Sequel to my last post She’s a Small Town Girl…
Here comes the much awaited full account of our visit to Kanha National Park, Madhya Pradesh. Kanha apparently is the largest Tiger Reserve in India spread over 1945 square kilometers (core area covers 940 square kilometers)and one of the very few well-preserved ones. No wonder these very jungles inspired Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book. While I wasn’t sure if we will get to spot a Tiger as we weren’t lucky enough in any of our past Jungle trips, I did hope and imagined in my child-like dreams that we get to witness animated scenes of Sher Khan (the Tiger), Baloo (the Sloth Bear), Bagheera (the Black Panther) and Kaa (the Rock Python), with me as Mowgli. OK…I imagined the husband to be Mowgli and I as Shanti (Mowgli’s girlfriend) with our two baby ‘wolves’.
With Safaris booked in advance and a train running five hours late I got to experience the panic attacks similar to those when you realize that there is hardly any time to prepare before that big corporate presentation. And I thought this trip is meant to be a therapeutic break! Hurriedly jumping off the train at Jabalpur railway station with kids in tow and hubby as coolie we zipped into our waiting cab and kick-started our 190 kilometers journey by road. Such was the race against time that we gobbled our snacks from a local sweet-shop in the car and took a bathroom break only at the petrol pump while the car got refueled. Surprisingly this was a rare clean public toilet that kiddoos too consented to use. Perhaps the smaller towns are more hygiene conscious than large cities.
The road journey was tiring and we had almost given up all our hopes of the evening Safari booked for that day at 3 p.m. The resort staff called us to inform that the jungle gate closes for safari at 4 p.m. We decided not to reach the resort and head straight to the jungle, hungry, tired with severe headache yet ready to hunt and devour the wild with our red eyes. The safari jeep sent by the resort to pick us near the jungle gate met with an accident – we could have been in it if our train was not delayed! However the cab driver Ehfaz Bhai was an amazing driver. He drove fast yet safe and there we were at the Mukki Gate sharp at 3.45 p.m. The resort representative was ready with the permit. A quick identity check and we finally entered the jungle that we had been waiting for.
About two kilometers into the jungle and we saw a large herd of spotted deer crossing the path in front of us. Yay jingles of MP tourism started playing in my ears with hubby gently reminding me “Aspire for More but Expect Less” possibly preparing me again for a distraught journey that might would have ended up without meeting the ever elusive Royal Bengal Tiger. Hubby’s words came true sooner than I had expected. It started drizzling and we had to ask the driver and the guide to cover up the jeep. Brilliant! So this is what we came for, a covered jeep Safari with a view that I could have witnessed in our own East Delhi neighbourhood as Metro dug up all the roads giving a jungle drive like feel. Wildlife must have scurried away to their holes and nests, I cribbed.
If you have seen the movie, “Life of Pie” your belief in God, destiny and optimism must have gotten strengthened further. Same was the case with me as I prayed and in a split second the driver shouted, “tiger, Tiger, TIGER”. “WHERE?” we shouted back, simultaneously excited with new found hopes and scared with the presence of a wild beast around in open. The driver reversed the jeep slowly and like Baba Ramdev we too started breathing slowly in the same pranayam fashion… slowly. But the heartbeats started pounding inversely with eyes scanning everything they could from the tiny netted holes of the covered jeep. I embraced the kids tightly with the fear of the unseen and the unknown. Kids being kids were excited, “Mamma, where is the Tiger”? Hubby shushed them and gestured with the finger on his lips – I knew he too was concerned.
The driver gestured silently to our right and there we saw the big wild cat, resting in a nice camouflage near the nallah. Lil Love jumped up from her seat and shouted, “Richard Parker”. Poor thing got scolded by Dad who was busy clicking Parker’s pictures to his heart’s content but was equally worried about our safety lest the tiger hears us.
Parker kept sitting peacefully for almost half an hour. Making faces like a Bollywood villain and pouts like a wannabe super model. Whoever says ‘Tigers are shy’ needs to see them resting. The husband gestured to the driver to move forward as the kids were getting restless and we had the whole jungle to see. The driver and the guide were in no mood to listen.
“People come here from all corners of the world to catch a glimpse of the tiger and you have got one. Still you want to move ahead? Let’s wait. It’ll move. It’ll make faces. You can keep clicking. Anyway it is getting dark and there won’t be many animals visible inside.” , said the driver. Apparently our young driver was more experienced that the guide and the guide kept nodding to what he said.
And then we waited. Lil Love was tired and impatient. More so, because she was asked to keep quiet. Something impossible for her to do even when she is terribly ill. Anu our budding naturalist kept quiet and kept observing the tiger silently. A little later, Richard Parker stood up. It moved ahead and towards us. We were scared. We kept telling the driver to move forward. But he wouldn’t budge. He told us that Parker has had his fill and will not harm unless disturbed. He came about 20-25 steps ahead, we were just about 70-75 meters away, stared at us for a few minutes and then like the original Richard Parker, he moved back into the dense jungles, without acknowledging our efforts in reaching him. Without even a Thank you for coming, Glad to meet you, See you again or a Good Bye, he receded back into his kingdom with a majestic gait. He was one amongst the 96 tigers available in the park. Luck!
