Karnataka is a state full of variety and diversity. Not just India’s Silicon Valley – Bangalore or for that matter the princely Mysore, which used to be the two pivotal centers of attraction even a decade back. The mandarins of Karnataka Tourism were convinced that in order to attract the discerning international traveler, they simply couldn’t afford to sit back and relax with Bangalore and Mysore as the principal tourist circuit.
The change was in the offing, courtesy of Wildlife and nature-based tourism, which offered an opportunity to the stressed-out IT whiz kids of Bangalore with the much-needed rejuvenation in nature’s lap. Karnataka Tourism Department played the role of a catalyst and the private sector hospitality industry invested big time in developing tourist infrastructure in some of Karnataka’s virgin wildlife sanctuaries.
Today, the state of Karnataka boasts of some of India’s most fabulous wildlife resorts that have attracted the attention of global travelers and won accolades from the competitive international hospitality industry.
My first brush with Karnataka’s immense wealth of wildlife, its flora & fauna as well as the incredible Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve began with a chance to visit the world-famous Kabini Wildlife Sanctuary as a Script Writer for a renowned UK Wildlife Conservation Trust who was scheduled to do a documentary on this forest reserve.
The crew arrived in Delhi from where I accompanied them on an early morning flight to Bangalore and from Bangalore by coach to Kabini’s pride – the magnificent Orange County Resort where we had our bookings done well in advance of our departure.
The 245 Kms. drive from Bangalore was beautiful as we drove along the Mysore Highway passing by the intriguing Karnataka countryside. The resort itself is beautifully spread out on the edges of the scenic Bheeramballi village. Acres of agricultural land, a shimmering river where hundreds of avian species flock to and fascinating tribal hamlets of the exotic Kuruba tribe invite you as honored guests of this one-of-its-kind wildlife resort.
The accent of the resort’s splendid yet simplistic architecture is its total compliance with local tribal sensitivities, so much so that the age-old tribal architectural heritage of the “Kadu Kuruba” tribes has been replicated and embellished extensively both inside and outside this magnificent resort. All the minute details like the antique wooden furnishings, the curtains, and the overall ambiance in each room reverberate with a rustic tribal charm, thereby making the entire resort experience a harmonious one.
The unprejudiced eye of the architect echoes in every nook and corner of the resort. Here at the Orange County Resort the virtually impossible seem graceful and easy and I think that’s what architecture is all about. Be it the ethnically designed “Pool Huts or the marvelously luxurious “Jacuzzi Huts”, the resort is a supreme adjustment to opportunity and local conditions. All attention has been concentrated on, not collecting art, but on creating art, like one beautiful picture.
Surrounded by tribal designs, designs that are unusual and minimalist, designs that celebrate, which do not necessarily conform to any set pattern, finishes that are playful – is the joy that this resort breathes into her spaces. Be it the floors, walls, ceilings, doors or even the simple framed windows, the resort manages to evoke in the most mundane things a vibrancy and a happy mood, that reach out to greet you the moment you step inside.
Adrian Murphy, as the crew leader of the UK-based Wildlife Trust, hadn’t seen a resort of this magnitude before and he had been on several safari tours to Africa.
In course of our dinner with the lights dimmed, the candles aglow, a cozy dinner served, Adrian emotionally remarked – “I feel architects tend to design interiors that are austere – decorators on the other hand produce interiors that are dramatic, often with no sense of discipline. Here though, the synthesis has been perfect, stunning and dignified showcase that exudes an aura of ease”.
From the quietly refined, comfortable residence, free of clutter and ostentations, we began our mission of unraveling the mysteries of the Nilgiri Biosphere. We were provided with the specially designed vehicle and an expert naturalist – Manjunath, who would double up as a driver. As the vehicle ambled past the resort and hit the dirt road leading to the Mecca of wildlife sanctuaries – the one and only Nagarhole National Park, a sense of euphoria engulfed us.
As it turned out, our naturalist cum driver Manjunath turned out to be such a knowledgeable guide and it seemed that he literally knew the Nagarhole terrain by the tip of his fingers. He would briefly halt at places frequented by the Tigers and Leopards and on one occasion he parked the vehicle on a grazing ground, which was the favorite haunt of the wild elephants of Nagarhole.
More than half an hour elapsed and there was no sign of the elephants. A few members amongst the crew became restless and wanted to advance further, but not Manjunath. He was cocksure; the elephants would make an appearance. They did and how splendidly!
A herd of about 45 Elephants with calves were retreating along the forest trail. And at a distance, we could see the south-westward movement of the elephants being resisted by a small contingent of staff from the Wildlife Wing. What was peculiar in that movement was that the herd left behind two calves, which could not keep pace with adult members as their energy flagged because of the continuous chasing for the past few days.
What was more amazing was that the two abandoned calves were not taken back by the herd. In a last-ditch effort to reunite the calves with the herd, they were thoroughly smeared with fresh dung so that they could assume a new smell – identity and thus be accepted by the herd. But the Elephants were not to be fooled.
Only a huge one smelt them, rested its trunk for some time on one of the calves, and moved slowly to allow the calves to keep pace. But the calves weakened and could not keep pace with the herd and was finally left alone. Unfortunately, one of the calves died the next day of Calcium deficiency.
The entire wildlife drama as it unfolded in front of our naked eyes was just about enough to arouse the adrenalin of the UK crewmembers and they had the entire episode captured on their cameras.
As we proceeded further, the forest cover became dense and according to Manjunath one of Nagarhole’s most fascinating aspects is that it harbors the highest concentration of wildlife species, which comes to around 108 animals per square kilometers. Some landmark this!
