Every year, I do at least one Himalayan trek during summers. Since I skipped one this year, I decided to compensate it with a jungle safari organised by the Wilson College Nature Club. To be a part of the excursion, you need to seek approval from the crazy old man aka Professor Sudhakar Solomonraj months in advance. Getting a US Visa is a lot easier. With Suddhu, you never know. He’ll ask you why you want to be on the trek, and your reply better impress him. His jaunts are immensely exhausting, but that’s also because he doesn’t like to waste a single minute. So if you’re the lazy bum types, you’re better off at Baga with your crate of beer. On the WCNC trek, don’t even dream of sneaking in a tipple.
Sudhakar Sir’s lessons lessons, accompanied by handouts and nature-related songs, are a different form of meditation in themselves. He’ll keep giving gyan, and you’ll keep imbibing it endlessly. Our journey began with a long train ride from Mumbai to Pipariya. Once we alighted, we instantly hopped into jeeps and headed straight to Pachmarhi, the only hill station in Madhya Pradesh, which sits beautifully, embellished by nature and history, amidst the Satpura range. Post lunch on day one, we embarked on a small hike to a nearby hill that offered a spectacular view of a poetic sun submerging itself beyond the lush green. It was after long that I watched the horizon change colours – from golden yellow to rust orange to velvety purple. Then came a moment when a thick veil of cobalt blue enveloped the mountains, the dense forest and the mud houses, and stars stepped out to play peekaboo in the surreal night sky.
An important lesson that Sir taught us on the very first day was to start saying yes to life. Like neatly arranged row of books in a library, we sat at the edge of the valley and drew. Forcibly indeed, but we drew, vainly expressing our thoughts through art. Something we had stopped doing a long time back.
On the morning of day two, we visited the Pandav caves – five rock-cut temples named after the Pandavas. As our guide delivered a sermon about their history, I, very conveniently immersed myself in the beauty of the perfectly manicured gardens surrounding the caves. They reminded me of the Mughal gardens in Kashmir. While in Pachmarhi, we also witnessed the rock paintings of the Pachmarhi Hills in the Satpura Range and later trekked down to the overtly touristy Bee Falls. It had maggi kiosks at the base, so you can imagine. The waters apparently resemble falling melting silver, but if you have to see a waterfall, look no further than the mammoth four-tiered Dudhsagar Falls in Goa.
For me, the highlight of the first leg was Mount Dhoopgarh, the highest point in the Satpura Range. If you want to soak in gold, the best time to climb up to the top is when the sun is descending. The view is magical, I promise. The ribbons of mist caressing the mountains will remind you of your beloved. The topography of the garh will also remind you of animals and places – a sea horse here, an anthill there… and just when a soulful poem or a work of art translates itself on paper, you’ll have to make a move. But before you leave, don’t forget to experience the beautiful dance of the cool wind, the mythical dusk and the dreamy landscape, like a small child looking through the kaleidoscope.
On the third day, we left for the Satpura Tiger Reserve. Done with the jungle babblers, it was now time to see the wild cats in action. We stayed at the V Resorts Jungle Retreat in Madhai. The décor of the place is an eclectic mix of old world charm and contemporary comfort. The cosy terrace is perfect for a chat over tea and bhajjiyas, and so is the dewy lawn equipped with three fire places. Learn how to do cartwheels, bask under the morning winter sun while gobbling a fruit or revisit your childhood with fun games – the green carpet is all yours.
In the night, we embarked on a night safari, lest we get to see a nightjar or a glimpse of the eerie eyes of a leopard. What we managed though, was a jungle cat, a civet and a spotted deer. I barely paid any attention during the second half of the safari, mostly because I was freezing to death and needed to pee. During winters, Satpura is hot as hell during the day and cold as a witch’s tit in the night. It is therefore advisable to layer up!
As any other nature club excursion, the early morning birding trails were characterised by our beloved professor leading the gang with a heavy book called ‘Birds of the Indian Subcontinent’ in one hand and binocs in the other. Name the bird or butterfly, and he’d tell you everything about it – from the red-wattled lapwing to the white-throated kingfisher and the black-shouldered kite to the Malabar Pied Hornbill. So many birds, so many colours, so many songs.
Late afternoon, we took a boat ride on the enchanting Denwa River, a tributary of the Narmada. During the ride we greeted a numerous crocodiles lazing on the banks, uttered touristy cries when a flock of egrets flew above our heads and relaxed ourselves. It was a long day, indeed.
Food – both in Pachmarhi and Satpura – can get a tad spicy. Yes, even the daal. If you like you’re your food to be less spicy, I’d suggest you communicate your food preferences to the hotel well in advance. The health-conscious must know that MPites eat samosas for breakfast. If you don’t, either carry a pack of tissues to soak up the extra oil or a pack of oats to satiate your hunger.
The jungle safari in the Satpura Tiger Reserve changed the game for most of us. It was unarguably the highlight of the trip. To see a leopard hunt down a deer on Nat Geo is one thing, but to see happen before your eyes it teeth-grinding, heart-wrenching and tear-inducing – all at once. Read it here, and tell me how you feel, will you?
Noses in the air, we returned to the resort, voluntarily narrating the instance to random people. We were the lucky ones, and we had to flaunt it. The safari marked the end of the trip. A quick recap session later, we proceeded to Pipariya to take the train back home. This was it. The end of another dream, another year. Once we reached Pipariya, the network was back and we sank into our phones, like strangers at the beginning of this beautiful journey.
Want to plan a trip soon? Get in touch with Sandesh Lad from Let’s Go Outdoors on +91 9920 430 579, or email email@example.com. For more information, visit letsgooutdoors.in.