Forests, National parks, Jungle whatever I may call them, they grew on me slowly. I remember visiting Dudhwa National Park when I was still in college. Later when I took to traveling, mountains have been my first refuge. In spite of living in such proximity to both Ranthambore and Sariska I have not visited them till date. It is bound to change now and here is why.
The Beauty of the Forest: The beauty of the forest is growing on me steadily. I am becoming a big fan of the national parks. There is so much greenery, clean air and beauty in them. The trees grow high and unplanned! Whenever our naturalists would decide to switch off the jeep engine I would be stunned by the silence that surrounded us. The silence would ring in my ears till a bird call, a running deer or something else broke it. Just being inside a jungle is great, everything else is a bonus. I felt this way early on, I always liked the jungle. However, till now I was not really conscious of it.
The Lodges: It is fun living in a lodge. Now a lodge in the middle of the jungle is going to be different than a five star hotel in the middle of the city. The supplies come from far away. Many a times electricity supply would be erratic. Hot water will take five minutes to come out of the tap, if there is hot water at all. Air conditioning may conk off in the summer but hey you were looking for the forest experience, right? That is how it is in the forest. Also the approach road to many national parks could be in a bad condition.
But the lodges are also good at giving you surprises. This time at Baghvan, a lodge run by Taj Safaris they organized the dinner under a giant tree. The whole place was lit by lanterns hanging from the tree. The stars were out in full force, as they come out only when they are away from the cities. It was a special dinner.
The Supporting Cast: I sighted a tiger after visiting 6 national parks. Before Pench I had been to Dudhwa, Rajaji National Park, Jim Corbett, Kanha, Panna and Bandhavgarh. I did not sight any tiger or even its vanishing tale. So why did I keep going? Because the jungle has a supporting cast as well and for me it is also beautiful. I was happy to watch deer, wild boars, the jackals, wild dogs, gaurs and the like. I will be honest, as I drew a blank in park after park my desire to spot a tiger became stronger. However, I also knew I could do nothing other than keep visiting the parks!
Birding: I like watching birds. I have met people who tell me they can’t tell one bird apart from other. Some say with their eyesight they can’t see half of the birds. I am lucky. I love bird watching and hence I never come disappointed from a jungle. I once had a guide at Gir who would start the safari asking, “Sher dekhoge ki chidiya?” (would you like to see a lion or a bird)? And he would not take both as an answer!
The Star: Big cats are the stars of the Indian jungle. However their sighting is not guaranteed in any way. But if they make an appearance it makes for a thrilling experience. The two blurred jeeps that you see in front of me had school children from Nagpur. I think it is a good idea to introduce them to the jungle when they are young. That way they would be much more aware of its importance and beauty. They may have a better approach towards preserving it.
There are people who say they prefer to see with their eyes and not a lens. I wish I was one of them but I am firmly not. I actually saw a male tiger in the evening safari the tigress sighting in the morning. He was sitting near the road. There were two jeeps on the road, trying to reverse and go forward to get a better view. By this time my camera had jammed. One of my jeep mates from Mumbai offered me his camera though . I tried clicking but I got the tiger with its face covered by leaves. Then the tiger got up and walked away, he had enough of human beings. I saw its splendor clearly with my eyes for a few seconds. How I wish I could get it on the camera as well. I wonder if I will ever change?
The star cast may appear or not, but for me the forest has an appeal which is much wider. I think there are going to be much more forest trips in the future for me.