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The magic of Kanha

4:30 am : The alarm goes off and we reluctantly struggle out of the warmth of our thick blankets.

5.:15 am : We assemble for a hot bowl of porridge, tea and biscuits at the lobby which is roofed but open otherwise.

(Brrr…its cold …freezing cold! The temperature is in single digits. )

5:40 am : We climb into the open jeep, wrap ourselves in blankets, gratefully clutch the hotwater bags and drive down the smooth, gently winding, tree lined roads and are amongst the first few vehicles at the gate.

( Did I say it was cold… really cold ? )

At the gate, we either stay huddled in the jeep, hands hugging the hot water bag wanting the warmth but yet fearful of dissipating it too quickly. Or take a walk around, hugging oneself, the little bit of exercise warming one up ever so slightly.

Its still fairly dark. There is a small group of guides and drivers, crowded around a tiny fire, feet stomping and hands reaching out, grabbing for whatever little warmth the fire can throw. A few drivers are asking each other about the route they will take, exchanging information about the last bit of news from the previous evening.

6:25 am : There is a slow but visible change in the mood around. Day is breaking. There is a perceptible increase in the activity around us. The small crowds are dispersing. Everyone is hurrying back to their vehicles. One by one, the vehicles stir to life. 

6:30 am : The gates open. A guide climbs in, we start, take a left turn away from the tarred roads, onto a dust track. The jeep gently eases in and out of the small pit of water, placed to cut down the dust, and we are inside.

Boy…is it nice to be back in the forests !

*****

Kanha lies in the Maikal range of Satpuras spread across an area of more than 900 sq kms. Its an incredibly beautiful forest. Cool, dark forests thick with tall sal trees and bamboo can suddenly burst into rolling, open meadows. Winding dust tracks find themselves interrupted by small bridges that go over bubbling streams.

A typical Kanha route…tree lined, sunlight filtering through…indescribably lovely !

And, while Kanha is a beautiful forest at any time of the year, it is in December that it truly turns magical.

Mostly, due to …kohra.

Kohra. The English meaning of this quaint word will read drily as a single word – fog. In my mind, the word conjures up magic.

Of a lazy mist that hugs the ground vaguely reluctant to aspire for greater heights. The hazy fog that throws up shadowy hints of trees behind it and lurks over the forest streams searching for something important in the mysterious depths. The thick cover which teases the sun, impishly covering the sun just when it wants to show off its brilliance.

Sunrise and kohra…the effects are magical !

The swirling mists around a lonely tree

The dancing mists over the waters…

Sunrise…did I say, magical ?

And when the sun breaks through, the sunshine combines with the shadows and the mist to throw up pure magic.

Uff….so totally peaceful !

Yes, Kanha in December is magical.

*****

Tigers, of course, get all the attention in all forests in India. But there is so much more to a forest. And, if you are blessed with a naturalist with you, who really loves nature and solitude, you can turn your jeep away from the crowded beelines in desperate pursuit of the tiger and make your way into the less frequented darker corners and discover some fascinating nuggets about nature.

We stopped and looked in wonder at the brightly coloured dragonflies and learnt their interestingly different names . We stood and stared at the butterflies and learnt that the butterflies that fly about leisurely are toxic and hence have no need to hurry about hiding themselves from their predators. The others flit around in a constant state of motion lest they should get noticed and preyed upon.

We learnt about the funnel web spiders, which weave an intricately designed web with a funnel like tube leading to the place where the spider patiently waits. We stopped by trees and were shown the difference in their barks, their leaves and for the umpteenth time marveled at the breadth and the roots of banyan trees.

Not the best pic by any means..the funnel web

And, of course, there were the birds and the larger animals.

Plum headed parakeets sat in the gentle warm sunshine, daintily picking on their food. The winter visitors, like the Siberian stonechat which busily flew around doing nothing really worthwhile.

Shrikes balanced themselves confidently on impossibly thin grass swaying in the light breeze. Owls camouflaged themselves, or sunned themselves peering at us…well, a trifle owlishly. Drongos confused us with their mimicking calls. Barking deer studied us with more than abundant caution – intruders in its space.

The male Plum headed parakeet

Lil’ Miss Dainty…the female plum headed parakeet

Surprised !!!

A barking deer stared at us intruders into his home

Possibly a little startled, but….

…soon went back to some more self indulgence 🙂

Fearlessly, impassively staring at us…

Play of light and dark

Swayin’ in the breeze !

The barasinghas with their large antlers. The success story of Kanha. Brought back from an impossibly low and worrying double digit number to touch almost a 1000 of them. They, of course, have been named for the 12 pointed antlers that the male possesses.

The proud, impressive rack of a barasingha

“ Get an image of a barasingha against the light in the mist’ instructed a friend.

I could not. One more reason to return.

As if I needed one.

Return, I must.

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