Will I get to see a tiger? This is the first question that pops into my mind every time I hear of a national park. This time also, it was no different. This was the very first question that I troubled my co-travellers —the naturalist, the forest guide, the driver and fellow passengers too— with when I began with the safari. They must be tired of me and this question."Will I get to see a tiger?" I asked Mohan, the naturalist from Denwa Backwater Escape. He was polite enough to stay calm and smile. He said, "Satpura national park is like a place for all kinds of wildlife. You have to be vigilant to see more than the tiger."
"Ok, what about leopard?" I poked him with another question. The Park is very unpredictable. One might encounter diverse wildlife at just any turn here. Therefore, it was best not to expect too much and simply enjoy the journey.
Let me take you through the Satpura jungle…
I woke up to the sound of probably a langur screeching next to my cottage. It was 5:00 am already, and I had to rush for my safari. I prefer early morning safari even though I am not an early morning person. The chances of a predator hunting for food, birds chirping and announcing the rise of the sun, the golden rays piercing through the jungle, everything is so fresh. Definitely not a sight to be missed!
As a bonus, some of the national parks let you drive through the jungle for some more time in the morning than they do in the afternoon safari.
As we drove towards the forest gates, I realised that the Denwa river runs between the village Sarangpur and Satpura Tiger Reserve. That summer, the Denwa river had become very dry, so we drove through the river bed, parked our vehicle there, walked across a makeshift plastic bridge, got to the other side to get into the forest safari jeeps. We then proceeded to the Satpura Tiger Reserve.
Satpura Tiger Reserve, Madhai
This is specifically called Satpura Tiger Reserve Madhai because the Satpura range is very expansive and extends from Panchmarhi hill station to places even beyond. Only a part of the range of Satpura hills is the Madhai tiger reserve. If you are looking up for this place on the map, look for Satpura tiger reserve, Madhai particularly.
That morning we set off to explore the Reserve; there were only about 5 or 6 jeeps. The less number of people in the morning made me happy actually. Just a few enthusiasts are spending the morning looking for fresh air and some sightings!
As soon as we entered the park, huge plains with herds of deer were grazing around in the plains. Satpura has such marvellous and varied landscapes. It has geographical features —hills and rocks, streams and springs, and much more.
We spotted the wild boars first and foremost. I have seen a group of wild boars before in Tadoba, but this was the first time I saw them with their little ones. The herd was very protective of their little pups, and sadly I could not get a picture. The sight was so adorable nonetheless.
Safari through Satpura National Park
Life was smooth, and I was super happy after seeing the cute little pups of the boars until I came to see a jeep at a halt. The people there said that they had seen a leopard cross the way but only for a fraction of a second. They wondered if it would come up again after drinking water.
My heart sank! My face dropped, wondering why the leopard did not say hi to me! It was like taking away ice cream from a kid. I looked up to my naturalist as if he had a magic wand and could bring back the leopard in no time.
We stood there for some more time, circling around the region, hoping to catch a glimpse of the leopard. It proved useless! Dejected, we moved forward…
It was fun to drive through the vast expanse of the Satpura region.
Suddenly we came across streams with abundant water, despite the boiling summer. There was greenery all about and also harsh brown barren trees.
We were driving around looking for tigers, leopards and bhaloos. The sloth bear is quite popular in Satpura. Since there are fewer predators than other national parks, animals like sloth bear, nilgai, sambar, and boars are found more in number here.
We even came across a sambar and were greeted by its family.
Sightings at Satpura National Park
Just around another corner, a jeep passed by us and informed us that a python was lying by the lake with prey! We could go and see that just in time. How super exciting. I have never seen a python, and that too with a kill!
For some reason, the picture running in my mind was like that of an anaconda lying in the lake wrapped around its kill. I thought —” I don't care about the leopard or tiger, let us go see the anaconda, I mean the python.”
We came to the bridge near the lake and hunted for the python. Given my luck, I was sure that it must have gone by now when suddenly my naturalist exclaimed, "Look right there, you can see the body coiled up."
There it was! It's head or tail; nothing could be seen. It was tightly coiled up around the kill. I could not make out whether it had swallowed and was trying to digest the kill or had it just wrapped the prey and was choking it.
We stood there for a while, and I could see its body coiling up even tighter. After waiting for a while, we decided to move further thinking—Now I want to see at the very least a single bhaloo.
Sloth Bear Sighting
A little while late, another jeep informed us that there is a sloth bear ahead. My heart raced again, and we drove hurriedly to the spot.
