Tuesday, 6 December 2016

A Walk In The Park: Satpura

The most thrilling thing about being is Satpura is that the forest officials have sectioned off a part of the park where you can go on walking safaris. Yes, that's right. You can walk the same path that tigers have tread. You can follow bear trails and wander in waist high green grass to your hearts content.

You don't often see animals on these safaris. Try as we might, humans are LOUD and can't help but startle the animals as we trample through the underbrush. It doesn't matter, there is so much else you can see when you're walking around, and so many different parts of nature you can learn about.

There are rules that apply of course - you must stay together, you must follow one another in single file, don't talk loudly, don't throw things around and always listen to your guide. The forest guide leads with a big heavy stick, an air horn and a can of pepper spray, just in case you stumble upon an unsuspecting animal. (Not sure who would be more surprised, the animal or the humans). The protocol at that point is to huddle together very quickly and put your arms out so that you appear bigger than the mammal you have just disturbed. It's all very exciting and I was hoping that it would happen to me!

We found bugs GALORE (yes, bugs) in different parts of the forest and on different trees. We found spiders in their hidey holes, caterpillars under leaves, scorpions waiting for a chance to strike, lion ants laying their traps, dung beetles trudging along, ants using flowers as home decor, red ants guarding their homes, moths, butterflies, dragonflies flitting from leaf to flower.

Red ants in their homes
Taking pictures, and using a snack box as a reflector
Got the picture!

We didn't discover any animals but we saw so much else. We were shown how you can tell when animal tracks are fresh. If bits of dirt and sand have blown into the tracks, they're older. We found animal kill. A tiger had made a bear kill a few days ago and we went to explore. What we found was the remains of a bear that didn't look bear like at all. There was black wiry fur strewn across a small clearing and in the absence of skin holding it on, just looked like giant hairballs I wanted to clean. The smell of decay was overwhelming when we found the bear's skull, a few rib bones and some claws. It was fascinating!

Bear skull

Not sure if I was awake here or trying to hide from the smell
The most amazing part was that they let us touch the trees to our hearts content. After years of looking at Saag trees, I finally got to touch the leaves! It's an incredibly humbling feeling walking through places like this, and I'm so lucky I got to experience it.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Drifting Down the Denwa: Satpura

Satpura is a forest like no other. Located in Northern Madhya Pradesh, it has a beautiful natural boundary line in the form of the Denwa River. In order to access the park, one has to get into a boat and cross the river to the main gate.

While named Satpura Tiger Reserve, the park is home to only 49 tigers. It is more a place to sight leopard, sloth bear and giant malabar squirrel. They only allow 12 jeeps into the park at one time, and in order not to disappoint everyone else who wants to visit, they offer you other options. Canoeing, walking INSIDE the forest, night safaris

I spent a weekend at Forsyth Lodge, a beautiful 40 acre property located in the heart of Satpura. It's run by a wonderful team of really knowledgable naturalists who spent the weekend with us trading wildlife sighting stories. The best part of going on safari (other than seeing those elusive cats) is meeting like minded people and sharing your love for nature with them. Each of the four naturalists at the Lodge has their own special interests and obsessions with animals, flora and fauna. Their knowledge of insects, reptiles and amphibians made it a much more fascinating weekend in the park.

My gorgeous sit out at Forsyth

Our first morning jaunt was scheduled to be a canoe safari. No one believes me when I say that early mornings in these areas are absolutely freezing cold, and this one was one of the bad ones. 12 degrees!! Luckily, I was well equipped with thermals galore. You can learn to pack like us too, with my handy safari guide.

Morning mist

I was excited about going on a canoe safari. Each canoe is a tiny boat with three strips for three people to sit on. Your guide rows, and there is an extra paddle for you if you would like to help. I got very excited and rowed the whole way. The only thing that confused me was how to turn, but I'm sure I'll figure it out next time. When in a canoe, balance is everything. If you want to turn, you cant just snap yourself around or everyone will be in the water! You must turn slowly and only with your head. Keep your core tight and centred at all times. (Between this and the rowing, it was a good morning for exercise).

