Where Luxury is Second Nature
On the drive down to Kabini from Masanagudi, fine, red earth pirouettes in the windy trail left behind by the tyres of my jeep. In a few hours, we arrive at our accommodation for the next three days, just off the edge of the Nagarhole National Park. I follow the trail led by PK, an avid naturalist and the resident manager, expecting it to open up into a spread-out jungle resort. But there it stands, an endearing little capsule: Kaav, the intimate boutique jungle lodge that introduces me to Kabini, and the idea of quiet luxury.
Kabini sits on the banks of the dam that gives it its name, formed by the Kabini river that winds down from Wayanad in Kerala and joins the Kaveri in Karnataka. The river is bordered on either side by the Nagarhole and the Bandipur national parks, and together they form an essential part of the Nigiri Biosphere Reserve. The biosphere is a protected area of over 5,500 square kilometres that stretches across the three states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala.
What makes Kabini special in this landscape is that every summer, it hosts the world’s largest congregation of Asiatic elephants in the world. The region has one of the highest concentration of Asian elephants, and between April and May, close to 800 elephants migrate to the Kabini backwaters in search of water and vegetation.
I am here after summer in September, but the park does not disappoint me at all; despite the heavy rain the night before, I see plentiful spotted deer, a male sambar and his proud display of antlers, a gaur calf suckling his mother, and a baby elephant protectively encircled by its herd. Back after the game drive, I unwind in my sit-out with a cup of tea, looking at the quiet wilderness around. Apart from its four “Superior” rooms, the property has two luxury tents, complete with bathtubs to soak in after a long day. But I’m happy in my corner, from where I see francolins and woodpeckers flutter amidst the jacarandas and sandalwood trees.
I contemplate working while on the viewing deck that sits on top of the building, similar to a machan, albeit a cosy one with a wooden floor and throw pillows on a big davenport. Ultimately, I give in to the lure of the jade pool that I have been eyeing all afternoon from the corner of my balcony. Set in the midst of banyan trees, with butterflies, falling leaves, and the distant cries of peafowl and barbets for company, this drop of emerald is indisputably Kaav’s most bewitching spot. A refreshing dip later, and I’m ready to address the humongous appetite the swim has fuelled.
A carefully considered, assorted dinner awaits me at the in-house restaurant Alfresco. I choose pasta as a contrast to the heavenly South Indian breakfast with which I had kick-started my day. I round it off with a request for a repeat of the sinful chocolate pudding, something I know I’ll be doing in the coming few days as well.
I have fallen for the food, but more remarkable than the diverse menu itself are the sustainable practices at Kaav. Kitchen waste is used in a biogas plant, and the natural methane produced is recycled for cooking. Even the water I’ve been drinking is made potable by an energy efficient, reverse osmosis process that treats water from recharged groundwater tables. Overall, the small inventory and team here are a reflection of the property’s minimal impact policy.
I decide to walk off the pudding, and PK steps in just then with some of his other guests to guide us into the thicket of neem and jackfruit trees. He points out winged insects in the arc of his flashlight, frogs creating a racket in a muddy puddle, and his favourite, a variety of spiders—he has photographed and documented hundreds of them.
We walk back to where PK has set up the telescope. Peering through it, I see Saturn’s rings, craters on the moon surface, and a few nebulae clusters, all otherwise invisible. But there is enough magic even in the night sky I see from Kaav with my naked eye.
There is something deeply gratifying about the place: the cozy setting of the lodge, the warmth of the local community team here that is so far removed from the hospitality environment of a bigger setup, and the meditative silence set off by the reverberating sounds of the jungle. More than anything, it is its oneness with the surrounding forest that makes Kaav special, true to the Malayali word from which it derives its name—a kaavu, or a sacred grove.