DAY 1: The Holiday Begins
We were going to experience our first ever solar eclipse. LIVE at Bandhavgarh National Park (Madhya Pradesh). Our train was from Pune and it was pouring like crazy in Mumbai that week and I feared that the holiday would be shot down even before it began.
It wasn’t. The sun shone happily the day I left for Pune.
The beauty of the Western Ghats is just incredible, even more during the rains. The mist surrounding Lonavala hill station, the mini streams that flow in a rush to meet you, all paint a pretty picture while you sit in a bus listening to some slow, soft music; if they aren’t blaring a ‘want to tear your ears out’ movie.
Since our vacation was part of a tour, our guide asked us (my sister, M – her friend and I) to meet him at Pune Station at 8 PM. Apart from a minor heart attack aka traffic jam, we reached the station with barely ten minutes left to board the train.
At 3 PM the next day, we reached Katni station (Madhya Pradesh). From Katni, the bus journey to our resort took an hour and a half. The heat that late in the afternoon was killing and we were all worn out. Half way through the bus journey we all fell asleep. However the minute we reached the outskirts of the forest, a cool breeze was blowing and our eyes opened to it. Soon we were at the resort.
A nice shower, hot cups of tea, ambling around the green surroundings, cool air and some chatter with the others… it was the perfect end to an otherwise exhausting travel. Post dinner, we headed off for the perfect night’s sleep. However, M, my sister and I didn’t quite head straight to our room. We faced a slight problem.
We got lost. You see the resort wasn’t one of those ‘a building here, a building there’ kinds. It was a beautiful one with rooms all over and paths to walk around and yes, get lost in there too. We went round and round the premises for fifteen minutes invariably ending up back where we started – the dining room.
Finally, swallowing our sheer stupidity and yes, pride too, with as straight a face possible we asked for help from our guide. “Our room’s lost us. Can you help us?” said M. After a lot of literally ‘rolling on the floor’ laughter, he asked one of the resort people to guide us back to our haven.
DAY 2: A Nature Trail and A Drive Through The Forest
Early next morning was nature walk time close to the resort with colourful butterflies fluttering their delicate wings and mesmerizing us with their beauty.
We also spotted vultures, kingfishers and bharadwajs (Greater Coucal). We saw a variety of trees growing in various shapes and sizes. One tree had a creeper growing within it.
Walking around in that beautiful atmosphere, M came across a bright insect, a beetle known as the Jewel Beetle, almost hidden behind a leaf. With a bright electric blue top and a bright red bottom, this beetle was just beautiful.
Heading back to our room we noticed another beautiful beetle. Unfortunately, our guide was nowhere in sight so we gave the beetle our own name and christened it the ‘Red Butt Beetle’.
Once in the room, we soon got bored so went right back out. It was raining heavily by then so we put on our windcheaters and went for a stroll in the rain. We walked for about an hour in the rain, which slowed down to a drizzle, in that quiet surrounding forest. The feeling was indescribable.
Seeing so many trees spread wide across, ones which made us feel like we could have a picnic there or just sit against one and get lost in a book made us even go and hug a tree. The tree trunk was too big for us to wrap our arms around it completely but nevertheless it was exciting.
Back at the resort, during lunch it was announced that we would go on a Gypsy drive around the forest if the rain relented.
In the meantime we got M, who has an excellent voice, sing for us. Gradually the weather did improve and off we went on our drive through the forest. Standing in a jeep while it rushes through the path in the forest was thrilling as the cold wind blows right across your face and hair.
Once inside the boundaries of the forest, the driver stopped and pointed to a gravestone large enough for an animal and said, “This is the grave of a tigress. The story goes that a king mistakenly killed a tigress, thinking that it was a tiger. Apparently, hunting tigresses was immoral. As repentance, the king had buried her in that particular spot.” Is it true or is it a myth? No one really knows.
Animals have an acute sense of smell and sight and hence we were forewarned not to wear any perfume, bright clothes or even talk loudly. So few minutes inside the forest and we sat down and kept silent.
