What I recently heard of this mystic jungle from one of the October bulletins was that the officials discovered a dead full grown tiger under mysterious circumstances. Report says that the tiger was poisoned and could be an act of revenge. Well my keen focus was not only to sight tigers but to explore the park.
The great Baru, the man with a horseshoe shaped moustache and chin puff, had been our merry guide all throughout the trail and the jungle has been an abode of natural bounty that revives him once in a month from the city dust and clamour.
But this time it was me who motivated him for a winter escape to the vehement woods of Kanha National Park. It was shockingly a shock of enthusiasm when I and Baru were accompanied by seven more.
‘Whoopee… we are all game for it! It does gonna be a memorable chapter of our lifetime… ‘I expressed my excitement and my facebook status went live with the post,‘All set to head for a cold and wild weekend at Kanha National Park with Rajesh Chandra Baruah a.k.a. The GREAT BARU, Divyaang J Bhardwaj, Ankit Rastogi, Jatin Bhagat & Neeraj Sharma, Jagbhan and Surender’… ‘Halum’…feeling excited with a happy emoticon.
‘Is your barbeque going to work?’ Baru asked. That was a surprise for rest of them.
We were all set to hit the national highway 12 A from Jabalpur. It was a fine winter morning that fetched us a pleasant drive. After crossing the colonial walls of Jabalpur city the road twined up to the highland wherefrom one can enjoy the panoramic view of the cityscape. ‘Wow! Are we driving through the Satpura Range?’ I asked the driver. It seemed that the city of Jabalpur is secluded within the low, rocky, and barren hillocks. Our first halt on our way to Kanha National Park after couple of hours was at Neelam Coffee House, located in a local town in Mandla District, Bamani Banjar where according to Baru one can relish the best Ras malai… so we had to taste it.
That was truly slurping and smacking that turned my cigarette puffed mouth to a state of extreme sweetness. Baru was right. The name of the shop seemed to me bit thoughtful. ‘Neelam Coffee House?’ Rather the shop is arrayed with sweets from Kalakand and varieties of Laddoos to bangal ka Rasgulla, sandesh and kajukatli (kajubarfi). One can also savour spicy snacks including methri, mukhri, laung seb (a preparation out of clove), makharwadi, kachori and samosa dry, Gujarati chura, mithi and methi mix saloni and dal moth. That was a YUMMY BREAK!!!
The journey en route the River Narmada headed towards our destination at the gate of Kanha National Park. We were well before time for our afternoon jungle safari at the Kanha National Park for the Kisli Zone. So we decided to head for a trail into the buffer zone.
Baru was well informed of the off ramps. Nonetheless he was also well acquainted with the trees as well… and there I came to discover the Mahua Tree. (WINK) You know why I’m highlighting this. Amid the Sal and bamboo wood one can easily spot this tree having evergreen foliage. Several parts of the tree, including the bark, are used for medicinal properties. The Mahua flowers are fermented to produce the alcoholic drink, mahuwa, a type of country liquor.
On our pleasure trail into the murmuring wood, where our shadow followed behind, we were accompanied by Langoors. They seemed to know us… the gray furred mammal looked at us with fixed eyes that simply said, ‘boss… what do you want from us?’ (LOL!) Reading an animal’s mind is always a fun. Even their grim face appears cute and cunning. Off the ramp in the buffer zone we acquainted a flock of Cattle Egret. ‘Das… capture it!’ Jatin said in a low voice. I wondered how they sense that I was going to capture the sight in my lense… still I stirred my inmost sense of photography and captured their free flying moment.
On our way back from the buffer zone our eyes were keen enough to investigate a spider web. I was busy capturing a flying butterfly but later I thought that if I spend time to capture one single butterfly, I’m going to miss the jungle safari at the Kanha National Park in the Kisli Zone. So I concentrated on the spider web that was pointed out by Neeraj. We were like invaders to its cozy web. I tried to think myself as a wildlife researcher from National Geographic and I strained my eyes close to the web to examine its colourful prosoma and abdomen. ‘Das… aab tereko chumma de dega yeh… zyada nazdik mata ja… (Das… Don’t go too close, else it’s gonna kiss you)’, Divyang jested.
