Thanks to a geographically diversified coterie at workplace, I get to visit different parts of India in the pretext of attending marriages. Being a wildlife and nature aficionado, I prefer the marriage itinerary to be packed with a visit to wildlife sanctuary near the venue. Earlier it was gir, then sunderbans and now is the time for Melghat, pre-cursor attending a marriage in Nanded.
Melghat Tiger Reserve located in Amaravathi District of Maharashtra is relatively less-known tourist resort. Thanks to which, much of the forest is unperturbed with crazy tourists and pepsi cans and bisleri bottles. A 13 hour bus drive from Hyderabad took us to Amaravathi, the heart of Vidharbha. From Vidharbha another 1hr drive takes us to the shanty town of Parathwada. Much of the journey from Amaravathi to Parathwada criss-crosses killer cotton fields skirting on both sides of the road. As a first time visitor to this part of India, I was having a mixed feeling passing through Vidharbha heart lands – where every tick of two-and-a-half hour culminates in a farmer suicide. My mind was perplexed and I was curiously gazing out of the window on the villagers and their homes, trying to read the misery on their face. An amalgam of shame, sadness and discontent was brewing on my mind, the overwhelming thought – how venal and insensitive we have disintegrated to?
Parathwada was a picture of typical India, with a dilapidated bus station, shabby roads and flith all around. From Parathwada, began the journey to Melghat which almost 900m above sea level. This was the best part of journey passing through bucolic settings and innumerable hair pin curves and breath-taking views. Our stay was booked in Forest Guest House at a place called Kolkas. A two hour topsy-turvy ride through forests and mountains left us in Kolkas. The only proof that we had indeed landed in Kolkas was a sign board which read Kolkas Guest House, Turn Right. Rest apart it was dense forest all around, the conductor while getting down pointed his hand and said walk down 3km you will find a guesthouse and with that bus chugged away. No sign of human civilization, no concrete structures, no electric poles….. just trees, trees and more trees with a road in the midst winding away. The first thing I did was to check if there was a mobile signal, the Nokia was blank. No GSM, No CDMA – welcome to Jungle Land. Then started our trudge on the 3km path in search of the guest house. On the way was the first sighting of the trip – a beautiful golden red spider, resting on a labyrinthine network of web between two trees. Out popped three digi-cams to capture this fascinating handiwork of the spider and the spider itself. I was struggling for 1minute, to get a shot, the spider just couldn’t be figured out through the lens. Thankfully the photography connoisseur in the midst helped with the hint of Manual Focus. So with the mode set I harried my lens in search of the spider and finally caught it through the eyes of the camera. Click! Click! Click! The camera had kick-started for the first time in this trip and on its way to capture the magic of mesmerizing Melghat.
A 20mts walk took us to Guest House, resting on the banks of River Sipna, it was an idyllic setting to unwind one-self and recharge. The guest house is manned by a two-man army and the rooms were pretty shabby and bathrooms were awful to say the least. But outside the room was the lap of nature, pristine, atoned with green, rustling with the sounds of birds and winds gracing the trees. So for once we forgot what’s inside and our souls were kept wandering outside while physically our body was cozying in the warmth of two layer blankets from chilling cold outside. But let me accept here for just 200/= for a suite for 3 persons together per night, what we got was supreme luxury.
The first rude jolt of the trip occurred here, when the two-man army welcomed us and told you are stuck here if you don’t have a vehicle. As I mentioned earlier, since it’s not much hyped destination, there are no private resorts and those who wish to do safari had to have their own vehicles. A pall of gloom descended on us, then started a series of debates, interrogation and quizzing the guys, finally we worked out a plan to sent one of us along with a guy to the nearest village and find if we can get a vehicle. My dear friend Alosh, took up the charge and thankfully the guest house had a bike. They set out in dark, yes darkness at 5.30pm to Semadoh which is 14km from Kolkas. Semadoh is a small village which has a couple of tea stalls and a phone booth. Dropping a new one rupee coin can make you talk for 20sec to outside world. I sent my SOS message to home through my messenger Alosh. While me and Kunal had a hot water bath and comforted ourselves in the confines of the bed, Alosh battered the cold and brought back good news. He got a Commander jeep for the whole day next day for 1500/= and our adventures were to begin next day at 5am.
Inside Guest House was resident a family, and the only source of food here was their home. They prepared us a simple yet sumptuous dinner and we were having the first proper food of the day at 8pm after the long arduous bus journey. 9pm, with nothing much better to do in a forest, we crashed to bed dreaming about tigers and bears and an eventful day awaited us in the horizon.
(End of Part-I)