Hunt! 

What started as a regular game drive ( a safari ), became one of the most interesting and throughly exciting drive of this year so far. The zone we had was a good half hour drive through the dense jungles, intersecting through some beautiful woodlands with the light playing cupid between the kanha jungle and our love for her. We crossed meadows that looked golden in the morning sun with the grass gently blowing in the cold January wind, and across a pond that magically changes color as the sun goes higher during the day (the algae on the ponds surface change color from green to red : the sunlight triggering the change in colour).
We reached an intersection where there were visible signs right beside the road, of tiger movement (a wet patch indicating a sitting tiger, with pug marks of a male and female tiger). We went around the curve climbing a steep incline, only to be passed by a few safari vehicles who were in pursuit of the same two Tigers (probably mating ). We stopped silently contemplating our next move and decide to check on another intersection where a tigress and her Cubs had their territory.
We crossed a bridge which had the most riveting view of the still waters reflecting the majestic Sal trees.
And news of the tigress!
Alarm calls of the spotted deer from our right! Fifteen minutes passed with intense alarm calls, we decided to shift our position and move ahead about 200 mts, suddenly she appeared from the Lantana and came onto the road, and she looked like she was on a mission.
Not giving the vehicle more than a few seconds of attention she walked on leaving us trailing behind her, following her at a safe distance.
She looked thin, but definitely not weak! Her strides were fast and purposeful.
Suddenly onto the road appears a male sambar deer from the right, looks at the tigress and bolts to the left into the woodland, wasting no time the tigress immediately runs into the dense undergrowth cutting in not where the sambar did, but a little before.
With the sambar to the right now, she gave him one last look and disappeared towards his direction.
It’s wasn’t a long wait, probably just a few minutes but we watched and waited with anxious breaths, excited and expectant of what we expected to witness and she did not disappoint us.
Suddenly she struck with lightning fast accuracy and the sambar came crashing onto the forest floor, we could see the tigress pinning the sambar deer down in dense undergrowth, gripping him by his throat, his huge antlers thrashing about in the bushes. She was Successful!
She then started to drag the huge deer deeper into the woodland and out of our sight.
But the sambar was too big for her to be swift about it, she would stop after a few meters and we could hear her panting loudly. A little tired perhaps. Having witnessed an extraordinary tiger sighting, we decided to leave her in peace with her kill and move on.
Sadly hard pressed for time we drove on towards the exit of the park, but never the less totally stoked and buzzing with excitement at what had just happened.
We were amazed at what we had witnessed, because unlike the African experience in the Indian jungles to witness a successful hunt is a rare event.
It’s not just experiences like this but also because the KANHA jungles has this love affair with our hearts that make us realise how lucky we are, to live here surrounded by magic.
Until next time : peace and happiness to all!

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Lapsi – the Shikari


There are a great number of campfire stories narrated on cold winter evenings, in and around the tiny ‘ten hut settlement’ hamlets and villages at the door step of Kanha National Park. The bitter cold flows into a stunningly beautiful night sky with millions of stars silently sending down their light, providing a magical setting for the people of these lands to share the legends of great men and the jungle with all.
Of the many tales that are told, some are true, and the rest are folklore featuring mythical beings and creatures. What is to be believed and what isn’t, is totally left upon the listeners imagination.
The story of Lapsi – a shikari (hunter), however, has some truth to it, and has been passed down through generations as a story of passion, valor and courage.
In the past, Kanha had many villages within the 900 sq kms that make up its present core tiger habitat. That was before the Forest Department (started by the British government), which is responsible for managing the park, relocated a majority of the villages in the Core area to the Buffer Zone – the remaining 1100 sq kms of Kanha national park.
The National Park is paradise in every sense of the word. Dense bamboo patches open up to vast sprawling meadows with large herds of Cheetal (spotted deer) and Hard Ground Barasingha (swamp deer). Beyond are more thick patches of jungle consisting primarily of Sal trees (Shorea Robusta) and Harra (crocodile bark). 
Sal tree forests are beautiful and completely surreal. Imagine trees that are 30-35 m tall with trunks as wide as 2-2.5 m, standing straight like electric poles, with a dense canopy and very little undergrowth. During early morning hours, while driving through these patches, one can see the sunlight penetrating the canopy and coming through in shafts and perfect beams, with birds darting in and out of these rays. It is the most ethereal visual experience ever.
Now, let me take you back to the days when Kanha wasn’t a national park and the Forest Department didn’t exist, around the time when the British Raj in India was still in its infancy, and Kanha was a dense jungle with the local indigenous people living inside it in tiny hamlets – the same kind one can see around the periphery of the National Park today.
Then, as it is now, the cowherds would head out every morning with their cattle, and a packed lunch of corn gruel. They would return in the evening just before the sun sets over the horizon. The men and  women would go about their daily household chores and work in the fields. Such was the lifestyle of the forest dwellers day after day.
It was a peaceful setting, until one day there were reports from the surrounding villages about a cattle lifting tiger. A cowherd came back with a frightening tale of how a huge tiger had attacked, killed and carried away one of his cows. Such incidents were and still are common around the National Parks of India even today. 

