Forsyth Trail – A Hike through Satpura’s Core Tiger Zone (Part 1)

Rhythmic gurgle – a sound that my mind associates with struggle. I heard the rhythmic gurgling of the waters that seemed to wrestle with a multitude of obstacles on their way. I could see no sign of water, but the sound was conspicuous. “We’ll find her”, my guide assured me, almost reading my mind. He handed me the steel flask which clanged against the carabiner fastened to his rucksack. I gulped copious amounts of water, hoping it wouldn’t be my last drink. We were in the middle of the core zone of Satpura’s Tiger Reserve, and I could hear my heart beat over the loud gushing of the Denwa River.

The enchanting wilderness of Satpura

The enchanting wilderness of Satpura

Don’t startle a tiger, they say, and he won’t startle you. I wonder how a human keeps himself from startling a tiger, especially in a forest where humans have no business loitering! The more silence I was trying to create, the noisier I seemed to be. Dry sal leaves cheekily crushed themselves under my trekking shoes. I couldn’t blame the dead for failing to realize the value of life! The men in our small group broke into a boisterous laughter over a silly joke somebody had cracked. Did they really think they were invincible in a jungle full of tigers? The constant rustle of leaves from the towering sal trees convinced me that it was useless to be on my guard. If I indeed was meant to die at the hands (paws, rather) of a tiger, there was nothing I could do to prevent it. Resignation writ on my forehead, I trod on…

Dwarfed by the tall sal trees

Dwarfed by the tall sal trees

Walking through the woods

Rocky was here”, Chinmay – our naturalist, announced suddenly, referring to a tiger. He was pointing at an Arjun tree with a deep gash on its bark. I saw the perfect “R” in bold orange against the off white trunk which the wild cat had marked. I couldn’t help imagining how it would feel to be scratched by Rocky quite the same way. Would I then be as famous as Harry Potter because of my scar?

We were retracing the path taken by Captain James Forsyth, an explorer who served in the Indian Army in the late 19th century – while we were still under British rule. The more I walked, the more I realized that this was less about tigers and more about the other secrets of a forest. We came across ornate shells that clung to the rugged bark of a gum tree. The shell was actually the egg of the gum-tree-shield bug. How beautifully the mother protects her unborn!

Insects know the art of taking life just as well as that of giving life. I could confirm this when I saw a colony of termites methodically murdering a tree. Life and death scenes apart, Satpura showed us riveting patterns on the barks of distinct trees. I clearly remember what I now call the alligator-tree – Indian ebony with its bark designed to look like alligator hide.

Picnic in the forest

After a few hours of walking in the wild, our elaborate lunch was served under the shade of Arjun trees. The kitchen staff had prepared a fresh, hot spread of roasted cauliflower with potatoes and beans dressed in masala, phulkas, steamed rice, a thick gravy of lentil, and fruits for dessert. We cooled our heels by the stream, sipping on some coffee before beginning the next part of our walking safari.

Filling up some fuel for the walk that still remains

Filling up some fuel for the walk that still remains

After lunch, our terrain transformed from brown, flat earth to white, uneven pebbles. I could not feel the afternoon heat under the canopy of lime and savage green leaves. To my naïve eyes, this part of Madhya Pradesh appeared to be a rainforest.

A path full of pebbles, a roof of green

A path full of pebbles, a roof of green

Carnivores and herbivores

We did not stop running into interesting forest finds though! My botanist grandad would be proud of me to know how many plants we spotted. I particularly remember drosera – the carnivorous beauty that knows how to attract unsuspecting insects with its bright red colours, and then trap them on its sticky surface. Drosera, also known as sundew, can cure respiratory diseases. I should have gobbled fistfuls of that flower to get rid of my asthma!

In all my excitement, I almost forgot to be afraid of the crouching tiger. This is precisely when we spotted tiger pug-marks on our route. Soon after, we saw some animal scat. “That belongs to a herd of nilgai”, Chinmay informed us. “Pooping is a group activity for them.” It is amusing how poop can be so important in tracking animals. You can tell how far the beast is, what he has eaten, if he is diseased, just by studying his excrement.

Campsite in the core tiger zone

As the evening wore on, we drew closer to our campsite. The Pugdundee Safaris team was already waiting for us when crossed our final river to the elegantly set up tents. It would be an understatement to say the backdrop was stunning. We had a solid chunk of the Sahyadris looking over us, and columns of mahua trees to cordon off the rest of the forest. We were going to sleep in the core zone of the Satpura National Park! I was thrilled and hoped we’d encounter at least a leopard at night.

