If you are looking for luxury you are going to love the Taj Safaris lodges. I have now stayed at two of them, Banjar Tola and Bahgvan. They have two more at Panna and Bandhavgarh. Taj Safaris has a tie up African firm &Beyond. Together they create sheer magic. When I visited Banjar Tola I said it and I will say it again after coming back from Baghvan- Taj is beyond luxury. Luxury can be copied but it is the warmth of its employees that completely sets it apart. Both my trips have been on invitation.
Baghvan has 12 cottages. When I asked them if they are identical I was told in features yes but not otherwise as each cottage had to be built according to the space available for it. My cottage (#9) was smack in the middle of trees. In spite of having a beautiful room I spent far too much time outdoors. My cottage (and all other too) had a machan attached to it. It was my favorite haunt.
There was a divan placed in the center of the machan that the good folks at Baghvan can convert into a bed with curtains drawn. I gave it a try on my last night. But as I had an early morning flight from Nagpur I had a wake up call at 2.15 am. I could not settle on the machan and went back to sleep in my cozy room.
As you can see the room was beautifully done. I liked the Ganesha made out of towels. I removed it carefully to a chair. The next morning after I left for the safari, the staff shifted it to the windowsill. I think the only waking hours I spent the room were for drinking tea that came with the morning wake up call! Otherwise as soon as I would have some time I would run to the machan!
Now the bathroom was another story. The luggage area was in the large bathroom. There were two showers, one indoor and another outdoor. A staff from the lodge was comparing it with Banjar Tola and lamenting the fact that they have a bathtub where as Bhagvan doesn’t. I thought it is better to be without a bathtub inside the jungle. I didn’t mind it one bit. I had the outdoor shower. Now I have been lucky to stand beneath a waterfall but it was another kind of fun to stand beneath a shower outdoors with hot water to boot.
To give you a better idea about Baghvan, I captured a video. It is a cell phone video but you can still see how beautiful the place is!
Baghvan by Taj Safaris at Pench National Park, Madhya Pradesh
The only thing I have not mentioned till now is food. Do remember that all the supplies have to be sourced either from far away places like Mumbai or locally. If you like fresh food you would love the stuff they make from their own garden. Both at Baghvan and Banjar Tola they believe in feeding you till you start bursting at seams.
If you are looking for luxury in your jungle lodges look no further than Taj Safaris.
For this one post I am going to turn into a show off and you have to bear with me. You see, I waited across six national parks to sight a tiger/tigress. I have been to Dudhwa, Rajaji National Park, Jim Corbett, Kanha, Panna and Bandhavgarh before. Initially I was patient. I knew tigers can’t be produced at will. Jim Corbett was a college trip. After the safari one of my students came running and showed me a video footage. I said to him in disbelief that he downloaded it from Youtube. He told me in earnest that he saw the tiger. Then came other students with pictures and videos. They saw it in the same area as we were, where as I did not. That is how lucky I was with tigers, but lions were a different story. The same was the case with Kanha. Others saw it, I did not.
So when I was invited by Taj Safaris to visit their lodge Baghvan at Pench, I did not know what to expect tiger wise. I have been to their Banjar Tola Lodge at Kanha and I was sure what to expect of the lodge. Taj lodges are sheer luxury. If you are willing to pay the price and looking for luxury, look no further. My cottage (and all others) at Pench had an observation deck of its own! It also had an outdoor shower. But more about the lodge in a later post.
I took an evening safari on the day I arrived. It was the usual story, many birds, wild boars, deer but no tigers. In the evening I was cribbing to someone that in all my life I have not seen a single tiger. One of the naturalists told me to be patient and not to expect it. A couple Demmark told me, “So what if you have not seen the tiger, maybe the tiger has seen you.” I replied that after 6 national parks my patience was running thin. I still knew that it could not be produced at will, but I wanted to see one and soon. Little did I know that wish was about to come true.
I had a 5.15 am wake up call for the morning safari. I was really tired that morning. The previous morning I woke up at 3.00 am to catch an early morning flight to Nagpur. Two early mornings in a row do not make me happy. At Taj Safaris they serve you tea in the room before morning safaris. I thought I heard a knock on my door but could not figure it out exactly the first time. The knock persisted. When I got up a young staff member was there with my tea.
