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2014 Mahindra Wild Escape

  • Feb 21, 2014
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9th February

Its 4 am on a cold winter morning in New Delhi, but there is hardly any of the weather getting to me as I head out towards the Airport because of the excitement building inside of me in wait of the next five days. And for the automotive enthusiast that I’ am, the excitement is despite the fact that it’s the 9th of February and I’ am leaving automotive nirvana behind me at the 2014 Auto Expo.

My reason for enthusiasm is because I’ am heading into the wilderness. And to be specific, I’ am headed to some of the most noted wild life sanctuaries and Tiger reserves in the country as a part of the first ever Mahindra Wild Escape.

Over the past couple of years Mahindra has made a name for itself under its Mahindra Adventure banner that is divided under four initiatives, namely, Special Escapes, Challenges, Great Escapes and Motor Sports. Mahindra’s latest initiative under its Special Escapes venture is the Wild Escape that stays true to its name by taking you away from the hustle and bustle of urban India to some of the most beautiful and serene wildlife sanctuaries in India.

As the flight touches down in Nagpur I’ am on my way to the Tuli Imperial hotel to meet up with the rest of the team that will be a part of the Wild Escape. After a few initial greetings and breakfast, a few participants were yet to arrive. Which allowed everyone to resort to the comfort of their rooms for some rest before the flag off for the first Mahindra Wild Escape took place. As for me, I decided to catch up on sleep before the drive and knock out for a solid two hours as Auto Expos are never ending days of excitement and work.



After the power nap and with lunch done with the group was briefed by the Mahindra Adventure Team about the guidelines and details for the days to come. We were handed out a participation kit that included Mahindra Adventure branded goodies such as T-Shirts, baseball cap, a jumper and a walkie talkie to communicate with the team from our cars. The cars in question were a fleet of Mahindra Scorpios, a couple of Mahindra Thars and a Ssangyong Rexton. The Rexton and Thars were used by Mahindra Adventure officials while the guests were given Scorpios.

It’s at this point when we were walking down to the basement parking that I came across some vintage cars that were in a dilapidated condition. They were in not too bad a condition, it’s just that since they had been abandoned were in the need for some restoration. There is no shortage of vintage car collectors in this country who would be willing to procure these vehicles in the blink of an eye and it’s a shame that these historic vehicles had been treated this way.



Nevertheless, a government official showed up late as expected, waved the flag, and we were on the way out of Nagpur, on wards to the jungle of Pench. The Mahindra Scorpios were numbered to ensure there is no overtaking during the drives and everyone was asked to stick to the convoy to ensure no one loses their way. Something, that went a bit awry as we were exiting the city of Nagpur when a bunch of us got lost in the narrow lanes of the city. Not to worry though as we were back in formation with the convoy after asking for directions from a traffic police official.

I was delighted to find that our Scorpios were loaded up with a crate of mineral water bottles, a tray of oranges and a bag of various food items to ensure we were always well catered to in our cars. What I was not delighted to find out was that the air conditioning on my Scorpio worked only on fan speed 4. As a result, in the days to come I either had the option of cold air going full blast on my face or no air conditioning at all. I therefore decided to live with a third option, just drive with the windows open. We are used to our air conditioned cars these days, but there was a time when we traveled all over the country with our windows rolled down. Something I rather enjoyed during the trip, out on the country side, as the air is clean.



Right, back to the road trip. En route, we stopped over for a break at a Mahindra dealership that was kind enough to serve us with snacks and drinks. Back on the road, we were headed over some broken sections of tarmac and its here that the Scorpio begins to show its age a bit as the suspension generates a fair bit of horizontal movement over sharp bumps. Apart from this, the Scorpio’s large wheels and chunky tyres make it fairly easy to go over uneven tarmac.

As darkness fell, we drove off the highway and into single lane country roads that led us into the jungle. After a 135 kilometer drive we arrived at our destination that would be our camp over the next two days, the Jungle Homes Resort in Pench.

