The phone rang in the distance. The sleepy eyes were half closed, still somewhat tired from the journey, the day before. Managed a four-day vacation to visit one of the biggest, and finest wildlife reserves of India – Kanha. We had flown in to save time from Hyderabad to Nagpur utterly missing the self-drive, hopping across the two states of Telangana and Maharashtra in the southern and western parts of India.
We intended to drive into the central rolling lands of Madhya Pradesh, the leading state of India, in terms of surface area. Three pairs of eyes sparkled in anticipation of pure excitement. Wildlife for that matter triggers the goose bumps at the mere thought of the word.
The initial plan of a straight drive from Hyderabad to Kisli was shelled as the 760 kilometres would have taken around fourteen to fifteen hours. So, we broke our travel up between air and road. After flying in, we made it up for the second stage from Nagpur by car. Courtesy, our local Madhya Pradesh local car travel company, we were armed with a white Hindustan Ambassador car, unlike the sophisticated off roaders people use now.
The driver was a young man in his early thirties and I used all my years of cajoling skills to make him hand over the car keys for the next three days.
I would have been heart broken to have been a passenger and not take the wheel of a car which would be driving through multiple roadways exploring the state.
The Ambassador Grand with her 2000 cc of raw engine power, had enough grunt and started climbing and hugging the National Highway 44 which was quite smooth but narrow.
We had to slow down frequently to stop at the crossings and overcome the unruly local traffic.
Near, Manegaon Tek, we crossed into Madhya Pradesh (MP) state. The scenery around changed somewhat. The road became broad and the cityscape showed less of houses and more of open spaces. The unmistakable hint of road moving away from the populated places was present as large land under forests flanked the highway.
Huge blocks of sal trees and other bigger varieties started lining the highway.
Right out of the city limits, I found the fuel gauge indicator showed the need for a fill up. Nagpur outskirts have a strange mix of collection of houses followed by vacant lands.
We kept our eyes peeled for a gas station, and eventually came across one.
The road between Deolapar to Rukhad, was carpet smooth. The forest consisted of Mokha trees that hung low and spread its branches creating a pall of shadow over the shoulders of the metaled road. The road looked as if it had vanished into the thick growth within a white haze in the distance.
The Ambassador‘s Isuzu engine pumped 105 Nm of torque as the blue sky above and the rows of trees around us slid past us at 110 Kms/hr.
The silence of the area and the deep throb of the engine all merged to produce an euphoric atmosphere which kept us motionless within the fast moving car.
Out of the Rukhand village, the road started to climb. We could see small hillocks, had been blasted off and the state highway SH44 ran right through it.
It looked as if the two huge boulders stood like sentries heralding the nature’s more fury to unfurl. We drove on…
The road meandered once again through the sal and teak forest. I geared down the car to provide passage to a couple of adventurous bystanders suddenly pelting away across the road as they saw passing cars. They were long tailed, black faced languors.
They dared to run flat out in front of our passing car.
Near Agari village about half a kilometre to the east, we broke off for refreshments. The owner of the road side restaurant had creatively put together a structure purely made of thick teak or sal wood. Needless to say, they were abundant in that area.
Swings hung from the nearby tall trees with chairs and tables on the open area under the tree. Call of birds, mixed with the passage of cars and trucks made the break very refreshing. The hot beverage with extra milk and sugar rejuvenated our strength for more of our escapades.
We spent about forty minutes, with some healthy dosage of hot tea and samosas.
The temperature had started to fall as the forest area grew. The sun was also competing with its fiery rage and another fifty kilometres brought us to the Seoni check post or toll and we took a right turn.
Gone was the city or town look. Replaced by small villages. Flatter and undulating dry brown patches with forest started to take shape.
Scattered villages and mode of transport seemed to be the tractor with its trailer, bumping away with a clank or showed subdued behavior with packs of wheat loaded, heading for the nearby market.
From Keolari to Bharweli, the road was anything but motor-able. The asphalt had long gone. All that remained was loose white soil and numerous small to big rocks and pebbles. The tires squealed as I turned the steering side to side to avoid particles that looked threatening. Any careless move, will cut the rubber into smithereens.
A white cloud of dust storm formed behind us as the Ambassador made her way towards our next stop – Kisli.
The section of uneven road seemed endless, and it took almost forty minutes to cover a distance of twelve kilometres.
Our excitement had waned a bit but a sign and the road improving considerably put us back into spirits of ecstasy.
We had entered the forest buffer zone of Kanha. The long road within the forest engulfed on all sides with sal trees made us skip our heart beats. We saw a family of spotted deer crossing the road.
Occasional returning traffic comprised of buses and cars whizzed away. The Madhya Pradesh government had done a commendable undertaking of keeping the forest clean.
Striking feature being complete absence of plastics.
Our long awaited desire to drive down to this gorgeous, and intimidating forest finally getting realized. Very soon, we came to the nearest village of this place called Khatia revealing itself from within the forest.
Spotted deer were in drones, beside a bridge with a running stream. Hardly took notice of us as we came to the checkpost at Kisli to drive deeper into the jungle towards our log house.
It was about two in the afternoon. The grazing deer reminded us, the need for us to forage the Kanha’s restaurant which was deep inside the jungle.
We parked our Ambassador at the allotted parking slot and started our trudge with our backpacks and luggage towards our log house.
What happened next was far more hair raising than our drive to Kanha.