Whenever I go somewhere, I enjoy the journey as much as the final destination. This time the destination was Melghat but the journey till there had pointers to a bad trip. Well the pointers were misleading and it was an amazing trip. Melghat Reserve Forest is located in the Amaravati district in Maharashtra. The AP State Transport bus took us to Amaravati from Hyderabad. In Amaravati we booked the Forest Guest House at Kolkas and we were on our way to the reserve forest. Being ignorant of the place, we took State Transport buses to Semadoh (the entry point to the forest, all the necessary permissions are to be taken from here). On reaching the guesthouse we (Arun [as usual the planner 🙂 ], Alosh [the pro photographer] and me) came to know that without our own vehicle it is impossible to do anything. And the guest house at which we were staying had no phone connection (forget about cell phone connectivity, that would be an alien concept in the jungle); and being at a distance of 2 kms from the main road – where the ST buses ply – it was not easy to go the 12 kms to Semadoh to find some transportation. It was already 5 in the evening and darkness was descending fast. As I was ruing our bad luck, the watchman of the Rest House helped us find a bike, and Alosh went with him to find some wheels. Two hours later we had a Jeep for the journey, albeit a bit expensive, but at least the trip was not heading towards the trash-can.
Next day morning we were up at 5 in the morning as the jeep was to come at 5:30. The jeep did not arrive till 7:30, but the two hours were spent fruitfully with the photography extravaganza. All three of us were avid photographers with the other two being proper pros, and me having a simple point-and-shoot 😦 I made as optimal use of it as I could. Anyways the jeep was almost two hours late, and we immediately set out to find the elusive tiger. The tiger remained elusive, but we were able to spot a bison. That was the only success story of the morning, although I could attribute hearing the tiger’s call as a semi-success too. We waited for a long time for the tiger to make an appearance, but it disappointed us. Back to Semadoh we had a breakfast, visited a small waterfall, did proper mountaineering and set out to visit Chikhlam Point – a watering hole. The jeep-top ride was sure fun, but that was the extent of it. Our guide found an acquaintance of his, and their talk at the top of their voices would have driven away any animal. Next we visited Bichchu Kheda Fata. Without a doubt it was one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. Next on agenda was the evening jungle safari. The start was great with two bison saying “Hi” and immediately saying “Bye” by running full gallop across the road on the behest of false monkey calls. To see two 900 kg animals accelerating to over 40 kmph within seconds was scary. The bison is anyways much more scarier than a tiger, as it would attack without provocation. A tiger needs a reason to attack a bison does not. The evening drive through the jungle was hugely successful with multiple sightings of the bison and a stag sighting. Trying to shoot good shots with one hand while trying to steady yourself with the other hand clinging to the carrier on jeep top was impossible, and I had no good shots of the evening safari. Though the highlight of the day was spending better part of the day on top of the jeep driving through the forest.
Next day we planned a trek through the jungle. The guide asked us how long would we be willing to walk, we decided on 15 kms. The only animal we saw through the 15 kms of jungle was Man. the villagers from the adjoining villages were inside the jungle cutting the grass. That being the core area, it was illegal, and our guide warned everybody. But because of the villagers the plains that would be filled with deer, was empty. The trek took us through beautiful scenic places with us being at places that could be only termed as wallpaper-material. During the trek we heard the calls of the stag and our guide saw the Barking-Deer (all three of us missed it). We met people who were repairing the road and they told us they had seen a bison few hundred meters from where they were working few minutes back. We made our way quickly to the place of the sighting, but no bison was to be seen. Through the trek we could see the paw-prints of many chital, stag, bison, and a leopard family. But that was the extent of the sighting, only the trails left behind. We completed the 15 km trek in about 5 hrs. Our jeep awaited us at the end of the trail. The lunch did prove to us that Cricket is indeed a religion in India. In places where there were no telephones, every house in the village of around 200 people had Dish TV installed. We were having lunch in one of the houses in the village, and the small room apart from being a host to us, was seating 5-6 more people all glued to the idiot box where the Pakistani bowlers were bowling to the Indian openers. Every shot, every ball was analyzed comprehensively. The lunch done, we went for our last safari through the jungle. The bison were now normal to us; we wanted to see a tiger. The bison we did see, but what we heard was the call of the hunting tiger. I have never heard anything as scary and as strange as that. It sounded like someone is in extreme pain, and trying to scream but unable to do so. The guide was scared on hearing the call and asked us to leave the place as soon as possible. Coming between the tiger and its prey could be nothing short of being extremely foolish. Even though we wanted to wait, the guide insisted on leaving the place. We listened to him and left the place immediately.
That was the end of the trip. I would term Melghat as a combination of a forest and a hill station. The hilly terrain makes it really difficult to spot the animals. But I would love to go back there in April during Buddha Purnima. That time the census takes place and you are left in the middle of the jungle with a guide and forest official for the night. Our guide told us that in this year’s census he had counted nearly 80 animals in one night. I’d surely love to go back that time 🙂
How to reach, Where to stay, How to book guest house etc etc
The guest houses can be booked from the Forest Office located at Amaravati. As far as I heard from the locals the best guest house is the one at Kolkas. An info regarding Kolkas – if you are taking the public transport, it is around 2 kms further in from the main road, so you’ll have to walk that distance. And also since it is about 14 kms from Semadoh (from where you get permission to enter the jungle, and vehicles too) it is better if you book the vehicles and take the permission before going to Kolkas. Kolkas has no landline and forget about the cell phone connectivity (Tata Indicom is supposed to have connectivity at the hill top where Kolkas is situated, but none of us was a Tata Indicom user, so no way to verify that). We stayed at Kolkas and I can vouch for it that it is a decent place. For 200 bucks a night, it was a steal.
From Amravati take the State Transport buses, I forgot the number of the bus we took (ask and anybody can give that information there), but I do remember that Paratwada was on the way.
The forest officials do not have any jeeps. We hired a jeep from the locals at Semadoh, but it was pure luck that we got it. If you are not short on budget, it is any day better to hire a vehicle from Amravati and then proceed. It would make your stay much much more comfortable. The forest officials at Amravati would help you if you want to hire a vehicle from Amravati – they have contacts.
In case you decide to use the public transport, and hire the jeep at Semadoh try contacting Sanjay Giri (as far as I remember, I think that is the name) at 07220 202284. We were using his jeep throughout the trip.