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Spotted deer caught in the morning light

Tryst with nature: The Kanha National Park

In December 2013, I got the opportunity to spend a few days exploring the Kanha forests, and relaxing at the Kanha Earth Lodge, a comfortable haven for wildlife and nature lovers.

A trip into the forests of Madhya Pradesh is incomplete without a tiger sighting. Or so they say. Though it was something that was on my mind, I wasn’t really too stressed about it. My guide, on the other hand, was. He tried his hardest to make sure we sighted a tiger, but unfortunately, the two times we went into the Mukki and the Kisli zones, the tiger wasn’t in a mood to come out in public.

Early morning landscape
An early morning scene as we enter the Kanha National Park

The tiger is one magnificent animal and there’s nothing as memorable as seeing one roaming free in the wild. But with the dwindling numbers and the poaching reports, I am not very hopeful of this animal’s future. We’re definitely bent upon eliminating this majestic creature from the Indian landscape and doing a good job of it too.

But leaving aside the tiger, I still considered myself lucky to be ensconced in the lap of nature. To see beautiful creatures like the sambar, the spotted deer, the bison, the barasingha, and many different species of birds in their natural habitat.

Barasingha in the water
A barasingha takes a sip from a water body

As you venture deep inside, you feel how small and insignificant you are in the larger picture. The breadth and depth of the jungle is hard to really comprehend. And to think that only 20% of the area is open to tourists. The maidan (a huge area with long wild grass) could hide a few tigers easily. You would be hard pressed to sight one in the thicket even he (or she) slinks right past. And the adjoining hills provide a great place for them to wander, totally unseen.

Into the jungle
The morning safari into the forest

In my two forays into the forest with our guide, naturalist Chinmay Despande, I caught sight of the sambar, the spotted deer, barasingha, owls, many different birds including large birds of prey. Since we went in the morning and the afternoon, we got to experience different moods of the forest. And I highly recommend both the trips – the morning and the evening.

You looking at me?Bison by the roadside Male spotted deerThe male specimen of the spotted deer
Tiger killA large sambar lying by the road, fresh tiger kill LangurLangur, enjoying the morning sun

More pictures in the Flickr photo album

In the lap of luxury at the Kanha Earth Lodge

After that, it was back to our base for some rest and relaxation at the Kanha Earth Lodge, located around half hour from the Kanha gate. What I really liked about this particular property is it’s earthy construction. The exteriors and interiors blend with the environment so that nothing is glaring or a misfit.

The dining area at the Kanha Earth Lodge
The central dining area

Care for a swim?
Relax on a warm day by the poolside

Interiors of the Kanha Earth Lodge
Interiors of the lodge

One of the cottages
Your cottage: Earthy and comfortable

The main construction material is stone, which has been sourced from the area and sal wood, which is one of the primary varieties of wood available for building in this region. There are 12 cottages in all, 6 on each side of the central dining and living area. And this common area has 2 long dining tables to cater to a full house.

Looking out,
Enjoy the peace and quiet in your cottage sit-out area

This Pugdundee Safaris property became functional around 2010 and their other properties are located in Panna, Bandhavgarh and Satpura. There is a property in Pench under construction. Each property is different with the Satpura property topping the list in terms of location, with it’s beautiful view of the Denwa river.

The Lodge tries to encourage sustainability practices like sourcing vegetables from neighbouring villages. Setting up the villagers with seeds, supplies, manure etc. The harvest is then procured by the resort for consumption. Around three farmers are now a part of this program and Chimnay oversees this too.

A village ride
A cycle ride to the nearby village
Looking over his farm
A farmer looking out into his field

The staff is also mainly local, except the chefs, naturalists and senior staff. Some of the naturalists are from around the area – they are trained and some like Chinmay are from other states – he is from Maharashtra, Mahesh is from Nepal. Pugdundee has around 2-3 naturalist (12 in total) for each of their properties.

Though the Kanha property doesn’t boast of other luxuries like a gym, sauna/spa etc. it does have a swimming pool for you to lounge around, especially when the weather gets warmer. The Bandhavgarh property also boasts of tree houses, which remained on my wish list. The interiors too have won several awards, and the accolades are all displayed on a wall.

