Sunday, October 9, 2011

Tadoba National Park~ Pursuing those charismatic stripes!

           Are you a fool? They asked me. It’s an India vs Pakistan semi-final of the cricket world cup, and you want to see some stupid tigers? If you are an Indian, this is quite a believable statement. But fortunate I am that I dint fall for it, and went and saw those stupid, magnificent Tigers instead. Yeah! That’s foolish.

                Tadoba is a well-known national park in Maharashtra spread across the area of around 120 sq. km. It’s placed 100 km south of Nagpur and about 45 km north of Chandrapur. There are plenty of trains both to Nagpur and Chandrapur but if you just can’t wait to witness some stunning creatures, a flight to Nagpur is your safest bet.
                After driving around Chandrapur for a while sipping yummy lassi and making purchases of random clay pots, we reached Tadoba. There are number of gates you can access but we decided to go for Moharali which is the closest one to Chandrapur. You have to book your entry in advance at the forest office in Chandrapur or there is no way they are letting you in. We reached the booking office in time and were quite pleased to see a short que. As we asked for three passes for Tuesday with a cheerful smile, the polite officer (politeness is an extremely rare virtue when it comes to government officials in India) calmly pointed his finger towards something scribbled in green paint on the wall next to him. “The park will remain closed on Tuesday”. We were shocked! What are we going to do now? This puts our entire plan in jeopardy. I don’t know why but we even argued with the official about letting us in as we had no idea about this stupid rule. Strangely, he didn’t argue back! At all… And said nothing other than a plain, simple No! We decided not to test our luck and made bookings for the next day. We booked 3 Safaris which seemed to have guaranteed at least one encounter with the beast of the jungle. And headed toward the MTDC guest house.

                The guest house was practically a haunted old structure. An overstaffed place with an under maintained boarding. Everyone there seemed extremely busy gathering in a tiny room and watching cricket highlights than serving us basic living necessities. We feasted on a wannabe sandwich and settled down in the bug infested rooms. It was dark and it seemed like we were the only women, in fact people staying there. Thanks to the 1 billion population of cricket lovers. We even slept with a wooden axe that we bought at a tribal craft shop next to the pillow. :P

                In the morning everything took a drastic twirled! A glance outside the terrace filled my eyes with insane amount of birds against the lush green land. Effing magical! But we dint have time to chill, as we had to rush to our Gypsies for our first trail. 6 a.m.!
The chirping birds, scent of the burning grass coming from a distance and great company set the mood right! The open gypsy, which I always find very glamorous for some reason was filled with our chatter and anticipation while we waited at the gate. We gave each other naive instructions on how to shut up in the jungle and constantly keep all your senses alert. We were a bunch of kids entering a candy factory!
The trail began with breeze soothing my hair and silence never imagined before. I took the “keeping your senses alert” bit a little too seriously. I would get excited over every little sound heard and every unfamiliar scent smelt. The guide asked me to chill! God! He wasn’t nice. The magnificence of the jungle often gets flatly ignored in our desperation to sight the creatures living in it. It makes me wonder how we need to “find” things in order to truly appreciate them. What’s right there is just isn’t enough. Strange! The jungle was magical! No form of fiction can do justice to it. It’s one of those things that require a first-hand experience. The subtle chill of early morning, light filtering through the leaves, monkeys sunbathing and this entire universe existing without missing a human presence. Man! What was that??
The guide periodically showed us some interesting animals and birds followed by a few quirky details. One of the interesting facts, like all other national parks, Tadoba guides are hired exclusively from around the area. Basically people who are sons of the soil and completely habituated to the jungle. Not his etiquettes, but the guide’s knowledge about the jungle was absolutely impressive. For some reason he kept promising us confidently that we will be encountering a tiger soon. Our hopes reached sky high, every sound seemed like an alarm call, and every smell stinked like a tiger! As if seeing the wild cat would be the end of the world as we know it. No! we saw nothing. Not even its tail that day.