The alarming news travelled fast and precautions were taken, but no one expected that the situation would get worse. Slowly yet steadily, the attacks increased. First it was just the livestock that started disappearing, and what was alarming was that the description of the Tiger matched that of the first attack. Then one day, a cowherd was found mauled beyond recognition, around the same area of the previous attacks. This was followed by other attacks – a farmer and his young son returning from the fields fell victim to the Tiger. 

Pandemonium broke out in the surrounding villages, everyone became very cautious. The children weren’t allowed to venture out too far from their mud and straw compound walls and the men and women working in the fields had a constant look out on a perch. The cowherds stuck as close to the villages as possible.
Normal life as the villagers knew it was disrupted. No matter how careful the villagers were, they could not avoid travel from village to village. The route would often take them through dense jungle, where in broad daylight one could probably see no more than 15-20m ahead. 

This was the perfect setting for a Tiger to wait and ambush anyone that came along and it did so with perfection. The attacks on humans increased, so did the number of victims.The villages effected by this Tiger menace called of a meeting of their respective Panchayats. they debated and mulled over the issue at hand until someone mentioned a shikari who had the ability and skills to bring the beast down – Lapsi.
Lapsi shikari, was born and brought up in the jungles of Kanha. It was his home, his backyard. His skills with the bow and arrow were legendary, and his hunting tactics were tried and tested and had never failed him. He came from a family of hunter gatherers and like his forefathers, he knew every trick in the book.
Lapsi was given the task of taking the tiger down, which he readily accepted. What Lapsi didn’t realize was that he would be meeting his arch nemesis.
For a few weeks Lapsi tried everything he knew, every tactic that was passed down to him. He used several goats and cows as bait, he waited on “machans”(a platform erected in a tree, used originally for hunting large animals and now for watching animals in wildlife reserves). What Lapsi didn’t consider was how smart this animal had become in its hunting technique. It would wait well hidden and successfully get away with the bait, without giving Lapsi a chance to spot it and react. While this was going on, Lapsi’s reputation as a hunter started to take a beating. People started questioning his ability to finish his task and rid them of the menace. 

Lapsi’s wife couldn’t tolerate the villagers doubting her husband’s ability everywhere she went, and she decided to do something about it and help Lapsi out. Little did she know her decision would change their fate forever. 

She volunteered as human bait. Everyone tried to persuade her against it, but she didn’t relent. Lapsi was outraged at her decision but eventually gave into his wife’s coaxing and reasoning that he would never let her get killed. 