Having checked in and taken a nice shower I went downstairs and took a walk around the resort and was overjoyed about being away from urban India once again and just soaked up the fresh air, the sound of nature and the beautiful dark sky in which you can look at stars all night long.

Shortly after, the group was downstairs to get to know each other. Everyone in the group was getting to know each other better and while exchanging knowledge about our professions among other things I was quite pleased to find out about how enthusiastic and interested everyone in the group was about wildlife and their understanding of our responsibility towards the ecosystem. It was soon time for dinner and duly so, as the next morning we had a 5:30 am wakeup call as we had to be at the gate of the Pench National Park by 6:30 am. After dinner we wasted no time in calling it a night and retired to our rooms for the final time that day.

 



10th February

At 5:30 am sharp we got a wakeup call from the reception desk for the morning ahead. As eager as I was, I got my camera ready and jumped aboard an open Maruti Suzuki Gypsy which is the norm for safaris inside wildlife sanctuaries around the country. Team Mahindra Adventure did a great job of organizing the whole affair and all we had to do was hand over our identification cards to them and our tickets were procured by the team at the Turia gate of the Pench National Park.



Once we had our tickets, a trained guide jumped aboard every Gypsy and we drove into the sanctuary. At this point it would be worth mentioning that the guide plays a very important role during the safari, their knowledge and understanding of the wildlife along with luck of course is what decides your fate for sighting birds and animals.



Not long after we entered the national park and having spotted a spotted deer or two, our guide asked the driver to stop and turn around as opposed to continue driving ahead like the rest of the Gypsys. Much to our amazement, the guide soon pointed into the bushes and whispered, ‘Leopard’! And there it was! A full grown Leopard was making its way out onto the road in front of us. Its shimmering spotted skin flexing with each step that turned into a sudden run as it faded into the forest on other side of the road. Now, I have photographed Formula One cars but with the leopard, I’ am sorry to report that it changed speed so suddenly that I barely managed to photograph it, as you can see from the photograph below.



After this encounter with the leopard our hopes and adrenalin rush were at an all time high and our Gypsy wandered into the wilderness carrying a load of people whom the guide calmly informed how lucky they were to have a rare leopard sighting.



Barely over the leopard sighting, the guide enlightened us on the calls from deer and langurs that was going around and told us that a tiger was in the vicinity! The Gypsy turned around once again, its 1.3 liter petrol engine humming away quietly. After a short while, we were in luck again as far ahead we spotted a tigress with two cubs! But they were heading into the forest, the guide quickly told the driver to change routes and we drove onto the other side of the bushes and waited. We waited in complete silence with nothing to be heard but the calls of the deer and the monkeys.



Then all of a sudden, there she was! In all her glory, the tigress was walking out into the clearing ahead of us followed by her two cubs. And if that’s not enough, the tigress stops beside a tree in front of us, turns around and gives us the look. With a big lump in my throat stimulated by both excitement and fear I click away frantically on my camera as the two cubs catch up with their mother. The tigress then turns around and walks into the wilderness in the direction they were headed.

 









We were absolutely blown away! What a morning! A leopard and a tigress with two cubs sighted in a span of about 20 minutes. It seems the stars that I was gazing into the night earlier were really aligned in a favourable way. So thrilled by the moment we were, that we had not even realized about another Gypsy carrying some of the others from our group had pulled up behind us and managed to catch a glimpse of the tigers too.





 



It would also be worth mentioning at this point that the well known tale of Jungle Book was written here in Pench by Rudyard Kipling.



The rest of the safari continued to capture our attention with peacock spotting, endless number of deer, parrots, a kingfisher, eagles, hawks, coronate, billed ducks, and a whole bunch of other species of birds from a distance and the ever present langurs. All of a sudden, the guide once again asked the driver to bring the Gypsy to a halt and reverse. This time though, it was for two owls that were sleeping in a tree and we got plenty of time to take a good look at them as well as click some clear photos.



