The first time I got to hear about the Junglethlon through facebook, I RSVPd blindly considering it to be yet another event and planned to keep it as a backup option. My year end outdoor escapade then was to either ride through Kerala in the second week of December or ride to Araku over the Christmas weekend. Eventually November and December turned out to be pretty hectic, with very little time left to put forth an action plan. With all plans crashing I hesitantly decided to head to Pench for the Junglethlon. Activities abound, days flew by and it was already time for the Pench visit.
The event was for three days starting December 25th. Ram and I had initially decided to reach Nagpur a day in advance and visit the Kanha Wildlife sanctuary. A bit of googling and we realised this plan was not really feasible as Kanha was about 255kms from Nagpur. A day before we depart from Hyderabad, I check with Pradeep on ‘places to visit’ around Nagpur and jot down a couple of locations.
December 23rd – Wednesday
We’re at the station by 20:30hrs all set awaiting the arrival of Nizamuddin express. The train was scheduled to arrive at about 22:30hrs. As we idle away time, I realise it’s close to about a year that I last travelled by train. For the last few months, most of my travel was impromptu and bus travel [tickets being the easiest to get at any point of time] somehow turned out to be my first preference. Both have their pros and cons but what I guess starkly differentiates the two is the diverse mix of people that you get to see in the railway stations – People from all sections of the society waiting on the same platform for a single train that would take them to different locations. The electric vibe in the air, the wails of kids, the confused masses, the stark gaze of an old man spanning into infinity, the distant sound of an engine lurching ahead, Hawkers by the platform side and not to forget the incoherent announcements – There’s just no reason to get bored!
The Nizammudin Express finally chugs into the Secunderabad station at about 23:00hrs and we almost instantaneously crash.
December 24th – Thursday
At about 08:00hrs the train reaches Sewagram. Some real hot and spicy cabbage vada in the chilling weather makes for a real good start of the day. The train chugs into the Nagpur station at about 10:00hrs. We have a quick breakfast and pick a rick. to the Nagpur Bus stand. Despite Pradeep warning that heading to Pench wouldn’t really be a good idea given the non availability of accommodation, we’d decided to head to the Pench reserve directly the previous night. A few enquiries at the ‘help me’ counter and we’re asked to board a bus to a place called ‘Parshivani’. Pench was supposedly only about 10kms from there. In high spirits we locate the bus and manage to reach Parshivani at about 12:00hrs. This is when we realise that this place just didn’t have any ‘decent’ hotels for lunch. After a lookout for about half an hour, we finally manage to find a road-side dhaba which served pure shakahari and pure Maansahari food! A quick lunch here and we head back to the Parshivani bus stand. In a couple of minutes we’re already heading towards Pench in a jeep.
Only when we get there and meet the caretaker of a guest house do we get to know that we’d come to the Maharashtra side of the Pench reserve. Apparently one could not enter the reserve through this side and accommodation was not available as prior permit had to be taken. The caretaker explicitly mentions the route that we had to take to reach the MP side of the reserve. To be on the safer side we almost make up our mind to head back to Nagpur and call it a day when we meet yet another wayfarer. This gentleman provides us a simple illustration of the exact place where we were and suggested that we head to a place called ‘Ramtek’ instead of going back all the way to Nagpur. The fact that accommodation would be pretty easy to find at this place further prompted us to follow his advice. A twenty minute ride back on a rick to Parshivani and we board a bus heading to Ramtek. A few inquiries around for a decent guest house and we’re directed towards ‘Ramgiri’ lodge. For 450 bucks this was a real decent place. A quick shower here with the luxury of hot water and we head to the Ram temple which could be seen right from the lodge.
The view of the sun rays slowly lapsing out on the temple walls with the chilled breeze wafting the village air across was quite a motivating factor to get over to the temple as early as possible.The short hike up the temple along with the langurs made for a decent warm-up. The thin air and the unspoilt silent ambience in and around the temple was quite a refreshing experience. We then head to a close by place which seemingly looked like a mini auditorium with a huge central fountain. With none around and just the reflection of the water starkly lighting up the mandaps, I’m reminded of the Bhimashankar trek experience. We finally decide to head back to the lodge. A bunch of kids from a school in Amaravati had come down to Nagpur for an excursion. We hitch a ride in their bus and get dropped off at the by-pass. Some real good dinner at Ramtek and we call it a day.
December 25th – Friday
The day starts at about 06:00am with a real hot ‘adrak’ chai and the laughter and shouts from the folks in the opposite building practicing some tantric yoga! At about 09:00am we check-0ut of the lodge and head towards a religious setting called Ramdham, at Mansar. A quick breakfast here and we idle away some time before Manu and Pradeep stop by to pick us up. There were surprisingly only two other ladies – Shreya and Avani. Evidently this Junglethlon was going to have just the six of us! As Manu cruises on the NH7 we get to know a bit about each other. In about half an hour we stop by Khawasa where Pradeep hires three ‘Dhoodhwala’ roadsters for us to ride down the next 12kms towards the ‘Tigernwoods‘ resort which would be our pseudo home for the next three days. The ride through the concrete roads pervading into the buffer zone of the reserve serves as a wonderful warmup. Shreya and Avani try their hands on the roadster and Shreya manages to get some real sweet bruises with a couple of falls!