After lunch our longing moment came on the afternoon wheels. Baru collected our ID cards for verification at the gate and we took our seats. It was around 2.30 when the Kanha National Park Gate was opened for the jungle safaris. There were approximately fifteen gypsies whizzing to enter the wilderness. Among all the wildlife freak travellers, I and Divyang spotted out a couple posing for snaps with their gypsy. ‘Is that they came for a WILD HONEYMOON… Divyang?’ I was curious seeing their kinky-wild gestures. ‘Bunk it now Swairik… you are going to have a spellbinding bird watching jungle safari inside Kanha National Park. So focus on the nature.’ Baru cleared me. I wondered why this forty four year old happily married man so jealous of my bird watching. Things apart he was right.
So our group was all set to explore the whispering wood. Beyond the gate all we were communicating with the absolute secrecy secluding the endangered species away from the human invaders. Breaking the silence were the whispering of the woods dotted with bamboo trees, sal and varied species of herbs and shrubs and the twittering of the birds. The speed limit, as per the guidelines of the Forest Department, of our gypsy was at 20 kms per hour and hence suspiring the natural ambiance deep to our core of heart, was rejuvenating. Within fifteen minutes of our drive we acquainted a herd of Spotted Deer, locally known as cheetal. That was an awesome sight to capture… though I had a feeling that cheetal can be spotted in the jungle like we spot stray dogs in the city. But what fetches us when we are amid the wild… is even a crow seem to be known as Wild Crow. So the herd of cheetal we spotted seemed to me living in the wild as they are always horrified of being a prey to tigers. It’s their eyes that said, ‘we are living a hard life’.
‘Wait… stop! Stop! Stop!’ the guide from behind signaled us spotting a Wild Boar amid the grassland. It was ugly but a rare sight to spot. So our luck seemed to be with us. It was hardly ten meters away from our gypsy and we came across another that was merely five meters away. ‘Omigosh… Baru this is a killer sight’, Ankit Rastogi expressed his excitement. ‘It’s a male’, the guide said and continued, ‘it’s a good sign. There are chances to spot a tiger.’ We were at that time more curious to observe the dark grey furry creature that belongs from the wild ancestors of the domestic pig. The wild boars are omnivorous scavengers, eating almost anything they come across. According to our guide they even hunt down spotted deer and lambs. ‘Divyang… just go and check whether they eat human flesh or not’, I verbalized and Divyang replied, ‘what!!! You wanna publish an article on ‘jungle mai ek aadmi suar ka maut mara’?’
The hot discussion was on sighting a tiger. The guide asked the driver to turn the wheels towards another sub-zone where there was a probability to sight one. I don’t know but these guides act like sniffers. So far our jungle safari experience in Kanha National Park at the Kisli Zone was more exciting than we expected but it became thrilling when Jaghban spotted a Crested Eagle sitting on the branch of a tree. ‘Where is it?’ I asked. Ankit Gupta pointed me the direction but the sight was indistinct as it was hiding in the shade. Although it was blur, still I managed to capture its prestigious gesture filled with attitude and read its mind that said in a harsh tone, ‘Fools! Don’t poke your nose into my privacy… GET LOST… HUH! I’m not here to entertain you.’ That was SO RUDE of that eagle. It never spread its wings even and we waited there for roughly twenty minutes.
Hence according to our plan the driver headed deep into the sub zone and all of a sudden we came across tiger tracks. ‘Hold on here… let’s wait here for some time,’ the guide said in a low voice and warned us not to make a sound. So we bustled our ears and eyes deep in the wood to catch the roar and sight our dear tiger escaping from us. You never know what the jungle has to offer! The silence was filled with surprises. All of a sudden a group of Langoors shrieked and jumped from one tree to the other and birds started to tweet at random… our eyes bulged out and circled around having a keen focus to capture the sight of the wild cat at any distance and at any speed. Half an hour gone… there was nothing. We were fooled by the Langoors.
We still kept our hope alive and all of a sudden from the deep wood the wheels came to a halt amid a vast meadow that connects two sub zone of the Kisli Zone. The sprawling grassland could be easily spotted with varied species of grass dotted with Kans and hay.
One of the breathtaking sights was captured from the colourful and playful wings at the gentle rippling lake. There paddles two Lesser Whistling Ducks in a cheerful way, one trying to catch the other and one trying to lurk. Breaking their act was a flock of Comb Ducks heading towards the shore that was cut across by a bevy of colourful Common Teal. It seemed the traffic there was controlled by a flock of Grey and Cattle Egrets. As a whole we spend there over 30 minutes… ABSOLUTELY QUIET and capturing bits and pieces of their movement. It seemed that they also live a colourful and playful life even being in the wild.
