Wednesday, June 30, 2010
A very simple question but give an honest answer – close your eyes, think and tell me, when was the last time you looked at moon?
Sounds silly? Well, this was the question one of my friends asked me when I went to USA in 2008. I was zapped. I thought for a while and I realized I didn’t even know when I looked at the moon last time! Damn! It’s right above my head, every single night shining in fully glory and I just fail to notice! This is again exactly the same thought I had when during night safari, our jeep stopped on a narrow road at midnight right under the dark sky.
Night safari started almost at midnight (shut up...isn’t that the reason why it’s called a night safari!) and we had only half of our gang loaded in two jeeps along with Dr. Ghosh and his gang. Rest of our gang was already flirting with fairies in their dreams :-) Though I am not sure if fairies were enjoying it :D... Alright! From ferries in dreams, lets come back to walking beasts! Night safari cannot happen in core forest area for very obvious reasons (use your brain and still if you can’t make out, ask me these obvious reasons. After such a statement, I am sure nobody is going to ask me.. LOL). During night safari, jeep moves slowly on narrow roads in reserve forest leading to highway. There is ABSOLUTE DARKNESS all around you except torchlight in Dr. Ghosh’s experience hands. This excited bunch of newbies were curious to spot animals at night and Dr. Ghosh was helping us with all his knowledge. Aha! A fox! Where where where? Phew… By the time you turn your head and spot a fox in torchlight, there are all chances that Mr. Skylark fox would have vanished in the dark! It was a pure game of hide and seek! LOL… while we were enjoying this game, all sudden jeeps stopped. Not sure if it was preplanned but the moment jeep stopped, even headlights and torchlights were switched off. While we were wondering what’s happening, all sudden someone from Dr. Ghosh’s team asked us to look up... we just followed the instruction and looked up…
.........STUNNING! MESMERISING! MIND BLOWING!
I just do not have words to describe what I saw and felt when I looked up!!! Imagine this – an absolutely dark night, a narrow road surrounded by trees on either sides, pin drop silence, you look up into the sky and you witness an unbelievable view of thousands of stars sparking like diamonds! Oh My! In fact it was looking like a beautiful diamond studded sari drapped in the most glorious way! As if god is at his creative best! As if he wants you to realize how much he has given to us which we fail to notice every single day! It was just IMPOSSIBLE to take our eyes off or stop looking at the sky! We just don’t know how much time we spent just like that, silent and speechless! And before we moved, I took a promise from Dr. Ghosh that on the way back to resort, we will stop once again to witness this marvel :-)
There are moments which are impossible to capture through words. Either you need to be present at that moment or you need to be Shakespeare to describe it in words! Though I am not Shakespeare (and even my name says so – after all, there is a lot in a name!), I was fortunate to be present at that particular moment, to witness a marvel which I will cherish and treasure for the rest of my life!
Jungle safari ended after three hours which included driving on narrow roads, spotting sporadic wildlife, having tea and lemon juice at a roadside hotel on a highway and taking some creative photos using slow shutter speed. Wonder how creativity starts flowing at 2am! :-)
Now either you want to scream or even better, you don’t even want to respond to someone when he is trying to wake you up at 4.30am! What makes it even worse? You just slept at 3am! But not today :-) I took few moments to gather my senses (what else do you expect after a hectic day and one and half hours of sleep?), looked around and jumped out of my bed to get ready. After all, we were going for early morning safari, which was the best chance to spot the king of the jungle! BANG BANG! Who wants to miss that!
By 6am, we were outside the main gate of the core jungle waiting for our turn to enter inside. By 6.15am, we were inside the jungle. We drove a bit further and found bunch of jeeps were stopped on the road and folks inside these jeeps were standing and looking at somewhere far in the jungle. WOOOO HOOO!! Adrenalin started pumping because someone from the other jeep whispered – “TIGER”! Oh My My!! Hey Mr. driver, take our jeeps little backward to avoid those trees, let us pull out our camera, wide open our eyes and.. ah..we couldn’t spot the tiger :-( LOL.. Never mind.. It’s just that our eyes are not so used to spotting wildlife.. It took few more seconds and then… and then… and then… OH YEAH BABY! We spotted THE KING!! Oh wait, not a king but a QUEEN with two little prince / princess :-)!! Oh! I saw her! The famous Tigress of Pench along with her two cubs!!
