India’s Satpura National Park – the most stunningly natural tiger wilderness in India.
Watch Mugger crocodiles slip noiselessly into the reservoir as you approach by boat, the exhilarating flash of a tiger’s markings amidst the foliage as you amble on elephant back, a Barrasingha deer wading at the water’s edge, huge Gaur blocking your way or vultures and eagles soaring overhead as you ride the dusty tracks amidst dense forest in this little known jewel.
We’re biased, of course, because we lived in Satpura for seven years working in tiger conservation but as a National Park it offers some of the most stunning wilderness and wildlife in India – that has benefited hugely from the careful studied attentions of conservationists, both within the Indian Forest Department and independent NGO’s.
Situated in the centre of north/south, east/west datum lines that bisect India, Satpura is slightly off the beaten track and as a result has been protected from the onslaught of tourist traffic that has impacted so much on other national parks in India.
In Satpura you see tiger and other wildlife only if it wants to be seen – it’s not so habituated to noisy jeeps and their passengers that it’ll sit there waiting for you; so you’re far more likely to experience nature at its most natural.
This beautiful jewel lies some 250km south of Bhopal and nudges up against the sprawling Tawa Reservoir that itself acts as a natural boundary against encroachment. The Park measures some 1,500sq km in size and as with most parks has core, buffer and reserve forest areas.
Given its relative isolation from the tourist trail, much attention has been given to protecting Satpura in a way not so easily achieved elsewhere. Continuing excellent initiatives instigated by the then Park Director R.P.Singh, (who has now retired but is about to assume an influential role as Advisor to the Government of M.P.) resulted in a programme of tribal support and village relocation projects. The Park has continued to implement numerous other conservation efforts that are gradually improving its natural habitat, at a time when many other parks are suffering from encroachment and damage. A total of 12,000 tribal people have been relocated from 40 villages towards the final goal of making Satpura inviolate by 2019.
As with all things, there are trade-offs and compromises, and tourists are gradually finding their way to Satpura, which means that it’s now making more efforts to accommodate them and the wild beauty of the place inevitably changes.. Absolute protection is perhaps a naïve impossibility these days, as the revenues generated from tourism inevitably contribute to protection. Satpura, nevertheless is one of the only parks where a tourist can walk in core area or ride in a canoe, a boat and a jeep during the course of a couple of days’ visit – giving unprecedented access to some of the most stunning scenery and wildlife areas in India.
Access to Satpura is from the northern boundary – where excellent jungle lodges such as Reni Pani cosset you in style after the rigours of jungle forays and your personal ‘butler’ leads you from your lodge to the dining area to protect you from wildlife (service that’s a reflection of their sister hotels Jehan Numa and Jehan Numa Retreat in Bhopal) – but no longer from the eastern side and Pachmarhi plateau, where colonial style hotels sit atop a plateau that overlooks the enchanting vista of Satpura, spread out below you on all sides.
Satpura isn’t for the quick fix, ‘look left, look right, move on’ tourist but the more interested and devoted traveller who simply wants to absorb their surroundings as nature intended.- who isn’t deeply disappointed if they don’t see tiger but who revels in the presence of every flower, tree, bird and beast that makes up the rich tapestry of an Indian jungle.
We asked R.P.Singh, when at HQ Bhopal as Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, what developments had occurred in Satpura.
“Recently we introduced 22 Barrasingha (swamp deer) from Kanha, whose number has increased to 50 around the old Bori village. So far we have relocated 40 villages from core critical zone and more villages are in the pipeline for relocation. Finally, saturated tiger reserve is real tiger reserve and not an old domestic buffalo reserve! Smooth coated otters and Eurasian otter are also appearing in camera traps along with many breeding tigers in every part of park. 90% of Satpura’s area is now inviolate and as a result. we’ve received awards over the last two years for Best Village Relocation from NTCA (Project Tiger) the UNDP for Best Biodiversity Park after Kanha and Best Tourist Friendly Destination Park from TOFT. We are proud of your own association with Satpura Tiger Reserve right from the initial struggle stages.”
So, great things are happening at Satpura. Village relocation has brought huge benefits to both the tribal people who have left complete jungle isolation in favour of places where medical care, markets and schools are available and to the jungle itself whose natural habitat is quickly restored with the departure of domestic cattle and human presence; with the re population of prey base and thereafter, predators. A natural balance is restored that improves natural biodiversity and provides a wonderful excursion for those who love nature.
So many venture to India’s Golden Triangle, never to return, having ‘done India’ but there are so many outstanding gems yet to see for the person willing to slow down and sit quietly in a country where this seems almost impossible.
Satpura is one such place. Making tracks from Mumbai, Delhi or Bhopal – to Pachmarhi and Satpura – will reveal an India not often seen but which is so much closer to the natural character of the country, than a race around the cultural ‘hot spots’ and frenetic metro areas associated with the well-trodden tourist trail.
Take time in Satpura and you’ll never regret it.
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