This past weekend, I had a wonderful opportunity to visit the Satpura national park in Madhya Pradesh and stay at Forsyth Lodge, where a few of us bloggers were invited for #TheForsythExperience. I had immediately jumped at this opportunity when it had presented itself. Visiting a previously unvisited state/place was not something I was going to pass on, especially when its a national park area we’re talking about. After having visited few of the Jungle Lodges and Resorts properties in Karnataka, I knew that any of the national parks would be beautiful. After the visit, I can say that “beautiful” is so much of an understatement.
The Forsyth Lodge is situated at the edge of the Satpura national park, next to the village of Sarangpur. The Madhya Pradesh state capital, Bhopal, is 180 kms from the lodge. It took us close to 4 hours to reach the lodge from the Raja Bhoj airport at Bhopal. We crossed two major towns en route – Bhimbhetka and Hoshangabad – all this covered on NH-69. Then branching off to SH-22, and further on, some local village roads. One curious thing we observed was the lack of any sort of sign boards mentioning Forsyth Lodge along the way. We learnt later that the lodge does not allow walk-ins and that most visitors plan their visits well in advance, usually as part of the well-known wildlife circuit – Pench, Kanha, Bandavgarh, Satpura.
The lodge is located on a sprawling area of about 44 acres, but has used only a very small portion of it, for the cottages. The rest of the land is part of the jungle and is left undisturbed. We learnt that there have been sightings of wildlife within the property’s area itself. All through the lodge area, there are several things that point to conscious choices made to avoid harming nature – judicious usage of natural resources and promoting responsible tourism. Our cottages were very comfortable and spacious. Here are a few images of our cottage.
We met with the people in charge at the lodge – Rishi, David and Surya – everyone were super friendly and very knowledgeable about forests, wildlife. They also were seasoned travelers themselves. We were briefed about the Satpura forest area and the activities planned for us over the next two days.
David briefing us about the activities in Satpura
The night drive around Satpura jungle periphery
The first activity planned was a night drive around the jungle periphery. The idea of a night outing was to try and spot nocturnal animals, birds – these are usually active only after dark and not usually spotted during day time. Meanwhile, it was turning out to be a superb evening with the skies lighting up in hues of deep orange, nearing sunset hour. We requested to hurry up and stop someplace suitable en route, so that we could shoot the sunset.
The night drive started – we had Surya, the naturalist with us, along with a guide from the forest department. The basic approach of spotting nocturnal beings, as explained by Surya – a powerful flashlight is used to scan the surroundings as we drive around. The presence of an animal, bird is known when we see a sharp/bright reflection of the flashlight. The reason for this being, the eyes of the nocturnal beings have several layers of a particular substance in front of their cornea – these amplify the light and enable them to see well in the dark. Any light falling on these layers is reflected and that’s what is observable. During our drive, we were able to spot a nightjar, a pair of Gazelles and an Indian thick knee. There was an indication of presence of a bear nearby. The other jeep was able to spot it, but we were not so lucky. The only decent image I managed was of the Indian thick knee.
During the night drive, I had observed that the night sky was cloudless and had started to reveal the millions of stars. These are around us all the time, but are visible to us only from places where there is not much light pollution around. I had made up my mind to shoot stars that night. Upon return to the lodge, we refreshed, and socialized with other guests and the staff. This is the time when everyone is together and we learn not only about their day in the jungle but also a bit about them as people, their interests, passions, etc. And conversing with people from a wide variety of backgrounds is what expands one’s view of the world. The dinner served was simple, yet delicious. After dinner, most retired to their cottages for sleep, but I chose to stay up to try and get some images of the stars. Here are a few images of the stars from various places within the lodge premises.