The afternoon jungle safari in Kanha National Park offered us a spine-tingling experience where there were surprises at each turn. Followed by another herd of Spotted Deer staring at us curiously, our jungle safari for the day ended. Our unrealized hopes were centered for the next day morning safari at the Kanha Zone.
Right away from the Kanha gate we headed towards our guest house, the Kanha Home Stay that was booked by Baru a month back. Once again off the ramp en route the tranquil hamlet, the Kanha Home Stay that is located amid the evergreen buffer zone greeted us with hospitable staffs and a refreshing ambiance.
The plan was mine… to offer my fellow travellers a BARBEQUE NIGHT, which was absolutely a surprise for some.
Jatin bought paneer and Baru bought four packets of mushroom. Whereas the idea of making fish on my new Arihant Barbeque Grill was absolutely mine. The staffs kept ready for us three kilos of fish and had arranged a sack of charcoal to light up the barbeque. Well I didn’t bothered to find out time to fresh n up, rather was busy lighting the charcoal to start the barbeque. Whereas others bustled to SHIT SHOWER N SHAVE.
So it did lit up… and I called up Jatin, Divyang and Ankit Gupta to help me out in marinating paneer and mushrooms. So… a moment later the veg preparations were all set for a BURN TO RELISH. Ankit Gupta dressed the sticks one by one with mushrooms, capsicum, onion and paneer AND there began the NIGHT ON FIRE…
Marinating fish for the barbeque was my department whereas BARU gave us a fuddling MAHUA drink to CHEER THE MISTY WEEKEND that carried all of us to a befalling night walk into the buffer zone.
The spine-chilling ambiance was accompanied by the freezing wind… and our footsteps got wind miles away to the sniffing stray dogs. We followed our honorable guide, BARU, in a straight line, who seemed to lose his way deep in the dark. So the night was HAUNTING…
‘Wake up Das… and get ready…’ Baru, Ankit Rastogi and Divyang kicked my holy cozy sleep at an unwanted time of the day. DAMN! It was 5 AM and I was still on my MAHUA FUDDLING DREAMS. It took me fifteen minutes to come across where I was and where we are heading for the day. It was the early hour for a refreshing morning jungle safari in Kanha National Park at the Kanha Zone. Our gypsies were waiting right in front of our home stay. Dark and freezing… that hour slowly passed on to acquaint the virgin rays of the Sun peeking from behind the trees. The sight was more like, as if we were driving amid a state of nirvana.
Our dewed wheels steered deep on to the off ramp to the Kanha Zone. At the very first hour Ankit Rastogi spotted a Crested Eagle atop a branch of a tree… far from sight yet zoomed and captured.
More deep into the call of the wild and our sensations of wilderness provoked us to perk our hopes to sight a tiger. But we were lucky enough to spot a Sambar Deer, far and walking down through the grassland. On the other side of the ramp the herd of Barasingha was an awaiting capture. It is one of the endangered species that can only be spotted in Kanha National Park.
So far the safari in Kanha National Park in the Kanha Zone went on sighting varied species of birds and animals like wild boar, spotted deer, sambar deer, barasingha and langoor… but unexpectedly what we saw was a jaw breaking sight. It was a fresh kill of a Spotted Deer lying at the marshland… so there goes the story of their hard wild life. After a moment we saw a herd of deer cutting and running across the grassland chased by two wild dogs. Just a glimpse of wilderness but still haunts down in the memory through lenses. The gypsy steered towards the meadow, ‘wait a second… go back… back…back…’ the guide exclaimed. Well that was one of the ideal sights on this morning safari. A HAWK OWL sitting in one of the branches. ‘Divyang, are they really so boring?’ I asked. So I read its mind that said, ‘Guys.. it is my snoring time… GET LOST!’
En route the dense wood, our gypsy headed towards the Kanha National Park Museum where we had tea and breakfast in the canteen. Thereafter the drive maneuvered towards the gate. We walked down the street towards the market area and stepped into an art and craft shop that is arrayed with T-shirts displaying an imprint of a tiger quoted with “Save the Tiger”. I, Divyang and Ankit Rastogi respectively shopped for a Tee and in addition I bought a Tiger Claw Astray.
Thanks to Baru for all the arrangements…