‘Why would we fly? We can drive it.’
‘Well how long will that take?’
‘Around 8 hours or so.’
I shrugged and half-heartedly nodded as my Indian (resigned) persona kind of, sort of agreed.
In England, if I was to set off and drive from my house, for eight hours in any direction, I am pretty sure I would drop off the edge of the island. However, this is India and conversations amongst the hard-core, travel fraternity frequently include drives of fourteen hours or more. One thing Indian’s with a passion for travel and adventure know how to do is ‘road trip,’ they are the masters from which anyone from a smallish island can learn. My first encounter with hard core road trippers was an eye opener of epic proportions. I thought I had done well for traversing India’s highest navigable road, turning up with enough sandwiches to feed a small army, veg and non veg, a couple of bottles of water, four packets of biscuits, a pocket sized first aid kit and a toilet roll. Given that we were heading to Ladakh, I had also thrown in a camera, binoculars and a bird book. Boy was I prepared! Actually, no I wasn’t, not even slightly as it turned out.
My travel companions had Tupperware upon Tupperware boxes, expertly stacked and full of home cooked food together with pre prepared rotis in stacks which could have easily held a jeep off the ground whilst tyres were changed; camping stoves, a tent (just in case, we did actually have hotels booked along the route), blankets, shovels, torches, spare petrol cans, tow ropes and chains, (all plural, note), a spare truck to carry the motor bike for fun stretches, and even a back up Gypsy (Local Indian Jeep for those not in the know) customised to have tow bar, roll bar, spot lights, winch and whatever else could be fitted to it in order to come to our rescue, inclusive of spare driver and its own mechanic. Oh, and let’s not forget bottles of beer, Old Monk, Whiskey, wine, and a pack of playing cards. They looked from my offerings to me with something akin to sympathy, stuck me in the back of a car where I could be of little trouble and we set off. I had a lot to do in order to prove my mettle. But that was another trip and a story to be told at a different time.
Back to Dudhwa and my soon to be jungle companion and hard core, wildlife fanatic continued, ‘If we set off at 0430 we will be there in time for the afternoon safari.’ That’s the line that always gets me, I should expect it by now, I should be ready for it, but it always causes a momentary palpitation. However, I knew that to disagree would be futile and so I nodded and agreed; I would be ready for 0430. To be fair, we were headed to the jungle, and not getting to spend nearly enough time in India’s forests these days, I will acquiesce to most things at the prospect of the peace and tranquillity of a national park, naturally coupled with the excitement of witnessing some of India’s mega fauna. Not only that, but Dudhwa was a new destination for me and as anyone who follows my travel missives and Face Book splatterings knows, there’s nothing I love more than exploring a new destination.
We did indeed set off at 0430 and, although the journey took us slightly longer than planned, ask three people at the side of the road the way and they will all invariably point in a different direction, we did manage to arrive at Tree of Life Jaagir Lodge before the afternoon safari. Just. We skipped the late lunch which had been prepared for us oh, and skipped going to freshen up and have a nosey around what looked to be the utterly charming old colonial style building which was to be our hotel. We chucked the food in the jeep to eat enroute to the park, after all, that was why we were here, well not eating, but going on safari, or maybe to be fair, a bit of both. The head naturalist, who I knew from his stint at Satpura was delighted, he had recently relocated to Dudhwa and was keen to get back into the forest. These jungles are relatively undiscovered, the area is famous for Billy Arjun Singh and his leopard and tiger re habituation projects (amongst others) but few people have done accurate studies of the wildlife here or a comprehensive bird count. It is an exciting time to visit.
But then came a question which stumped me, which park we would like to visit?
