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.