Our safari tents at the foot of the hills

Our safari tents at the foot of the hills

Luxury camping with creature comforts

This was my first glamping experience, and even though I love camping without frills, I thoroughly relished the luxury that was laid out before us. I was smack in the middle of nature, yet shielded from the unsavoury bits (I only mean insects). There was hot water in the wash basin in front my tent, private WC and even shower! The lever-operated shower bags were easily the most jaw-dropping piece of creature-comfort I’ve seen at a campsite. Weary from the long trek, my pleasure at being able to shower under the stars was immeasurable. In a  cloth-covered bathroom with nothing but the night sky for roof, I discovered what opulence truly was. I wouldn’t trade this for all the bathtubs at 5-star properties!

Campfire to warm the heart

We had joked all through the day, but it was at night when the serious conversations began. I cannot say whether it was the 22-year old Glenlivet or the chilly weather or the star-spangled sky or the enchantment of the wilderness, or simply, everything together, but we started talking about our lives, our sorrows, and the meaning of ‘love’. It is when your your trekking group is a close-knit one that you can talk into the night until there is no more wood to keep the fire going. (Okay, you can never run out of wood in a forest, especially when  you are glamour-camping. But it will kill the magic if I tell you Manav, Pugdundee’s co-founder, wouldn’t let us stay up any longer, because we had an early morning start for next day’s hike.)

Camaraderie by the campfire

Camaraderie by the campfire

I had planned on telling you the entire story in one blog post itself. However, my trip was so epic, that I had to keep the best bits saved for the sequel! 😉 My best moments from this walking safari was listening to the sounds of nature. I’m glad I did not have my earphones on (a bad habit I’ve picked up from the marathons I’ve been running).

 

The joy of doing nothing

The joy of doing nothing (Picture credit: Prabhat Verma)

For more pictures, follow my daily micro blogs on Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/oindrilade/.

You can also find inspiration from my Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/OindrilaGoesFootloose/.

I am on Twitter too! 🙂 https://twitter.com/OindrilaDe.

Have you ever tried glamping? Let me know of your experiences in the comments below!

Disclosure: I was hosted by Pugdundee Safaris. However, all views are entirely my own.

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Top 5 Cricket World Cup Destinations

With the ICC Cricket World Cup in full swing, I have decided to bring you my specially curated travel-list for the cricket-lover in you! From the first World Cup in 1975 to the one that you’re watching on your big screens right now, cricket has taken us across 16 beautiful nations, spanning 4 continents. While most will be engrossed in the game, there are many of us who yearn to go beyond the stadium and explore the wondrous sights each host country has to offer. Let’s set the ball rolling!

1. United Kingdom (England, Scotland and Wales)

The World Cup tradition began in England, and this country hosted the first three World Cups until India and Pakistan ended the hat-trick. Once you are done gaping in awe at the Lord’s Cricket Ground, you must grab a seat on one of the 32 capsules of the London Eye. You will get a bird’s eye view of over 55 famous landmarks of London while the giant wheels takes 30 minutes to complete a round. Don’t forget to take some selfies on the London Bridge – one of the seven wonders of the world! Then, as the Big Ben strikes six, head on over to Madam Tussaud’s and marvel at the lifelike wax statues of celebrities from all over the world. If you have more time, don’t forget to visit the Buckingham Palace and several state-of-the-art museums.

Scotland is a country straight out of a fairytale! Home to the magnificent castle of Edinburgh and the haunted waters of Loch Ness. (Remember the sea monster, Nessie?) Explore Skara Brae, a stone-age village, and ruins of imposing castles and brochs. The beaches and hills are sure to take your breath away!

Wales, not unlike Scotland, has scores of alluring castles. But the prettiest attraction here is surely Snowdonia – a visually appealing national park. You might also want to take a look at Sygun Copper Mine and National Slate Museum.

2. India

Source: maharajas-express-india.com

Source: maharajas-express-india.com

India has hosted the World Cups thrice so far, and it arguably has the highest number of cricket fans in the world. My country is one of the most diverse, both in terms of terrain and culture. You can enjoy the snow in Gulmarg, up North, or laze inside a boathouse in the backwaters of Kerala, down South. India has the mighty Thar desert, the holy land of Gaya, the crazy party-scene in Goa, the beautiful Taj Mahal and the beguiling Sundarbans all in between. Your experiences in India will be as unique and colourful as its people and cuisines!

3. Australasia (Australia and New Zealand)

Source: bonfireexpeditions.com

Source: bonfireexpeditions.com

The largest country in Australasia, Oz is a spectacle of natural and man-made beauty. The Great Barrier Reef, the 12 Apostles, the Blue Mountains and clear beaches are nature’s gift to the Aussies. By the same token, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House, the Eureka Tower and the Great Ocean Road are gifts from the Aussies to the rest of the world. As Australia hosts various matches for this season, let’s hope India lifts the cup again!

