Day 9: Satpura
We had a pre-dawn start this morning for our first game drive into the core area of Satpura National Park. The park is best known for its healthy populations of sloth bear and leopard, and there are good chances to make sightings of these species here as a result. The park also has a growing tiger population, but the largest density is down in the Bori zone, impossible to reach on a half-day trip and with the heat so high, a full-day trip would be just way too hot at this time of year.
We had a really successful game drive, with two leopard sightings to ourselves which was lucky.
Unfortunately, neither of the leopards fancied the paparazzi hanging around, so we decided to give up on photos and just enjoy the wildlife sightings for what they were. This was Lauren’s first time seeing giant squirrel in the wild, and I think they went down well – they really are so cute. However, Lauren’s firm favourite was the gaur, the world’s largest bovine species, of whom we were lucky enough to see on a few occasions.
Satpura is a stunning park, with a variety of landscapes from young(ish) teak woodland planted by the colonials, to limestone hillocks (reminding me of Botswana’s kopjes), and riverine grasslands and valleys.
It is beautiful. On the wildlife front it has a huge amount to offer.
On our game drive this morning we saw Hanuman langur, rhesus macaque, leopard, giant squirrel, gaur, spotted deer/chital, and a huge range of birds. It is a bit of a birder’s paradise I suspect. The only species that remained elusive after our game drive that were on my “wishlist” were sloth bear and dholes (Asiatic wild dogs) – but I couldn’t be disappointed given the excellent experiences we had encountered!
Returning to the lodge at 10:30am, there was just time to have a quick site inspection of my hotel, Reni Pani Jungle Lodge (gorgeous by the way!), and a rapid dip in the pool before we transferred 20 minutes closer to the park entrance, to our second lodge, Forsyth Lodge (also awesome). Located on 40 hectares of wild land, Forsyth is a lovely spot and is run by wildlife guides themselves, so the wildlife experience is big here. Plus, we found that they have a very loveable yellow Labrador that they rescued called Rocky - who couldn’t love that!?
After some time doing work (I had to do some at some point I suppose), we headed off into another section of buffer zone in the late afternoon. This area has a waterhole that a sloth bear mother and her two cubs have been visiting fairly reliably for a few days now. So, we went down for 5pm, waited a few minutes, and like clockwork, I noticed something large and black moving in the forest.
I thought I was losing my marbles to be honest, but no, there she was, ambling down through the dry deciduous forest to the rapidly drying waterhole, with two 6-month-old cubs clinging to her back.
She was bigger than I expected, as the only sloth bear I had seen previously was in Sri Lanka, where the subspecies is much smaller. Her black coat looked so thick (necessary to protect her from biting ants and termites as she raids their mounds), and her toddlers so heavy, that you couldn’t help but respect the girl for handling the ridiculous heat we are experiencing. It was a brief but brilliant sighting, with the cubs climbing down from mum to drink as she did and having a quick play with each other before jumping back on board the mum-mobile and ambling off in search of dinner.
We took our cue to leave, and explored the forests and valleys, listening out for the alarm calls of peacocks, langurs and giant squirrels, and keeping an eye trained on the road in search of spoor (animal tracks) to see who may be about. Watching the sun set over the Denwa River (one of Forsyth’s camping grounds) was pretty magical, as was the night drive that followed, using the high-energy flashlight to search for eye shine in the forest. We came across a couple of common palm civets which was great, though when I was gifted the flashlight to do some spotting, all I could find were spiders looking back at me…
Our return to the lodge was quickly followed by gin and tonics, a huge dinner (hard to break the habit of a holiday) and big squishy cuddles with Rocky, the lodge’s chunky yellow Labrador, who was very excited to have some guests at his lodge.
So all in all, a pretty fabulous day!