The Story of Satpura
The Biodiversity of Satpura has many tales to tell, with the forest unpretentiously growing on the traveller’s psyche till its captures the heart of those who wander in the beckoning woods.
“There is pleasure in the pathless woods” said Lord Byron. Satpura’s enchanting woods offer pleasure untold. Celebrating world Wildlife Day and International Day of the Jungle.
There is always a book sitting on the shelves of our reading list which has also enrolled itself in our list of procrastinations for a long time. It is always at the back of our minds, certain to know of something we do not know, and that book promising the answers. There is always such a book isn’t it?
This book to me was Satpura; I had it in my reading list for five seasons until I had to be dropped into it through unavoidable circumstances. It is when I begin to turn the pages of this book that I realised that it isn’t just its structure, its story, or the characters that unfold in its plot; it is this whole forest that unpretentiously grows into you, especially into those who start working at Satpura.
These last three years as a naturalist with Forsyth Lodge, Satpura has taught me so much more – about wildlife, through endless discussions over the dinner table, on the lives of people coming from several thousand kilometres away to experience this story. It is inching me step by step towards the modesty of a mighty knowledge, of which I had heard in quotes and sayings. I have come to believe that I can take on this journey into a vast landscape that is filled with treasures; that this is a place where those quotes and sayings come true.
The panoramic spectacle of Satpura is a wonderful world that allowed me to looked at the structures, its formations, adaptations and the time-stamp evolution on its surfaces, somehow my eyes never stopped at just the cinematic images; probably owing to the hikes I had taken from my early days. Such is this book, the landscape is a whole. It never ends, or perhaps you wouldn’t know when you’ve reached the climax of the plot, or maybe you have become a mere part of it too.
Canoeing the River Denwa, I was amazed to find the diversity of bird species that had gathered from different parts of the world, like the Stints from the Tundra region, the Bar-headed Geese from the Tibetan region, the Black Storks traveling across continents and stopping by all the way from Sahara, the Indian Skimmers locally migrating to find undisturbed mud-flats for nesting. River Terns performing their acrobatics to chase each other and woo their prized females with a fish that they hold onto as gifts until they get to mate with the females- the Terns are a stunning species that aren’t shy to display their behaviour unperturbed by a drifting canoe.
No sooner are the Tern fledglings learning to fly, a pair of Peregrine Falcons get closer to these mudflats using the cover of a few dead trees. Nearly thousands of Terns cry out in alarm when the Peregrines decide to dive onto these fledglings, the cacophony can ring in your ears for days, perhaps even nights. The desperation of the parent Terns versus the desperation of the Peregrine’s hungry fledglings are a sight to behold.
There are a few favourite places for the naturalists to look for owls in Satpura, a couple of them close to the lodge. Most naturalists are acoustic learners especially when it comes to birding, certain owls along with nightjars hoot the night with their melodies and mysteries, especially when summer sets in. Melodies of Mottled-wood owls crying, the hooting calls of the Rock-eagle owl; and the big hits are when the naturalist’s ear-pinna pick out a Hawk owl or a Brown Wood owl or maybe even the Jerdon’s nightjar. And during the day, differentiating warblers species and pipits by their call, or tracking a sloth bear by listening to the leaf crunches and its habits of blowing a heavy breath into termite mounds. It is then that one feels that vision is a distraction and a naturalist pumps blood towards the acoustic section of the brain.
Oh yes, in between your ears pick up a million cicadas, crickets, mosquitoes, toads, chital’s giving distress calls several kilometres away, a Leopard rasping, snorts of the pigs, the machines that harvest crops, the bhajans, or someone snoring. There is so much to weave a story with sounds of the jungle. If my ears have caught a leopard, as a naturalist, I would have to take my guests into another story of this book to hem them into it. Trust me, there probably is no other big-cat as the leopard that people come to see here in Satpura that can teach you about a jungle. It makes you look at branches – making you reason why the tree has invested in a branch like this or what makes a tree grow in such conditions? It makes you look at nearly every possible rock a Leopard could throne itself on – often while doing this, it surprises you to find fault lines of volcanic activities, basalt among the sandstones, a rare lichen that looks like a rosette – is that the leopard? No, but curiosity builds to understand how a cat has evolved to crypsis among nature’s imperfect patterns that as a whole finish perfectly. Especially those Safari drives when I am trying to find a leopard for days on end, with three seasoned spotters, probably collaborating with other naturalists and spotters, the leopard perfectly uses its habitat even in all those imperfect patterns. It raises questions on our perspectives of beauty of symmetry and conditions of seeking perfections! It just nails into our egos and forces a form of modesty.
This is such a book, Satpura. When you start to read it once, you are its story.