“Nature doesn’t promise you anything – an afterlife, rewards for good behaviour, protection from enemies, wealth, happiness, progeny, all the things human desire and pray for. No, Nature does not promise these things. Nature is a reward in itself.” – The Book of Nature, Ruskin Bond
Day 1: Notes from Mother Forest
The Adventure Begins: Being lulled out of one’s deep slumber at 3 A.M., for a flight that would give us a memorable send off to the enchanting forests of Kanha, was more rewarding and precious than I would have imagined.
Forests have an unexplained, mystical charm. One that slowly sinks into every inch of our being, transporting us to a world like no other. The unhindered views, the distinctively reinvigorating jungle smells – one apart from the other. The myriad avian population twittering and flitting from tree tops to bushes. The forest residents cohabiting, despite their differences. The nippy and misty mornings or the dust laden tracks. The pug marks, paw, or hoof marks – setting one apart from the other. The unbridled enthusiasm and the adrenaline rush. The deep desire and quest to spot not just the regal cats, but a plethora of wildlife.
There is an aura of inexplicable charm that forests exude, in tune with our inner being, and so intrinsic to us. Yet, most of us lesser mortals forget to appreciate, acknowledge or value it; caught up in the busyness of life.
Our touchdown to Jabalpur at 7:40 AM was breezy. The four and half-hour hour road trip took us to the stunning territory of Kanha jungles. This journey through winding, picturesque and wide, traffic-free roads; was a comfortable and hassle free.
Madhya Pradesh is indeed a land of pristine and unspoilt beauty. Innumerable Mahua, Palash, Sal, Tendu etc., dot the undulating landscape, dazzling with their burst of colours. A true blessing to behold.
Spotting The Spotted Deer
We waited with bated breath to arrive at our destination. The prelude to the forest adventures was spotting three stunning, spotted deers, enroute the Kanha Earth Lodge. Sighting deers by a road side is an unfathomable experience for urban dwellers. That too before the start of the forest cover. As we drove into the forest buffer zone of Kanha Earth lodge, we were tricked and allured by these silhouettes that left us perplexed. They seemed like some wild animal or the other. We kept guessing which one, only to realise they were tree stumps.
The Cosy Lounge
Our Home Away from Home – The Idyllic Kanha Earth Lodge: We reached the earthy, unassuming, gorgeously idyllic Kanha Earth Lodge to be warmly greeted by the amiable staff. This fascinating property set in the Khapa buffer zone of forests, left us mesmerised by its sheer jungle interiors. Gond artifacts deftly prepared by local artists, furniture crafted of recycled wood, different wood carvings (a crocodile shaped coffee table); made for a very surreal jungle like experience.
The Exclusive Table
Our cottages were warm, cosy with a burst of earthy colours, and sprawling verandahs that opened out to the splendour of unhindered and magnificent views. The fragrant Mahua, the stately Saal, the Dobhin, Palash, and countless others stood majestically, in this open expanse of land.
Room With a view
Lunch was a sumptuous feast of local farm to table fare, with a wrap up of a finger licking, melt-in-the-mouth basil ice-cream. A one-of-its-kind unique recipe that you can find here . The ten-year-old chose to go for a swim, in the hot summer afternoon, while we spent the down time unwinding in the cottage.
The Afternoon Visitors: The DH (Darling Husband) was catching his forty winks, but I was way too excited and wanted to explore the forest cover, while buried in my book. My gaze would fall on the veranda from time to time, lest I miss any visiting fauna. I spotted a kingfisher, and a few interesting species of birds. I was suddenly distracted by loud thumping noises. A family of grey langurs (Rhesus Macaque)) were somersaulting around the trees, and also on the cottage roof. One came to sit in the veranda, and looked back at me straight in the eye.
Vistors in our Veranda
I was to discover later that this troop lived in the lodge premises. Also that the langur was staring at its own reflection through the glass, and not at me. Soon after joined in a mother langur, who despite her hurried moves, carried her baby carefully as it clung to her bosom. They continued to frolic around from the verandah to the branches, egging each other to swing from branch to branch, and gather their afternoon feast of leaves and Mahua fruits.
I made my way to the pool wanting to catch up on the other facets of the enchanting forest sights, and spend time with my younger one.
Pool With a view
The swimming pool was a relaxing oasis, that opened out to the fringe forest. It was a delight to spot a lone racket-tailed drongo that made innumerable attempts to dive into the pool to quench its thirst. The ten-year-old was unwilling to leave the pool. After nudging her multiple times, we managed to go get some tea and milk shake and wait for dusk to drape the forested land with its dark mantle.