Deep inside the forest, we must have traveled a good 15 Kms. already into Nagarhole National Park, and the deeper we penetrated the more frequent were our halts for the purpose of filming. Although the crew was damn elated with exclusive shots of Muntjaks, the Four-horned Antelope, Langurs, and even the Bonnet Macaque, they were a bit crestfallen not being able to sight the big cat!
Being sensitive to our British crew, the management had scheduled the trip in the month of December, which to the crew’s dismay wasn’t really the ideal month for tiger tracking. Rather surprisingly, the summer months are ideal for viewing tigers at Nagarhole, as we were informed by our guide Manjunath.
Nonetheless, we spent filming each day with a great sense of achievement and discovered the hitherto unusual aspects of Nagarhole National Park. Of course, the daily grind was tiresome and the fact that it rained intermittently made our progress a little slower than we had anticipated.
But the Orange County Resort staffs were always at hand to provide us with facilities that we never dreamt of initially. From providing us with weatherproof raincoats to hi-tech binoculars and co-coordinating with the National Park authorities to the latest Tiger count census, they were exemplary with their conduct.
Some days we would return by mid-afternoon and after grabbing our lunch at the resort would get busy with the work of editing on-site, since we were given a tough deadline by the UK authorities. We were provided with an exclusive room large enough to accommodate the entire crew with their cameras and equipment.
The resort had close to 20 guests, mostly IT professionals from Bangalore, who have made it a habit of spending their weekends at Kabini.
A few guests, senior citizens in their own rights, aged 50+ were so awestruck by the rather hi-tech wildlife filming and editing that was going on in one corner of the resort, that they even postponed their departure dates just to be with the crew and see for themselves the giant leap that technology has made in the domain of wildlife conservation.
A week into our work, and it seemed that a majority of the resort guests were more interested in the progress of editing rather than their own personal and up-close encounters in the Kabini wildlife.
To keep us in high spirits and in good humor, the resort would organize enchanting evening folk dance performances where native Kuruba tribal dancers dressed in all their finery would regale the distinguished guests. For my mates from the UK, barring team leader Adrain Murphy, most were on their first overseas tour of India and naturally, they found the tribal dance recitals awesome.
Manjunath, our jovial guide cum naturalist who had done an admirable job taking us around to the secret corners of Nagarhole National Park and aiding us splendidly on matters of wildlife in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve had invited the entire crew for an impromptu tea session at his modest village house. Five of us went on a walking tour to his village and spent some quality time chatting up with his folks.
The elderly folks shared some fascinating aspects of their rich tribal heritage and culture. They took immense pride in their ancestors who were the first original inhabitants of this rugged jungle tract of Kabini and were reportedly hunters. According to the Chief Naturalist – Mr.Nanjappa, the resort has been pioneering the process of integration of the tribal Kurubas by way of providing gainful employment and training them in wildlife conservation.
Towards the end of our 10 day Kabini tour, we had managed to complete a major part of the editing work and so had enough spare time to go Bird Watching and visits to the tribal village of Bheerambali. The best part of Bird Watching at Kabini is that in terms of avian diversity, few National Parks of India can boast of such a wealth of avian species.
We were told by the resident naturalist that more than 300 winged species are known to thrive in the marshy areas of Kabini and my friends (crew) from the UK John and Abraham from far away from Nottingham, both avid bird watchers were having a date with the Blue-bearded bee-eater, the Malabar Trogon, the Malabar Whistling Thrush, Crested serpent-eagle, Crested hawk-eagle, the Malabar pied-hornbill, Common Hawk Cuckoo, Changeable Hawk Eagle, Indian Roller, Indian reed, Woodpeckers and a whole lot more.
As a Travel Writer and having been born and brought up in the North-Eastern state of Assam, I was exposed to the grandeur and the haunting wilderness of the world-famous Kaziranga National Park from an early age. But nowhere have I seen such deep-rooted inspiration in the traditional vernacular heritage as I saw at the Orange County Resort.
In spite of the global recession and all that hullabaloo about India’s dithering tourism industry, every now and then India comes up with surprises and one such surprise was being guests of the Orange County Resort at Kabini and experiencing first hand the harmonious amalgamation of traditional tribal design elements with the contemporary aesthetic design.
We as human beings love being amazed. The magician, the astrologer, the faith healer, the miracle maker. Despite all the hard work, that we ourselves employ in our personal achievements, we view the finished work of another with wonder and awe. Out here in Kabini prepare yourself to be stimulated and I can assure you the stimuli here will be a positive one.
Traveler’s Fact File
Orange County, Kabini is located in close proximity to Bheeramballi Village and is approximately 245 Kms from Bangalore by road. One has to travel via Mysore on the
Mysore Highway covers places like Ramnagaram – Maddur – Mandya – Srirangapatna.
Before you reach Mysore City turn right on the “Ring Road” and cruise along until you are at the junction of Mysore – Mananthavaadi Road. From here turn right and head for the Hand Post Circle and drive straight towards Maananthavaadi.
After 3 Kms take the left turn towards Kabini Dam and pass through the rural hamlets of Beechanahalli and Bheeramballi Village and ultimately to the Orange County Resort, Kabini.
Bangalore is well connected by air and rail network. All the leading domestic airlines like Indian Airlines, Spice Jet, Indigo, etc… operate routine flights to Bangalore from some of India’s major cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, and Hyderabad.
International airlines like Air France, British Airways, Gulf Air, KLM Northwest, Lufthansa, Malaysian Airlines, Royal Nepal Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Sri Lanka Airlines operate routine flights to Bangalore from major international aviation hubs.