It is a hot and dry afternoon in June and I am in Satpura. The name itself means a hundred mountains is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘शतपुरा’. I have heard a lot about this place but never really expect it to surpass my ‘Wildlife Experience’ at the more famous Bandhavgarh National Park. The drive is a relatively short one from Nagpur, 287 km in a little less than 7 hours. I see a dirt path leading. A wooden gate and the sign of the ‘Denwa Backwater Escape’ means that we have reached our lodge.
The place is what one really expects of a top forest lodge. Locals have been employed to boost the economy and thus sustain the forests. There are small paths that lead to the main dining area. The lodges and the treehouse offer luxury yet do not seem out of place, a combination rather valued. The whole place seems in phase with the surroundings. I see a pond and wonder what a simple yet fulfilling life it is to be in tune with the forest. I hear an Indian pitta but my gaze is fixed on the white-throated kingfisher on the lookout for fish in what remains of the pond. The summer seems to have been harsh, but the monsoon is not far away. Soon the rains will bring joy to the storks and other migratory birds ( Even from as far as Ladakh) as the Denwa river will offer them prey.
I am welcomed by Ashish, who happens to run the lodge. As we discuss wildlife and the jungles of Satpura, I am enthralled by the experiences of living in the jungles. I see Ashish’s work as a naturalist and as wildlife photographer and I am amazed. (Do click – Check this out!) I go for a ride on the bicycle and by the time I get back it is dark. I see that the dirt paths are marked by lamps which lead me to the cottage. Dinner comprises local vegetables, which is had in the peace and quiet of the jungle.
I have never been on a night safari. The night safari is arranged in the buffer zone, and rightly so. The experience is surreal. We park the Thar close to a water hole and wait. There is a constant hum from the insects, only to be punctuated by the occasional ruffle. I quickly look around with my torch. Nothing. I can hear and feel myself breathe. There is an internal conflict. I am undecided whether I actually want to see anything. Maybe I am a bit scared. Maybe I feel that we are intruders. As we head back, a solitary nightjar remains the only life I see. Though I am pretty sure that the whole jungle was very much aware of our presence.
I have finished my morning tea. I am in my customary hat and sleeveless jacket on top of my ‘jungle’ coloured attire. I am ready. Ready for another safari. I sit on a fibreglass bottom boat. The Denwa river is unusually calm. Well, I say to myself ” This is going to be fun”.
Satpura is known for its population of sloth bears. I happen to be here for them. A big cat would just be a bonus. A green pond seems to be the only source of water nearby. Countless Cheetal are seen apparently enjoying the company of egrets.
The National Park is hilly and it is likely that you see very little for long stretches. It is almost time to go back. As we turn back, I hear a distant yet distinct growl. I certainly cannot miss this. I have only once seen a sloth bear in the wild before. We attempt to follow the noises. Just as we turn a corner, I see a bear and her cub. They seem headed across the road. “Yes”, I say to myself, ” A bear crossing”. I watch amazed as the pair sniff their way across the road nonchalantly.
I have a light lunch and prepare myself for a ride in the scorching heat. I see absolutely nothing. It is almost quarter past 6. I can see the safari gate in the distance. Just as I seem too switch off I sense something. Something which is not a sound, cannot be seen yet seems unavoidable. I can feel it in the air. I guess I happen to be in for something special. Just round the bend I see two bear cubs scurrying to the top of the tree disturbed by our presence. The mother bear keeps watch from the bottom as she lets us know that we are not welcome. I want the bears to have their privacy and I quickly take a shot of the adult bear. The two cubs have managed to reach the top are hanging on to the branches which have bent due to their weight. The bear cubs are literally exactly over us. I feel like an intruder and ask to leave. The guide tells us that this is a rare occurrence. I smile to myself and wonder what a privilege it is to experience nature at such close quarters.
Two years later, I see some of these photos and it all comes back to me. I leave you with a few more shots of my experience at Satpura and do hope you join me on my next journey!! (Blog Post)