You need not visit Buckingham palace or go to Mysore palace to feel what is royalty. All you need to do is just spot a tiger in full glory in wilds! Nothing defines royalty, pride and confidence better than a ROYAL TIGER! What a royal walk! She moved with such elegance and pride with who-cares-for-your-presense attitude written all over her! She started walking in the wild from the right hand side of our jeep, crossed the road right in front of us and slowly vanished in the wild on left hand side of our jeep. We traced her with our eyes till the farthest possible distance and then just couldn’t control our joy! BINGO! Our trip was OVER! After all, that’s all we wanted to see! WOO HOO!
It took some time to sink in this wonderful sight as there was pin drop silence inside the jeep for quite a while :-). However, the god of the jungle (and I don’t know who he is) was very happy and kind on that day as he gave us chance to see some amazing sights like – an eagle sitting on a branch holding his prize possession of a snake that he had just killed! Followed by a very rare sight of a peck of wild dogs! Oh I didn’t even bother counting umpteen deer, monkeys, colorful birds, insects, rabbits and god knows what else! But I must remember this dancing peacock :-) Though not sure if he was successful in attracting a female (oh please let me know Mr. peacock.. I need some lessons from you if you had succeeded.. or else, we are in the same boat!), I am sure he provided an amazing view which we clicked in our camera and captured in our mind though human viewfinder.
Some of my friends in other jeep were even luckier as they got a chance to witness a tiger couple playing watersports in a pond! Though they had to sit in scorching heat for an hour waiting for his royal highness and her queen to arrive, it was worth every single moment of wait.
Evening safari was another attempt at spotting a tiger but I guess we all were content by that time. Nah, we didn’t have enough of the jungle – it’s just that we had satisfied our biggest wish of spotting the BIG CAT!
It was 6pm and time for us to leave Pench to get back to Nagpur to board a bus to Hyderabad. Though the Volvo bus had a speaker right about my seat with loudest possible volume, I was dead tired to even bother about it. I rested in peace till someone woke me up at the border of Hyderabad.
That ended a wonderful, memorable trip to relatively unknown area of “Incredible !ndia”. We are bestowed with such beautiful landscapes and god’s wonders that even a lifetime won’t be enough to cover it. However, I will – as much as I can!
Wanna join :-)?
Disclaimer : The subject line of this post has no relation with any human walking on this earth. I am pretty sure you must have realized that by now :). Also you must have realized why I asked Mr. Dancing Peacock for his help :-)
Note : I visited Pench along with 20 other fellows through a trip organized by Great Hyderabad Adventure Club. If you are interested in such trips, you can join @ http://meetup.ghac.in/
©All rights reserved with Mihir Rawal. To re-print or re-use, prior permission is required from the author.
Sunday, June 27, 2010
With all due respect to my beloved motherland, I must say in India, we are used to mediocrity. We are used to see substandard facilities, shabbily maintained places and chaos all around. We are so so so used to see non performing, careless government and government servants. Being an Indian who is used to see frustrating maintenance of most of the tourist places we have, I was shockingly surprised during my visit to Pench!
Pench forest is extended across two of the biggest Indian states, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. Now I must appreciate MP government for the way they have maintained this jungle – very much like a jungle! I heard from locals that just few years ago, this area was totally neglected without any basic tourist facilities or even electricity. Though electricity is still sporadic, I must say the way the government is preserving park is really commendable. Take this – in our three jungle safaris in different parts of this jungle, we didn’t see a single plastic bottle, a piece of paper or any sign of loitering!!! This sound may be a small thing but if you close your eyes and imagine most of the places that you have visited, you will agree that to keep a natural place intact is such a big deal and truly deserves due appreciation! I also heard that Maharashtra side of this forest is shabby and not so tourist friendly. So if you have any plan to visit Pench, I strongly recommend you to visit part of this forest which is inside Madhya Pradesh.
Now let’s get back to the trip…
Saturday evening around 4.30pm. A very hot afternoon at Pench. After finishing formalities (transferring from a cab to a jeep and having a forest guard allocated to our jeep), a bunch of enthusiastic block entered into an unknown, unfamiliar territory which is ruled by wilds!