Source: placestoseeinyourlifetime.com

Source: placestoseeinyourlifetime.com

Kiwiland is co-hosting this year, and it’s a wonderful excuse to explore its two islands. If you’re an LOTR fan, hop over to Hobbiton and feel like a hobbit yourself! NZ gives you plenty of chances to interact with its indigenous Maori people and taste their scrumptious food. After a long match, relax at one of the hot springs. New Zealand is chock a block with volcanoes and the natural geysers and hot springs come as no surprise. The beauty of it all will surprise you though! 😉

4. The Netherlands

Source: travel.nationalgeographic.com

Source: travel.nationalgeographic.com

Holland is a small European country that has only co-hosted the World Cup once, but it packs quite a punch! The land of windmills has enough to keep you here for several days. Its charming streets are best explored on a rented bicycle and its canals, best crossed in a gondola. The Netherlands is steeped in history. From Anne Frank’s House to Rijksmuseum, there’s so much to see! Holland is also famous for its liberal laws on weed. One can order “magic mushrooms” and “space cakes” in restaurants! The best thing about “NE” of BENELUX is that it’s a part of the Schengen region, and a Schengen visa gives you the power to travel through most of Europe! 😀

5. Kenya

Source: animalorphanagekenya.org

Source: animalorphanagekenya.org

Africa’s lesser known cricket destination is a magical country which is true to its roots. The Kenyan cricket team may not have been able to beat South Africa too many times, but Kenya sure beat it to make it to my travel-list for this year! This West African country is the abode of a mind-boggling variety of wild animals and birds. Maasai Mara is a global-favourite when it comes to observing animals in their natural habitat. Animal-watching does not have to be all about roughing it out. You can opt for elegant luxury tents and try “glamping” (glamorous camping) if your budget allows it.

Do you ever plan a trip around cricket matches? Have you been to any of the destinations on my top-5? Let me hear your stories in the comments below!

This blog is part of the Blogger Dream Team.

Must Go to Melbourne!

It is still 2014, and I’m already dreaming about the places I want to visit in 2015. I made dozens of wishlists of things I want to try and food I want to gorge on. But I threw those lists out of the window when somebody told me I could do it all in one place! Last month, my friend from Melbourne flew down to Mumbai and he couldn’t stop telling me about all the lovely things one can find in Victoria. He flew back to Australia but left me dreaming about that city down under…

Breathtaking Drive on the Great Ocean Road

That magnificent stretch of silver is surrounded by pure gold – the golden sun above, the golden reflection of the sunny skies on the Pacific Ocean, and the Twelve Apostles jutting out of the waters from a golden era! What wouldn’t I give to go on a long, long drive with my best buddies (a la ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’! 😉 )

Top Secret: The 12 Apostles change colours at sunrise and sunset! Those rock statues sure know how to rock! 😀

Squeal at the Seals or Point at the Penguins

Source: visitmelbourne.com/Regions/Phillip-Island

Source: visitmelbourne.com/Regions/Phillip-Island

Now, there are some birds and animals you don’t get to see everywhere. When in Victoria, make the best use of the opportunity and head to Phillip Island! If you go on a boat cruise, you’ll get to wave your hands at the slippery seals barking from the rocks. And once you’re on the Island, you’ll witness the wondrous sight of thousands of little penguins wading across the sand to head to their burrows on Summerland Beach! (Yes, you don’t always need snow to spot penguins! 😉 ) While we’re on the topic of wildlife, let’s not forget koalas! These cuddly furballs are only found on this continent. You can take a peek at their joeys in their pouches at koala conservation centres or treetop boardwalks that let you watch the playful marsupials scurry along trees and bushes.

Slurp some Chocolate or Swirl some Wine

Source: visitmelbourne.com/regions/Phillip-Island/Things-to-do/Food-and-wine/Local-produce/Pannys-Phillip-Island-Chocolate-Factory.aspx

Source: visitmelbourne.com/regions/Phillip-Island/Things-to-do/Food-and-wine/Local-produce/Pannys-Phillip-Island-Chocolate-Factory.aspx

If you are on Phillip Island, you might as well drop in at Panny’s Chocolate Factory and feel like Charlie from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. If the brown elixir is not your cup of tea, head to The Coffee Collective for your shot of caffeine in this coffee capital of Australia! For wine lovers like me, Melbourne has acres and acres of lush vineyards and a whopping 850 wineries! The cool climate and fertile lands of Victoria make it one of the best places to produce fine quality wines. Take a tour of a winery and indulge in some wine tasting with a sommelier.

