or Hadis. After being shortly briefed about the place, we received our packed itineraries from our local guide, in the meantime, our luggage was taken to our cabin. Post coffee we had a short tour of the property and I must say it is simply breathtaking! Walking down the winding paths it’s easy to get lost trying to find your cabin/lodge as you are only surrounded by nature. Close to the main part of the hotel are the restaurants and infinity pool, overlooking the river Kabini and which blends perfectly with the sky. Post this we had a quick lunch and by then it was time for the evening Safari to take off. Down by the river Kabini, we were greeted once again by our guide who was waiting for us (as each group will have your own guide) and we set off on a speedboat across the Kabini river to the other side, for a jungle safari, to hopefully catch sightings of some big game.
The rooms at Evolve Back are no ordinary huts, they spell luxury in every way. You have two choices of huts to choose from Pool Hut and the Jacuzzi Hut. We had the beautiful Pool Hut, all to ourselves. For lack of a better term, it felt like heaven! The huts are in essence an extension of the Kadu Kuruba tribe. The interiors keep in touch with the traditional thatched roof and handmade furniture, but at the same time has all the modern day luxuries. The two key features of the Pool Hut are of course the swimming pool and the veranda that opens out overlooking the river Kabini, where you or your loved ones can enjoy a nice morning coffee or enjoy the later afternoon sunset over the river Kabini. The hut has all modern amenities to that of a 5-star hotel and also comes with a bath.
Well if you ask me to be surrounded by nature it’s hard not to wake up each morning yearning to take a look around and explore or just relax in the porch or by the infinity pool overlooking the Kabini river and the forests of Nagarahole in the horizon. Here are some other activities you can do while at Kabini and I suggest you do a few or all of them if you can!
Reading Lounge: For those looking to just relax and just read a book or two in a nice quiet relaxed environment, you can head to the reading room on the far corner of the property where you can enjoy a nice beverage of choice while enjoying a good book.
Infinity Pool: For those who would like a quick dip in the heat of summer the infinity pool is the place for you. Having only just learned how to swim, I took the opportunity to float around as the pool was not that deep.
Family Pool: There is also a family pool on the property for young toddlers to enjoy.
Ayurveda: This is by far the best as I had experienced here my first ever Abhyanga or Abhyangam at the Vaidyasala. This is a synchronized therapy, using herbal oil and is not your average or regular massage and it brings numerous health benefits. The message is followed by a steam/ sauna in traditional pods. One of the benefits of this treatment is to eliminate all the toxins from the body. The state-of-art wellness facility is very impressive and I strongly recommend this treatment.
For those who are more adventures and would like to explore nature then these activities are for you
Boat Safari: On the Boat Safari, you will be taken upstream from the resort on the Kabini River to where the river itself separates the Nagarhole National Park from the Bandipur National Park. Here one can witness the largest congregation of Asiatic elephants, peacefully feeding. In addition to diverse wildlife sighted on the extensive river banks, the boat safari offers an opportunity to observe the Marsh Crocodile, Smooth-coated Otter, and a myriad of water birds.
Vehicle Safari: In addition to large herbivores such as the Chital, Sambar, Gaur, Asian Elephant and more, Nagarhole also boasts a large number of predators including the Tiger, Leopard and Wild dog. Take a ride of your life on one of these vehicles and experience the adrenaline. I can safely say this was a thrilling experience as we were offroading many times.
Coracle Ride: A Coracle is a round shaped boat and can only take up to 3 or 4 people at a time. Guests are provided with life jackets on this trip and it is fun and an experience to bring you out to the heart of the Kabini river. This part of the experience takes anywhere between 30 -45 mins.
Nature Walk: Lead by a Naturalist, you can experience the beauty of nature and unravel the beauty of birds, insects, trees, and wildflowers that are indigenous to this region. The walk would take you along the banks of the Kabini river and then through the scrub and fields along the village roads.
Night Trails: As night descends upon the Kabini landscape a whole world of nocturnal life emerges. After-dinner if you so chose to, you can explore nature around the resort at night, armed only with flashlights and a spirit of adventure.
The naturalists will skillfully escort you around the areas just outside the resort and by the Kabini’s waterline where you will encounter the fascinating nocturnal world of beetles, spiders, owls, moths, lizards and even plants as you go about this unusual night expedition.
Bullock Cart Ride: This is a must do if you ever are at Kabini. Bullocks or Indian bulls are used by farmers to cultivate the lands. But at Kabini, we met a farmer from the Kadu Kuruba tribe who now earns a living by offering his Bullocks for a ride of a lifetime along the shores of the river Kabini while he serenades you with the local tribal songs.
where to eat
After all these activities there is no shortage of good food at the Evolve Back restaurants and you can choose from four options and each is an experience on its own:
Honey Comb: A fine dining restaurant overlooking the Kabini river is a must and my advice would be to start at 6 pm to watch a beautiful sunset. At 4 pm this restaurant also serves high tea with some Indian snacks. Honey Comb, named after the honey gathering Jenu (Honey) Kuruba tribe, lays out a platter of the cream of international and regional cuisine.
By the Kabini: This is a more romantic setting as it’s a dining space located on a manmade porch overlooking the river. It is more intimate and private, compared to the Honey Comb, which serves a buffet spread.
The Kuruba Grill: This restaurant as the names suggest serves up some mouthwatering Kababs and Grills along with some sizzlers and other platters
Candle Light Grill: For those looking for exclusivity and a fine dining experience on the boat, then opt for this option. Savor exquisite food and wine from a choice menu prepared on board.
Just writing this post takes me back to that magical time. I have always heard of Evolve Back with its old name Orange County Resorts, but never had the time or the chance to go and experience it for myself. Now that I have, I want to share it with you. Many people go to India for many reasons, spiritual, cultural, for the cuisine or simply just to experience the beauty of this ancient land full of wonder and mystery. Whatever your reasons are, I hope that one day you get to experience the beauty and majesty of the animals that call Bandipur and Nagarhole their home. The kindness and openness of the people of the Kadu Kuruba tribe who let us into their lives and share with us their experiences and their ways of living are all worth to call it the experience of a lifetime.
Thank you for stopping by and until next time