We saw no tigers but we came across Spotted Deer, Black Ibises, Kingfishers, Indian Rollers, Vultures, Eagles, and Woodpeckers.
The driver was following his own trail of maze and zigzagged between trees which resulted in the other gypsy drivers following him. Due to the earlier rains, we soon hit a mud ‘ditch’ and got stuck with the gypsy now leaning heavily on the right side. It was surprising that we actually didn’t topple over!
The rest of the Gypsy drivers immediately screeched to a halt and gave up the adventure ride. We were ready to hop off our jeep when the driver asked us to stay put. He said “Madam, if all of you get down it’ll be ten times tougher to get the Gypsy out of the ditch. If there’s some weight in the back of the vehicle, the chance of it toppling over would be lessened.” Needless to say he got us through safely.
After a short lake view stopover for some sandwich time, we got back to the resort.
DAY 3: Another Drive Through The Forest
We awoke at 5 AM to the rains gushing down worse than the day before. Thinking we wouldn’t be able to head out, back to sleep we went! But soon, we were woken up again and were told that we would indeed head out. So up we got for another fun ride through the forest.
Today, we took another route and saw many more Indian rollers. The beauty of the Indian Roller is that when you see it sitting, it’s all brown. But the minute it sets out to fly, you are confronted with beautiful blue wings and body that leaves you astounded.
We also got to see more Kingfishers and with them having such distinct calls we soon began to recognize it. In fact we had the pleasure of watching one of them fish. Standing on a branch, waiting patiently for its prey, spotting it, swooping down and catching it and returning back to the branch, all in a matter of a few seconds left us gawking.
Getting on our way one of the guides spotted a “Nilgai”. It is supposed to be the most commonly spotted animal but I have been on a couple of safaris and we have barely spotted them. So trying to grab a picture of it is unlikely. Literally translated from Hindi to English; ‘Nilgai’ means ‘blue cow’. Although it is actually a blue ‘bull’. Of course, the animal is neither blue nor is it a cow. It is a kind of antelope.
By then it was late so we headed back to the resort for breakfast. We continued our ‘standing’ pose in the jeep and drove through a village where seeing us standing one villager mistook us ‘party promoters’ and screamed, “Hum vote zaroor karenge (we will definitely vote for you)!”
The rest of the day was free for us to do whatever we wanted. So M, my sister and I parked ourselves on a swing and played around with the nearby ‘Touch Me Not’ plants, scientifically called Mimosa Pudica.
Later in the evening, astronomy professors gave us a session on the do’s and don’ts for the solar eclipse sighting. Although the chances of witnessing it were slim. Dark clouds had gathered around and hung about stubbornly. We hoped and prayed and crossed our fingers for them to clear off.
DAY 4: The Solar Eclipse and Return to Pune
At 3 AM the alarm buzzed. We woke up, got dressed and packed and presented ourselves at the reception at 4 AM. For the third time, we got into our gypsy and took off to the solar eclipse viewing point, which was a helipad.
We reached at 5 AM. The clouds that hung about last night were still being stubborn and didn’t budge at all. The result being an unpromising dark sky although we all clutched our special eclipse watching glasses in our hands, hoping for the sky to clear just for those few minutes. We did manage to get a peek of the sun rising but that was about it. We didn’t witness the eclipse but we did witness the effects of it. That too was extremely exciting.
For those few minutes we saw the whole area turn dark as night and the wind turning chillier. Cows and birds that awoke with the rising sun were confused and scooted back to their respective sheds and nests thinking night had arrived. There were a few dogs, which muddled with the sudden change started howling and whining, utterly baffled with nature.
As soon as the eclipse was over, the birds cooed, the cows returned to munching on the grass and the dogs continued being muddled. We sighed disappointed and yet felt excited at the same time. Soon it was time to head back home.
I’ve never seen an eclipse except on television. Is it the same? No, it isn’t. Although we didn’t get to witness the eclipse per say, experiencing the effects was nonetheless an experience I’ll never forget or trade.
P.S. Solar Eclipse pictures courtesy: – M, our travelling companion.