Shortly afterwards, it was back to the Jungle Homes Resort for us where we were questioned by the rest of the group about our tiger sighting and we were more than happy to show them all our photographs. Its then, that we once again realized how lucky we were to have spotted a leopard and the tigress with cubs on the same day.









In the afternoon, we headed to the Sillari gate of the Pench National park in our Scorpios for another tour of the wildlife area. This side of the national park had more dense forests and it was a little difficult to spot animals as visibility inside the shrubbery and trees limited visibility. Nonetheless it was a nice drive and since we had driven down in half the number of cars and were sharing vehicles I decided to drive back in the Rexton with some friends who had the keys to it.



Back in the Jungle Homes Resort, that evening everyone was talking about their experiences during the two safaris and about our incredible tiger spotting. All it took was just a day for our minds to swerve off the regular thought process and talk about nothing but wildlife and our encounters with various flora and fauna. Later in the evening a tribal dance was performed by locals of the area for us and their colourful attire did catch everyone’s attention. As the performance came to an end, we realised that another safari was lined up for us the next morning and an early dinner allowed us to call it a night soon.



11th February

The next morning at 6 am the group headed out into a new wolf sanctuary that is a part of the Pench National Park. We were told that wolfs are shy by nature and cannot be spotted easily as they like to reside deep inside the jungle. True to the description, we did not spot any wolfs that morning but no one was complaining. The calm and serene sounds of the jungle awakened our senses for that day. Everyone was happy spotting various kinds of wildlife and just enjoyed the quiet safari through the jungle.



By 11:00 am everyone was regrouped at the Jungle Homes Resort and busy packing as we were headed out to the Kanha National Park after lunch in pursuit of observing another well known wildlife area. The drive from Pench to Kanha was just over 200 kilometers and consisted of fairly good roads that made for a relaxing countryside drive.





We happened to arrive at the Satya Ashoka Hotel located about a kilometer away from the gates of the Kanha National Park. By now we were well accustomed to evening in the jungle and none of us would be interested in the modern ways of living that included televisions, computers or even smart phones. But the fact that the place had a pool table got the better of me and in the two nights we spent there, some of us would play pool late into the night while indulging in light hearted banter and conversations about the wild.



12th February

The next morning we were up and at the gate of the Kanha National Park beside our Gypsys by 6 am sharp. As usual our tickets into the wildlife reserve were arranged in no time. Although, entry into the park only begins at 6:45 am, once the sun rises. We would spend this time mostly by our surroundings that on this occasion happened to have a handsome family of four dogs consisting of two pups and the mother and father. We would play with the pups as they were busy running about and chasing each other while the large male would keep a watchful eye on his kids and us.

Soon it was time to head into Kanha National Park and our group split into various routes into the sanctuary as we hoped to spot the big cat again. And this time we were told by the guide that tigers had been very active in the area we were going to and that we had a 99 per cent chance of spotting one. We drove for kilometers on end and spotted nilgais, spotted deer, sambar deer and various species of birds but our minds were hooked to the guide’s statement of 99 per cent chance.



It was only after breakfast and during the later part of the safari that the guide traced some wild calls and guided our Gypsy to a section where a tiger was present. We waited in silence only broken by the call of a single deer. And for a moment, through the deep undergrowth, I spotted a tiger making its way across the jungle. But that was it, the magnificent cat continued to reside inside the deep jungle for the time we spent there. As we begun to set off the guide suddenly asked the driver to reverse instead. But it was late, the tiger had already crossed over the road, some distance behind us. We headed back, a little disappointed about not spotting the tiger in as close a vicinity as we had on our first safari in Pench, but thrilled nonetheless about having taken a glimpse of a tiger in its true element, chasing prey.



