Takeaway

Satpura rules in silence

Kalyani Prasher | Updated on February 15, 2020 Published on February 13, 2020

Less is more: Only a part of the Satpura Tiger Reserve’s core area is open to tourists   -  IMAGES: KALYANI PRASHER

Free from crowds, this tiger reserve in Madhya Pradesh entices the intrepid traveller

Like many schoolgoers of the ’80s and ’90s, I was first introduced to Satpura by Hindi poet Bhawani Prasad Mishra, who wrote the lyrical Satpura ke ghane jangal (The dense jungles of Satpura). I dreamed of visiting the sleepy forests he wrote about, full of trees, birds, animals and mysteries. By the time I grew up and could afford to travel to wildlife parks, however, Satpura had faded into a vague memory. India has so much on offer that it took me a few years just to visit the most famous national parks such as Kanha, Nagarhole, Kaziranga, Ranthambore and so on. But then, last year, a friend returned from her holiday to Satpura and her stories of the park and its jungle lodge brought to fore the buried desire.

Named after the mountain range that forms its beautiful backdrop, Satpura Tiger Reserve (STR) extends beyond 2,000 sq km. Though only a small part of the core area is open to visitors, it is still much larger than most other wildlife parks in India.

The gorgeous landscape is dotted with towering trees of local species such as saj, lendia, tendu and sagwan. And the kulu tree — with bark as white as a ghost and spindly branches — is the haunting enigma of the silent forest. Thanks to the well-informed naturalist who accompanied us on all four safaris, we saw nearly 70 bird species. The list included some of my favourites — the Malabar pied hornbill, common kingfisher, shikra, Indian darter and the migratory black redstart.

Wildlife holidays are not for the faint-hearted. You wake up before the sun and make your way on roads that are like off-roading race tracks, rattling your way to the jungle. At Satpura, you also board a boat with strangers at that early hour (never a happy prospect), climb a longish stretch of stairs, and finally get into the jeep that will take you into the forest. The safaris are in an open jeep, so you freeze in winter and melt in summer. For five hours you judder along the forest paths and often you see no rare animal or bird. I still do it because it is the only kind of holiday where you can still find some peace, clean air and some unpredictability. You never know what can happen in the jungle.

However, to offset all this adventure, I do make sure that I always pick a good jungle lodge to come back to — where you don’t have to worry about cleanliness, where your room is as beautiful (okay, almost) as the jungle, where the food is delicious, and little luxuries are taken care of. Reni Pani Jungle Lodge came highly recommended by my friend for all these and lived up to its promise. The staff is ever-smiling, the owners are always among the guests, the food is homemade, the cottages come with a large patio, from where we could spot deer and birds, and the bukhari (fireplace) in the living area, where everyone gathers for a drink in the evening, is an architectural marvel.

Despite the luxuries and appealing aesthetics, a jungle lodge is only as good as its naturalists and guides, and Reni Pani and STR do well on that front, too. Birds or beasts, the naturalist made sure we knew the names of every tree and bird we saw — and was also adept in following the trail of the tiger. It is rare to spot a tiger at Satpura and we were lucky to have seen one.

Catwalk: It is rare to spot a tiger at Satpura and we were lucky to have seen one

 

Just two minutes after the tiger left us — giving us a deathly stare before moving on — a herd of gaurs with calves decided he was too much of a threat and took after him. The echoing sounds from the ruckus that ensued were unreal. And then, when the tiger decided enough was enough and chased the herd back, a gaur leaped out of the woods and landed in front of a safari jeep. The poor Dutchman in the vehicle — someone who had never been on a wildlife safari before — nearly fainted at seeing the large animal tumble out of the foliage. All of us who witnessed this episode sat back in stunned silence. We were all thinking the same thing: This is why we keep returning to the jungle. This is why we wake up at ungodly hours. No other trip is so trippy.

I made a mental note to visit Satpura as much as I can while it is still less frequented, because these experiences are not the same if there’s a traffic jam behind the gaurs.

Kalyani Prasher is a freelance writer based in Delhi

Travel log

Getting there

Satpura is four hours from Bhopal by road.

Stay

Reni Pani Jungle Lodge, part of Rare India; jehannuma.com/reni-pani-jungle-lodge/

MPT Bison Resort, Madhai; mpstdc.com

When to go

October to March.

BLink Tip

At Satpura you can experience the jungle in ways not possible at many other parks. You can go on night safaris, walking safari and canoe safaris, or camp inside the forest.

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Published on February 13, 2020
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