The moment you enter inside the jungle, what really strikes you is the difference in landscape. Asphalted roads are replaced by dry and dusty trails, tall building and lamp posts are replaces by dry grass and abundance of trees. Nonstop noise of vehicles and humans all sudden disappears. It’s calm, very calm and serene. In fact except occasional talk inside the jeep, you can feel even your breath! Irrespective of how hot and dry the jungle is, what really makes it thrilling is the just the feeling of it! Wide open your eyes, spread your arms and take a deep breath! Feel it.. Smell it.. Hug it! This is the surrounding that our ancestors lived in once upon a time when your modern day Pepe and Lee brands were nothing but a bunch of leaves for them which they tied around – you know where :-)
When jungle safari starts, there are bunch of jeeps that enter the park driving one after another. However in no time, all of them goes on different trails inside the vast forest and very soon you find your jeep is the only vehicle till horizon! This makes it even more exciting, thrilling and exclusive experience. Take a bow, the jungle is yours!
Dr. Ghosh had made wonderful arrangement for us – that is to have an expert driver / guide who knows jungle more than Prabhu Deva knows dancing or a Punjabi knows aaloo paratha! After all, it’s a jungle and you have to search / spot animals as they won’t oblige you just like that! Aha, who likes infiltrators after all :-)
The moment we entered, all we wanted to see was a TIGER! Guess what, we came agonizingly close to spotting a tiger in the very first ten minutes of our trip. We saw a kill (an animal killed by a tiger) lying in a narrow stretch. All sudden, there was a buzz in the air! Sniff sniff! Tiger must be around! We spent almost 15 minutes to spot a tiger but were left disappointed :-( Guess what, while coming out of the jungle in the evening, we did spot a tiger nearby the kill in almost fading daylight and those forest guard told that the tiger must have been there since last few hours as he doesn’t like to move much.. sigh, we just couldn’t spot him in broad daylight :-(
However the moment we entered inside the forest, we were greeted by – guess what – our ancestors :D They were there, everywhere! Oh yeah doesn’t matter how many times you see a monkey, it’s still interesting and amusing to spot a monkey as they are always unpredictable with their reactions :-).
Now this bunch of wildlife enthusiasts and bugged photographers started shooting every single thing that they happened to see! Trees, birds, monkeys, deer and even just dry and dusty trails! However nothing thrills like spotting and shooting an animal. You may have seen them few times at the zoo and may be a hundred times on TV... but the experience of seeing wildlife with your naked eyes in wild is – as they say in MasterCard ad - PRICESLESS!
I was little surprised to spot monkeys and deer together plenty of times. Our forest guide and driver added to our poor knowledge that a monkey and a deer is always a great friend! Monkey helps deer by breaking branch of trees and throwing them on the ground while deer helps monkey by raising an alarm when he senses danger (read – a predator).
Soon we realized that there are more monkeys and deer in this jungle than memory in our camera. We can run out of memory but certainly not of monkeys or deer! As soon as we realized this fact, we became little sensible in using our camera :D
Pench has beautiful landscape. You are traveling on a trail surrounded by trees and all sudden you find yourself crossing a small bridge over a dry river having vast open ground on either side! Drive down little further and you see shrinking water body with animal’s footmarks all around it. Then there are dry patches, rocks, hills, curvy roads (as they say in VW beetle ad - curves are back :D), sharp turns and everything that you can ask for in a jungle!
There is no way you can hold your enthusiasm and sit like a decent civilized man in a cab. After all, you are in the jungle and you have all the rights to be a beast! BWAHAHAH…! Yeah.. Yeah.. Yeah! When our jeep entered in the jungle, we were sitting on our seat (by the way, these are open jeeps) and within no time, we all were standing in a jeep looking at the beautiful jungle while hot and dry air tried to blow us away! Little later, we were standing on the top of our seat! LOL! After all, you want to stand as tall as possible to have uninterrupted view of the jungle and nothing beats standing on top of your seat! Beasts!
We spent two good hours in the jungle exploring as much as possible, clicking as many photos as possible and feeling every moment of it! Jeep moves on trails. Stops whenever driver spots something or whenever we ask him to do. Pat comes out cameras and then click-click-click-click till we are satisfied! Then jeep starts again and here starts our conversation in hush-hush voice till the jeep stops once again.
