Kabini is such a beautiful river. In full spate now, whirlpools and eddies glimpsed in the far-from-still waters, the colour of gunmetal. Every now and then, the backwash rocks our reinforced coracle. But I have full faith in the sinewy-armed Anthony who seems to know just when to sit quiet and let the current take us where it will, and when to get down to some vigorous steering. At the landing dock, weeds poke their hydra-like arms through the water, slowly and stealthily taking over as much of the area as they can. Nevertheless, the waters are high and beautiful.
By the water’s edge stands a magnificent mango tree, dense with foliage and with branches as thick as a giant’s arm. This is a tree one could spend a day in, perched on the broad swathe of the branch that runs parallel to the ground, climbing other branches that beg to be climbed, sitting on the wooden benches at the base of the tree, sipping a cucumber-and-ginger drink. Yes, I do all of the above.
I’m at Red Earth Kabini. Ravi, a former planter whose passions have led him from Bangalore to Wayanad to Brisbane to Papua New Guinea, and his filmmaker wife Rachel have established the resort on ten acres of well, red earth, across the Kabini dam. There are 20 rammed-earth villas equipped with all mod cons; plus a spa, bar-cum-lounge named the Watering Hole (of course), swimming pool and conference room. Rachel and her understudy man the kitchens most efficiently, bringing to the table a range of Western and Indian cuisine. And much fish. Of course.
And at night, the river flows, swiftly, silently, while the cicadas chirrup loudly, ceaselessly. The lights from the dam come on, a blue-white glow.
The morning after, I’m at the Kabini Dam. Its original capacity of 1,952 tmc feet looks quite a bit reduced, thanks to the insidious encroachment of silt. But the 696 metre long dam with its wide boulevard hedged on both sides by the same lamps I saw last night from the resort makes a pretty sight. There’s a breeze rustling the treetops, children playing in the shallows, and further along, a man casts a net in the waters.
There are rohu and katla to be found in plenty in the Kabini but Ravi is sure there are other varieties of fish that come down from Wayanad, which is where the river originates. Another sunny morning and I’m in an eye-lock contest with an egret. Either he has had his fill of fish or he has just discovered a new form of entertainment: stare hard at a human. We gaze keenly, intensely and let’s face it stupidly at each other till he bores of the game and flies away in one swift motion. The river banks are full of avian life, and keen birders get to see river tern, snake birds, crested serpent eagles, drongos, ospreys, the brain-fever cuckoo, Malabar grey hornbills, egrets, cormorants, and darter birds.
The best part of it all, though, is the Kabini, almost always in sight, murmuring softly to herself as she meanders in lazy loops and curves. It really is such a beautiful river.