Bangalore to Bandhavgarh
We started from Bangalore at 5 pm on Saturday, November 30th and reached Bagh Sarai where we were staying on the fringes of Bandhavgarh National Forest on Monday, December 2nd at 6 am.
We reached Hyderabad at 2.30 am and stayed in the city overnight. Woke up early in the morning to drive to Nagpur. The roads in Hyderabad were a blessing as we flew @ 120kmph. It doesn’t take much to know you’ve landed in Maharashtrian territory: a beep from Airtel, one big pothole from one end of the border to the next and exorbitant tolls. The first pothole with patches of road that we crossed? That adventure cost us Rs 30.
We drove into Jam a bus depot town near Nagpur around 6 pm on Sunday and went straight into the food court next door. Walked into the darshini and asked for poha (Tis MAHArashtra!), why don’t you seat yourself just behind the counters said the cashier. Oh, but you’d like the AC section offered another. And, so it was. Pav Bhaji and Samosas, Coffee and Shingodas (water chestnuts).
We had no clue what lay ahead. Abhishek who runs Bagh Sarai very kindly offered to give us directions such that we wouldn’t cross Jabalpur. Sweet, no? He should have taken a blunt knife to our throats instead, we’d have been more grateful.
What’s the origin of the word ‘tortuous’?
That. The drive from Nagpur to Seoni was pure torture. Broken roads, no medians, no shrubbery, blinding lights from the opposite direction and SO MANY potholes. The car jumped, we hit our heads against the car’s roof, checked if any of us had broken necks that needed fixing and then braced ourselves for the next unseen crater to rise from the earth.
Madhya Pradesh should be the poster child for BJP’s 2014 Elections Campaign. The roads are long, winding and perfectly concretised even deep in the hamlets that have name boards everywhere “Gram <Name of Village>.” There are reflectors and signboards aplenty - stuck to trees, to the walls of houses that are orange lolly coloured (half white, half orange!). Even bridges that wouldn’t qualify as bridges in our metros have li’l signboards that warn you of their presence.
Bagh Sarai is on the fringes of the Bandhavgarh National Park. The stay was comfortable, the forest gorgeous. What left me seething with anger and vowing to never ever ever ever (You can imagine Arnab rapping that) go on a safari in India were the thoughtlessly planned safari routes at the park.
Hear me out.
We went on 2 safaris, one at 2.30 pm in the afternoon that lasted for 3 hours on the day we arrived in Bandhavgarh and another the next morning at the unearthly hour of 6 am that went on for 4 hours, all this in pursuit of the elusive tigers. Jeeps are assigned guides and routes - one sticks to the path or the guide faces dire consequences. But there’s the slight problem of driving around aimlessly to try and spot a tiger. The routes have been paved in a manner such that you stay out of the way of the tigers but that also means the tigers stay out of your way! The drivers zip around, never patiently waiting and guides point out pug marks “Male Tiger iss taraf gaya hai! Shh! Patience chahiye!” Umm..if patience is what is chahiyed then maybe we should stay quiet at a spot and lie in wait?
While this might work beautifully for the tourists who come to see the ‘guaranteed’ tiger whilst playing videos on their phones and displaying other such high society behaviour, I ended up being a grumpy hassled traveler. I wanted to enjoy the forest - the rustle of the leaves in each tree as we drove by, the spotted deer gracefully hopping around, the wild boars scampering and Sambars crossing roads, nursing Baby Sambars. The most beauteous thing of all in the forest is the friendliness between the monkeys and the deer: The monkeys pluck leaves from the top of trees and drop them to the ground to feed their 4-legged friends. They even whistle to alert and warn the deer about tigers roaming around! (What do they get out of this? Aside: Are there mythological stories around this friendship?)
Two days, 7 hours of zipping around and all I came back with was this breathtaking view of the mist rising, grass swaying and birds-whose-names-I-can’t-remember flitting around. Can you spot and stripe a tiger in here? ‘Cause sure as hell we didn’t.