Resort review: Call of Kuruba country at Evolve Back Kabini
It takes a quiet moment deep in jungle territory to realise the significance of one’s voice. Engulfed in the ceaseless buzz of insects, and the occasional alert calls of birds harkening up to a predator’s presence, a peculiar sense of static engulfs the mind, surrounded by the endless wilderness.
That’s just the feeling on any of the trails at the renovated Evolve Back (formerly Orange County) Kuruba Safari Lodge, in Kabini. Then again, an expansive sense of tranquility, and a vast measure of heartsease distinguishes this getaway from any other.
A short drive from the Kabini Dam, nestled between sweeping panoramas of the Nagarhole and Bandipur National Parks on either side, and situated right by the edge of the backwaters of the Kabini River reservoir, the Kuruba Safari Lodge rekindles history of the Maharaja of Mysore’s private hunting grounds, and of viceroys and royalty heading out on shikar (hunt) expeditions.
In the present day, guests get to embark on the popular boat or jeep safaris — there are no elephant rides hosted here any longer. But the glimpses of royalty are never too far, or unreal, for reference.
Admittedly, the regal airs of some of the guests tend to take away from the majestic sightings of elephants and big cats, though you’re not likely to come across a human straddling a carcass with a shotgun. At best, what you return with are scenes of adventure seekers marking their ground with group selfies. But even the most rambunctious of the lot eventually settles down into the quietude.
For an indigenous touch to the resort’s spruced up interiors, the hosts do away with undue ceremony and turn instead to natural elements that echo the rustic life of the local Kadu Kuruba tribe (‘kadu’ means forest, and ‘kuruba’ means tribe, literally in Kannada) — an erstwhile community of soldiers, who were evicted from their kingdom to the edge of the forests.
Today, the Kadu Kuruba folk are more involved in urban social affairs, while also leading much of the activites at the Kuruba Safari Lodge.
Apart from regular dance dramas and theatrical performances for the benefit of guests, most of the safari guides at the lodge are in some way or the other related to the Kadu Kuruba community. One such guide, on one of our safaris, let us in on the direct benefits of having grown up practically in the wild.
Evidently, their senses are a lot more heightened than we're accustomed to — for sharpened faculties of hearing (tuned up for bird calls), smell (to detect animal trails), touch (to sense the direction of winds), and even taste (of dew drops before a storm).
The enhanced perceptions of sight, and of speech, on the other hand, do take a while — and can take upto an entire lifetime to acquire, and hone. Sighting a spotted cat by its tail, dangling high above on a branch of a towering deciduous tree, for instance, takes a highly trained eye — especially, when you’re on the move.
Kabini, for the record, is also a bird lover’s paradise, with hundreds of avian species known to nest in the region. Catching hoopoes, parakeets, bulbuls, hornbills, woodpeckers and eagles is common, and fairly easy, even on a boat safari. But it takes a trained eye — of a local Kuruba guide, no less — to spot a rare golden oriole or a white wagtail.
To be sure, the rustic charm and decor in no way takes away from the indulgent aspect about the resort's lodgings — in the choices of either Jacuzzi Huts or Pool Huts. The design touches are neat, and lend to a homely air, with ethnically styled furniture, articles sporting tribal patterns and motifs, and minor flourishes such as of ‘bottle gourd’ lamp shades.
Back in my own quarters, I got to share the joy of witnessing a hummingbird diligently fetching blades of greenery to stuff and create a little nest, wedged into the bamboo awning right outside my personal jacuzzi.
The huts are evenly spaced out, allowing you to wave out or greet your neighbours from your private sit-out, but not so close as to risk people peeking into your bathtub.
Following every meal during my stay, a languid splash out in the pool seemed mandated. As for the meals, each one was more elaborate than the other, with unsparing buffet spreads of authentic regional
cuisines (apart from continental favourites), and heaps of dessert options making for extended dining sessions, often with live music to keep one engrossed.
And there are constant reminders to maintain the quiet. In our rooms, for instance, a helpful note says, “Right now, 300 species of birds, over 30 species of mammals and the trees of the forest are fast asleep. So should you.” It doesn’t take more than that for one to slip into a lazy, work-shy, mid-day nap.
