This article has appeared in Huffington Post titled ‘Beast And Bureaucrats: A Trip To Satpura National Park’. You may see the original post here.
You would be all-too-familiar with the traits of a typical wildlife enthusiast. His ears pricked like an Alsatian’s, for a real or imagined call of a monkey or a swamp deer; while his eyes would dart around like a sleuth’s, spotting slightest movement in the environs.
His tongue, dry and lips chapped, but he is unlikely to even notice that. His skin, sensitive to the gentlest brush of a grass blade, yet immune to the extremes of elements.
His speech, limited to sudden inhibiting ‘shush’ once in a way, while his instinct would make him analyse all random pugmarks and incoherently whisper to no one in particular – “Last night’s!”
He is happy to retire in a claustrophobic tent with a dim flashlight, or in a camouflage hide that has none.
Though I love wildlife, I do not belong there. In fact, all that and more kept me away from most National Parks in India. More likely you would be interacting with an animal’s poop here, with long odds of spotting him go after a prey.
The parks of choice for me have been Masai Mara, Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro, Pilanesberg, Seal Island (S. Africa), Phillip Island (Australia), and the likes.
Characteristically, they spoil you by abundance of the exotic. During the day, be surrounded by large herds of the bizarre – giraffes, zebras, ostriches, wildebeests; comfortably spot the majestic – cheetahs, lions, rhinos and hippos; and once in a way cross paths with the rare – porcupines, pythons, crocodiles and leopards.
Evenings at a resort here offer spa treatments, Jacuzzis swirling with water at ‘just right’ temperature, a choice of game meat and crackling, fragrant bonfires.
Understandably, mention of a visit to Satpura found me perfunctorily nodding at the prospect. While the Corbetts, Kanhas and Kazirangas were oft referred in my circles, my memory failed me regarding any allusion to Satpura.
Carrying that mindset, I travelled to Satpura. A hellish train journey on a wintry night notwithstanding, initial impressions during my approach to this destination did little to cause excitement.
Road leading to the resort challenged one’s driving skills; the journey itself was rather dull; and the reception area of the resort nothing to write home about.
But once we were ushered into the resort, I started to wonder if my first impressions were well-founded. Denwa Backwater Escape, a Pugdundee Resort, is spread over 10 acres in buffer zone of Satpura National Park. River Denwa separates it from the core area of the park.
While the food was ordinary, the ambience was luxurious. Our cottages at the resort were well appointed. The resort landscaping jelled with the rugged looks of the jungle and its buffer zone. There were natural backwaters ponds in the property that further added to the charm of the surroundings.
That afternoon, we went for the jeep safari. We crossed over to the core zone in a boat, all set with hats and cameras. But we faced the usual – our interaction with wildlife limited to calls of the minions and some random pug-marks. On our return, we realised ours was the only jeep to have not spotted a leopard, or a tiger, or both. But then, that is luck!
In the evening, the resort was romantically lit with streetlights of kerosene lanterns. And the calls from the wild provided congruous music!
A Walk In The Park – Satpura
Next morning, we discovered that Satpura National Park offered 5 types of safaris – jeep, boat, walking, elephant and night. A boat safari here gives you an opportunity to spot crocodiles on the banks of Denwa.
We had time for 2 more safaris. We availed of one by going for a walk in the park, where our group was within 150 yards of a tiger hunting down a langur! We did not have any time for clicking an image but the incident gives me goose bumps while I recount this for you.
Our planned second safari (a boat safari) went down the tube since bureaucrats still control and overrule a tourist’s rights and hijack the boat when needed by them.
Secretary Tourism, MP, did the same with us as her friends and family took precedence over our right to the only boat that was available. High time such bureaucratic high-handedness is addressed.
While being deprived of our rightful access to the boat safari left a bad taste in mouth, Satpura National Park left us fascinated!
As and when you plan a visit, do ensure booking a flight to Bhopal and make online bookings for your safaris to avoid heartaches there (by the way, they do NOT allow an online boat safari booking as of now). Also, though summers here will be unbearably hot and uncomfortable, plan your trip then for best wildlife sightings.