Camping in Satpura Tiger Reserve – Madhya Pradesh, India
The morning fog has begun to disappear and you’re trudging along on the nature walk. The langurs on the teak tree are swinging from the branches and a couple of racket-tailed drongos are chirping away. But what happens next breaks the spell you’ve been lulled into, and you remember you’re in an actual jungle, where encounters rarely end amicably. There’s dried blood on the walking trail. You walk into the bushes to investigate and come across the bony remains of a sambar; the tree nearby has leopard claw marks all over its trunk, suggesting the cat dragged the deer up the tree to devour it. The brutal beauty of nature is one of the many things you experience on the camping and nature walk, organised by the Reni Pani Jungle Lodge in the Satpura Tiger Reserve.
The programme includes one or two nights of camping, depending on your preference, as well as half- and full-day walks. Located at the confluence of the Nagduari and Denwa rivers, Reni Pani’s Jamanidev Under Canvas Mobile Camp is nestled in a splendid valley. The fun begins with a drive to the campsite from the lodge. It’s a bumpy 22km ride in a 4×4 that will get you ready for the adventure ahead. On the way, the forest guard accompanying you keeps a look out for animal sightings while the in-house naturalist peppers the conversation with titbits about the jungle and its inhabitants.
Depending on how sharp your eyes are, you might see leopards, deer, nilgai, sloth bears and boars in the abundant foliage. Once you reach the campsite, it’s time for some pampering. You’re welcomed with a hot towel that instantly makes the chill in your bones disappear, and the tents remind you that the term ‘glamping’ was invented a few years ago for a reason. Equipped with everything you might need for a couple of nights under the stars – toiletries, a torch and a whistle, in case you need help in the middle of the night, or if an animal comes visiting – the tents are spacious, but cosy.
After a sundowner, a simple meal of dal, rice, curries and parathas awaits. An after-meal coffee around the bonfire later, you’re ready to be tucked in along with a hot-water bag – a lifesaver in the winter months.
The next morning, it’s time for a full day (about 7km) of nature walks. Taking muffins and sandwiches along, you’ll begin a day full of surprises. You’ll stumble upon deer and nilgai, who are startled by your presence. You’ll hear sounds you never have before from beautiful birds you didn’t know existed.
And you’ll learn more about the forest than you did in your geography class at school. By the end of the day, you’ll know the crested hawk-eagle from the grey-headed fish eagle, and the satin wood bark tree from the crocodile bark tree. By night, you might even hear an alarm call ringing out from the woods that breaks the laughter around the bonfire, and puts everyone on high alert.
Is a sambar going to be killed? Is the predator likely to come sniffing around the campsite? The naturalist laughs off your questions, assuring you there’s nothing to worry about. The first question is answered the next morning during the morning nature walk (3.5km), when the guard from the anti-poaching camp informs that all is well with the deer. As you’re walking past large meadows and ponds, home to kingfishers, and you hear the songs of the white-browed wagtails, you realise you need to come back.
GREAT FROM: Bhopal, Mumbai, New Delhi
GREAT FOR: A weekend of adventure
WHERE TO STAY
Jamanidev Under Canvas Mobile Camp by Reni Pani Jungle Lodge: The lodge has 12 very comfortable cottages of varying sizes – six Nallah Units, four Forest Units and two Hill Units. The campsite has single and double occupancy, well-equipped, spacious tents and hot water on demand.
WHERE TO EAT
The lodge and the campsite offer mostly Indian food and some Continental dishes. Share your preferences with the staff and they’ll accommodate your requests. All the meals at the lodge are buffet-style. At dinner, try the Mohua Martini, a specialty considering mahua trees don’t grow everywhere in India. The food at the camp is prepared fresh on-site. It’s usually simple but delicious fare with a vegetable and meat curry, rice, dal and hot rotis and parathas. The gajar and doodhi halwas are yummy! The nalli nihari and baingan bharta are popular dishes at Reni Pani Jungle Lodge. Since the camp is situated in a jungle, the food served here is your only option.
WHAT TO PACK
Forest-friendly colours are ideal for jungle excursions. Carry a pair of good hiking shoes, as sneakers don’t quite offer good grip; winter gear, including a hat, is a good idea, as is a pair of binoculars if you own one.
CLEAN LOO GUIDE The loos and bathrooms set up at the campsite are better than anything you’d expect. On the way to Reni Pani Jungle Lodge from Bhopal, Highway Treat, run by Madhya Pradesh Tourism in Bhimbetka (45km), offers a decent toilet and good coffee.
While the lodge, campsite and the jungle are safe, be aware of your surroundings on the walks as well as at the campsite at all times.
There is a well-stocked first-aid box in the cars and at the campsite. However, there is no mobile network or electricity at the campsite, and a doctor is available only at the lodge. Dr Sitoke is a GP and his clinic is about 10km from the lodge. There’s also a government hospital 14km away in Sohagpur. Inform the lodge staff if you need assistance.
Even though the camp is comfy, it’s not the best idea to travel with very young children, considering their various needs. This trip is better suited for kids aged 12 years and over.
GOOD TO KNOW
* Satpura Tiger Reserve is closed on every Wednesday afternoon.
* If you’re looking for more rigorous activity, you can opt for the Panchmarhi Trail. It involves two-day treks of about 13km each with overnight camps in Dehelia and Manakachar villages.