The safari came to a wrap at 11 am when we headed back to the Satya Ashoka Hotel for lunch and a quick nap. Everyone was discussing how one Gypsy from the group had spotted a tiger for 40 minutes that was lazing around by a riverside. Another Gypsy had spotted a tiger known as Munna that had ‘Cat’ formed on its head with its black stripes. I simply refused to believe this, wondering how the tiger chose what language it should have ‘Cat’ imprinted on its head. But when I saw the photos, and I was taken aback by the fact that this was actually true!



When we finally got back to the hotel, we had found out that one of the guests who had not gone out for the safari had got in to a close encounter with a leopard that had strayed into the hotel property. This is where luck plays its part I tell you, but the poor fellow was pretty shaken by the whole affair and wasn’t really being too expressive about it. I guess when you see something on top of the food chain looking at you from a close distance without any barriers, it gets to you. Later that day, the group went for a six kilometer walk on a nature trail that included a lot of bird sightings as well as spotting a heard of bisons. In the evening we were entertained by a tribal dance called Baiga that was performed by the locals for us. This was followed by dinner and a long night of pool, in fact it got so late that the hotel people had to close down the room that housed the pool table.





13th February

Late night or not, by now we were used to waking up at 5:30 and reporting to our Gypsys for the early morning safaris. As usual we entered the national park by 6:45 am and went down a trail. The safari was a quite one where we did spot a lot of deer, peacocks and not much else as the forest was very dense in this area and therefore not possible to see too deep inside. Then all of a sudden, in the middle of the jungle we came across a tombstone for a human! I say human because the tomb stone had ‘Shikari’ written on it. This man, referred to as Lapsi shikari was the most well known hunter in the area during the early 1900s. He was also a guide to Britishers who would venture into the jungle for hunting. They say Lapsi shikari never missed and always got a clean head shot on his target. Rumour also has it that he used to tie his wife up in the house before going hunting, don’t know why that part was important. But we did slip in the question to the guide about his wife burying him there. To this he laughed and said, “No, he was mauled by a tiger.” At this moment we decided to keep quiet because, well we were in a jungle where the tiger population is said to be ‘active’.



Shortly after, on one of the trees we came across marks that were clawed in by a tiger in a manner of marking his territory. The marks were at least 6 feet above the ground and we could only imagine the size of the tiger responsible for the marks!



And just like that, our final safari was over. We may not have spotted tigers on this one, but we were more than content by the amount of wild animals and birds we had spotted during the first ever Mahindra Wild Escape. And I speak on behalf of the entire group that I was a part of when I say that, it was an experience that none of us will forget. We learnt so much about the wild during this trip, met a lot of people and tasted what it’s like to spot tigers and leopards. It’s addictive, once you get a taste of it, you just want to keep going back for more. Something that is also enhanced by the fact that everybody loves getting lost in the wild, the quietness, the fresh air and the peace of mind you get is something to cherish whenever you have the opportunity to do so.



In the afternoon, we headed back for a 260 kilometer drive back to Nagpur that was our final drive of the trip. En route, we stopped over at the Bison Retreat that is nestled below a massive banyan tree that is hundreds of years old. And from there on it was a non-stop drive back to the Tuli Imperial Hotel in Nagpur. Back in the hotel everyone freshened up in a jiffy and met up at a banquet hall booked for the evening by Mahindra to share our experiences in the wild for a final time.



One thing that was evident from everyone in the group was that the 2014 Mahindra Wild Escape had given everyone a taste of what wildlife is all about and the joys of wandering about in the wild. The success of the venture seems to be one by unanimous opinion as most of the participants were willing to be a part of future editions of the Wild Escape. As for me, I have to agree that this had been quite a week for me. We had been to a number of safaris in the wild and spotted some magnificent wild life. The whole trip was very well organized and everyone in the group agreed on the part, as at no point in time was anyone required to do something on their own. This in turn gave everyone the freedom to mentally ‘get lost’ in the true sense of the term during the trip and simply enjoy the entire experience.



 

 

 

 
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