The year 2020 has been a crazy one; all of us got a large dose of being caged into our own homes, social distancing, and the urge to get out and see new things has been insatiable. As the country slowly opens up, this is the perfect time for us to explore domestic destinations that are less travelled, secluded and surround ourselves with the fresh, crisp, clean air that can only be found where the trees abound, the sky is clear, and the landscape takes your breath away also maintaining social distancing.
As we ease ourselves into this new normal post-COVID and Social Distancing world, the truth is that we all want to be as safe as possible even on our way to get to the place that we want to go to. Going back to the old memories, road trips are the rage all over again. This August, we drove up to Satpura ourselves from Bangalore, and it was amazing! Suddenly there are fewer cars on the road, and because of the lack of wear and tear or because of maintenance, the roads themselves appear to be in better shape than earlier, and longer journeys are enjoyable.
Satpura is a beautiful place right in the heart of India, these hills stretch across the south of Madhya Pradesh as a series of fold mountains, that support an incredible diversity of flora and fauna. Situated about 6 hours from Indore, 4 hours from Bhopal, and 6 hours from Nagpur it is a perfect long drive filled with patches of forest areas, verdant fields, interesting scrubland, and quaint villages. You may come across the occasional blackbuck herd crossing the road or see some Sarus Cranes on the way from Hoshangabad to Satpura. Close to Bhopal, the Bhimbetka rock shelters boast some of the earliest Rock paintings made in the world and are definitely worth a pitstop if you enjoy history or art. Some of the other cities one can drive from or onwards to, are Jabalpur, which is a 6-hour drive and has the beautiful Marble rocks and waterfalls at Bheda Ghat.
Coming from Delhi, you can break your journey in Gwalior, with its wonderful Fort and old world historical charm, a quick detour from here can take you to Chanderi or Orchha. Hyderabad is a long journey of about 16 hours according to Google, but we have done it in about 12 hours; this journey can be broken at Nagpur or even the nearby Pench Tiger Reserve on the way to Satpura. If you are travelling from Mumbai, Pune or Nashik, your road trip can have a pitstop at the city of Maheshwar, with the beautiful Narmada ghats, the Ahilya Bai fort and the well known Ahilya Bai temple. An hour away from Maheshwar is the fort city of Mandu, famous for the beautiful Afghan architecture.
Satpura Tiger Reserve is an amalgamation of the Pachmarhi Wildlife sanctuary, Satpura national park and the Bori Wildlife Sanctuary, making this the largest Tiger reserve in Madhya Pradesh. Bori is one of the oldest reserves created in India, captain James Forsyth, of the Bengal Lancers of the British Army, combed this area in search for the elusive freedom fighter Tatya Tope on horseback and discovered the beauty of this region. The incredible sandstone cliffs, the gurgling rivulets, the calm and still backwaters of the river Denwa, the undulating hills, the amazingly diverse forest types that range from semi-evergreen to dry deciduous; this diverse and inclusive landscape is ideal for a diverse range of flora and fauna and is a haven to many endemic species.
“These beautiful hills boast of both Himalayan and Western ghat species, as well as the quintessential Central Indian wildlife. Each season offers different sighting opportunities in Satpura, winter is a great time to see wildlife against the lush green background of the forest, whereas Summer offers better photographic opportunities with the land clear of the underbrush and the forest having shed most of the leaves.”
The wonderful thing about the ‘Satpura model of tourism’ is the very raw and natural way you can explore the jungle. Boating or canoeing along the river Denwa, both upstream and downstream is an amazing experience and gives you a completely different perspective of the forest. When you think of Indian Jungles, everyone will imagine Jeep safaris and Tigers. Satpura couldn’t be more different from that perception. This Tiger Reserve started tourism with Hashim Tayabji, a naturalist leading walks into the core area, this old school way of exploring the forest remains an option for tourists. Trust me when I say that walking or hiking in the Satpura landscape with just a few other people, your guide and naturalist, will remind you of the stories written by Corbett or Anderson and their thrilling forest experiences. Cycling in the buffer, walking in the core area, Camping along the river banks, boating and canoeing are things that you can probably never experience together in one place, especially a Tiger Reserve in Central India! This, combined with the personalised and curated nature of your experience, either if you are a first-timer or a well-travelled wildlife enthusiast, is what makes this park a unique and wonderful experience.
This park has stayed off the radar and has maintained its social distancing from most tourist itineraries and hence is still relatively untouched or socially distancing from the world. Unlike the other Tiger reserves in Madhya Pradesh, this one only has about 18 Jeeps that enter the core zone. You are among the few fortunate who have gotten the chance to explore this jewel of a forest. The guides here have trained hand in hand with the naturalists at Forsyth Lodge and are very knowledgeable not only about the bigger mammals but also about insects, birds, herbs, and trees of the area. Leopards roam free here in the undulating hills, the bears sniff out their tiny, but mighty meals of termites, and wild dogs play unhindered. This land of abundance offers an experience that will leave you amazed at the intricate relationships in nature and spellbound by the beauty of the landscape.
A hundred and fifty years ago in the 1850s, Captain James Forsyth discovered Pachmarhi following a path that is now known as the Forsyth trail. You can still walk in his footsteps and be awed by the same natural beauty that captivated him. Hiking and camping on this same path that showed him the rugged ravines and lush forests of Satpura; just like him, you will also be captivated by the stunning untouched beauty of this place.
The Forsyth Trail gives you a chance to witness rare and endemic species of butterflies, birds and plants. Navigating boulders and forest floors teeming with unique species of insects, you cross gushing streams, soak in the serene vistas and get a chance to interact with the Biharis, a tribe indigenous to the valley, known for their ancient art of healing.
All in all Satpura Tiger Reserve is one of the few places in India that can give you a glimpse into times gone by, when people roamed the forests and lived alongside wildlife, in complete harmony with nature. Driving here in itself is a beautiful experience, but once you get here I’m sure you wouldn’t want to drive away, I didn’t! If it is a well-rounded, unique, personalized yet safe forest experience that keeps the social distancing that you are looking for, Satpura is the perfect place for you!
Saee Gundawar is a Naturalist at Forsyth Lodge, Satpura who loves to take you into the heart of the wilderness and show you nature, in all the glory. For more information, contact https://forsythlodge.com