SATPURA NATIONAL PARK & DENWA BACKWATER ESCAPE- SATPURA
I was invited by a friend-cum-host to join him and a few others on a challenging trek through the core of a Wildlife Park which I didn’t even know was possible. I had walked all my life in the mountains & plains but the thought of walking in wilderness seemed too good to be true. Then who knows how long this will be allowed so I grabbed the offer and looked forward to my first sojourn in a jungle on foot.
A short flight to Bhopal and a three hour comfortable drive via UNESCO heritage site of Bhimbetka, brings one to MADHAI, popularly known as SATPURA. Eight of us who had split into three Innovas had not had a formal introduction at the airport so we decided to break the ice over a hot cup of tea and fresh breakfast of Poha & Jalebi at a roadside stall. Besides two travel agents, the small group had a travel blogger, a staff from NAT GEO, a hotel representative, our naturalist, our host and a local guide who had walked the same trek over a dozen times. The host chose to transfer us to the lodge on a private boat instead of taking the regular route of driving up there, which turned out to be a great option given the unbearable heat and sun.
#PugdundeeSafaris organizes the treks with great care and dexterity that leaves nothing else to desire. The first night of the tour should ideally be spent at their lodge, DENWA BACKWATER ESCAPE in Satpura, where one gets introduced to the jungle and its terrain. We decided to go for a night safari on the day of arrival and it turned out to be quite an adventure. A few jeeps ahead of us had spotted a leopard in the fields whereas our search lights refused to fall on it. We did spot some other game in the bargain.
The luxury lodge is incidentally the only one that faces the river. The restaurant deck invites one to retire there forever as it overlooks addictive landscape. Cottages and tree houses have sit-outs for the ultimate tranquility and the big glass doors & windows offer view of the river from the bed that one sinks in.
The lesser known wildlife park in the state of M.P and a poor cousin of Bandavgarh & Kanha, Satpura is unique as it is only here that one can experience a Jeep Safari, a Walking Safari, a Boat Safari and a Night Safari. What makes the park stand out however is the Jungle Trek through its core zone that had challenged the adventurer in all of us. Where else will you walk in a forest, camp in mobile tents, sense wild boars, sloth bears & leopards around and sign off from the civilization for a couple of days? The stunningly beautiful park allows traversing through it till the opposite end at Pachmarhi over three days of walking and camping in the heart of unfriendly & harsh outback country.
This trek can be walked from Satpura to Pachmarhi or in the reverse direction, with an option of camping for one, two or three nights at the beautiful sites of Dhelia, Manakachar and Jamani Dev respectively, all in the Pachmarhi Biosphere Reserve. The Reserve was established in the year 1999 looking at the vast natural resources, diverse and rich flora & fauna, rare topography and presence of a large tribal population. The total area of the reserve is approximately 5000 sq km of which Satpura National Park comprises the core zone. The Satpura Mountain Range exhibits a large variety of geological rock and soil formations and serves as a natural junction of the two most important timber species like Teak and Sal.
FORSYTH TRAIL, as the jungle trek is called, is an adrenaline-pumping activity, which is not for the faint-hearted. Though extremely safe and professionally carried out, it has the aura and intrigue which will make you look at every tree with suspicion as if it is camouflaging the wildlife you are yet to encounter. You will awe at every alarm call for a beast around while the naturalist shares interesting stories about the foliage. An authority on plants, trees, birds, reptiles and other facets of the forest, our naturalist had something interesting to say about everything we wondered at. The trail doesn’t focus on animals and birds but on the trekking bit, which is the main draw here. The trek is on the original route taken by Captain Forsyth in 1857, who entered the civil service of the East India Company and came to India as an assistant conservator of forests. For those who want an easier and comfortable option, there are many day-treks offered by #PugdundeeSafaris#, which will bring the walkers back to the comfort of the lodge and no camping is required.
The campsites on the trail have been carefully selected for their picturesque backdrop, green meadows and accessibility to the river. The rugged terrain is demanding and challenging but it does come with a dash of luxury in the mobile camps that are pitched exclusively for the guests as per their itinerary.
