I am six meters away from an enormous tusker that looks me in the eye before returning to its meal of bamboo. Rampant poaching means that elephants are rare through most of India. But at the Kabini River Lodge about a five-hour drive from the southwestern city of Bangalore you can see whole herds of wild elephants. You might also spot bison, sambar deer, boars, dhole (wild dogs), sloth bears, exotic birdlife and the odd leopard. The highlight of my visit: seeing a deer escape a pack of dhole by leaping into the river.
Set on the banks of the serene Kabini, and bordering Nagarhole National Park, this was once the hunting lodge of a maharaja. It was taken over by the Indian government and reopened in 1984 under Indian-born, British conservationist Colonel John Wakefield, who presided over it until his death last April at the age of 95.
The lodge retains something of the no-nonsense feel of a colonial jungle post. The cottages are clean and spacious, and the new Maharaja bungalows offer views of the river and a hammock for lounging. But there are no telephones, TVs or swimming pools. Food is a basic but tasty Indian buffet; room service is not offered. You're not there to be waited on, but to see wildlife.
Jeep and boat safaris are available, or try a traditional coracle ride, from which you might spot a crocodile. The best time to visit is in April or May, when elephants emerge from the jungle to drink, or after the monsoons in November and December, when animals are scarce but Kabini is at its greenest. Like many sanctuaries in India, Nagarhole is threatened by development, so go while the going's good.
For foreigners, rooms start at $160 per person per night, including meals, safaris and taxes. Indian nationals are entitled to a cheaper tariff. See www.junglelodges.com
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