The next day started at 5 AM, getting a wake up call from the staff and being served fresh coffee. After a long shoot the previous night, I had dozed off without effort and thanks to the super comfortable bed, it seemed like I was waking up after 12 or so hours. We started for the morning jeep safari in the jungle. A short drive took us to the bank of the Denwa river’s backwaters. This is what separates the jungle reserve from the rest of the inhabited world around. We took a short boat ride across this water body to reach the forest and started on our jeep. Again, the effervescent Surya and a local guide were with us. The safari started out with a bit of excitement – we had sightings of bears and spotted deer. After a short while, there were alarm calls from the deer indicating presence of a big cat nearby – Surya mentioned that its likely a Leopard. We could not get a sight of it anywhere and the alarm calls also stopped. Nevertheless, we learnt to not just keep our eyes open, but also to keep our ears alert. I was enjoying the drive along the winding jungle roads, when we encountered a traffic jam ahead. No, it was not vehicles – but a group of wild gaurs. The early morning sunlight was trickling through the canopy of trees behind the gaurs. It looked like a stage set for a forest fashion show and a few reluctant contestants were on the ramp.
After spending some time taking pictures of the gaurs from various angles, we moved on. In the next few minutes, we would have the most exciting moment of the safari. We got near a small camp building inside the forest – we were to go ahead to the place where we would have breakfast. But breakfast had to wait. Surya had heard and then spotted a sambar deer emanating alarm calls and looking directly onto an area – that could mean only one thing. We had a big cat, possibly a leopard sitting somewhere in that area. The area was not directly visible from the jeep – there was a slight trough with grass cover all around. The forest department guide immediately ran as quietly as he could to the terrace of the camp building and he could spot it! When we tried to run across to the terrace, the commotion we caused most likely made the leopard to move away from us. This was the best chance we had on this safari to spot a leopard, but we missed it. But the whole episode was exciting as anything!
We had forgotten about hunger amidst all the excitement. We soon reached the spot where we would have some delicious breakfast and also admire the nature around us.
We soon returned back to the lodge for brunch and then it was time to rest. Needed to recharge and energize for the evening walk in the jungle. The walk in the jungle is something not very common among wildlife parks in India. The idea that one is walking inside the jungle, along the same paths as that of animals like tigers and leopards can induce excitement and anxiousness in equal doses. The walk is also different from a jeep experience in that we take a more leisurely approach to the safari and observe on smaller things that we’d easily miss while zipping in a jeep. We learnt about how deer use trees covered with cork around their bark to smooth out its antlers without getting hurt. We observed butterflies, spiders and various birds at
Waves from a boat created these lines
That evening, we met with the staff and guests over some drinks and snacks in a small outdoor area. The place was decked up very nicely by oil lamps. Though chilly, the lit firewood provided heat that was soothing. It was during meets like these where we interacted more closely with others and were able to glean a plethora of information on other destinations and contacts.
Outdoor snacks and drinks
Safari on a canoe… ?
The following morning was to be our last activity on this tour. And it seemed like they had saved the best for the last. A river safari on a canoe. What a novel idea. One can witness a magical sunrise from the canoe, while being in the middle of the river. A canoe, which is not noisy like the jeep vehicles, allows us to get closer to the wildlife without scaring them away. It was on this canoe outing that we could get up close to many different birds and had an opportunity to shoot nice images – though I was still crippled by the lack of a decent tele-lens. I shot a lot of gopro footage on this outing that I’d have to go back and make a video package out of – that’s something I’m really excited about. We managed to spot crocodiles, spotted deer, langurs, birds like kingfisher, pond heron, babblers, orioles. Here are the images that show the awesomeness of the canoe ride – the sunrise, the birds and some abstracts too.
Finally, here’s a group image of the participants along with David – the amazing naturalist and an equally awesome person. Few are missing from this image since they had to catch an early flight back home.
The three days spent at The Forsyth Lodge had passed in a jiffy. We had a ton of things learnt, experience gained, friends made and these are somethings that will stay with us for a long long time. The Forsyth Lodge is something I’d definitely recommend to anyone visiting Madhya Pradesh, for its awesome hospitality, great people and of course, the rich wildlife and natural beauty of the Satpura forest.
For more details about The Forsyth Lodge, follow the below links:
Forsyth Lodge website
Forsyth Lodge facebook page
Forsyth Lodge on twitter
Forsyth Lodge on instagram
This post was originally published on 'PhotoMithra'.