There we saw a crowd of jeeps already parked there. Tourists and travellers were all ready and were aiming their camera towards the bears. I somehow could immediately sense that the bear had crossed and gone into the thicket.
When we reached there, we saw a bear walking into dry grasses sniffing something off the ground. She had a cute little cub on her back. The sloth bear cub was sitting on her back and was dangling its legs. It was the cutest sight to see in the entire safari. I wanted to see more of it. I put on my puppy face and looked at the naturalist and the guide. "The bear might cross this thicket and come out through to the other side; let us wait on the other side of this area," said the forest guide, making me happy.
By then, we were not the only ones. Every other jeep party had the same idea. All of us were standing on the other side, forming a circle around the area, waiting for the sloth bear momma along with her kiddo.
Almost half an hour passed, and yet there was no sign of the bear. The dejected visitors started to leave one by one. "Do you have patience?" asked my naturalist. "Of course! We can stay here all day too", I promptly replied and looked in the direction of the sloth bear, anticipating it to come out any moment.
The half-hour turned into an hour, and the only vehicle left was ours.
"Madam, sure?" asked the guide again, and I honestly had started to give up. We drove a little back and forth on the same road when our forest guide pointed at a distance. He asked the driver to stop the vehicle. I just couldn't see anything. However, from inside that thicket, a tiny figure was peeping out.
We held our breaths in anticipation again. Our guide was sure that the momma sloth bear and kid will walk out into the opening. We had waited for quite some time now, so in all probability, they were now coming down to say “hi”.
The mom walked down away from the thicket and made her way towards us with the cute kid on her back. My happiness knew no bounds when I saw that scene! Was it happening for real?
As a reader, you might think it is just a bear. What is the fuss all about? But that feeling of waiting for an hour and watching not just a sloth bear but also a cub hanging on to her back is a scene out of this world. It got more interesting.
Since ours was the only jeep left now, and one more came to join us, there was not much crowd around the bears. The bears got very comfortable and were loitering on the driveway.
Sloth bears eat termites, ants, leaves, fruits and honey. Have you seen how cute Pooh looks with his jar of honey? That is how cute the little one looked when it held on to a young tendu plant and nibbled it away. At one point, the cub ran towards us, and I squealed with joy.
Pictures to speak the rest.
Birding at Satpura National Park
After the wonderful show put up by sloth bear, mom and cub, we returned to the spot where the leopard was spotted in the morning. There were already two jeeps standing there facing the direction of the thicket. There was a small waterhole beneath—so small that it looked muck to me.
We waited and hoped that the leopard would come down for drinking water. My naturalist and guide were confident and convinced that a leopard will come to drink from here shortly.
A grey jungle fowl passed by. You must have heard of a jungle fowl howling in the jungle? It goes on non-stop until you lose your mind. This one howled similarly. It walked up into the thicket and started howling in a different voice. Everybody got alert! That was a warning call…
A leopard indeed entered the scene! Imagine our horror and surprise! The langurs who were already drinking water quickly climbed up the trees. We looked anxiously in the direction of the call. The call was now shriller, and the langurs too joined in giving the warning call. After about half an hour of chaos and commotion, the leopard found a cool spot to relax and decided to take a nap.
We decided to wait there in the shade, hoping that the leopard might wake up, feel thirsty and come down to drink water. Maybe the leopard saw us and wanted to stay hidden.
Meanwhile, around the watering hole, so many other creatures came down for a drink. Colourful birds were singing around merrily.
A mango fell near me, but I was oblivious to it. I so wanted to see the leopard closely, for I knew it was right there sleeping. Sigh!
Suddenly, there was a commotion in my jeep when my naturalist Mohan got excited about an animal coming down. I did not understand at first. He said, “treeshrew’. 'What on earth is treeshrew now? He was busy clicking away pictures with his DSLR while I couldn't even figure out what the hype was about. Everybody else was also excited about it walking down near the waterhole. Why could I not see it?
At one point, the sun shone brightly, and then I saw the treeshrew sitting on a rock. It looked like only a squirrel to me, and I still did not understand all the fuss. Ignorant me!
Treeshrews are not only tough to spot, but apparently, they are intelligent animals. They have a higher brain to body mass ratio than most of the other animals, including humans. All this info I got to know only after coming back. So I did not do justice to the little treeshrew.
On the other hand, check out the picture taken by naturalist Mohan from Denwa Backwater Escapes. Epic!!
