Since I last wrote, things got crazier in my life and I had traveled a lot. The day was 27 Feb 2010, although I had never missed a bus/train, I was hurrying as I was very much excited to go on the very first adventure tour of my life. My excitement about the adventure of my new life held for me have never been more profound. I was on my way to Kanha National Park which is one of the India’s finest tiger reserves. It is spread more than 940 sq km in a horse shoe shaped valley bound by the spurs of the Mekal range, the park presents a varies topography. A google search will give you a lot of other websites to learn more about the place as I do a lot of googling before going to a place and kanha was no exception. I had maps of the jungle and the details of flora and fauna which are abundant in the jungle. I did my homework very well. The forest is mixed and given the high rainfall precipitation one finds extensive stretches of Sal (Shorea robusta), a tree of moist deciduous forest in central and north India. It was a crisp, clear afternoon and after making a call or two I was told that it is S7 which will be our temporary accommodation till jabalpur. There was a Mr.-know-it-all who was going kanha 4th time and was telling us the stories of various adventures he had. Then we had tiffin party followed by playing judgement with cards. We started enjoying, laughing and since laughter is the shortest distance between humans we started knowing each other.
It was a three day marathon away from juiciest Indore gossips about who's faking exam scores, who is getting married into the lap of the nature. There were 24 of them in addition to myself, which were members of Outdoor adventures and environment group and will be acquaintances in the fellowship of this adventure. We reached jabalpur at around 0600 hrs and got ready in the waiting room. Then-after we boarded in pink colored bus and believe me It was pink colored, a Bus. I was amazed that they make the buses of this color even. Anyways, we halted at a samosa and chai serving establishment where we had our breakfast and some of us started clicking images of stray dogs and some other non-sense things around. I was accompanied by humans who must be members of prestigious elite eating clubs and were travelling, courtesy of gifts from their parents or dividends from their trust funds, which they were now of an age to access. The profile of the group was very diversified and thus made it more lively. Bus driver played a song to which I danced the most in one of my cousin's wedding.
We reached kanha at 1300 hrs and were told to get ready in an hour. The place was a decent one, at least until you are a bachelor. Everyone was rushing from toilets to toilets and bathrooms to bathrooms to find an empty one and finally we got up and running by 1430 hrs. Then we had our lunch at a canteen nearby, which is a small house exhaling smoke from its chimney. I, with my finite and depleting reserve of cash and my traditional sense of deference purchased a water bottle at twice the price of its MRP. We reserved 4 gypsies for the 24 adults and were alloted baidyanath bhaiya who was a seasoned forest guide. His eyes were cold, pale brown and judgemental, like the eyes of a jeweller inspecting a diamond he intends neither to buy nor to sell. We were alloted kanha zone which supposedly is natural habitat for more number of tigers than any other zone in the park. The sky was a brilliant blue, so different from the orange, dusty sky above us today in a countryside which is home to many animals primarily bengal tigers and Langurs (primates), Chitals (spotted deer), Barking Deer, Peacocks, Indian Buffalo, Wild Boar(Jungli-suar), Sambar (Indian Deer) and plenty of incredibly beautiful birds(both-resident-and-migratory).
I said to the driver that I will buy him a beer if he will show us a tiger to which he agreed happily. Within 30 minutes we were in the heart of the jungle, and I was witnessing a new breed of wildlife photographers emerging from ourselves. I was overwhelmed with my foreigner's sense of being watched. Their were large stretch of grasslands, meadows and the world seems fresh, as if seen the first time and we started sighting birds and animals. I sat mainly in silence and quietly observing the animals and in that moment I was outwardly calm, but inside I was panicking. And then we'd had our moment viewing the herds of beautiful Barasingha or Swamp Deer, a specie that is only thriving in this one location in the world. Next we sighted white eagle and I was making foolish noises to train her red eyes upon me followed by lots and lots of other species. There were some 60 other gypsies in the same zone where we were and the only thing which mattered to us in the whole world at that time was the sight of a tiger. Then we sighted Indian Wild Ox or Gaur (Bos gaurus) mistakenly called as Indian Bison which is the largest herbivore found in kanha. One of my jeap mate was so dying for the bladder check that we had to stop at a checkpoint in the middle of the forest and again we did some photography. We still hadn't loosed hope and that's why I think god had introduced a factor of probability. This was our only chance to sight a tiger as the following day, park will be closed due to holi. I was observing shadows being lengthening and my skin color was shifting more towards the middle of the color spectrum. but as they say na ki Kehte hain ki agar kisi chiz ko dil se chaho to puri kaynath usko tumse milane ki koshish main lag jaati hai...lolz, so finally when we were coming back to home we sighted a tigress strong, sleek and invariably sourrounded by pride and I was happy.