It is amazing how a jungle that looks beautiful during the day starts turning scary as darkness takes over. We took a small round of the jungle and then headed towards our resort, Infinity Resorts, Kanha which is just 7 km from the Mukki gate.
The resort is built on 24 acres of lush green forest and grassland. Lavish villas (1000 sq. ft.), cottages and tent houses with big living rooms and baths are a highlight of the resort. The hospitality offered by each of the staff was amazingly awesome. Most of the staff comes from the local Baiga or the Gond tribes. More about Baigas a little later. The hammock lay empty as we were worried of any unsuspected wild animal in the open jungle. The proximity to the calm, serene and beautiful Jamunia River and the local village is something that made the resort admirable for us. Food variety is less but each dish was finger-licking. The manager Mr. Naresh Suyal and his better half Manju make you feel at ease and at home. There was an amazing all-rounder whose name I’m forgetting. Like a genie he was there at the safari gate to welcome us and then at the resort with the amazingly refreshing welcome drink – made of tulsi (basil leaves) and jaggery, serving us the dinner at the restaurant, and even waking us up at 3 a.m. with packed breakfast for our next morning safari from the Kanha Kisli Gate which was about 57 kilometers from our resort. Commendable his hospitality was!
Updated to include the restaurant supervisor’s name that was provided via email by Mr. Naresh Suyal. The all-rounder’s name is Topram. Unfortunately I do not have a pic of him to share.
Mr. Rakesh Solanki, a well-known naturalist, was waiting for us at the reception with blankets and the jeep. The burning Kanha that we experienced the previous afternoon was now chillingly cold. We put on our jackets, woollen caps and wrapped ourselves within the blankets. The 3:30 a.m. 57 km long journey through villages and jungle from our resort to Kanha Kisli gate was an experience in itself. We saw a few tribal men and women coming out of the jungle with firewood. Solankiji informed us that they were stealing the firewood from the jungles early in the morning to avoid forest officials. It was just 4 a.m. and pitch dark. The moon hasn’t looked so different and scary ever. We spotted green, red, yellow and blue eyes shining at various places. Solankiji mentioned that the green eyes are of the herbivores (or vegetarian animals as Anu has named them) and the red and blue eyes are of the omnivores (vegetarian as well as non-vegetarian) and carnivores (pure non-vegetarian). Eyeshine is a visible effect of the tapetum lucidum. Read more about this here at Wikipedia. Anu who is by now very fond of learning about animals, birds and wildlife found a great teacher in Solankiji. We were glad to see her asking questions that didn’t occur to us ever. He was patient enough and responded to her queries in detail. Respect!
As the early morning rays of sun started emerging around 5:50 a.m. we saw rabbits, mongoose, porcupine and jungle cat looking at us. Yes, we were at the Kanha Kisli Gate and this time well in time. We have been to many other forests like Corbett, Sariska and Thekkady which have all been completely commercialized with resorts/rest houses available deep inside the woods. At Kanha there was only one government guest house in the beginning of the jungle, which was also being closed down and moved out to ensure complete peace for the animals. If you see the pic above, we had carried everything from food to water to dustbin. Yes. It is that strict in Kanha. We were amazed to see how the guides to the drivers, everyone was well aware of why the jungle has to be kept clean of waste materials and was actually practicing it. The moment you pick out a packet of Lays and are about to finish it, the guide will take the empty packet from you and throw it in the dustbin available in the vehicle. They’ll not allow you to use your mobile phones at any cost as they are aware that the radiations can cause harm to the various species found only in Kanha. These guides and drivers are from the Baiga and Gond community and they preserve the jungle with utmost dedication because they are well aware that it is these jungles and the animals that provide them a livelihood. Hats off to the Madhya Pradesh forest officials who have trained them so well. There are limited safaris available for entry through the different gates into the jungle which have to be booked well in advance. Our admiration for high levels of hospitality will be more evident from this quick fact. We had originally planned our trip for Bandavgarh had booked the hotel too. We got to know after the hotel bookings that there are no safaris available. It was the humble manager at our hotel in Bandavgarh who informed us that there are safaris available (limited though) in Kanha and thus we ended up in Kanha.
Kanha has a perfect mix of flora and fauna. We saw birds and animals that we hadn’t seen before or hadn’t seen so closely. Some of the birds that we saw are: Fork-tailed Drongo, Great Egret, Snake bird, White-throated Kingfisher, Oriental Magpie Robin, Red-wattled Lapwing, Cormorants, various species of ducks, Herons and Peacocks, Vultures and Eagles. But the highlight was the Indian Roller which I had seen in Keoladeo National Park in Bharatpur, Rajasthan, but could not manage to click it.