All of us, Suraja, Pari, Harsh and I were on time. Ramesh (our naturalist) drove us out. The air was cool and crisp. There was a short wait at the park gate. Motiram ji the park naturalist also joined us. Ramesh casually remarked, “We will try to see the tiger, we are not going to stop for other things unless it is something really special.” We went around for more than an hour without much luck. And then without a warning, it suddenly changed.
No, this was not the first look I got. But I told you I am going to be a show off in this post! As I said before, when I saw it first, I saw its vanishing tail. A jeep full of school children were ahead of us. They had seen the tiger tail and all. They waved their cell phones at us. I told Ramesh that after all I saw the tiger! I was happy just to see its vanishing tail. But he and Motilal ji had other ideas.
Even before the vanishing tail sighting they were excited about the pug marks and the calls they were getting. After the first fleeting sighting they decided to go a little ahead saying she usually crossed from a particular place. I was not hopeful at all. After waiting for a few minutes there was a commotion. Jeeps started coughing to life, there were voices everywhere- woh raha, woh raha (it is there). And then I saw her, walking towards us. We were the third jeep in the row. I could still see her so clearly. After a few seconds Ramesh decided to get out of the queue to give tigress the space to cross. She walked away regally in front of our jeep with hardly a side glance at us! Which was good as well.
They say tigers are creatures of habit. And the naturalists know them. After the tigress vanished a second time into the jungle all the jeeps headed in a particular direction. They thought she may cross the road at another junction! In a while all the jeeps were parked waiting patiently for her royal appearance.
Of course the naturalists sighted her before anyone of us could. This time she crossed right in front of my jeep. Friends have asked me if I was scared. I was quite excited I have to say. I remembered to click pictures and make a video. In my excitement I forgot to get scared. I do remember Pari clicking my picture after the first full sighting, saying he needed to record my tiger grin. I have to ask for that picture to see how I looked! After the tigress crossed into the jungle again the jeeps moved a little ahead to wait for another possible crossing. We were waiting next to a water body and Motiram ji told us she would almost certainly not get into the cold water.
In a while he was frantically pointing to all of us the tigress crossing through the water! The trouble was that apart from Ramesh none of us could spot it. It went on for a while Motiram ji excitedly trying to show us the tigress in the water and we not being able to spot it. Then I too saw it. It was a speck even with my full zoom which is a puny 300 mm. I have cropped the picture heavily to get this faint scene. I clicked for the first 3 seconds and then saw it with my eyes for the last 2 seconds and then it vanished in the bushes again. But the day is never going to vanish from my memory!
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.
I broke my jinx after all and sighted a tiger! And what a sighting it was! She is known as the collared tigress of Pench. The trick is the collar no longer emits a signal. So it is a double whammy in a sense. You see a collared tigress where the collar provides no help in tracing her. But then I am in no mood to complain! She passed so close by that I could capture a video on my cell phone! So here I go.
Her Royal Highness the Collared Tigress of Pench
Actually I saw just a vanishing tail to begin with. A jeep full of school children were in front of us. After I had looked at the vanishing tail they told us the tigress passed by them just a while ago, waving their cell phones! I was sure they had their cell phones full with the tigress pictures. I was happy with that fleeting glimpse as even this was a first. I could get nothing on the camera as she was in thick bushes. But then our ace trackers (and other ace trackers in other jeeps) decided to pursue it. We had Motiram ji from the park. And we of course had a naturalist from Taj Safaris as well, Ramesh. I did all my rides with Ramesh and he is an excellent naturalist. I am always going to remember both of them as this has been my first sighting after I do not even know how many safaris and national parks!
And if you are on a slow internet connection here is a photo for you, otherwise do watch the video. I actually had to zoom out to click this picture, the tigress was so close. More when I reach home.
I am still dazed. I was of course excited to death. But what really amazes me is the excitement and enthusiasm of the naturalist show even though they see so many big cats. They take trouble to track it down, drive far away and show amazing patience both with the animal and the human beings! Thank you Motiram ji and Ramesh for breaking my jinx. I also had lovely companions from Maharashtra who were in a group of three. But they included me so well that it never felt like I was an unknown outsider.