Cabin in the Woods
Discover India|March - April 2021
Home to several rare and endangered species, the virgin forests of Madhya Pradesh’s Satpura National Park offer lessons in sustainability and change your perception of wildlife safaris for the better.
SHOBA MOHAN

IT WAS A SENSE of déjà vu each time our little ‘jungle party’ ventured into the forests of Satpura National Park or sat by the fireplace in Reni Pani Jungle Lodge’s cosy library. Whether we were trampling though undergrowth—dense from a late monsoon spurt—or dodging overhanging webs of the golden orb-weaver, or trailing behind a line of excited tree lovers lugging the voluminous first edition of Jungle Trees of Central India, we were celebrating Satpura. I had landed at the lodge to revisit lessons on what wildlife safaris should be like. We followed author Pradip Kishen around and tried to find a spot in the right jeep with an articulate and/or sighting-lucky naturalist.

It was the summer of 2008 when I first realised that a jungle safari was not just about chasing the big cats. A fairly new wildlife enthusiast then, I was quite convinced that if I did not see a tiger or two during the rather regulated morning and evening safaris, my expedition into the forest would amount to nothing. Evenings at the bar were dreaded when “Kuch dikha kya? (Did you see anything?)” led to competitive discussions on who spotted a tiger, how many of them, and for how long, and who got the best shot. Then, Satpura happened. Sometime during exploring the young forests with enthusiastic naturalists, who were still decoding the way to hold people’s interests in a landscape that yielded sightings of gaurs and flying squirrels, and discovering the jungle in ways other than on a 4X4, my perception of a wildlife safari changed forever.

Buffer-zone safaris in Satpura take you inside the forest at sunset and should be included in every safari itinerary. On my last visit, in early December 2019, the highlight was beholding a handsome male leopard walking on the same track as us, as we trailed behind him at a discreet distance. For all my excitement—this was my first comprehensive sighting of the big cat—he didn’t seem to care much for the humans gaping at him from four jeeps. Looking into the wide amber eyes of a rusty-spotted cat, identifying several moths, and spotting a couple of barn owls made up the rest of the exploration of the Parsapani buffer forest.

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