At 6.30 am, the jungles of Kanha were buzzing with activity. Sunlight rose steadily, filtering itself through the tall Sal trees and diverged in all possible directions.
Dusty, serpentine paths had roaring jeeps traversing on them in search of anything remotely similar to the majestic orange and black coat.
Our guide keeps stopping intermittently, showing us fresh pug marks and there is an excited murmur in the group.
I am taken back to my first encounter with the big cat in Ranthambore. The excitement pre the sighting, constantly looking into the foliage and the frenzy when you spot one.
But the jungle offers so much more that often goes unnoticed in this chase of orange and black.
While most looked out for the tiger, I felt the jungle.
The parakeets soaring high and settling on the topmost branches, the perfectly asymmetrical shapes of thin trees scattered in the Kanha meadows, the rhythmic sounds of the tiny brook flowing over rocks punctuated by the chorus of the birds.
My hands were frozen in the cold and the sun was more than welcome now. It reached almost every part of the jungle, illuminating it.
The grasslands turned golden , the trees shone, water bodies gleamed and leaves changed their colours: from dark green to light to yellow infused.
As we rode in the heart of the jungle, spotted deer sprinted in the grasslands and barasingha trotted with his decorated headgear.
The calls of alert sent out by langurs and the sambhar deer sent ripples of excitement across the jeeps. While the tiger prowled in 7 feet high foliage, countless eyes waited. Some gave up and move ahead, some waited.
We charged ahead on the roller coaster tracks and as I sat looking at the foliage, two eyes appeared. I thought I was hallucinating. Then the head ( I frantically adjusted my camera controls) and then the body.
Memories of spotting Noor in Ranthambore came flooding back. Bajrang stood for a while and then turned looking straight into my eye as if asking “Looking out for me?”
The muscular , full-grown Bajrang walked without a care, crossed the road and entered the foliage, followed by many disappointed sighs in our canter.
My gut says our hero will cross the road again. And VOILA! It did.
Not once but thrice! Then slowly it trudged along the path walking alone and disappearing, straight out of a scene in Jungle Book.
The guide had struck the big T from his list and with a huge grin he began seeing photos that others clicked, like the safari had achieved its very motto of being in the park.
But I was unsatiated. For me, even breathing the forest air only if it is just for a couple of hours is truly fulfilling.
The forest fragrances smoothen my senses and have a relaxing and calming effect, nature’s own aromatherapy. And when nature gets tired of playing its own playlist, the silence is breathtaking too.
As the canter rides out of the park, I envy the pair of Collared scope owls, huddled in a tree hole( the home I always longed for!)
Kanha, you weaved magic and it is impossible to not fall in love with you!
HOW TO REACH:
Kanha is 176 Kms from Jabalpur, 270 Kms from Nagpur and 350 Kms from Raipur.
If you intend to visit Pench as well, it is recommended to reach Nagpur and visit Pench first and proceed to Kanha.
WHERE TO STAY:
The Club Mahindra Kanha resort is rustic with a rural setting but modern amenities.
With blocks named after trees and an organic farm it is close to the park and provides simple, earthy joys of appreciating nature.
Pottery: While it seems very easy, moulding your own clay pot is no child’s play. Was awestruck at how skilful our local artisans are in moulding clay into various shapes. When you actually do it, you end up appreciating their efforts a lot more.
Baiga Tribes: One country and so much diversity. I had heard about the Gond tribes but never about the Baiga tribes of Mandla. Thanks to Club Mahindra Kanha, I could interact with these locals and get a glimpse into their songs, dances and vibrant costumes!
Organic farm: The farm hopper in me jumped in delight seeing the organic farm in the Club Mahindra property. The farm had fresh produce of a variety of vegetables: from leeks to tomatoes, green brinjals to red chillies!
Was heartening to see that in an age where modern cuisines are replacing traditional palettes, Club Mahindra strived to stick to the roots.
Quirky Decor: Vibrant and unconventional decor automatically make me click. The interiors of the resort have a perfect blend of modern and traditional decor with a vintage feel. While the lobby has an old-world charm, the restaurant has colourful cutlery and brass teapots and the likes.
Modern Amenities: Though the resort has a rustic charm, the amenities are modern and plush. The resort has a state of the art Gym, a pool, play area for kids, a Spa, a conference room and a theatre.
A heartfelt thank you to Mr Nandan, Prakash, Nadeem, Binkatesh and the entire staff of Club Mahindra, Kanha for making my stay a fabulous one.
Disclaimer: My stay in Kanha was sponsored by Club Mahindra. However, all the pictures, opinions and gasps on seeing the tiger are mine!