Orange County Resort Get wise about the birds and the beasts, at Kabini

I am surprised how much the kingfisher resembles its bright blue counterpart on the tail of an aeroplane! The stay at the Orange County Resort in Kabini, for a wildlife greenhorn like me, is filled with such ah ha moments.

It is a resort, so beautifully appointed, so decadently luxurious, that it takes your breath away. But, it is not the four poster bed, not the Jacuzzi that comes with your room, nor the elegant spa that is the clincher. The real treat lies outdoors. It is the Nagarhole National Park at your doorstep.

“Ma’am, can you see it, can you see it?” Asks Aniketa, Orange County’s naturalist, in urgent whispers. We are bobbing about in a boat on the Kabini. It is six in the morning. Chandra the boatman/nature encyclopaedia cuts off the engine. I give myself a headache squinting and frantically scrabbling around with the binoculars. Nothing, until a big mound of slush heaves up and slides into the river. ‘It’ is a marsh crocodile. Even before my heartbeat has slowed down, more excited whispers. This time it is the prettier sight of a cormorant feeding its young in a nest. An Osprey with a damaged wing suns itself in the early morning rays and a Peregrine falcon zooms past. I am filling up my notebook with bird names, so I can show off later. A woolly necked stork (‘a rare sighting ma’am’) stands perfectly still and, I spot an oriental honey buzzard, a population of Malabar pied hornbills, and a couple of racket-tailed drongos. Birds no larger than biggish butterflies execute graceful swoops- they are the barn swallows that come all the way from the Himalayan foothills, I am told.

The Orange County resort takes its wildlife seriously. It encourages its guests to do the same. Two safaris, one on the Kabini river, and the other, a jeep ride gets you up close and personal with wonderful creatures. Before we set out, there is a briefing. We are showed the route we will follow on a map. We have to observe jungle etiquette – no talking loudly, no mobiles, and no camera flashes. “We are the guests in the jungle, we should behave politely,” explains Narendran, another naturalist, to some children, and then we are off.

Somewhere deep inside the forest, we come to a halt. Narendran has heard/spotted something. He stands rock still as we look anxiously at him. “The Malabar Giant Squirrel, two of them,” he breathes. They are the largest in the world we learn. Spotted deer are in plenty, still they are a lovely sight. Suddenly, we hear a barking. It could be an alarm call from the sambar deer about an approaching tiger, perhaps. There is no tiger sighted, but we see a huge herd of massive bisons, some wild boar and best of all, a family of elephants making its leisurely way to the river bank where bamboo clumps creak musically. A rainbow arches in the background - a perfect finishing touch.

The Orange County Resort is careful not to be an intrusive neighbour. When I complain about the dining room lights being too dim to read in, a staffer explains - the animals can see us across the river, and they don’t appreciate blazing lights. The perfect way to kill an afternoon here is to head to the resort’s reading room. It is the best place in the world to spend with books. Every time you look up from your page, you see the flowing river and the dense jungles beyond. Sink into a sofa, and order yourself a spectacular sunset and a coffee made with the best berries from the resort’s estates in Coorg. I pick up Kenneth Anderson’s Tales from the Indian Jungle, the perfect wildlife whodunit. Life will never be the same again.

Getting there

The Orange County Kabini Resort is located in the state of Karnataka. It is 275 Kms from Bangalore, 250 Kms from Kozhikode and 90 Kms from Mysore.

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