With time to spare after an entrepreneurship conference in Hyderabad, I was excited to explore the cultural and natural wonders of the beautiful Madhya Pradesh region. My trip itinerary was jam-packed visiting ancient temples, riding through the wilderness on safari, and volunteering, but the true heartwarming moments of this place came from the people I met along the way.
The conference in the bustling city of Hyderabad had worn me out. I was looking to escape the mayhem for something quieter. I had toured the city and visited the beautiful of Chowmahalla Palace and the architectural wonders Qutub Shahi Tombs and Charminar Monument. It was also important to me to have a positive impact on the local communities and environment.
Sri Vidhyas Centre: A Day of Learning in Hyderabad
I wanted to take a day volunteering in Hyderabad. I found Sri Vidhyas, a center committed to providing education to disabled children by creating a safe space for them. The day here was spent learning about the important work of the center and supporting them in their mission with the children. The center does all it can to give these children a chance to live a normal life and hopefully become independent adults one day. The children were loving and happy and just wanted to share and have fun. And seeing the compassionate staff genuinely working toward making a difference in the lives of these children was a beautiful experience to witness.
You can find more information about Sri Vidhyas Centre at http://srividhyaschool.org/
After spending a week in Hyderabad, I headed out to the state of Madhya Pradesh. This region is home to multiple national parks focused on species and habitat conservation.
After careful consideration, I decided to stay with Pugdundee Safaris which had amazing reviews. I stayed at Denwa Backwater Escape at Satpura National Park and Treehouse Hideaway at Bandhavgarh Tiger Preserve.
I cannot say enough positive things about Pugdundee Safaris. They are committed to being eco-friendly and putting efforts back into conservation. The company provided paper garbage cans, handmade recycled newspaper totes, and stainless steel water bottles, all in an effort to reduce our carbon footprint. All the staff who work at the lodges are passionate about their role in conservation and excited
Satpura National Park
The first of the parks, Satpura, is known for its high concentration of leopards, rare species of mammals, bird watching, and beautiful river life. Here the delicate ecosystem of central India is protected, thus protecting the wildlife living within it.
I stayed at Denwa Backwater Escape just outside the national park. For the duration of my stay, Swanand was my naturalist. Not only was he extremely knowledgeable but also patient (especially when I was wanting to take lots of pictures). On my first day we crossed the river by boat and then were assigned an open-air jeep, complete with driver and park guide.
We caught sightings of Spotted Deer, Sambar Deer, Bluebull Antelope, Indian Gaur, and Indian Gray Monkeys. With all this potential prey we were hoping to see leopards and tigers. Unfortunately, this time we weren’t lucky – although we did track a tiger and must have missed it by 10 minutes.
Our second safari here was via canoe across the river and through the marshlands. This gave us the opportunity to get up close to water life and birds. Birds are probably some of the most graceful animals on the planet as they swoop and dive. We managed to get sightings of a large number of species. The Common Kingfisher, White Throated Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Gray Heron, Crested Honey Buzzard, Rosy Starling, and Painted Stork were just a few we had a good look at amongst many more.
On our final safari in the park we met the elephant family that resides and works in the park. There was a mother, father, and two calves. Each elephant has its own caretaker that stays with it for many years.
One experience I won’t forget is getting a flat tire on our jeep our last day. Normally, for safety reasons, tourists are not allowed outside of the jeep except in designated areas. We were not in one of those areas and since we seemed to not have a car jack, we waited for another jeep to drive by for assistance. We all had to get out of the jeep and wait on the side of the road. It took the power of 5 men to lift the jeep as the 6th man switched the tire and the 7th looked out to make sure no leopards or tigers were coming. I think it would have been much more interesting if we had seen a tiger or leopard then!
One of the nicest things about Pugdundee Safaris was coming back to the home comforts of my cabin each night. The lodge was situated on the riverside with beautiful decor, vaulted ceilings, and a large deck and roof terrace. I could soak up the evening sun in the most beautiful surroundings of my room with nature just a step away.
Bandhavgarh Tiger Preserve
My second location with Pugdundee Safaris was near the Bandhavgarh Tiger Preserve. This park has one of the highest densities of Bengal Tigers in all of India and a large population of leopards.
Before I get into the details of the safari, I want to take the time to tell you about the dedication of the people who looked after us throughout our stay. Our tree house was built from local wood with a spacious room and huge patio for enjoying our proximity to nature. The bathroom even had hot running water which adds an extra something after coming home from a long day on safari. Prior to our arrival, I had kindly asked if it would be possible to try a custard apple – I’d never had one before and had always wondered what they tasted like. To my delight, they presented me with not just one custard apple but several with each meal. It wasn’t until later that I found out someone had driven an hour out of their way to find these for me during my stay. It’s the extra effort that makes you feel at home when you couldn’t be further away.
Now back to the safari. I was again paired with an amazing guide for the duration of the stay. Ashish (he also happened to be the manager of the lodge) felt like a lifelong friend by the time I left. He was so passionate about the park, tigers, and my safari that he even made sure my jeep was the first off into the park each morning. He would choose the path less traveled to find the earliest sightings of tigers. He was not only dedicated to his guests but to the wildlife the park supports.
On our first day of safari, I was blown away by the beautiful setting: vistas, plateaus, open grasslands, and forest. Then with Ashish, my expert guide, we had our first sighting of a tiger. This one was a male known as T71 or Pannalal. He is one of two dominant males living in the Khitauli Zone of the park.
There he was, casually laying in the road ahead of us minding his own business. He eventually got up and started walking toward our vehicle. He calmy walked around the jeeps before using a tree as a clawpost and then sauntering back into the forest. At one point we were probably within 15 feet of this magnificent animal and he didn’t seem to have a care in the world.
They say Pannalal travelled 100 miles from Panna National Park. It is a massive feat for a tiger to make it through unprotected lands. It’s as if his luck rubbed off on us and we got to see this safari king up close. This was my highlight of being in India. Thank you Pannalal for putting on a show and delighting us.
I must say, it’s very rare to see such a shy and elusive creature being so bold amongst humans. There are some tigers throughout the park that are rarely sighted because they are so timid. Like on our last day, we had our final sighting of a tiger that was much shyer and headed into the woods quickly upon hearing our jeep but still just such a beautiful creature.
We also had a sighting of a jungle cat about 30 feet from our jeep. These are similar to bobcats. This one blended into the grasslands and we were lucky to spot this rare find in Bandhavgarh.
But really what touched me the most was the people. The staff were amazing, friendly, and attentive. I truly felt like I had been invited into someone’s home versus just staying at a lodge. On my final night at Tree House Hideaway, I had dinner with Ashish (our guide) and his lovely wife Nancy. Together they are the general managers and thanks to them they added something extra special to the experience of Bandhavgarh. I had a lump in my throat when leaving both lodges thanks to the special people.
If you ever visit India going on safari is a must. It not only increased my knowledge of the glorious creatures being protected here but tourism supports the local community to help ensure their continued conservation efforts. On my next trip to India, I may just have to spend a couple of weeks in the tiger preserves, learning as much as I can and supporting the efforts to protect these animals who have touched my heart.