Reni Pani -The Hushed Archway to Magical Satpura

Reni Pani -The Hushed Archway to Magical Satpura

Quiet flows the River Denwa. Photo: Bandita Mukherjee

Posted September 6, 2023

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The vast stretch of bushy meadow awash with the glow of the full moon above cast a spell on us as we wait with baited breath to have a glimpse of the majestic king of the jungle. A moment ago, the distress call of the sambar deer has confirmed his presence. The little yellow nightjar throws an annoyed glance at us, unwanted intruders, before flying away. Only the cricket with his eerie song goes on accompanying us in our night safari in the buffer zone of Satpura Tiger Reserve of Central India.

‘Be careful. He is watching us’. Omkar whispers. He is one of the four naturalists of Reni Pani  Jungle Lodge, just twenty minutes away from the buffer zone of the Satpura National Park, where we have put up for a couple of nights. This morning we started early from Bhopal, the capital city and after a smooth drive of three and half hours we arrived at the jungle lodge. The welcome drink beside the outdoor pool, the delectable lunch, a brief browse through the well-stocked lodge library to get acquainted to the local flora and fauna, the cute souvenir shop with caps and tees: these constitute a delightful prelude to our late afternoon foray into the deep recesses of Satpura Tiger Reserve.

A Reni Pani tent in Satpura National Park
A Reni Pani tent in Satpura National Park. Photo: Bandita Mukherjee

The winding road that divides the tribal huts from the lush green farmlands has led us to this buffer zone and we have been trying our luck to catch sight of the elusive tiger that perhaps has kept his eyes on us from behind the thick bushes. A hind with her fawn rush quickly. I feel a bit uneasy. ‘Let’s try to spot the big cat tomorrow morning in the core area’, I insist as it seems we are intruding into the inner space of the animal kingdom. ‘Yes. He won’t come out now. Let’s return’, Omkar agrees and our safari vehicle negotiates its way through the moonlit wonderland back to Reni Pani Jungle Lodge.

The scenario has changed now. The tiny neighbouring village has gone to sleep. Our dimly lit Reni Pani looks like a medieval cave settlement with flaming torches all around it. On our arrival two fellows come running with wet towels and fresh lime. Omkar hurries to the record board to put the name and numbers of our sightings. We find that we have seen least animals compared to other guests. Omkar looks sullen. I try to convince him that the captivating beauty of moonlit Satpura has been magical. We meet other guests at the Gol Ghar, sharing experiences and exchanging field notes. Two young ladies are elated as they have spotted the tiger twice during their morning safari. At the far end of our table a middle aged man nods his head in frustration. He has missed spotting the tiger ‘by a whisker’ he says.

‘What about you?’ a bearded man in his thirties beams and joins us with his bowl of soup.’ Well we are yet to meet the king!’, I reply.  He introduces himself as Rakesh, another naturalist of Reni Pani and over the delicious dinner we get to know from him that the lodge gets its name from the neighbouring tribal village and the surrounding indigenous flora. Earlier Omkar informed that all the luxury cottages are built using local and natural materials. Rakesh adds that all the staff are local and even women of the villages have come forward to offer guide services in the core jungle area. They are educated and well trained. “Do not try to take a stroll now and don’t dare to venture ‘out alone. Day belongs to us and the night belongs to tiger and leopards.’ Rakesh adds a word of caution before bidding goodnight.

One of the staff members – a local village lad – leads us with a torch to our secluded cottage. The moon peeps through the large bay windows. The grassland on the opposite of the gurgling stream outside our cottage looks surreal. Soon a herd of hog deer arrive to graze on the grassy tract. I watch the squad for a while before falling into a deep and peaceful slumber.

Safe haven for the majestic horned creature
Safe haven for the majestic horned creature. Photo: Bandita Mukherjee

Our morning safari starts at the crack of dawn. The gypsy gallops through the thick mist of the wintry morning and before long we are at the bank of Denwa River, the river that girdles the forest. We need to cross the river  to reach the core zone. This morning, we are guided by Omkar and Laxmi, a cheerful naturalist barely in her twenties. She has received government training and now she is one of the guides of Satpura. .Laxmi helps us to spot a couple of giant squirrels, a rare sight with its  shiny, rust-coloured coat and a huge, bushy tail. Laxmi helps me with the binocular to spot the Osprey, a large brown-winged bird of prey. A pied kingfisher doesn’t bother to look up as I photograph it, keen to secure its first catch of the day. The splendid boat ride across Denwa backwater takes us to the entrance of Satpura.

From the glassy waters of Denwa River, we are once more on the grassy meadows of Satpura, and our jungle safari  begins. An earthy, leafy fragrance soothes us as we wind through the uneven woodland with frequent stops after the discovery of fresh pugmarks. An eerie silence prevails as we follow the tiger trail. We meet a herd of spotted deer, bison, and langur – standing still and staring at us. “When a tiger is around, they all group together, and try to move in a herd to a safer place in the forest”. Laxmi explains. Omkar shows me how the elder deer and bisons have formed an outer circle with the younger ones inside it. The langurs have chosen topmost branches of the trees, beyond the reach of the big cat. We spot fresh territory-marker tiger scratches on a nearby tree and our chase continues further till we lose the traces of pugmarks. It is almost 10 o’clock. Breakfast time and we decide to have our morning meal on a rocky cliff of just beside a meandering stream. 

On our way back we meet the group of langur swinging from one branch to the other and chasing each other. ‘Ah! Their danger is over!’ I exclaim. ‘You are learning the language of the forest’ Laxmi smiles and points to a hornbill on the top of a tree. The majestic black bird with its large yellow beak is busy preening its feathers. As we move further, the red craggy cliffs, the sprinkling rivulets that form the unique landscape pass by.  A muster of peacock bid us goodbye, spreading their majestic tails in full flourish, the mid-morning sun glittering on their vibrant emerald feathers.

A family of langurs
A family of langurs. Photo: Bandita Mukherjee

COVER: Quiet flows the River Denwa. Photo: Bandita Mukherjee

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  • A Kolkata-based teacher, Bandita Mukherjee is an avid traveller. In her pursuit to dig deep into the diverse landscapes, cultures and customs, she has visited 18 countries and counting. But while she is thrilled to hike unknown terrains, explore cities steeped in history and understand the culinary scene of every new place she travels into; the nuanced textures of her native India is what she finds most exciting as a compulsive traveller. When she is not teaching or on-the-go, she can be found making her next trip plans, with a mug of fresh Darjeeling tea and her pet cat curled up by her side.