For more wildlife pics from Mohan Chandra Joshi - https://www.facebook.com/yalp.mohan
And then here are some more bird pictures
How to book your safari at Satpura?
There are three ways you can book your safari for Satpura National Park, Madhai.
One is to book the safari through the resort that you are staying at. Make sure that a talented Naturalist accompanies you. It would be very beneficial.
The second way is to book the safari online by yourself. Note that you will be paying only for the safari ticket online. The safari ticket for the full jeep is Rs.1550/- The park entry fee, jeep cost and the guide cost are separate and needs to be paid at the gate. Satpura National Park’s entry fee and the jeep plus guide total fee comes to about a total of Rs.3000/- to Rs.5000/-.
Six people can share the jeep. The good part for solo travellers is that the Madhya Pradesh Tourism lets you book a single seat in the gipsy. This way, you will be sharing the jeep with random strangers with whom you can split the cost of the jeep and driver. The only downside is that you might land up sharing your gipsy with people who are not that interested in wildlife.
The third way is to book directly at the gate on arrival. Satpura national park is relatively less crowded, so you will be able to purchase a safari ticket then and there as well.
Online safari booking for Satpura National Park, Madhai – https://forest.mponline.gov.in/
How to Reach Satpura National Park
Bhopal is the nearest airport to Satpura. From there you can drive down or arrange for a cab/taxi to pick you up from your place.
The nearest railway station and bus station are in Sohagpur, where Satpura National Park is only about 20km. However, not all trains stop at Sohagpur, so the other alternative is to stop at Pipariya, which is about 45km away. A lot of people halt at Pachmarhi hill station too, which is also close by.
I came from Pench National Park, which was a little cumbersome. Pench to the Satpura route was tedious, and I had to change several buses at various places en route Satpura— Khawasa, Chindwara, Pipariya, Sohagpur. I can tell you that it is the worst idea from my experience of hopping buses in Madhya Pradesh. Have your own vehicle or simply take a train.
Also read, all about Pench National Park here - https://masalabox.co.in/jungle-book-pench-national-park-nagpur/
Satpura National Park Timings
During the Summers, the park gate opens at 6:30 am, and the safari ends at 9:30 am. However, if there is a fortunate sighting or you are keen on wildlife, the guide may push it up to 10:30 am. But the sightings of tigers start to reduce after 9:30 am because of the scorching heat. In the evenings, the park opens at 3:30 pm and closes at 6:30 pm.
In Winters, the park gates are open from 7:30 am to 10:30 am and Evening from 3:00 pm to 5:30 pm. Basically, by the time the sun sets, you need to exit the park.
Note that all the national parks in Madhya Pradesh are closed on Wednesday evenings.
Best Time to Visit
This is difficult to answer, to be honest.
Sometimes, the experts recommend to go during the peak summer as the predator is likely to be found sitting around water holes to cool itself. But if there is no sighting, they excuse themselves saying that since it is too hot, the predator would probably be in some shade sleeping.
Satpura National Park remains open from October to mid-June or early July, depending on the monsoon's arrival. During the monsoon, safari is difficult, and the animals also do not come out. Hence the park remains closed.
I feel the best time to visit the Satpura national park is after the monsoon. After the monsoon, it is going to be beautiful with the Denwa river in its full flow. The experience and scenery are altogether different. So anytime between November to March, when the temperature is just right, is a good time to visit Satpura.
Where to Stay?
Satpura has a forest rest house at Madhai and Churna. Madhai rest house is close to the gate from where the forest safari begins, whereas Churna guest house is inside the jungle.
Staying at these rest houses is an experience in itself. They are very basic and have limited resources. I am not sure if an online booking option is available for these rest houses. You can make your bookings at the Hoshangabad office of the MP Forest Department.
I stayed at the gorgeous Denwa Backwater Escape resort. They took care of everything— from picking me up, booking safaris, tagging me along with a naturalist, feeding me well and dropping me safely at the station to head to the next destination.
The cottages are spacious, private and offer a gorgeous view. I loved spending my afternoons lying in my bed and looking at the vastness in front of me.
Bonus: your mobile does not work; only BSNL does. It is the best place if you are looking to blend with the wilderness, away from the hustle-bustle of a city.
Book your stay with Denwa Backwater Escape here - Click Here
Read more about Denwa Backwater Escapes - https://masalabox.co.in/nature-denwa-backwater-escape-satpura-national-park/
A short video on Satpura National Park
Here is a little something so you can experience the Satpura jungle and the sloth bear sighting like I did.. Enjoy :)