Though we saw the pug marks of a tiger and it’s nail marks on the bark of a tree, we were not lucky to spot another one this time despite getting some very strong alarm calls from baboons and sambhars and waiting in the jungle for about an hour at only one single point. Not to disappoint us this time spotted deers, bisons, black bucks, sambhars, wild boars, langoors, monkeys, jackals, fox, various species of birds came ahead in this amazingly vast and beautiful jungle. Truly jungle! But spotting Richard Parker on 14th March, 2014 was the highlight of the trip. We also saw a huge herd of Barasingha in the jungles of Kanha. An exciting conservation effort in this national park is the reintroduction of Barasingha.
And thus Kanha will always remain special to us for having helped us spot a tiger in his own kingdom.
Once back at the resort, we had our lunch and after a few minutes of strolling within the premises, we headed towards the Jamunia river adjacent to the resort. Just 15 minutes walking and you experience this. Pure bliss!
After a considerable time in the water, we decided to head to the nearby village. On our way out of the resort, we visited the Corbett Foundation and the Corbett Tribal Museum which are located within the compound of the resort only.
The tribal museum is an effort to promote the existence and livelihood of Baiga Tribe, one of the 74 primitive tribes found in India. This tribe inhabits the states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand. Their interest in art and craft is visible all through the museum and various parts of the village. 41 Baiga families of Masna village have been evacuated from their land by forest officials for wildlife preservation. They have not been relocated or compensated for their land by the government. More about their struggle for survival here in these news articles.
Their interest in art and craft is visible all through the museum and various parts of the village.
Being a small town girl myself courtesy birth, I have this special soft corner for the villages in India. The farmlands with lush green crops ready for harvest, the stillness, the peace, the serenity, all of it just makes you feel life isn’t about the mad rush that you participate in every single day. There is a lot more to it and it all begins with breathe and live. One step at a time. Nothing will happen if you fail once in a while. Nothing will happen if you won’t conquer the world. These villages may not be technologically advanced, but what I felt was they were not heavily dependent like us for basic amenities. They make. They grow. They learn. They work. They live. Something we have left behind. We just run, because everyone else is running.
This grandmother in the pic is making a medicine for her grandchild. Those two ladies are collecting vegetable for their supper. That lady in the blue sari took 10 rupees for this pic. There was another lady who refused to get clicked for even 50 rupees. She was expecting more. But, I’m a big time miser. That pic shows a solar battery installed outside one of the houses.
And this is the only shop available in the village. And it doesn’t sell potato chips, bread, bun, maggi and the likes. The kids were so damn hungry that they had food without much of a barter. If you have a picky eater and want to make them eat easily, bring them to the remote villages and let them learn to adjust and be grateful for whatever they have. One of the biggest reasons for my love for villages.
And this old man needs a special mention. I asked him if I could click his picture. He gave me a nod. I took out the phone and was trying to focus. By that time, the man who was leaning against the wall was coming towards me. I clicked this one and then I moved away. Not sure what he was upto but I was scared and fought with hubby for not saying a single word to him. Hubby said that he was waiting to see how I would handle him if he came extremely close. Crazy old man! Err…men!
And most of all, we didn’t see any koodedaan (garbage corners or garbage bins) in the entire village, we didn’t find any waste lying around and we also didn’t find any stingy smell like we do in most of the cities. There were no plastics lying around too. The waste disposal in these villages is natural and easily possible. These are the waste-disposal officers in this village. How cute and how economical…isn’t it?
And with that I come to the end of our 2-day lightening visit to Kanha National Park.
None of my trips are complete without a little bit of local shopping. But this time it was more of window-shopping because of lack of enough space at home to accommodate all my wishes.
The next day as we started our journey back to Jabalpur to catch our train to Delhi, we had a few good hours with us because of which we thought we could visit the Dhuandhaar Bedaghat water falls. But the bad roads and my younger one throwing up all along the way delayed our journey which resulted in us losing hope of reaching the railway station on time. A big thanks to Ehfaz Bhai who was the one who ensured that we got to see the water falls even though there was less time at hand. My first visit to a water fall after Kempty Falls (which I anyway do not classify as a water fall). This was mesmerizing! We could only spend about 20 minutes there. But I have promised the waters to be back with enough time to spend there.
With a promise to be back for a longer and well-planned vacation, we boarded the train which for a change was on time.
MP ajab hai, sabse gajab hai…
This post is part of the WordPress Daily Prompts : 365 Writing Prompts program where the aim is to post at least once a day based on the prompts that they have provided. Today’s prompt is,
“Tell us your story: Tell us about a journey — whether a physical trip you took, or an emotional one.”