Next ride was pretty much the same. Although equally pleasing and enchanting, it was accompanied by similar disappointments. No tiger! The guy in the next gypsy saw a Leopard, a tiger and a very rarely sighted bear. That was brutal! I felt betrayed by the gods of justice. In an attempt to supress my distress I eat up the ill testing dinner and cuddled up in the blanket with a hope of a better tomorrow. And yeah! there was the wooden axe.
The next morning I was strangely hopefully. The newfound obsession was quite exciting. The world was divided into the people who have seen the tiger and who will see the tiger. I wanted majorly to escalate to the other side. A cup of hot chaha later, we hopped into our fancy gypsy, soon to realise there were just 6 vehicles entering the jungle today. Oh the cricket match! Seemed like we have the stupid tigers just to ourselves. We entered the jungle with an added rigour. The cool breeze seemed comfortingly familiar. Seeing the number of deers hoping around was like seeing dogs on the streets of Mumbai, Ample! Some species of birds were mind-blowing! The colours that nature can produce is unbelievable. We spent a lot of time photographing birds, trees and monkeys. As it seemed highly possible that the tiger will ditch us this time around as well.

This was our last Safari, the time was running out. The part of me pretty much gave up. The trees and deers seemed suddenly photogenic. We were encountered by a big group of Sambars. What beautiful creatures! We wanted to take as many pictures as we could before they run away. Sambars have this specific trait of not letting humans near them. They are quick and disappear into the forest in a matter of minutes. The shutter was clicking continuously. I dint realise how close we had gotten to the animal. I could see right into his eyes. Strange right? It’s almost impossible for a sambar to not run away into the forest. As we were busy clicking him from various angles, the guide quickly gestured the driver to go further and stop. Before we could notice, the time stood still! There it was! The most magnificent sight you could see. The bright yellow beaming fur with sharp black stripes. And the gaze that can freeze you right that second. For a minute I didn’t want to take photographs or come up with words, I just wanted to look! It was a mother with her cute little cub quenching their thrust near the water body. As soon as she sensed our presence she ran into the bushes, the cub followed her. Mother tigers are especially protective. All we were supposed to do now was wait for them to come out. All the six vehicles were waiting in extreme silence (even the guy who already saw a range of animals the previous day. Dude! Was he in a zoo?) The beating of heart, the rush of adrenalin and this strange comradery between every human present there was something hard to articulate. We waited as if we had no hurry in the world. Finally, taking her own time, the lady came out in grandeur. She looked at us as if we didn’t matter. She was the queen and we were startled. She waited for the cub to come out and he followed her like an obedient child. They didn’t rush, or run! No way! That’s too petty for the one who rules that land. They turned away and all we could see was two stunning figures walking further away from us in complete nonchalance. We couldn’t leave before they completely disappeared into the brown glowing grass. The driver rushed the vehicles in an attempt to make it back in time. We said almost nothing to each other. Just sat in silence trying to make sense of the last few minutes as the fast blowing wind attempted to push us further into the dream. I don’t know why this was such a powerful moment, or why something we see so often in imagery around, moves you so much when seen in flesh and blood. But it didn’t matter, all I could think was the wind, the tiger and my next journey to Tadoba.

10 songs that can not ascape your playlist while traveling!

Music sets the mood for your travels. Of course silence has its own significance, but I love the idea of having a background music for my journeys. That’s how often I remember those times in retrospect.

Here is a list of 10 wonderful songs that have awesomeness strung all around them:

1) The answer is blowing in the wind by Bob Dylan

2) Dil chahta hain

3) Leaving on the jetplane by John Denver

4) Dekha hain aise bhi by Lucky Ali

5) Hotel California by The Eagles 

6) Aane wala pal~ Film Golmal 1979

7) Galway girl from PS I love you

8) Piano man by Billy joel

9) Ek purana Mausam by Jagjit singh and Guljar

10) Dil gaye ja by Lucky ali

Friday, June 17, 2011

Goa trance~~

This time I start writing much in time… when the sand of Goan beaches is still in my clothes… and the cool breeze in my mind.

