Urban spaces tend to resemble high intensity pressure cookers. The daily grind of living to the rhythm of alarm clocks takes its toll and any incentive to get away from the concrete blocks of insanity is always welcome. This time, the avatar of an excuse came in the form of our son’s birthday and we decided to flee from the barrage of planning party paraphernalia-so it was adieu to the themed cake, invitations and return gifts.
Back on the road, we move on through Ramnagaram (Gabbar Singh just left the building!),Chanapatna , Mandya , Srirangapattan and decide to avoid the Mysore city. Serai Kabini is about two hours away from Mysore and the roads wind into picturesque tableau of green paddy fields, watering holes and open sky. There are clearly marked signboards along the way with various resorts jostling for one’s attention. As we move towards the last twelve km to our resort the road gets treacherously bumpy. And every bone in our body feels the brunt of the bump. It is the view outside that helps soothe the potholed encounters –vast stretches of fields, dotted by white washed houses and people carrying on with their daily routine. A Primary Health Care Centre, a Government school and we have crossed into another world . A few km later the reassuring sign of Serai which is like that proverbial Coffee pot at the end of the rainbow !
Sera Kabini has an understated elegance. The staff is waiting at the reception with a traditional lamp and string of jasmine flowers. It takes a while for us to orient ourselves to where we are. Fresh tender coconut water, formalities and briefing done, we are ready to begin our journey. The wide open spaces delight the child in us (my son is already somersaulting his way out) and we head to our rooms. Sera Kabini has a choice of three types of accommodation - villa,terrace and residence villa (which comes with your own swimming pool) and seems to be a honeymooners special. All the rooms face the river and our terrace has a secluded garden space with a hammock. While the manager had briefed us earlier about the itenaryand activities, nothing seemed as exciting as the hammock and a nap in the sun. My son was thrilled when we told him that the snacks at the mini bar were all his (the first day being complimentary!) . Lunch is served in a charming open spaced restraunt and the walk from our room to lunch makes us even hungrier. Meals at kabini alternate between buffet and a set ala carte menu and the choice of cuisine offers both Local dishes , Chinese and Continental fare. Resort like food can jade the palette but here the food is deliciously simple and it takes a lot of will power to reduce the frequency of trips from table to buffet!
Safari lessons-Seven year olds behave better than Software professionals!
Serai offers two kinds of safaris-boat and jeep. In a recent development, to regulate the proliferation of resorts and jeeps, the Forest and Wildlife department has tightened its guidelines. All safaris are routed to the Jungle Lodges , which is a Karnataka State Tourism Initiative. The naturalists at the resort welcomed the move saying that this helps stop the jungle from being overrun by hordes of vehicles which has also lead to lots of animal sightings. We book for an afternoon safari in a valiant attempt to forego an afternoon siesta. A vehicle takes us to jungle lodges and we make our way to the Jetty. The naturalists have already briefed us about maintaining silence during the ride and while the four families with kids take it seriously , a group of four young software professionals flaunting their newly acquired high powered cameras seem to feel that rules are meant to be broken. Throughout the trip they had to be reminded to be quiet and they speak in the tone of the new, young, rich, urban , shining India. If money could buy them cameras ,they feel that it was their moral birthright for forests to produce animals on demand.They should take some etiquette lessons from the seven and eight year old kids on the boat!
Down the kabini river
To be in the middle of a vast expanse of water is a humbling experience. The waters are surrounded by three National Parks and the afternoon promises animal sightings as it is a hot day and the river plays a watering hole for many bird and animal species We see Siberian Cranes and Coronets making their nests on clumps of tree that emerge mysteriously like apparitions from the river. A dash of bright blue makes its way across –it is a kingfisher. A few black ripples dance through the waters...tadpoles, the bemused naturalist informs us. Meanwhile the group of Software professionals loudly display their googled knowledge of the various species. The rest of the group do their best to ignore them. There are sambar deer and then we spot the rather shy Otter, known as theIndian Water Dog, taking its dip in the river. At a small grass land water body we spot a Marsh Crocodile,mouth wide open. As the boat draws closer and stops for more shutterbug opportunities, we watch the crocodile slip gracefully into the water. "But what about the Elephants", the group demands. In the distance, we spot an Elephant near the bamboo groves. They are so beautiful in the wild, camouflaged brilliantly, covered in jungle dust,a far cry from the chained elephants one sees at temple rituals and circuses which makes a mockery of these gentle giants. By now, the sun starts to set and the whole landscape has taken on another hue.This time, as we head back, the boat is silent, each of us caught in our moment of reflection. Something about the river brings out the stillness and silence in children and all of us.The group thankfully have gone to sleep.
Night falls early in the resort and the sky is dotted with silver sequined of stars. A bonfire set up near the bar provides warmth a and comfort and we close our eyes in sheer fatgue.The next morning is the jeep safari. To be up at five o clock is seems so daunting, There is a temptation to snuggle into the soft bed but we ready ourselves and head to or vehicle which is ready to take us to the jungle.
By six o clock we are in the Rajiv Gandhi Park.The morning air is so cold and the naturalist provides us with some shawls. The jungle is slowly waking up and as we drive further into the jungle one wonders who is watching home. A heard of spotted deer freeze in picture perfect stance as we drive past. A Peacock gobbles a bright red piece of Watermelon. fruit The birdcalls change as the hour progresses.To be in the heart of a jungle is amazing. We are looking to spot the Cat-The Tiger or Leopard. Trees take on misty hue and we spot a few Lemurs sitting high on treetops, the security officers of the forest. In a forest there is no sense of time and we feel a sense of disorientation. As we make our way back , we are told by one of the jeeps passing us that they have spotted a leopard. Suddenly the whole energy in the group changes. Everyone is on red high alert. We make our way to the route and find another jeep with cameras. The silence and excitement is palatable. The jungle is ominously silent and all I can see are tree and shrubs,"Alli....", shouts the driver in the group. And there he is , the leopard sitting between the branches of a curved black tree. Amazing..how well he has camouflaged himself and through the binoculars we spot him. He looks content and at peace with his belly full. With all the hype surrounding the Big Cat, there is nothing like seeing the animal in its habitat. It stuns you into silence and we reluctantly head back with a renewed respect for the forest and the Cat.
Leopard spotting again
The next morning my son and husband decide to take the early morning safari his birthday and an early start seems to be on their minds. I am positive that they will come back with stories of deer and peacocks but they return armed with an extraordinary sighting. Just as they had entered the jungle, through the shrubs, a Cat was spotted.Apparently,he walked around, climbed on top of a log and made his way throughthe wooden trail. For twenty minutes there was absolute silence .The photographs tell the story and they are amazing.
Leopard in hiding
While the safaris are the main attraction, we managed to squeeze in some time to take bicycles and go for a ride outside the resort. There are trails leading from resort to river and back and it is great fun to explore the terrain as a family. For some indulgent pampering there is a spa offering a range of treatemts.But these pale into comparison as you just sit and watch the river flow, the sunlight creating little sparkling diamonds. When your friendly waiter, serves you hot pakodas and coffee, you tell yourself that there is nothing like a little luxury while enjoying the getting back to the basics
And there was something special about celebrating my son’s birthday with a simple homemade cake from the resort and having newly found friends join the party who very sweetly came back to the already surprised birthday boy with presents. It is hard to say goodbye-to the friendly staff, to the waiter who by his own initiative taught the kids to shape napkins into candles and of course to the river.
Photograps: Shyam Prasad Rajan