John Felix Wakefield & Kabini River Lodge




Read about history of Kabini river lodge in Karnataka. Read how it was planned, place was selected and construction was done. John Felix Wakefield was the major curator of this wonderful jungle lodge. He devoted his life for wildlife. Kabini river lodge is located in Karnataka state of South India. It is a luxury safari lodge close to Kabini river that passes through Nagarhole tiger reserve. It is spread over 54 acres of land thus has enormous wildlife surprises while visiting this campus. This safari lodge is the first eco-tourism venture of Jungle Lodges and Resorts Ltd which is a joint venture of the Tourism and Forest Department of the Government of Karnataka state. It is located on the southern fringes of Nagarhole national park which means it is just outside the national park area. Due to its location, service and grand history, it's very popular among wildlife lovers, who are planning for a wildlife trip to Nagarhole national park. It is open for tourists, throughout the year thus no restriction on visiting this beautiful safari lodge.


Kabini river lodge is not only interesting due to its location and service but also due to its magnificent history, which is not well exposed to the world. It is his history that enhances the importance of this popular safari lodge. It was year 1978 when conference of Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) was going on at Kathmandu in Nepal. Karnataka’s tourism minister Mr. R. Gundu Rao was participating this conference and his lodging was at famous Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge, located at Royal Chitwan National Park. The stay experience of this lodge was so good that tourism minister R. Gundu Rao thought of implementing the similar model of stay in forest at his home state i.e. Karnataka state of India.


On completion of his stay duration, at Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge, Mr. R. Gundu Rao, shared his plan with Jim Edwards, the owner of Tiger Tops, to develop similar kind of jungle lodge at the forest of his home state Karnataka. He chose Nagarhole national park forest for this as it is close from Bengaluru and Mysore cities, thus state capital people can easily visit the lodge and enjoy the amazing lodging experience at natural forest. In order to work on this plan, Jim Edwards sent two men to Karnataka state. They are Ramesh Mehra and Colonel John Felix Wakefield. Their initial plan was to set up lodge in Nagarhole national park forest area but due to Wildlife Protection Act 1972, they were not able to do so as this law prohibits construction of commercial tourist lodges in declared forest area. Thus they dropped that plan and proceed with alternate plan to set up a jungle lodge at such a place, which is not in national park area but very close to it, surrounded by similar forest. In this search, they found the former hunting lodge of the Maharaja of Mysore. Its location was in Karapur, on the northern bank of Kabini river. In those days, river banks, water holes were specifically chosen for making hunting lodges as it offers them a good opportunity to hunt down the animals approaching the water source to fulfil their thirst. Earlier it was planned as private safari lodge of Tiger Tops but a year later, Government of Karnataka announced its partnership in the lodge and thus Jungle Lodges and Resorts came into existence as India’s first venture into establishing eco-tourism accommodation facilities.

Opening of Lodge

It was year 1978, when tourism minister of Karnataka conceived the plan of making jungle lodge in Karnataka. Selection of location and construction took year 1979 and with the year 1980, Kabini river lodge was open to the everyone. It was joint venture of Government of Karnataka and Tiger Tops. Two prominent names that made this history are Mr. R. Gundu Rao from Government of Karnataka and John Felix Wakefield from Tiger Tops. Both the partners run the lodge successfully for some years. Later Tiger Tops withdrew their partnership by selling their share to Government of Karnataka thus state government became the sole owner of jungle lodge. Despite of this change, Colonel John Felix Wakefield continues as the director of jungle lodge and made this safari lodge to reach new heights in the field of safari lodges.He became a popular figure in this region and locally named as “Papa” which means Father. Stay experience at this lodge includes not only the accommodation but also to educate the visitors about their natural heritage and urge to conserve the nature and its habitants. It was efforts of John Felix Wakefield that connected the local communities with wildlife tourism and educate them that wildlife conservation is for their own benefit.

A Britisher who was more Indian

Colonel John Felix Wakefield was born on 21/Mar/1916 in Gaya district of Bihar state. His grandfather came to India in 1826 to join the army of Bengal Presidency, under East India Company. His father was born and bought up in India. Father was employee of Maharaja of Tikari in present Bihar state. While working for Maharaja, John got the chance to visit private forest of Maharaja which developed a passion in him towards jungles and wildlife. At the age of 9 he shot his first tiger and at the age of 10 he shot his first leopard. His childhood was filled with fun and adventure. Like other British parents, working in India, they sent John to England to complete his formal studies. After completion of studies, he returned back to India and work on his passion for wildlife. He even met Jim Corbett on hunting expeditions. John selected India as his country to spent rest of his life.

Work Field of Wakefield

Work field of John Felix Wakefield was India. He started his work life from India and life ended in India. He first worked as manager at Tajpur estate of Bijnor in Uttar Pradesh state. It was year 1941, time of World War II. He was enlisted in the emergency commission of the British Army and posted in Northern India and Burma. While posted in Burma, he fell in love with British Nurse working at Q A Army Hospital. He got married to that nurse. Later in year 1958, family of wife’s father fell seriously ill and that family shifted England. This incidence caused separation of John and his wife. He never met his wife again but his daughters keep on visiting India to meet him. John’s love for India can be understood from one more incidence in which during Indian independence, in year 1948, his mother advised him to leave India and live in England with her. While she shifted to England, John stayed back in India. He left army in year 1954 and continued his passion for wildlife. He came into wildlife tourism field in 1967 by organizing safari holiday trips for tourists in which prominent motive of visitors was to enjoy hunting expeditions. With the passage of time, awareness for wildlife conservation was increased in India. Dwindling population of tigers in India made Indian Government to made special laws like Wildlife Protection Act 1972. All such changes made John convert from hunter to conservationist.

Love & Respect

It was love for nature that made John to choose those jobs which allowed him to live in jungles. After joining Kabini river lodge, he remained as it director for many decades. He was true wildlife conservator. His prominent works for which he was reminded is to take the jungle lodge to new heights of popularity, establishing the balance with local communities, government level bureaucracy and environmentalist. He made local communities as partner in mission for wildlife conservation activities. Majority of lodge staff was from local communities. He was popular figure in that region and referred as Papa which is a local word means Father. Local people called him Papa and took him as fatherly figure for them. At the age of 95, he passed away on 21/Mar/2013. Even if we visit Kabini river lodge bar, we will find that the name of the bar as “John Wakefield’s Bar”. Whenever we talk about Kabini river lodge, the name of Papa Wakefield will come in reference. Story of Kabini river lodge is incomplete without sharing the contribution of John Felix Wakefield.

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