The Thirsty Racket Tailed Drongo
Dusk and After Stories: The inky dusk was soon dotted with a sky full stars, where the one-odd bull frog croaked in the lily pond and the Lapwing called out recklessly, probably in a bid to shoo away a prey or intruder.
We sat outside the guest lounge, as the star-studded sky enveloped us in a warm embrace; soaking in the experience of the transiting colours and the sounds of nature. The girls lay on the mat, gazing into the night sky, tracing the constellations.
The Baiga Performers
We were served a huge platter of freshly prepared hors d’oeuvres. I guess the jungle air had made us ravenous and we gobbled up everything in no time, while listening to the local, Baiga community perform for a family in the lodge. The reverberating drums (mandar), amidst the thiski (a wooden instrument with bell like chimes) beats and local renditions, made for a rustic evening, replenishing our energies and uplifting the forest environment to another new dimension.
Day 2: A Jungle Safari To Remember
Mornings Be Like This: The last time I remember being excited about the waking up in the wee hours of the morning was, when I would wake up in the freezing winters, for Boot camp classes at 4-4:30 A.M., or to go for my long cycle rides to India Gate. This was another such day; when I sprung out of bed, a heart full of anticipation, on what lay ahead.
Mi familia was bursting with as much excitement too. The ten-year-old had woken up within seconds of the wake-up call. We were at the waiting point of Kanha Earth Lodge by 4:40 A.M., ready to take on what lay ahead. But not before, we awakened our senses with a full bodied mug of French pressed coffee and a soft vanilla muffin, that disintegrated into our mouths with the piping hot coffee.
The twenty-year-old had enlightened me that this was the Blue hour (in French l’heure bleue) when the sky is an inky blue spectacle, ready to transform into multiple hues.
We clamoured into the jeep, with Bharat holding fort. He had very generously agreed to drive us into the forest magnificence, in the open safari jeep.
The ten year-old and I could not contain our excitement and we got up from our seats and stood tall, letting the gust of cold, wild wind ruffle our hair and senses. The brash, flirtatious breeze almost blew away ours hats. April was ending, yet the morning was wondrously cold. We were in the buffer zone, and the forest was as mysterious and haunting as it could be. We spotted a few shadows here and there; trying to conjure in our heads what creature of the wild could be spying upon us. The ten-year-old pointed to a tall tree and said she had seen the silhouette of a leopard. I teased her and we laughed together with child-like abandon. The DH sat transfixed to the dreamy morning sights, and mildly amused by how we were infected by the jungle joy.
The Sky Full Of Dreams
When we reached the entry point of the forest zones, where the formalities are carried out for a safe, permission granted entry; the sky had turned a beautiful shade of muted blue. My iPhone zoomed into this exquisite moment and we captured ourselves in one frame. Our first family shot, since we had arrived. We missed our twenty-year-old who was laid up at the lodge, due to a mild flu.
The clock was ticking and our adventure had been flagged off. As the sun arose from its slumber, the safari jeeps ambled one after another. A surreal sight indeed, of being transported into a mystical world. The sunlight soon filtered through the trees, in a Komorebi (in Japanese) trance. Komorebi translates to dappled sunlight filtering through the leaves of the trees, especially early mornings.
Here Comes the Sun
A Rendezvous with the Inhabitants: This rendezvous with the forest will be cherished and treasured by us as a family, for times to come. I have had the good fortune of visiting a few wild life sanctuaries in India, but haven’t come across such a wide array of wild life anywhere, as in Central India.
Unique Sightings: Our sightings began in the fringe forests, as the safari jeeps were about to enter the forest zones; where under an ancient, royal banyan tree we spotted deers and wild boars feasting on figs. They seemed tame, as they were next to the Forest Officers camp. It was like watching sheep grazing alongside a local shepherd, in a hillock. They were of course jungle inhabitants who were visiting the grandiose tree, for a royal breakfast.
The Jungle Giant- Gaur
As we made our way into the Kanha zone, we were welcomed by the scuttling jungle fowl, the jungle giant – the Gaur (Indian Bison) who wore his almost knee – high, white socks with much aplomb, an abundance of spotted deers or Chitals. Kanha itself has a population of over 20,000 spotted deers, informed Bharat. These graceful beings with their antlers and rutting (mating) calls, are the signature inhabitants of these forests. While keeping our eyes glued for more sightings, we spotted fresh pug marks of two different lurking cats, the undisputed kings of the jungle. One pug mark was huge, and we were told belonged to the Chota Munna, a Royal Bengal Tiger whose is known in the forest circles for his laid back, easy going attitude. He also happens to be the son of the famous Munna, of Kanha (that’s another story for yonder).
