Tropical Ice’s second departure of Wild India! 2020 is now underway with eight visitors and Alex guiding.
March 11th, 2020
Alex writes from the jungles of Satpura national park in the north-central state of Madhya Pradesh
“Yesterday we left Delhi and flew to Bhopal, and today we have travelled down to the Denwa river, where we are staying at Denwa Backwater Escape. India is a massively colourful, vibrant country, and today we are seeing it at what just might be the most spectacular day of the year: Holi, the festival of colours.
No sooner had we arrived at the lodge when we received an invitation to join the festivities at a nearby village. By the time we arrived, the local drummers, singers and dancers were well into the celebrations, enhanced by a fair amount of the local brew. I’m not sure whether this village had ever experienced foreign visitors such as ourselves, probably not, but we certainly raised their game considerably. The drummers performed with intensified fury, coloured powder clouded the air around us, and the atmosphere was so welcoming we were very soon dancing in the thick of it.
What a privilege to be accepted into this unscripted celebration!
Tomorrow we drive to the start of the foot safari, and everyone is excited, full of anticipation about experiencing the unique Indian jungle for the first time.
Talk to you in a few days’ time…
March 15th, 2020
We have just completed our three day foot safari through the hills and gorges of Satpura national park, and tiger reserve.
I always find it interesting to see how our visitors adapt to Tropical Ice’s walks, whether on our Great Walk in Kenya or here in India. Most people, quite naturally, bring along their personal demons, be it joint aches and pains, or unresolved problems back home. Our walks become pure therapy.
After a few hours on the trail, we step back in time, we hear myriad bird calls, and sense the smells around us, we are literally sent back in time, and feel calmer because of it. We are now in the thick of the Indian jungle, the scenery is breathtaking, tiger “pug” marks are plentiful, and we can smell their urine spray. We may not be seeing them, but we’re aware that they are most likely watching us.
Our camps are also something of a time capsule, a step back into the British Raj: gin and tonics by the fire, candle-lit dinners, and sunrise breakfasts. No detail is too much for our staff, they are always working, all 28 of them!
Back at Denwa Backwater Escape we read the news, and realise how fortunate we have been to have avoided all communication these past few days. As the planet appears to be capsizing with the flu, we are in a cocoon of pure normality, the only important thing being our sore knees, the odd blister, and what we might see on our game drive tonight.
I know what I want on this our first game drive. I want everyone to see a Sloth bear, because I know it is probably our only chance, they are few and far between in Kanha and Bandhavgarh where we are headed next. We enter the park in our small jeeps and move into the jungle. We quickly find Gaur (Indian bison), Sambar deer and Spotted deer, and I can’t believe my eyes when suddenly, before us, is a mother Sloth bear and her cub. The cub is on her back, but this one couldn’t wait to leap off and climb a tree.
Satpura is also well-known for leopard, but we aren’t lucky this afternoon, but if I had to choose between a leopard and a sloth bear, I’d have taken the latter. There’s always the chance of leopard at our next two stops. I didn’t expect tiger today, in the 9 years we’ve been doing our India safaris we’ve only seen tigers once in Satpura.
March 19th, 2020
We arrive in Kanha national park where we will have a good chance of seeing tigers. Everyone is full of anticipation, partially because they read Iain’s blog. His February safari had wonderful sightings in Kanha, and my group’s expectations are high. Then, just before we sit down for dinner, Karan, our “behind the scenes” controller, drops the bombshell: according to all the naturalists, there has not been a tiger sighting in Kanha for five days. My spirits sink, but I manage to keep a happy face throughout dinner, making no mention of this to the group. In my room I lie awake all night, the brain-fever bird with its endless call, and my doubts for company.
People come to India to experience the culture, the colours and the history, but if we’re honest with ourselves we know that they come primarily for the tigers. In all the years we have operated in India, every group has had tiger sightings. Lying awake at night I try to keep the thought out of my head: will this be the first safari for Tropical Ice when a tiger isn’t seen?
We’re up before first light, and the “hunt” begins. Slowly, the sleepless night catches up to me and I doze off. Through the fog of sleep I hear the words: TIGER! TIGER! Sitting behind a tree by the road, not more than 20 metres in front of us is a lovely tigress.
Then the roar, and a giant male tiger emerges from the undergrowth. They show no liking of one another, and the male wanders off. We spend nearly an hour with the female as she saunters up the road and we follow. Did I dream this or was it real? Too good to be true? One hour with a tiger on our very first game drive?! I look at the group and check my camera, the proof is in their elated smiles and my photos.
On the second morning at Kanha, we’re down two clients. The pressures from family, friends, pets, and work to return to America was too much. I guess that misery wanted company. They decided to leave the trip. The early morning drive through the jungle is cold, but the sounds of alarm calls starts our blood going. We feel like it is all happening right in front of us, but deep in the bushes, we cannot see a thing. Then, he appears. A beautiful male tiger walks and marks the trail in front of us. The naturalists and I cannot believe our luck, after five days without tiger sightings in Kanha we have had two for two.
Yet, the tigers and their surprises are not over. We drive a bit further and turn a bend in the road, a lovely glade surrounded by sal trees makes the perfect setting. Walking across are the movie stars, a tigress with her three cubs bounding behind her! We have now seen seven tigers. I think that is how many Iain’s group saw on their entire safari, not that I’m competitive…
It is time for brunch, and Hari brings me a celebratory Kanha Bloody Mary. Hari is our barman who has worked tirelessly under Iain’s strict tutelage to prepare the perfect drink for this little spot in India.
April 1st, 2020
I write the following entry from home in Nairobi.
Leaving Kanha, we had a lovely scenic drive to Bandhavgarh, to spend three nights at my favourite eco-lodge in India: The Tree House Hideaway. Each room is uniquely positioned up in one of the great trees found in central India, mine was in the Mahua Tree surrounded by lush bamboo. This may not be the canopy of the Amazon rainforest, but sleeping high up in a tree brings out a childlike excitement in me. Iain would probably say that this is because it brings me closer to my primate ancestors…not funny.
In any case, our plan here is to continue looking for tigers, and Bandhavgarh has the highest density of tigers in India. I felt that with having seen seven in Kanha, that my group will easily beat Iain’s in terms of tiger sightings. However, the first sign of trouble was a rainstorm during the morning game-drive. The afternoon was sunny and gorgeous, but the tigers gave only the occasional growl from deep within the jungle.
We were all looking forward to the next day’s drive when reality hit. Early word from our office in Delhi: Covid19. The Indian Government, like much of the world, was thinking of shutting its borders. It was time to act quickly and decisively. Logistic changes were put into effect, new internal air tickets were purchased and hotel bookings in Delhi were shifted. We managed to get everyone in the group back to Delhi in time. Individual flights were changed, albeit not very easily, and we were off!
We have now heard from the group, they have arrived at their respective homes and dealing with their individual government’s, and personal regulations. Everyone is healthy, and judging from the feedback coming in, very happy.
We wanted to say thank you for offering & guiding such an amazing journey through India. Hopefully we can return and finish the journey… Terry & Belinda, USA
Despite all the uncertainties that were preying on our minds while away we thoroughly enjoyed the company and experiences that the safari trip provided. Pity about Shimla, but clearly we could not have everything. Peter E. UK
Looking forward to getting to Shimla sometime in the hopefully not too distant future. Wendy A. UK
Our adventures will continue. Stay tuned.