Locally made items
A wall display of traditional arms

Local handicrafts
Handcrafted metal lamp

A nice idea
A boat doubles up as a bar

Interiors of the Kanha Earth Lodge
A wall displaying local masks

All the mementoes, knick-knacks and handicrafts have been sourced from local crafts people from the state. I spy a wall of beautiful wooden masks (Bastar), wooden bow and arrow sets, a intricately carved animal stool and a tall metal lamp and beautiful cushions embroidered in a signature style.

Tiger, tiger… burning bright?

We’ve heard of a lot of numbers around the tiger, India’s national animal. In fact, after reading reports and statistics about the tiger in India, it’s not probably unusual to draw the conclusion that this animal is going to be extinct soon.

There’s something about the tiger. It elicits all kinds of reactions. From fear and respect, to admiration and obsession. There are many wildlife enthusiasts who visit every sanctuary in India just in the hope of catching a glimpse of the elusive tiger.

On a short trek upto the sunset point nearby, I chat with naturalist Chinmay Deshpande and Ashish Abraham (manager of one of Pugdundee’s new properties in Satpura) and they are surprisingly optimistic about the fate of the tiger. Working closely with wildlife, forest officials and the government, they feel that there are enough champions of the tiger and they will ensure that this animal will survive. I am not so sure. The numbers are already manipulated so much that no one really knows the actual number or anything close to it.

But I’m happy that these youngsters still feel optimistic about the tiger’s future. Who knows – maybe next time I venture out into the jungle, I might still see one?

(NOTE: This trip was made possible on an invitation from Pugdundee Safaris. The opinions expressed in the blog post, needless to say, are all mine.)

Naturalist Chinmay Deshpande about his passion for all things wild

Naturalist, Chinmay Deshpande, and his passion for all things wild

Meet naturalist and snake expert, Chinmay Deshpande, who decided that pursuing his dreams was worth sacrificing a career in IT and a desk job. You only have one life, says this young man. And we agree! This is his story.

Enjoying a peaceful and serene sunset

Enjoying a peaceful and serene sunset

He was hooked at a young age. A wildlife enthusiast and a naturalist at the Kanha Earth Lodge, Chinmay confesses he got interested in reptiles and snakes after watching a lot of Discovery and NG channel while growing up. He began to learn about handling snakes by watching and observing and soon in his hometown people started calling him whenever there was an issue. He began to learn and understand how to handle venomous and non venomous snakes. At the same time, he was also pursuing his studies and went into commerce, but his heart was always in wildlife and nature.

He conducted workshops and camps to educate children and people, especially those of the poorer economic class, who face conflict on a regular basis. Chinmay took on a part-time job as a swimming coach to earn some money, but continued to work with snakes. He says since he would offer his services for free, there were also a lot of people who would take advantage. Some would give him petrol money but others didn’t want to pay at all (sometimes they would rather kill the snake, than pay up). But he decided to persist.

At that point of time, Chinmay recounts that he had a life changing experience of sorts when he got bitten by a cobra he was handling. It was his own mistake and he knew exactly what he did wrong. He talks about how he took himself to the hospital (a government one, since he says that they are the ones who stock the anti-venom). It was a near death experience, but he survived after going through nearly 6 months of recovery. But it made him even more determined to continue his work in the field (rather than deterring him).

Chinmay leads us on a walk to the sunset point

Chinmay leads us on a walk to the sunset point

He was in a near coma and survived to tell the tale, but Chinmay saw this as a second chance at life. And he realised he’d rather spend his second chance pursuing his passion, than work in a dead-end job that he didn’t care about. It was refreshing meeting Chinmay, because it’s rare to see such passion in someone so young. I find it admirable that he was able to recognise and pursue his goals and aims at such a young age.

He continued his work and decided not to get into full time coaching. He also says that to pursue a vocation like swimming, he needed a piece of paper with a certification. No matter that he could do the job, in this country it’s the qualification on paper that’s important. Not ground experience. Sad, but true as many of us would have personally experienced.

