When we reached Kanha National Park on April 23, we first stayed two nights at the Muba Resort.  It’s a cool place in the buffer zone of the forest. Very hospitable and friendly staff and since we were the sole occupants it was fun! An entire group had just checked out so the staff was a little relaxed and friendly. They have TT and snooker tables, and a badminton court of sorts. And, thankfully, no TV sets in the rooms.

The tiger in Pench. Clicked by junior.

The tiger in Pench. Clicked by junior.

We entered the Park through the Mukki Gate. This was where we met our ‘sleepy joe’ guide Santosh. In four of the five allotted hours – we left an hour early in sheer disgust – the guide didn’t really do what he was being paid to do and made our driver look for any tell-tale signs of the big cats, while he nodded off frequently in the rear of the jeep! He was the first to grab his food when we stopped for refreshments and then disappeared. He insisted we look at a baby python, which he heard about from a fellow guide. Incidentally he missed the reptile even though it was lying in the open as we drove past it! My wife told him coldly that she was used to them as they were a common sight in her hometown in Bihar. But he was adamant. We were told later that other tourists had also complained about the guy but the Madhya Pradesh Tourism officials refused to act against him. I was told that he also showed up under the influence of liquor on occasion and is supposed to have joked to some that the reason he wore dark glasses was to ensure tourists did not catch him nodding off.  Except for the day at Muba, this part of the Kanha trip was a let-down. Also,  there had been a thunderstorm on the previous day and the animals had relocated to safer climes.

The deer and the fawn

The deer and the fawn

From there we moved to the expensive Bagheera Log Huts in the Kisli zone of the same Park for the next two days. I am told that by this yearend they are moving this resort out, since environmentalists feel human habitation in the core zone disturbs the animals. Till then, enjoy the sight of deer, fox and other animals loitering outside your room! Also while you sit outside your rooms enjoying the breeze, listen to the monkeys and deer warning of danger lurking in the vicinity.  Apart from that, the food and service is average and the breakfast they give tourists for the safari is rubbish. The two safaris we took were also disappointing in terms of the fact that we didn’t spot any tigers even though they were in the vicinity. We did spot quite a few interesting birds, of the feathered kind and clicked a deer feeding the fawn right in the middle of the track.

The night before (April 27) we left Kanha we calculated the distance between Kanha and Pune, as estimated it to be around 800 kms. It was a gross miscalculation. When we left Kanha at 6 am on Saturday morning we thought of stopping for the night near Aurangabad because we knew we would be there around 6 pm and we could cover the rest of the 200-odd kms to Pune the next day.  We knew we would be able to maintain just a 35-45 kmph speeds. We finally reached Aurangabad at 8.45 pm and after getting some dinner packed we debated whether we should stay the night there or move on. However, the excitement of getting back home spurred us on. Unfortunately it took us an hour to get out of Aurangabad because everyone there, it seems, had decided to get their children married on that Saturday, so all the roads were blocked! We also missed a turn and ended up again on the road to Jalna!

At around 10.45 pm we stopped at a food mall about 50 kms outside Aurangabad, to get a coffee. I was chatting with one of the staffers and he said I would reach Pune by 2 am. I think that’s when I felt wave of exhaustion come over me! I had been behind the wheel for close to 17 hours and the thought of driving another three hours, made me feel even more exhausted! My wife asked me if I could drive up to Ahmednagar, and immediately went online on her mobile and checked up about hotels there. She called Yash Palace Hotel and booked a room. There were occasions when I thought the dividers had disappeared and would brake suddenly because I thought there was a vehicle in my lane! Strangely, by the time we reached Ahmednagar at around 11.30 pm I felt better and by the time we checked-in while I was exhausted the wooziness had completely disappeared. I guess, in retrospect it was a wise decision to stop for the night. When we reached home early morning on the next day on Sunday, April 28, we had covered 3187 kms from April 14-28.

Most of the roads we drove on in both states were okay except a few. The roads in Nagpur were wide and well maintained. The city is charming and I am wondering why our city planners can’t do something about the mess that is Pune. The stretch after Nagpur up to the Madhya Pradesh border en route to Pench is a mess. Once we entered MP from Nagpur en route to Jabalpur, the road was a revelation – four-lane most of the way and superbly made. The only disturbing factor was that at various points suddenly the four-lane became two-lane because the NHAI had still not got total clearance from the environment ministry! And to make matters worse there are rumblers at these points and no indicators to warn motorists. At night, especially if it rains, it could be disastrous. So watch out.

The second terrible stretch is of 120 km from Balaghat to Baihar en route to Kanha. Attempt it only if it’s the last option. We were guided there so didn’t realise it till we were in the middle of it. There is no road, just huge craters for almost 60 kms (most of them on the ghats) on which you can only travel at speeds of 10-20 kms per hour. Anything faster and you risk serious damage to your vehicle and yourself. There are other better routes from Seoni or Mandla.

It was an interesting fortnight without any newspapers, news channels or even access to mobiles except on occasions. In Jabalpur, where we stayed with relatives of my wife I spent three days doing absolutely nothing and the folks were really quite understanding. We did go to the famous India Coffee House but besides that did nothing else. At Pench and Kanha, apart from the odd safari, the rest of the days were spent doing nothing. I should do this more often…but now back to the grind!

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Comments
  1. Apurva Bahadur says:

    Great travelogue. Many thanks. Apurva

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