There’s also ample information about the many Evolve Back initiatives to support and nurture local traditions, enable livelihood for the tribal folk, and establish sustainable measures for conservation of the environment.
Details of these efforts can take days of research to fully comprehend, while the bare mention of some initiatives — such as of local handicrafts, weaving and taxidermy, can serve to inspire the most indolent traveller.
Meanwhile, for those looking to find their voices in chorus, the hosts arrange for bonfire sessions, with courteous service extended from the barbecue stations, and the bar.
But the song-and-dance affairs don’t go on too long into the night, and you are encouraged to tuck into bed early, if only to catch the first boat, coracle or jeep heading out for a safari.
Before every safari outing, a handy map outlines the resort’s expanse, squeezed between the green sweeps of the Nagarhole and Bandipur national parks, alongside the Kabini reservoir, shaped like a dragon and snaking into the broad landmass of Karnataka.
On both the jeep and boat rides, of a few hours each, the experience is in equal parts liberating, and energising, regardless of animal sightings.
On our boat safari, despite a daybreak start, we ran headlong into a storm sweeping across the otherwise placid waters of the River Kabini. The birds were out of sight that morning, though we did get our shutters snapping over stray egrets, cranes and storks.
At one point, an apparently lost stag ventured out to the water’s edge, cautiously eyeing our boat, as it drifted idly along, with the motors turned out. Before any of us could react, however, the beast plunged back into the thickets with a giant stride that left only its glorious horns for us to pick out over the dense bushes.
Earlier, on the jeep safari, we realised the importance of sighting tiger scat, and pug marks, as we stopped ever so frequently, given the hope of spotting some of the magnificent beasts.
The leopard sightings are more common on these rides than of the tigers, we’re informed — keep your eyes peeled, you’re advised, as they’re likely to bound across the road before you can focus a camera.
On a cold, sleepy morning out here, you’d be lucky to find a lone cat sprawled out on a green patch, as they generally tend to move in packs, mostly of cubs with their mothers, we’re told.
Breathing new ideas
Easy as it might seem, to ascertain Kabini as one of the richest wildlife habitats in the country, by merely going over a map, to actually rest for a few days in its lap goes a long way, to appreciate the many natural wonders at hand, with the Irupu Waterfalls, Brahmagiri Wildlife Sanctuary, and Balle Elephant Camp, among other nearby popular places of interest.
At the end of a stay so far out in the wild, you realise, it takes very little to temper one’s senses, and get tuned into the ways of the natural world. An added massage session at the in-house Vaidyasala, an ethnically styled Ayurveda spa, is sure to leave you full of spirit and vitality.
Unlikely as it is for most of us to get too removed from the distractions of urban life, the distinctive lulling effect of the wilderness can prove to be rather invigorating, if not altogether life-giving.
Predictably, the biggest take back from here is to re-ascertain a clear-thinking state of mind. For me, at a personal level, it was all about holding onto that quiet moment — so far out in the wild that the tunes running in my head seemed to momentarily reverberate across the valley sides. For a die-hard romantic, that’s the making of a priceless great gig in the sky.
Highlights: Season of Enchantment
From December 23 to 31, 2017
• Karunaadu: Essence of Karnataka dinner with cuisine from North & South Karnataka, Udupi, Mangalore, and showcase of Kolaata, Kamsale, and Janapada Nritya art forms.
• Kuruba Haadi: Tribal Spirit dinner with tribal delicacies, bbq & grills, and a tribal dance showcase.
• Dakshinada: Southern Star dinner with a range of South Indian cuisine, and a showcase of bharatanatyam and mohiniyattam.
• Spirit of Christmas: Xmas Eve Dinner with continental, South & North Indian cuisine, carol singing, and a Western two-piece live band.
• Soul of Christmas: Xmas Lunch at Honeycomb restaurant with South
& North Indian and continental cuisine, and a showcase of serenading.
• Romancing the Wild: New Year’s Eve Celebrations by the poolside with continental, South & North Indian cuisine, bbq & grills, and a Western live band and DJ.
The writer was in Kabini by invitation from Evolve Back.