But this is when Chinmay decided to pursue his interests full time. He looked at different career options. While researching online, he came across the posting for a naturalist. He decided to research this and also approached others in the field for advice on how to go about it. He studied about other species like birds and mammals (to increase his knowledge beyond snakes and reptiles) and built his knowledge base over a period of time.

As a career option, NGOs and other smaller organizations are not worth the time and effort he says, due to the meagre compensation. “Though our needs are basic and limited, what they offer is not enough,” says Chinmay. Soon, he was able to get a job as a naturalist and in the early years he worked in Panna and Pench. He then joined Pugdundee Safaris two seasons ago, at their Kanha property where he is now based.

Out on a nature and birdwatching walk with Chinmay

Out on a nature and birdwatching walk with Chinmay

He tells me how his parents initially were really confused and unsure about his job choice. “Yeh naturalist, kya cheez hai?” is perhaps their line of thinking and not surprisingly, since that generation usually recognises just 2-3 professions – doctors, engineers and IT. Then he brought his parents down for a visit to the sanctuary and apparently his mom now appreciates and understands his job a little more. Even his cousins and friends often want to hear his interesting stories, which probably spice up their otherwise routine lives.

He works with villagers and school kids nearby on increasing awareness about wildlife, snakes etc. whenever there is an opportunity. Chinmay points out that since educated folks go on and usually move to the city (or even overseas) for better opportunities, their contact with wildlife is limited. “It’s no point telling them about wildlife,” he says. On the other hand, it’s villagers and their children who come into direct contact (and sometimes conflict) with wildlife. It makes sense to make this segment of society more aware of dealing with conflict, appreciating wildlife and knowing how to handle a crisis situation.

Chinmay telling us more about the jungle over lunch by the riverside

Chinmay telling us more about the jungle over lunch by the riverside

The Kanha forests are truly beautiful and it gives Chinmay the chance to continue his work with reptiles and snakes. During our nature walk, he also familiarised me with the birds in the area, their migratory patterns and we also indulged in some bird watching. During our short walk we saw the black drongo, rufus treepie, the rose ringed parakeet, black hooded oriole, white throated kingfisher, egrets, pond herons, common stone chat, paddy field pipit, teeter (hindi word, grey fancolin), large grey babblers, southern coucal, common hoopoe, lesser whistling duck, spotted dove, red-vented bulbul and jerdon’s leaf bird.

Apparently, we nearly missed a tiger, which had strayed into the village just across the lake from where we were. The young male of around 4-5 years is still trying to define his territory and is often found roaming around, sometimes straying into the buffer zone. Today, he decided to sit outside one of the village houses for a while. We were very close but didn’t even guess all this was happening while we were birdwatching. We only found out when we came back to the lodge later.

With Chinmay & Ashish (manager of the Satpura property) at the Kanha Earth Lodge

With Chinmay & Ashish (manager of the Satpura property) at the Kanha Earth Lodge

I was impressed by the knowledge and the strength of determination of this young naturalist to trod his own path. Someone like Chinmay is also a role model for those who want to pursue their passions, rather than trod the usual well-laid down path and sends a clear message: go forth and live your dreams!

(I visited the Kanha Earth Lodge in December 2013, on an invitation by Pugdundee Safaris, who also run a few other properties in Satpura, Pench and Bandhavgarh).

Watching the sun go down

A Kanha sunset

Wherever I travel, I try and experience a sunset. Isn’t it just magical, watching the sun go down at the end of the day?

Travelling in Madhya Pradesh, currently at the Kanha Earth Lodge, yesterday evening we ventured out to a point where we could enjoy the sunset. We packed ourselves some tea and coffee that we enjoyed as we witnessed the gorgeous sight.

Around 20 minutes of climbing a small hillock, we were treated to some amazing views of the Kanha forests, the buffer zone and a peekaboo of some villages between the thick foliage. Around 20 minutes later, the sun began to go down into the horizon. Darkness falls quickly once the sun goes down, and we packed up and headed back.

It’s just another sunset, but to me it’s always different and special.


Kanha National Park

(This trip was made possible on an invitation from Pugdundee Safaris and the Kanha Earth Lodge.)