Green Bee Eaters
We spotted a wides array of birds, like a beautiful pair of green bee eaters, a crested hawk eagle, a brown fish owl, a shikra, Indian roller; and many others. A lone barking deer looked right back at us and allowed us the opportunity of a photo op, before scampering into the forest thicket. Chancing upon herds of sambar deers and the black bucks was also not without excitement. The sambar also managed to pose for our candid camera, unbashedly.
Barking Deer Or Scampering Deer?
Our adrenaline pumping search for Chota Munna continued through the safari, as Bharat kept enlightening us, on the various species of animals, birds and flora. Thereafter we stopped for our sumptuous safari breakfast.
A Unique Safari Breakfast: We were starving for breakfast, as much as we were starving to spot Chota Munna.
Breakfast Stories With Bharat
What really made for a delightful breakfast was the deliciously prepared lemonade in the steel sippers. Kanha Earth Lodge is an Eco-lodge, completely plastic free. It was heart warming to see that the food was also packed in steel containers. We had also been advised to carry the steel bottles that were gifted to us upon our arrival, for our water refuel. The boiled eggs, croissants, spring rolls, muffins (the muffins had made an appearance again. Thank God! for these little blessings!), coffee, and banana replenished us, bracing us for our upcoming adventure.
Chota Munna in his Private Pool : As we drove out of the breakfast stop-over zone, we were informed by another jeep, that Chota Munna had finally made an appearance by one of the water bodies, as expected by the the forest guides. We drove down to the site, our hearts thumping in excitement, and what we saw was our first-of-its-kind experience. A tiger in the wild; and none other than the undisputed king, Chota Munna with his royal genes.
The nonchalant Chota Munna / Credits: Samrat Godambe
Chota Munna is quite the lord of the Kanha jungles and is known in the jungle circles to move around leisurely, unruffled by the visitors and safari jeeps. He lay languidly sprawled by the water body, unwinding on that hot summer morning. He remained totally undeterred by all the attention he was getting from the safari jeeps, and kept shooing the flies away with his stout tail. He had no intentions of shooing us away. So it may have seemed.
Chota Munna unwinding In his private pool/ Credits: Samrat Godambe
A lone peacock danced around in his presence, preening and showing off it’s stunning plumage. Even the peacock probably knew this cat to be seemingly harmless.
The Day Ahead: Our safari wound up on a exciting and adventurous note, and as we drove out of the jungle, the sun was beating down on us. We reached the lodge to be welcomed by delicious glasses of watermelon-mixed fruit juice.
Books are Our Best Friends, especially those on Wildlife
This was one of the most treasured days of our lives. Each one of us was smug and happy to be blessed with such bountiful views of nature. After a relaxing shower, we sat in the library reading up on the plethora of literature. The ten-year-old and I read up on the various cats of the jungle, that had fascinating stories behind their names, including a multi-faceted collection of books on wildlife. This, while digging into the crisp, crunchiness of roasted peanuts. The DH was glued to a big omnibus on wild life too. Another sumptuous lunch followed. The twenty-year-old and I ate with our hands, our hearts brimming with contentment.
Tikar Roti ready to be roasted with “Camel’s Foot” Leaf
In the evening Samrat, a talented naturalist made a delightful presentation on the various snakes of India, as we sat glued to our seats. Dinner was an elaborate affair too, of Tikar Roti (a chapati/bread roasted in Camel’s foot tree leaves), Boti curry (a tender lamb curry), paan vada, chakri – made from Bhram Akash leaves and a few other local dishes.
The Aftermath of a Jungle Life: The DH was more relaxed than he had been in a long time, after an arduous few months at work. The ten-year-old was bursting with beans, after a long bout of fever early this year; savouring in the forest lessons and capturing them on camera, The twenty-year-old was just happy to be close to a haven that offered her tranquil peace. My heart on the that was oozing with much gratitude, calm, and bliss. After all it is nature that sparks the maximum amount of joy for me. I grew up in the lap of luxuriant nature, and when I leave my current urban settings to travel to a land such as this, I feel I have returned home, and become one with myself, my inner being and the universe at large.
A Surreal Sunset
I have a few more befitting stories to narrate from this blissful forest experience. Watch out for this space, as I bring to you Kanha Diaries Part II: Day 3 and Day 4. There is a very intriguing cat story too. Yes, hold your breath, and keep an eye for this space; to find out more about this elusive cat.
Till then, make sure you make the most of this life, experience nature closely and go for a forest vacation as often as you can. The bliss that forests, nature and its wild beings offer, is unparalleled to anything else the universe possibly can gift you, ever.
Authored By: Natasha Sinha