Being an avid traveller it was strange that Central India was one territory I had not yet ventured into. This influenced my decision to pick the Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh, as my next destination.
While visiting national parks it is always advantageous to stay in a property close to the wilderness and proficient in providing you with the entire wildlife experience. Consequently, I chose to stay at Sarai Kothi, the jungle home of Raj Singh, one of Central India’s most experienced managers of wildlife destinations. Located quite close to Kanha National Park, this was a perfect choice!
My flight to Jabalpur was unfortunately delayed, after which I was not looking forward to the long car ride to Sarai Kothi. However my reservations about the journey were replaced by wonder once the journey started. The drive was very picturesque, and as we went closer into the buffer zone the canopy of trees along the roadside thickened and the warm air automatically cooled down. Keeping my windows down I could enjoy the fresh air and take in the natural beauty around me. Contrary to all my misgivings I was actually feeling refreshed after the drive and ready to begin all my “wild” adventures.
At the homestay I opted for a smaller room from among the various luxury options, since I was travelling alone. The Jungle Owlet, the name of the room, was perfect for me. The on which I spent a great deal of time, reading, taking a nap or just enjoying the landscape around. All the three rooms at Sarai Kothi are air-conditioned, luxurious and have fantastic bathroom amenities, making you feel quite royal while in the jungle.
Since it was late evening by the time I had arrived, I settled in front of the bon fire and enjoyed the scrumptious tandoori food being prepared in the homestay, while simultaneously planning my agenda for the next day.
The Kanha National Park has beautiful areas of Sal trees, which infact is where Sarai Kothi gets its name from, the evergreen Sal or Sariai trees.
Apart from being one of India’s largest national parks and having over 22 different species of animals, Kanha was also one of the nine reserves selected for tiger conservation as part of Project Tiger.
That being said my aim was definitely, and stereotypically to spot a tiger on this trip. The homestay offers a number of activities including walking safaris, bird walks, village tours, cycling tours and a visit to the neighboring Phen Sanctuary.
Since the next day was a Wednesday, the National Park being closed I opted to go for a cycling tour. Now the upside of a cycle tour is that you get to cycle through various villages and be closer to nature than is permissible in any other vehicle. Plus it always counts for great exercise. The villages we cycled through were extremely picturesque and the people were ever smiling and very friendly. Being a city person, it was refreshing to watch the dependence of the local people on the nature around them, and their respect and reverence for the same.
The cycle tour took about 3 hours, and then we headed back to the homestay as it was getting dark.
In the evening the hosts, Sandeep and Nandini suggested that I take the walking safari. It was a long hike in the buffer zone, almost in the forest and it led all the way till the Barmar river. At the river, the other guests and I had a few snacks and settled in to watch the sunset in the backdrop of the forest and over the river. Before the sunset completely we headed back to the homestay.
The evening was full of activities for the guests at the homestay. The highpoint being the delicious barbecue that the host was preparing. I met some wonderful people that evening, the hosts had organized some ice breakers for everyone to converse, and this led to several stories being exchanged. I found myself in the company of fellow seekers of adventure and travel. All this in the wilderness did give a sense of eeriness as I constantly kept wondering if there were any wild beasts out there. With that thought in mind I retired for the excited for the jungle safari that was planned for my next and last day at the homestay.
I woke up early, so as to avoid the afternoon heat in the jeep safari. The homestay provides a variety in the breakfast section, comprising of continental as well as local savory options. I had a light breakfast of scrambled eggs toast and some orange juice. There were snacks being provided on the safari so I chose not to eat to heavy that early in the morning.
There were two more guests with me on the safari and we headed out, all quite excited into the jungle.
The sheer number of animals that can be spotted in Kanha gave me a new found admiration for such safaris and I soon found myself forgetting about seeing a tiger altogether.
Further, if one animal species were to represent Kanha, it would probably be the barasingha, or the swamp deer. The deer species almost found itself to be excitnt twenty years ago, but the conservation efforts at Kanha did not allow that fatalistic outcome.
Among the other animals spotted there were, bison, jackal, spotted deer, sambar deer, black buck, barking deer, elephants, vultures and wild boar.
Looking for a tiger was like a game. The guides had told us to keep an eye out for pug marks and trails, further the to and fro communication between the jeeps and keeping a ear out for the warning calls by the other animals, for the predators, was all very thrilling. The guide had told me from the very beginning of the tour not to get my hopes up to see a tiger since it all depends on luck. But after seeing so many animals I was quite satiated and amazed at the striking fauna around us.
Unfortunately, we were unable to spot a tiger but I was not upset about it. After all this was just my first time there and I had heard stories of people visiting ten to twelve times and still not being able to spot one of these big cats. Having satisfied my craving for adventure for the day I later headed to the restaurant to devour all the food the chef had prepared for us.
I was scheduled to leave the next day and was in no state of mind to do so. Waking up early, I went for another walking safari, this time we even spotted pug marks on the walk to the river, so we knew there was a tiger somewhere in the vicinity. Somehow, I found the walking safari more thrilling than the jeep safari, mainly because we were on foot and unprotected, as compared to being in a vehicle. We were in much closer proximity to the forest and the wilderness than ever. I knew for a fact that I would really miss these daily-walking safaris the most out of the entire trip, although watching the sunrise from the homestay’s balcony came a close second.
What made my trip even more extraordinary was conversing with the host of the property, the enigmatic Raj Singh. He is truly one of the most learned men I have met, his knowledge of the forest and the wild, is enlightening and awe inspiring. With over forty years of experience, he had several stories to recount, stories that I could never get tired of hearing. Further, his easy going nature and friendly face made me look forward to our interactions particularly, I enjoyed the one walking safari that he accompanied us on.
Although I was reluctant to leave I was equally excited because I had plenty to write about in my travel journal. And, as the end of every journey brings with it a little sadness, I was nonetheless eager to see what the next few pages in my travel journal would be filled with.