The detailing includes hot showers, super delicious food, sundowners, comfortable beds and a choice of nightcaps before slipping into a cozy blanket. It is a luxury in the middle of the harsh outback that shows no mercy for it is meant to be treaded intelligently and carefully. Each campsite is run by a crew of around twenty members, who leave no stone unturned in taking care of guests’ comfort to utmost perfection. Lunches are set up under the canopies of trees or by a rivulet, offering a much awaited break after being drained out under the scorching sun.
The first day’s trek is of 20 kms but has a mix of ascents & descents, which can be tricky at times. The views get better and better as the height you gain opens up more vistas. A Serpent Eagle accompanied us by springing from one tree to another for quite some time, till it decided to fly off for better options. Parakeets, Drongos, Green Bee Eaters, Blue Rock Thrush, Green Sandpipers, Spotted Doves, Yellow Footed Green Pigeon, Lapwings and a few other common birds also made regular appearances. A silence prevails in the jungle and chirping of birds is interrupted only by the crackle of Sal leaves under one’s feet. Without a sign of civilization or life for miles & miles, one feels happy to be disconnected from the rest of the world. Only solace is that there are people waiting at the camp which doesn’t seem to be in sight anyways. The forested path shows the play of sunlight and shade at its best as one’s feet start racing at the sight of a large Arjuna or Banyan tree for a much awaited breather to cool off from the onslaught of sun’s fury. You stop for lunch after having walked for ten kilometers that can take up to 4 hours. The much needed break energizes you for another ten. Though quite long and tiring, the day conditions one for the following one that has a longer distance to cover.
The 25-km long walk on day two is quite a contrast between its pre & post lunch sessions. The first half is through dense forest with good birdlife however the post-lunch session is probably the most demanding one. It is all about taking calculated leaps over big boulders that line the banks of the Denwa river. The trick is to start early and walk from dawn to dusk as it can leave one extremely drained and sapped. Despite the ruggedness it posed, the trail was scenic and full of old & lofty Arjuna trees that had the roots entwined on its trunks which made great photo stops. A keen ear will hear the sounds of Giant Malabar Squirrels, which are native here but also quite deceptive and shy. The naked eye could only see boulders till the horizon and we wondered if this will ever change. With constant stops to rest our legs and drink water, we ensured we were not dehydrated. The sun however didn’t appreciate the breaks we took and set at its usual time, leaving a long distance still to be covered. With legs almost giving up, we increased our speed as it had started to get little dark, which only added to the adventure. The last few kilometers were covered using torch lights but then this is what a jungle-trek is all about. It is about expecting the unexpected.
After a delicious breakfast that could be compared to a buffet in a luxury hotel, we left the second campsite and trekked for an hour or so to our transport waiting on the edge of the forest to take us back to our lodge at Satpura. Two nights of camping was good enough to get a taste of the Forsyth trail.
Once back at the river-facing lodge, we decided to go on a bird-walk along the river and were mesmerized by the sunset, one of the most beautiful ones we had ever seen. The walk offered sights of rose-ringed Parakeets, Black hooded Ioras, Woody Shrikes, Indian Rollers to name a few.
On the last day of the trip we had a Boat Ride on the river planned for us- a highlight of the park. This was an opportunity to see some beautiful birds up close. We saw Black Winged Stilts, Bar headed geese, Wooly necked Storks, Sandpipers, River Lapwings, White breasted Kingfishers, Larks, White browed Wagtails, Pied Kingfishers, River Terns, Red Shanks, Ringed Plovers, Barn Swallows, An Osprey catch a fish, Cormorants, Darters and a few others. The highlight was spotting Indian Skimmers, as only six of them had made it to Satpura in this season. The beautiful bird with red beak is a photographer’s delight.
After the boat ride, we went back to the lodge for a brunch before returning to the airport in Bhopal with a heavy heart. The Satpura jungle and its magic was tough to leave behind. It had captivated me beyond imagination. I felt closest to the nature here and wanted to make it my home. But the city commitments had other plans so i left enriched by the overdose of wilderness and warm hospitality of wonderful people, to be cherished for a long time.