So what all we saw during this two hours of our first jungle safari? – Glimpse of a tiger, a kill by the same tiger, monkeys, deer, plenty of peacocks, owls and bunch of other colorful birds which I don’t remember by name.
It turned out to be a satisfying evening. Though we didn’t see a tiger in full glory, we were very happy to have our first feel of the jungle! So what was there in the store for the evening and night? – Dinner, endless funny talks while sitting on the lawn under the open sky followed by a night safari!
And by the time night safari will end (3am), we will be very much on our way to an early morning safari (5am)! So we will have just couple of hours to sleep but, who cares! Who wants to sleep!
<--Stay tuned for more to come...-->
Saturday, June 26, 2010
Heavy downpour. Power failure. Powerful wind banging your doors and windows making it feel like one of those horror movies made by Ramsay brothers in 1980s. An open manhole and your leg slips inside it while you are carrying a heavy backpack on your shoulders and trying to find a way to walk in the pool of water called road. Certainly not the best way to start any trip.
While holding my paining and bleeding right leg and arguing with an auto driver for fare, I was wondering - for what on this earth, am I traveling to a faraway place in this condition?
After all, you must be either a FOOL or an EXTREME ENTHUSIAST to travel to one of the hottest part in India in the hottest month of the year! Aha, before you label me, let me tell you I had company of another such 21 fool or enthusiastic fellows on my trip to the Pench Forest Reserve :-)
Pench is a special place. You may not have heard about Pench but I am sure you must have seen / read Jungle Book stories and love this chap called MOWGLI. Rudyard Kipling was inspired by Pench forest to write his write Jungle Book". Hence, this place is rightly called “Mowgli’s Den”. Aare chaddi pahen ke phool khila hai phool khila hai :-)
So starting at 10pm from Hyderabad, it took overnight journey to reach to Nagpur (a place, where normal temperate in summer is around 45 degrees centigrade). After having crispy Wada for breakfast along with Gulab Jamun (as one fellow traveller from Denmark described - "Sweet Round Balls" :)), it took us another couple of hours by cab to reach Pench.
Before the trip, we were informed that Dr. Abheek Ghosh, a medical professional and a wildlife enthusiast will be assisting us on this trip and sharing his knowledge with us. Now it's not your fault if you imagine Dr. Ghosh to be the one wearing a round panama hat and khaki clothes, having grey/white hair. However we all were ZAPPED to see a dashing young guy sporting a goatee to be Dr. Ghosh! It took a little while to come out of our imagination and for the reality to sync in :-)
The journey from Nagpur to Pench ended once we spotted out resort just outside the core forest. Well we had a collective sigh of relief as AC refused to work in most of the cabs we had.
Now you do not have a better occasion to realize how slowly time moves when you are waiting in dormitory to kill time with help of bunch of ceiling fans to fight 42 – 44 degrees of heat. Yeah after dumping our luggage and having welcome drink, to sit, talk and kill the time was the only productive task we had. After all, we had to wait till 4.30pm before we can venture out in the Jungle. Dare we go early, we would have returned roasted! Mummmmaaaaa…..
Well while resting in dormitory, I had fun playing with 2 cute little girls who were hell bent on spoiling my life until I say “Girls are better than boys”. The story does not end here - as even after I said that, they continued their play (throwing pillows, tickling etc). Why? The answer I got was – “Because girls are better, they can do whatever they want...” :-)
So after talking, eating little spicy food, drinking ample amount of water and playing with 2 kids, at last we stepped out of our resort to “feel” the jungle! WOO HOO! After all, this is the moment we all were waiting for! To venture into the wild to meet the undisputed king of this jungle - THE TIGER!
Moments. There are moments which soothe your entire existence. There are moments which mesmerize you… Which leaves you spellbound… Takes your breath away (and I am not advertising any deodorant product here you stinking pig :-)). Moments, which make you realize that all the hardship and pain were worth for just this one moment! In our two days at Pench, we came across so many such moments!
The moment we entered into the jungle in an open jeep, the world around us changed - COMPLETELY! It’s just amazing to know that on the same earth, just few hundred kilometers away from where we live; there exists such a different world with entirely different landscape, creatures and rules! Oh yeah, the jungle has its own rule and better you follow that or...
Let’s venture into the jungle now…
<--more to come in next post….-->
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