A Guide To Visiting Kabini, Biodiversity Hotspot of Karnataka

kabini forest reserve in karnataka

Tucked into the backwaters of the Kabini River, the Kabini Forest Reserve lies on the southeastern side of Nagarhole National Park. This part of the forest is extremely rich in wildlife and is a treat for wildlife lovers.

The Kabini Backwaters is the main lifeline for the birds and animals living in this forest. This huge reservoir was formed after the construction of an earthen dam on the Kabini River.

In this guidebook, we aim to cover all major aspects of trip planning to Kabini.

Some Background About Nagarhole And Kabini Forest

Once a hunting reserve for the kings of the Wodeyar dynasty, Nagarhole National Park was established as a wildlife sanctuary in 1955. It was declared a national park in 1988 and a tiger reserve in 1999.

The park derives its name from Nagara which means snake, and hole, meaning river or stream in Kannada language.

kabini backwaters

The Kabini Forest Reserve is a portion of Nagarhole National Park that sits on the banks of the Kabini Backwaters.

In 1974, a dam was constructed on the river Kabini leading to the formation of Kabini Backwaters/Reservoir.

Kabini Forest Animals And Birds

Kabini is home to a wide range of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects, rodents, and over 250 species of birds.

Tigers, leopards, dhole (wild dogs), and jackals are the main predators in this forest. Among the herbivores, the Indian elephant is the most conspicuous animal in the forest.

huge tusker elephant in kabini

We managed to spot a huge tusker elephant during one of the safaris. On another safari, we saw a mother elephant with a calf trying to grab food from its mother’s trunk.

mother elephant with calf in Kabini

Apart from elephants, other herbivores like gaur, chital, sambar deer, and barking deer are also found in Kabini.

gaur in kabini

Of the total 4 safaris – 2 jeep and 2 boat safaris that we took, tiger sighting was the highlight of our jeep safari.

Our safari guide took us to every possible waterhole in the forest but no luck for us. We were exiting the forest, when our guide noticed black and yellow stripes from a distance.

tiger sighting in kabini forest reserve

As the jeep moved closer to that spot, we saw a tigress relaxing beneath a teak tree. It had possibly finished its kill from the last night and was enjoying a restful day.

malabar giant squirrel spotted in Kabini
Malabar Giant Squirrel

While waiting near a waterhole, we saw a long tail hanging from a nearby tree.

Initially, it wasn’t visible from the spot where our safari had halted. So, the driver moved the jeep slightly and we were able to see a large reddish-brown tree squirrel called Malabar giant squirrel.

Another noteworthy sighting was a fully-grown monitor lizard that gave us a couple of nice shots before disappearing into the bushes.

monitor lizard
Monitor Lizard

This forest is also believed to be home to the elusive black leopards but we didn’t see any.

During the boat safari, we spotted many types of birds including waterfowls and raptors like fishing hawks and crested serpent eagles.

The area is an important habitat for critically endangered white-rumped vultures.

Fishing Hawk
crested serpent eagle
Crested Serpent Eagle
white throated kingfisher
White-throated Kingfisher

The boat safari allowed us to see river otters from a close distance. They were basking in the sun but as soon as they noticed our boat they ran into the water.

river otters near kabini backwaters
River Otters

About Kabini Safari

Kabini safari is different from Nagarhole National Park mini-bus safari.

In Nagarhole, jeep safari is not offered whereas Kabini has both jeep and boat safaris.

However, you can’t book a safari in Kabini without accommodation. It comes as a package with stay included.

Jeep safari is available exclusively for the guests staying at Kabini River Lodge, a Karnataka Government resort. All other resorts in the area offer only boat safari.

kabini river lodge
Kabini River Lodge – East Bungalow

If you want to enjoy boat as well as jeep safari, the only choice is to book your stay with Kabini River Lodge.

The park has two zones for safari, zone A and zone B.

The riparian forest around the Kabini Backwaters is zone B and the forest area located away from the backwaters is the safari zone A. Both zones are teeming with animal life.

Jeep and Boat Safari Timing

Morning safari: 6:30 am – 9:00 am
Afternoon safari: 3:30 pm – 6:00 pm

How To Get To Kabini

Kabini is approximately 70 km from Mysore and 220 km from Bengaluru. The nearest domestic airport to Kabini is in Mysore.

At the time of writing this post, Mysore Airport has flights from Hyderabad and Bengaluru only.

From other Indian cities or international locations, you can fly into Bengaluru’s Kempegowda International Airport. It takes roughly 5 hours to get to Kabini from Bengaluru Airport.

If you are planning to come by train, Mysore Junction serves as the nearest railhead to Kabini. From the railway station, it is just about 2-hour drive.

Best Time To Visit

The best time to visit the Kabini Forest Reserve is between October and May. From June to September, the region receives heavy rainfall making safari not so pleasant experience.

Winter months (November to February) are cool whereas summers (March to May) are hot and dry.

The scorching summer heat draws tigers to watering holes. So, the likelihood of tiger sightings increases in the summer months.

Tips For Visiting

  • Make sure to do the bookings in advance. On the weekends, lots of family travelers visit Kabini from Bengaluru.
  • For taking a DSLR camera on the safari, you will need to pay a camera fee that varies according to the lens size.
  • At least a 2-night stay is recommended if you want to do jeep safari in both zones A and B as well as boat safari.
  • Avoid planning your Kabini trip during monsoon. Due to overflowing and rise in water level, boat safari may not be available in the rainy season.

Further Reading

For more inspiration for your wildlife vacations, please read some of these blog posts.

Over To You Now…

We hope you found this travel guide to Kabini informative and helpful.

Have you visited this beautiful forest reserve earlier? Let us know in the comments below and feel free to share your Kabini experience.

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