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.
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.
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.
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.
|Bison by the roadside||The male specimen of the spotted deer|
|A large sambar lying by the road, fresh tiger kill||Langur, enjoying the morning sun|
The central dining area
Relax on a warm day by the poolside
Interiors of the lodge
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.
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 cycle ride to the nearby village
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.
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.)
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
(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).
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.
(This trip was made possible on an invitation from Pugdundee Safaris and the Kanha Earth Lodge.)