Beach, Mountains Or Forest?
Until a few days ago, all my vacation plans would revolve around the hills or sometimes the beaches. Never had I ever thought of the forest as an option. But that changed and how.
I went on a jungle safari to Bandhavgarh in Madhya Pradesh with Taj Safaris, and it is hands down one of the best memories of my life. To know why keep scrolling.
A 2-hour flight from Mumbai to Jabalpur and a somewhat tiring 4-hour long drive from there to Bandhavgarh, and we reached our destination. The sun had set by then but even in the dim orange flames from the mashaals and the lights, I could easily say that this property could give people tears of joy.
Mahua Kothi by Taj is a huge property of around 40 acres, with 12 mud cottages, each with a private courtyard. The lodge also has facilities like a library, swimming pool, lounge area and a gorgeous dinner setting under the trees.
As soon as I stepped inside my room, the words ‘welcome home’ embraced me and I knew this was going to be a wonderful stay. Divided into two sections, the room was a luxurious treat. If it was up to me, I would have stayed there forever. No kidding.
An orientation with the naturalists, Karun, Varun and Harsh and a lovely dinner of simple food later, we called it a day.
Tucked in the white blankets and a few insects for company, for the first time in my life I was excited to get up at 4 am to venture out into the forest. To spot the national animal, the Royal Bengal Tiger.
The call of the birds and the tunes of the little bugs woke me up at the crack of dawn and though sleepy, the thought of the adventure ahead made me rush to the jeep, with my shoes on and my glares flying off my face.
Also read: Dress Up For A Jungle Safari Like A Pro!
It was four of us in the jeep with our naturalist, Harsh (who was kind of cute) and a local guide. Now, the naturalists have immense knowledge about everything even remotely related to the forest but they take a local with them on the game drive just to give them an employment opportunity. When the forest was declared as a national park, the locals had nowhere to go and hence this rule was made.
A quick 15-minute drive to the gates, we started our journey amongst the trees, birds, animals and the grasslands.
Soon we spotted deers, langoors, various kinds of birds (most of who were trying to impress their female counterparts) and learnt a thing or two about the tropical forest that Bandhavgarh is. Only about 20% of the whole jungle is open to tourism. There is a fort in the centre of the forest with a temple that is open only on Ram Navmi, when the villagers trek to perform their rituals, otherwise, it is out of bounds.
Every now and then, Harsh would look for fresh paw marks and ask the driver to turn the jeep in the direction from where he would hear the alarm calls. Yes, I know the alarm call of a peacock, monkey and deer quite clearly.
My Adventure Continues…
And then, we drove to a point where we saw the cub of a tiger sleeping peacefully. Oh, what a sight. The cub was around 18 months old and was taking a nap. While we were staring at the beauty in front of us, literally out of nowhere, the mother walks up. Spotty (yup, that is her name) looked at her cub and walked straight past, crossed the road and went to the other side of the jungle to sleep. Apparently, there were two other cubs and she just wanted some peace away from the kids. I guess, our mothers know that feeling, right?
Content and utterly shocked, we made our way to have a delicious breakfast at a common spot in the forest. Cookies, rolls, coffee/tea, muffins, sandwiches were brought out, neatly wrapped by our enthusiastic naturalists and all of us hogged on them like we had been starved for days.
After another drive, we made our way back with the same energy. Surprisingly I wasn’t tired at all, even after sitting in the same spot on the jeep, that by the way is a real bumpy ride. And the answer to that was the gorgeous forest, the fresh air and the amazing hosts, that the folks at Taj were.
Later, in the evening my fellow companions and I were taken on a village drive. Drove past the huts and cottages and oh, learnt about the famous Mahua tree. It is found everywhere (of course) on the property and the locals make an intoxicating drink out of the leaves, which is a hit there. I couldn’t get a taste of it this time but hopefully next time, I will be lucky.
And just as we were heading back, the naturalists took us to a spot that they call the fox’ den, to see if we can sight any. All pumped up and with our cameras out we rushed to the hill, only to find a surprise. A lovely picnic table set with hot samosas, tea, cupcakes, fruits and more.
Everyone around me was all smiles and that’s when I realised how a little gesture goes a long, long way and Taj Safaris confirmed it in a stunning manner.
But, wait that’s not it. It was dinner time when we reached back at the lodge. And guess what, the dinner was set by the pool, surrounded by dim lights and a shelter of stars protecting us. I think, my heart skipped a beat in that moment and I closed my eyes, to take it all in.
Traditional MP thali was served with mutton curry, puri, aloo sabji, rice, pyaaz ki kheer, chaas, mutter and gaajar and so on. Candle lit dinner at its absolute best. Oh God, how will any other dinner match this standard now!?
Out & About!
The perfect day, a beautiful night, I slept like a baby and though, there are no locks on any of the doors of the cottages, just latches, the place felt like home and the people my own. I knew I was as safe as I will ever be.
Next morning, we went for a game drive again and this time with the mindset of just admiring the gorgeousness of the jungle. Soon after breakfast, we were packed to go on a 5 hour long road trip to Kanha, another national park.
More about it in the next post and if you thought this was amazing, you have to read the next one. It was kick ass.
As I bid goodbye to the chefs, the manager and the adorable naturalists. I felt a sense of emptiness take over me and I was already planning to go back. The whole staff stands in a line, saying bye with huge smiles plastered on their faces. Never felt this special ever.
For ₹36,000 a night (inclusive of all meals) it is a splurge but the hospitality is worth experiencing at least once in your life. The safari costs an extra ₹2,750 but again, good naturalists can make or break your 6 hours in the jungle and the ones at Taj will make you fall in love with them. Guaranteed.
Watch the video here!
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