I immediately became confused. It’s not like me not to research a destination but this one, with a late invite falling into my lap just two days before, had managed to escape my perfunctory Googling/flicking through my little black book. But how fabulous to discover that in the space of one weekend, we could visit not one, not two but three wildlife sanctuaries Kishanpur, Khatiaghat and Satiana, and this being Uttar Pradesh and these parks being little known, there is none of the red tape and essential booking months in advance that has become the norm if one wants to enjoy a safari in the much better known parks of Madhya Pradesh. Last minute slots available and three parks to choose from, things were starting to look up! The one other guest, still buoyed by the sighting she had experienced the day before, on her first ever wildlife safari in India (talk about beginners luck) was chomping at the bit to get back to Kishanpur, the tiger sighted had been a female on the look-out for a mate and that seemed like a good enough reason for us to head there to see if she had been successful. We needed no further prompting, Kishanpur it would be and we eagerly placed our journey-rattled bones in Jaagir Lodge’s comfortable, custom-designed jeep and set off.
There is one problem with Tree of Life Jaagir Lodge, and that is the drive times to get to each of the parks (30 – 45 mins for the two main ones) however, where else can you go and have the choice of visiting three different parks? It is also best place to stay in the area by far and the little touches and big comforts on arrival back at the end of a long days’ safari more than compensate for the additional road time on busy, tractor laden roads.
Arrive back to Jaagir Lodge and it is a calme and serene oasis, surrounded by farm land. In December this meant that there were brilliant yellow mustard fields fringed by the green of sugar cane plantations stretching as far as the eye could see, in some areas a little distorted by the lychee and banana plantations adjacent to the lodge, how delightful!
Enter a room, so cleverly refurbished as to be fresh and inviting yet somehow be reminiscent of its original history and heritage. Step into a wonderfully large bathroom with plenty of hot water to wash away the dust of the safari.
Answer a knock on the door and there is the chef to discuss your personal menu and preferences for dinner.
Showered, refreshed, food ordered, what else is there to do but venture out to the pool side, whose luminescence casts just enough light to direct you to my favourite part of being on safari, the evening camp fire. Naturalists await, a Willy’s jeep converted into a bar (could one really be any closer to heaven?) Old Monk served, of course they knew my preference, it won’t take them long to discover yours; chats about the park, India, wildlife, et al ensue until dinner is served. Replete and pleasantly exhausted from the day, one saunters back to the room, accompanied by the cacophony of jungle night life; crickets, toads and Night Jars. Slip under the duvet, sheets warmed by a hot water bottle and fall into a deep, deep slumber until the morning cup of bed tea is delivered and a wonderfully similar yet undoubtedly different day awaits.
How to get there: If you are traveling there from Delhi then you can take the train or fly to Lucknow and then drive the four hours from there. Alternatively, do what we did and drive. If you are planning a longer itinerary then Delhi – Corbett – Dudhwa – Lucknow – (Agra if you must) – Delhi works well. As always I would recommend a minimum of three nights, four would be preferable.
Where to stay: Tree of Life Jaagir Lodge http://www.treeofliferesorts.com/dudhwa-home/
At least one safari in each park, oh, that reminds me, if you want to know the difference then:
Kishanpur Wildlife Sanctuary is made up of sal and teak jungle with a large lake in its centre making it great for birding. Katarniaghat is essentially a swamp land, best explored by boat and offers sightings of Gharial crocodiles, Gangetic dolphins, turtles, common otters and of course, a wonderful array of aquatic birds. Which leaves Dudhwa, a mix of Terai grasslands, Sal forests and large waterbodies that are excellent for birding. As well as tiger and leopard there are Asiatic elephants, which migrate from the adjacent Terrai Grasslands of Nepal (better in March/April), elephant safaris to see the resident population of one-horned rhino as well as variety of deer including the Soft Ground Barasingha (Swamp Deer). It is also known for its leopard cats and fishing cats.
So, whether you are a keen wildlifer or just looking for a chilled out destination with a variety of options, Tree of Life Jaagir Lodge will work for you. Enjoy at least one safari in each park, spend some time exploring the surrounding local farm and have a bit of chill out time too, something most of us don’t take enough of in todays’ frantic world. In the words of the poem ‘Leisure’ by William Henry Davies:
What is this life if, full of care
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait until her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life is this, if full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
And that was written in 1904!!
If you enjoyed this post then you may also like: http://memsahibinindia.com/2015/10/05/when-the-cows-come-home-an-alternative-safari-kanha-national-park-india/