It was a magical experience being on the water as the sun rose and turned the sky rose gold.

We drifted lazily through clumps of trees and mist rising from the water and pulled up for breakfast by a muddy bank.

Ducks flew across the river, almost as if to speed us up and say 'hey look at us'. Scores of kingfishers darted around us, treating us to a sight we would never have seen on land.

The great thing about this kind of safari experience is that you don't get jostled around too much, and your probability of spotting birds, deer, and a few mammals are much higher in the colder months than they are in a jeep. Satpura offers motorised canoe rides for older visitors who aren't able to cramp themselves into canoes and sit still for 3 hours. A couple staying at our hotel saw everything they needed to from one of the boats - crocodile, bear, wild dog and hundreds of birds. A wonderful morning that came to an end as the sun got stronger and beat down on us. We rowed to shore and made our hungry way back to 'camp', looking forward to what the afternoon was going to bring.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

The Queen of Pench

Baghin Nallah - also known as the Queen of Pench - was found poisoned in Pench National Park a few days ago. Her senseless death has created shockwaves across the wildlife community, and has brought both the forest and the forest departments efforts to Save the Tiger under close scrutiny. I was fortunate to have two wonderful, lengthy sightings of this beautiful tigress in June last year. We chanced upon her early one morning and spent a good half an hour following her as she walked down a road marking her territory. She reappeared snoozing the following afternoon on a small rise next to an extremely populated road, and put on quite a show for the thirty odd jeeps that eventually gathered there. She rolled, she yawned, she roared, she stretched until she finally got up and trotted away with a baby sambhar clamped between her jaws. We followed her down another nullah to where she settled with her afternoon tea, and proceeded to devour it with joy. 

Rest in Peace Baghin Nalla. 

Friday, 1 April 2016

Inside Corbett National Park - 3

Another beautiful part of Corbett is Sitabani - which once again was around 45 minutes away from our resort. It's not exactly considered to be a part of the main jungle, but there is more than enough to see there too. There is a park called the Rangers Reserve which you are allowed into. Unfortunately for us, the timings at this reserve are only 3 to 5.30 pm and we got stuck in a lot of traffic. The rangers flatly refused to let us into Sitabani because we wouldn't get out on time. This was incredibly disappointing, but an eye opener for us who had decided that we'd take it easy and leave late because we were tired of looking at only birds. Note to self: ALWAYS be the first one at the gate! 

The part of the forest that we were in was absolutely beautiful, and so our wonderful driver Kundan took us on a lovely slow exploration of the hills and the incredibly gorgeous saal trees all around. Sherwood forest indeed. We looked pretty amusing to the villagers - three girls in an open topped gypsy, shouting ROKO (it means stop in Hindi) every few minutes to take pictures of everything from the road, to a broken wall, to some leaves and even scarecrows. One of the tractors that kept passing us had people convulsing with laughter pointing at us. Oh well, at least everyone got to sightsee. 

Part of the reason for us to go to Sitabani was to visit Cedar Lodge, which is the sister lodge to Corbett Riverside Resort and located at the top of one of the hills. It's a small seven bedroom structure with a huge yard, and the most incredible starlit view. The problem with Corbett proper is the amount of light pollution - we couldn't see too many stars. But this, this was the real deal. I even chanced upon a Quidditch player in the jungle! 

After sitting around a bonfire chatting with everyone and drinking copious amounts of whisky, we decided to head back to the resort for dinner. Coming down a mountain at breakneck speed in ten degree cold is both exhilarating and frightening! It looks great when you're looking forward onto a road lit by headlights, but turn your head around and all you can see is pitch black. I'm not the only one who had visions of a tiger or lion leaping out at me! What a way to go though hehe. We heard an elephant trumpet at one point and screeched to a halt looking for it, until we got very very cold feet - both literally and figuratively. 

A pretty place to visit, and I would highly recommend going inside the forest too!