Then we went straight to the canteen where we exchanged our experiences and did a formal introduction section followed by dinner. After which rohit arrested a firefly - a tiny greenish glow was visible up close but overwhelmed by the forest's luminance when viewed from even a modest distance. We saw some moving silhouettes in the distance which in all likelihood, were workers returning to their homes. Then after getting fresh we headed to amphitheater which they call as orientation center to see a movie by discovery channel made at kanha in which the lead actress was a tigress named lakshmi. We saw some models highlighting various animals and some information about them. We came back to the place we were staying which was adjacent to core area, now FYI, forest has a core area where proximity of spotting an animal is higher which is surrounded by buffer area. As the night grew older, voices from the forest started growing too. Some of us were chatting in a group of 4-5, some were roaming here and there looking for something to do and I was sleepless in Kanha and enjoying the power of view from lobby. As some of you might know that I have the tendency to make things complicated which otherwise would have been simple, so I along with Mathur sahab and no. 22 decided to go in the forest, which I find particularly pleasant at night, unlit and empty, bounded by those narrow passageways, into which one could imagine being dragged against one's will. My heart was pounding, my imagination running and believe me it was not a place to explain, it was a place to experience. We sat on a culvert and herds of deers were meters away from us. I was spell bounded and something of me is now outside and something of outside is now within me. My self was disappered, and I was free, free of doubts and limits, free to focus on nothing but forest, sufi mystics and zen masters would, I suspect, understand this feeling. Certainly, much of my early excitement about kanha was wrapped up in my excitement for safari but those twenty minutes were godly.
We came back and slept and my maxim of maximum return to which I return, time and again and that's why I slept for 4 hours only and waked up ridiculously too early this morning when everyone else was sleeping. I went out and saw a baby cat which brought to my mind the behaviour of an animal that has ventured too far from its lair and is now, in unfamiliar surroundings, uncertain whether it is predator or prey. I have never, to the best of my knowledge, had any fear of solitude but this was a time when I was a little horrified with the advent of some uncertain things still I sat their for an hour or so and then waked up mathur sahab to come for a morning walk to which he agreed. We went to a small hilltop nearby and again brushed our teeth's right in the middle of deers. On our way back to the dormitory, we found one of the horns of a barahsingha, it was a pure Ivory and was very beautiful. We brought it with us to show it to everyone else and later threw it away as it is a punishable offence to bring anything back from a forest reserve. Then we headed to 7 kms long trekking on the nature's trail, where I almost ate mind of our guide. He gave us some details of Ant hills and how structurally superior they are, about various birds and concept of fire-line which is used to control the fire.
We came back, took our lunch, packed and started moving to jabalpur. By the end of the safari, I was in the notion that I had seen all 22000 deers of kanha which reflects back on the peace and calm of this beautiful and natural corner of this crowded and dirty subcontinent. In any case, I felt as though a world has ended and we made our way to jabalpur on bus. The aroma of dust on that warm breeze when we were coming back from kanha made me fall asleep. And as I had told you that it was holi so most of the market and tourist spots were closed. It is odd how the character of a public place changes when it is empty, like the markets of jabalpur. We then went to a place called Dhuan-dhaar, which was a wonderful waterfall and a beautiful place to commit suicide. Their I purchased something for which I was cursed, with the help of a Tier-1 friend named Aney. After having dinner and a brief love affair with the kanha national park, I reluctantly hopped a train headed towards Indore. We played dumb-charades and antakshari, which we enjoyed thoroughly. Then I slept like a child and woke up late in the morning, cursed Indian railway and honourable railway minister and joined ongoing antakshari session. Ah, we are about to arrive the gates of Indore railway station, It is here that I shall at last part company to a jungle made of concrete.
It was a memorable trip and I know that time cannot diminish the eagerness with which I look these places. I think of myself as a student of life and believe life is all about the feelings and experiences you had felt, experiences are which make the person you are and I drew sorrow and hope in equal measures from each of my such experiences. I enjoy my life of a knowledge worker, it's fun being me. Chao
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