A sumptuous brunch and Manu takes us around the place/resort. Later after some formal introductions, Pradeep lays out the cards as we relax in the Machan. Todays’ task would be to build a machan by ourself. We’re shown around the place and asked to build a strategy to design a shelter that would house six of us for the night. We have a look at the Machans that were already built by the villagers and get an idea of what we would be requiring to get things started. It all looks to be a simple task only until we get to start working. With quite some deliberations and revisiting our strategies we finally decide to build a simplistic shelter with six ‘ladder’ beds and a fireplace. We divide the tasks of ground clearance, raw material foraging and material setup among the six of us and start working on them. Pradeep goes about explaining how to cut wood and helps in assisting in setting up the Parachute shelter. It’s already close to 05:00pm and we still haven’t even completed one ladder build. Dusk was soon setting in. We finally decide to stay in the machans that was already made by the Resort and continue the shelter activity the next day.
Later part of the evening is spent around the Bonfire with some real good snacks, drinks and banter wheeling all around randomness, life, Quantum physics and what not! At about 23:30hrs we decide to call it a day and crash.I decide to crash out in the open machan. It doesn’t take much time to black out despite the chill and a disturbing call from my folks out there…
December 26th – Saturday
By about 06:10hrs we head towards the Pench tiger reserve for the Safari hoping to spot tigers. Despite Pradeep booking it online a couple of days earlier, we find it quite a task to enter the reserve. A guide is finally allocated for our gypsy and at about 07:10hrs we enter the reserve. About two hours in the reserve and we’re not really successful in spotting any ‘wild’ animals but for wild boars, sambars, deers and Nilgais’. The presence of a couple of volunteers from WWF makes an interesting end to the safari. We head back to the resort and get to hear from a couple of other folks who’d gone to ‘Alikatta’ [A place in the reserve where a tiger show is held with the help of Elephants.] that even they weren’t able to spot the tiger!
Post lunch at the resort we’re given our next task to make fire. Boy, till date I never thought this would be that big an issue! We almost spent a whole hour and a half trying to ‘make’ fire using a magnifying glass! Later as Pradeep shows us how fire is made out of tinder and other raw materials we’re more than thankful for his guidance. We then get to task to get the shelter up and set. We decide to shirk the plan of creating ladder beds and instead flatten out the base and use a plastic sheet for the base. The flattening is completed pretty quickly and in minutes our shelter seemed to be taking shape. A wonderful fireplace is built at the center and we’re almost set to camp! This done, Pradeep takes us out from some jungle navigation and obstacle crossing. By example we’re made to understand how important being focused and topographically aware one needs to be when present in an unknown location. The usage of the Sun and moons’ direction to help navigate was yet another wonderful take-away – The crest of the moon always faces the west and on a full moon night the bunnys ears face south! We finally reach back to the resort and enter our shelter. After a quick chat Manu, Ram and I decide to head to Koka lake for a short bike ride. This is when Manu realises his Merida’s pedal had jutted out of the crank. Nevertheless we have a sweet 6km ride to the lake and back on the roadsters. Ram eventually follows Shreya’s ‘gracious’ fall example thankfully without any bruises.
Once back to the resort, we have some real good snacks – Avani helps Siddique – the chef prepare some real yummy Paneer Mushroom pakoras! The rest of the evening is spent singing classics and discussing stuff. As the night churns in some more bad news flows in through the mobile and I’m taken for a bad toss. There was nothing I could do sitting this far so I gulp it in and decide to enjoy the rest of my stay. As per the lots that we’d taken earlier in the day two of us were to be on the watch in shifts all through the night by the fire. Pradeep and I are on the lookout while the remaining four snore in mighty glory for two hours. Avani and Shreya apparently stayed awake post that followed by Ram and Manu.
December 27th – Sunday
The day starts a bit late at about 08:00hrs. We have yet another splendid breakfast and then Pradeep introduces us to a game of Croquet. Indeed an interesting game and this almost eats up the rest of the morning. We finally decide to do some Riverbed Running. A quick hike to the river bed and a decent run of about 8kms in the scenic Pench forest made for a wonderful end to the Junglethlon.We’re back to the resort by about 13:15hrs when Manu makes some Glucose drink for the team. A quick lunch and we push towards Nagpur at about 14:20hrs.
En-route Pradeep takes a detour to show us a school that he is helping build. It currently has about 25boys and 25girls . The central curriculum is to teach them basic computer operations and get them involved in the Pench tiger reserve activities. What better way could you help in giving a growing generation an oppurtunity to give back to the community that they belong to? Well, staying with him for the past few days I should stop myself from getting amazed by the activities he does. For someone who’s scaled Mt. Everest, Professionally sky-diving for the past seven years, been in the army for quite a few years, institutionalized a Business school in Pune, completed a Ph.D in Knowledge management and currently pursuing one in Quantum Physics, this just seems to be a speck on his achievements! That’s one thing I love about adventure – You get to meet such amazing people that you simply start challenging yourself for your next move trying at best to emulate them!
We almost make it on time for the Jaipur special train at the Nagpur station. Avani camps at Shreya’s uncles place for a couple of hours before heading to Mumbai. Shreya is to leave for Calcutta the next day while Manu and Pradeep had an altogether interesting drive back to Delhi planned spanning through Rajasthan! The train reaches Hyderabad one solid hour before time! Head back home, complete a few pending activities and head to office at about 07:00am!
One interesting end to the year of 2009! And it feels great to be part of the first ever Junglethlon! There apparently is a lot in store in the forthcoming editions and I’m sure I’ll not think twice next time.
There’s nothing as yet planned for this new year – Probably will head for a longish bike ride…