Fly Over the Yarra Valley

Source: visitmelbourne.com/Regions/Yarra-Valley-and-Dandenong-Ranges

Source: visitmelbourne.com/Regions/Yarra-Valley-and-Dandenong-Ranges

Touring this beautiful wine region shouldn’t all be about walking. One can zip through the estates on a Segway, or even better – float in the air on a hot air balloon! The best thing about the ballooning experience is that you get to test your own balloon and watch how the hydrogen-filled giant is propped up. Yarra Valley has an ideal terroir. The harvests produce the country’s best wines with fruity notes. And, there’s always grape-stomping for the teetotallers! 😉

Pick Your Own Strawberries and Relish them with Cheese

Source: visitmelbourne.com/regions/Gippsland/Things-to-do/Food-and-wine/Local-produce/Prom-Country-Cheese.aspx

Source: visitmelbourne.com/regions/Gippsland/Things-to-do/Food-and-wine/Local-produce/Prom-Country-Cheese.aspx

For the ultimate “farm-to-plate” experience, spend a day at the Sunny Ridge Strawberry Farm which is open from November to April. They’ll let you pick strawberries straight off the ground! You can either eat them on their own or try some exotic strawberry liqueurs and jams. Melbourne also produces some interesting artisanal cheeses. You might want to try the deliciously creamy sheep-cheese varieties! However, if your are on a budget and wish to try everything under the Victorian sun, catch a tram to the Queen Victoria Market. It is the largest open air market in the Southern Hemisphere and sees footfalls of over 10 million a year!

Melbourne is not called cosmopolitan for nothing! You will find almost every cuisine you crave for. Cafes and restaurants dot this megacity where fresh organic produces are in demand. You cannot visit Australia and not try barbecued dishes or craft beers! Microbreweries and streetfood are insanely popular with the local crowd here. And the variety you can have is mindblowing! There’s Greek souvlaki and Indian samosas in the same block sometimes! 😀

Relax in a Thermal Pool

Source: visitmelbourne.com/regions/Mornington-Peninsula/Things-to-do/Spa-and-wellbeing/Peninsula-Hot-Springs.aspx

Source: visitmelbourne.com/regions/Mornington-Peninsula/Things-to-do/Spa-and-wellbeing/Peninsula-Hot-Springs.aspx

Too much travel can tire me out. This is why I shall pre-book a session at the Peninsula Hot Springs and let my body and soul unwind with a mud wrap and hot stone treatment. The natural spas in this region have therapeutic properties in their minerals. After I’m rejuvenated, I shall get back to more activities in Melbourne! 🙂

Gawk at Artsy Streets

Melbourne is very progressive when it comes to street art. This is so liberating for budding artists and expressionists! Hosier Lane and a few others are dedicated to creative and edgy street art. One can lose oneself in this maze-like place full of messages displayed through spray-paintings. Even the street-name is a work of graffiti!

And Do A Million Other Things…

Source: visitmelbourne.com/regions/Melbourne/Things-to-do/Tours/Sports-tours/Melbourne-Cricket-Ground.aspx

Source: visitmelbourne.com/regions/Melbourne/Things-to-do/Tours/Sports-tours/Melbourne-Cricket-Ground.aspx

Melbourne cannot be seen in a day. Not even in a week. And no, even a month won’t suffice! This multicultural city has SO MANY SURPRISES that you will want to move here permanently for a couple of years to truly enjoy the spirit of this place. There’s something for every kind of traveller. The budget tourist can take the hop-on-hop-off City Circle tram which is free! The well heeled can book a helicopter ride over the Southern Ocean to watch the 12 apostles from the sky. The sports enthusiast will find the Aussie Open, the ICC World Cup and many other matches to keep her busy. The History buff can take the Gold Mine Tour at Sovereign Hill, and the architecture-phile can awe in wonder at the sweeping arches and towering skyscrapers. Even little kids can let their feet hang out of a window on the Puffing Billy! 🙂 It’s hardly a surprise then that Melbourne has been titled the “most livable city in the world”! You wouldn’t just live here, you would THRIVE!!!

When I woke up from my daydream, I was so amazed with the variety of activities I could take part in that I decided to pull my friends into this dream too. Without re-creating any scenes from Inception (the movie), I simply asked them a few questions:-

I set the ball rolling on Twitter

I set the ball rolling on Twitter

My tweet got my followers dreaming on Twitterland! 😉 And I picked out some replies for you to see:-

Picture5 Picture3 Picture10

Surfing was something even I did not think of! And even though I’m not a big fan of cricket, I love stadium tours. This virtual interaction taught me I could dream better if I spread the dream to more spheres. So I threw the same questions to my fans on my Facebook page:-

The excitement spread to Facebook! :-)

The excitement spread to Facebook! 🙂

The number of replies I received did not even fit into a screenshot! 😀 See how community dreaming is better than fantasizing on your own? I don’t want to leave my WordPress followers out of the excitement, so I have a special New Year Contest for all of you!!! 🙂

All you have to do is answer the following question and send in your replies as comments to this post:-

Which of these places would you want to visit in Melbourne and why?

(Psst… You can reread this article to make a decision. 😉 ) The most creative reply will win a shopping voucher worth Rs.500! (Yay!! 😀 ) Send in your entries by 5th Jan, 2015.