                Goa! Arguably the most popular tourist destination in India. I mean Who hasn’t been there? Well… I hadn’t! And this was shamefully my first time there. Usually I run away from any touristy setups. But I knew Goa would be different. The vibrance of the place was placed in a perfect proportion with the tranquilly. How often do you get to see that? 
                In some bizarre dramatic ways, all my plans leading to Goa over the past several years failed without exceptions. All of them!  But the most impulsive, unplanned plan worked with perfection. May be that’s the only way to experience this land… On impulse.

The journey began with some college kids chirping in the bus all night, not sparing a minute of sleep to anyone.   The book I had gotten along remained in my hand unread while my mind kept wondering into nothingness. The timing of this particular trip was crucial. When I am on the verge of a transition. When I am supposed to make decisions in terms of my work, moving cities and a general prioritization in life. All this without any tangible thread to hold it all together. I assumed Goa would be a way to desaturate. And indeed it was!
The rikshaw ride from Mapusa to Baga reminded me of a bizarre blend of Pondicherry and Kokan. The Marathi speaking driver, palm trees and a general small town vibe was pleasantly surprising. We reached the hotel in time and unpacked. The sea visible from the terrace was inviting with a crooked finger pointed at us. After quickly having breakfast, we ventured out and got hold of a bike rental guy. Our desperate attempts to bargain failed miserably and we finally gave into his 200 Rs. Per day rate with a shattered confidence.
The sun was beaming right in our faces. All the opposition we faced for deciding to visit goa in the month of May made a lot of sense. But fortunately that didn’t stop us. Oodles of sunscreen later,  the sea looked equally stunning.
Ok! I accept my obsession for maps and making lists! I have picked it up along the past few years but now I am hooked! There is no letting go of it. The only option is to accept it with a happy smile. As I opened my orange diary and the shiny map, ideas were umpteen. We decided to visit few places and do full justice to it. Really be in that place and try to remember the smells, feel the wind and soak the essence as much as we can. And trust me, it was indeed that poetic! 
                I remember sitting next to my friend in the Basilica of Bom Jesus church for two hours. Saying almost nothing to each other, just astound by the magnitude of that structure. Each person walking in with a distinct drive. The stillness I felt was so effortless and easy that I could physically see it. The history of that place in words is of course fascinating but the vibe that time has left behind made so much more sense to me.
The best part about having a ride with two wheels is you can feel the salty breeze in your hair (even if it screws it up), smell the grass and hear the noises. Travelling can never be just visually pleasing. Never!  We drove around all day taking turns anywhere the heart wished, passing palm trees, pretty houses, colourful markets, humongous churches and so much more… It was like a flip book.  The vibe differed with every fraction.  And like halting at a random page, we would wind up at a place, clueless yet extremely happy!
                Evenings were spent on the beach. There can be no two way about it.  Sitting on one of those beach chairs with a relaxed sense and an uncurled mind. Simply looking at the sun diving into the sea as the darkness seeps in. Only to be followed by the twinkling manmade lights everywhere which for some reason always gives me a sense of wellbeing. Novelty is certainly not a virtue of this experience. It’s beautiful because it’s basic and real! The forts, the roads, throwing everything from rocks to random things you can find around at the mango tree till something falls down. (Hopefully a mango), the tiny lanes, the smelly sea, the warm smiles, the overpriced markets, the cheap stuff, the sinners, the saints it all comes together as if diligently choreographed to let you experience pure bliss.
There are certain journeys that present you with experiences that are non dramatic, non life changing yet so subtly stirring and exceptionally gentle to catch in words~ this was one of those times. The only thing bad about Goa is that almost always comes a day when you need to pack you stuff and start your journey back home.