KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
We were very fortunate to be offered the chance to visit one of the best tiger reserves in central India, Kanha National Park. A friend of the Mehra's had made a booking for Dec 22 - 24th and then found he was unable to use the reservation at the Tuli Tiger Resort. As soon as we arrived at the Nagpur airport, Manju and Kamal asked us if we would be interested in taking the booking instead. It was a very strange coincidence that we had just read a great article on Kanha in the Jet Airways inflight magazine, so we didn't hesitate to say yes. We knew that the cost would be much higher than our usual hotel budget, but it was Christmas and we felt this opportunity was meant to be.
We arranged for a vehicle and driver to take us to Kanha on the morning of Dec 22nd and then wait to bring us back on the 24th. Our driver's name was Rahul. The journey took about five and a half hours on generally good roads. There was one bad stretch of about five kilometres - this section is in dispute by the two state governments - each wants the other state to pay for the paving of the road. While the governments are deadlocked, the road remains treacherous with large rough-edged stones and plenty of potholes.
We settled into the Qualis SUV - Anil sat in front and I made myself comfortable in the back seat - sitting on the right-hand side, immediately behind the driver. I'm not sure why I do this instinctively, because I am a nervous passenger and I have a bird's eye view of the oncoming traffic and the crazy driving style of Indian motorists. As soon as we were out of the city, I began to enjoy the passing scenery. If occurred to me that my love of being in moving vehicles, watching the changing landscapes, probably compliments my love of film. For me, the journey is always the most pleasurable when I can look out the window - much like an hours long movie to entertain me.
One of the first things I noticed as we left the city was that the low mud houses were all tiled with large red clay tiles and the walls immediately below the eaves were painted robin's-egg blue while the balance of the walls were painted chalk white. This gives a fresh, clean look to the village houses and gave an overall impression of orderliness and pride of ownership. The courtyards in front of the homes were freshly swept, free of refuse and usually skirted by a low mud wall. I have not seen any houses painted in this way anywhere else in all my travels.
As we drove northeast towards the national park, the landscape seemed to change every forty kilometres. I had expected this area of central India to be uniformly flat and sparsely treed - this region of India is known as the Deccan plateau and is reached by climbing through the Western Ghats (mountains) that run parallel along the coast just outside of Mumbai. Instead, I found areas of rolling hills and indeed, low mountains appeared in the distance. The vegetation changed from areas of cultivated farmland, to scattered trees of several varieties (with even a palm tree here and there), to dense forests as we neared the nature reserve. At one point we had to come to almost a complete stop as there was a large group of at least forty monkeys congregated in the centre of the road. It was a large colony with members of all ages. They didn't seem at all inclined to move until Rahul edged the vehicle to the edge of their group and only then did they reluctantly move just out of the way of the tires. I should have taken a picture, but I thought of it too late.
A little while after stopping for tea at a dhaba in Soloni, I decided to sit sideways with my legs supported on the seat beside me. It was just at this point that we arrived at the unpaved portion of the road. Our vehicle started to kick up a lot of dust and when I noticed a large public bus approaching, I reached up to close the window beside me. The bus flew past us just at that moment and before I was able to close the window, I felt a blow to my shoulder that caused a searing pain. I shouted to Anil that I had been hit - but it took me a moment to realize that the pain was caused by a large stone that had been thrown up by the bus's tires and came flying through the open window.
The driver stopped the car immediately and Anil and Rahul came around to check on me. When they opened the door beside me, the rock rolled out onto the road with a thud. I knew that I was not seriously injured, but I had Anil take a look at my shoulder - luckily the stone hit on the fleshy part of the back of my arm, and although it was red and bruised, it had only just broken the skin a little - there was no blood. Anil said that the corner of the rock had made a small hole in my shirt - too bad, it's my favourite pink shirt - the one you have seen me wearing in many of the journal pictures. We were so very happy that the stone had not hit me on the front of my shoulder or in the face. That could have been the end of our travels entirely. Once again, we were thankful that we had "dodged another bullet".
We arrived at the Tuli Tiger Resort and I was delighted with the setting and the buildings that were designed to invoke a feeling of being in another place and time. I have taken a few photos to show you how lovely our room was. After dinner we were wandering through the entire resort when we came upon a newly built section that has "tent" accommodation. The staff very kindly allowed us in to view the amazing five-star tents. These are way beyond our budget, but the resort is fully booked for the Christmas/New Year's holiday season, so there is no shortage of Indians who can afford to travel in style.
At the slide show presentation in the evening, a naturalist told us about an amazing spider at Kanha. It's called a Signature Spider, because is weaves a zig-zag cross pattern in the middle of its web. When it sits in the middle, it appears much larger than it really is in order to scare off predators. We noticed one on the gate leading to the lodges so I have included a photo of it here. Nature really is amazing.