The most thrilling thing that forest officials have done is sectioned off a part of the core where you can go on walking safaris in Satpura National Park. Yes, that’s right. You can walk the same path that tigers have tread. You can follow bear trails and wander in waist high green grass to your hearts content.
You don’t often see animals on these safaris. Try as we might, humans are LOUD and can’t help but startle the animals as we trample through the underbrush. It doesn’t matter, there is so much else you can see when you’re walking around, and so many different parts of nature you can learn about.
There are rules that apply of course – you must stay together, you must follow one another in single file, don’t talk loudly, don’t throw things around and always listen to your guide. The forest guide leads with a big heavy stick, an air horn and a can of pepper spray, just in case you stumble upon an unsuspecting animal. (Not sure who would be more surprised, the animal or the humans). The protocol at that point is to huddle together very quickly and put your arms out so that you appear bigger than the mammal you have just disturbed. It’s all very exciting and I was hoping that it would happen to me!
We found bugs GALORE (yes, bugs) in different parts of the forest and on different trees. We found spiders in their hidey holes, caterpillars under leaves, scorpions waiting for a chance to strike, lion ants laying their traps, dung beetles trudging along, ants using flowers as home decor, red ants guarding their homes, moths, butterflies, dragonflies flitting from leaf to flower.
We didn’t discover any animals but we saw so much else. We were shown how you can tell when animal tracks are fresh. If bits of dirt and sand have blown into the tracks, they’re older. We found animal kill. A tiger had made a bear kill a few days ago and we went to explore. What we found was the remains of a bear that didn’t look bear like at all. There was black wiry fur strewn across a small clearing and in the absence of skin holding it on, just looked like giant hairballs I wanted to clean. The smell of decay was overwhelming when we found the bear’s skull, a few rib bones and some claws. It was fascinating!
The most amazing part was that they let us touch the trees to our hearts content. After years of looking at Saal trees, I finally got to touch the leaves! It’s an incredibly humbling feeling walking through places like this, and I’m so lucky I got to experience it.