The scene was set, Lapsi waited anxiously on the machan, while his wife waited below at what seemed like a safe distance, trembling. After a long wait, in a split second and out of nowhere, the tiger sprang from hiding and pounced on Lapsi’s wife. Lapsi immediately sent forth a volley of arrows aiming to kill his target, but he only managed to injure the giant beast. The tiger got distracted and Lapsi started towards his badly injured wife, but before Lapsi’s feet could touch the ground, the tiger doubled back and killed her. Seeing his wife being mauled drove Lapsi wild with agony and fury. They say his blood curling screams resonated throughout the jungle!
He pulled out his dagger and ran towards the tiger with everything he had left in him. He attacked the beast, fighting brave and hard, giving no quarter to the animal that was more than twice his size. Though in normal circumstances Lapsi would have never attempted this, the death of his wife in front of his very eyes had made him blind with fury and he attacked ferociously, like a tiger himself. A fierce struggle ensued, and Lapsi finally managed to slay the beast. Unfortunately, he was badly wounded and later succumbed to his injuries.
As the legend goes, Lapsi and his wife were buried together. Their grave still exists and is located at a crossing in Kanha National Park, now known as Lapsi Kabr (grave of Lapsi).
Don’t believe it? Come to Kanha and I promise to take you to their resting place so you may pay respects to the two brave souls who lost their lives in a valiant attempt to secure their reputation and protect the lives of the people of Kanha.
Until next time.
Peace and happiness to one and all.

Kanha

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India .

A country with so many cultural varieties, it’s a universe within itself when it comes to its people, its mindsets or even generally the way its millions of potluck denizens perceive her “India” or the world, hence one would say “layered like an onion”. So, it might seem like a mystical place of snake charmer’s and Bollywood to the untrained eye, maybe a reason why the western world still imagines it to be exotic to a certain extent. But there is so much more to India than just this, there is so much more meaning hidden in the name/ term INDIA than just a country.

It’s a place where being street smart is something you learn while growing up and “jugad” is the natural way of doing things (we are proud of it).

It’s a place where every corner is different from another, whether  it’s the cuisine, language, culture, customs, color palettes (a very important observation as every little corner in this country will take you through a kaleidoscope of colors ) right down to the way we live our day-to-day lives. What’s not different is the common binding factor that ties this humongous subcontinent and its people, that is its immensely rich history and its “we don’t need a reason to party” FESTIVALS, but more of  every parent’s dream that their child has to be a doctor or an engineer one day!! (yand go to yumricaa !!!)

In all this chaos that prevails in India, it is not easy to achieve dreams and goals that according to most here is a waste of time, or an excuse to waste time. Which could be anything from wanting to be an artist, actor, model, sportsperson, athlete, sculptor, dancer, DJ, musician, naturalist….. I hope the reader understands that the list is endless.

This is the story of two people who came together and took a leap of faith. This here is the story of their dream. This is the story of a Safari lodge called FLAME OF THE FOREST.

What started off as a barren land with only a few thousands in the bank, a crazy dream and a will as strong and rugged as the land they were on has now become a utopia of sorts, a paradise along the river called “Banjaar”, which in itself is an enigma of sorts thanks to the innumerable folklore’s that have been drifting around in the local tribal communities for centuries, passed on generation after generation as stories told around the fire (something that is a tradition at “Flame of The Forest”) .

In the gut of India lies the Central Indian state of MADHYA PRADESH, and within her womb is a paradise called KANHA.

Kanha National Park is a 2000 sq km jungle with a core area of 900 sq km, but keep these statistics aside and what you have is a place pure and untouched by the dirt and malice of civilization, through this pristine land the river ‘BANJAAR’ snakes its way through this jungle.

Along a stretch where the river takes a bend, the river bank rises up on both sides to form an undulating landscape with sparse shrubs and thick Arjuna trees along the banks. This was the place where the dream of Karan and Isa sprung to life.

Karan is a naturalist, who is from Bombay but never was much of a city boy. He trained under some of the finest naturalists from India and South Africa over the years that he has spent in the bush (the wild). A badminton national champ, who turned into an avid mountaineer and gave into his calling and became a naturalist.

Isa, is a nurse, teacher, yogini, trained yoga instructor, designer, all in all a multi facet individual who is also a perfectionist, and does not start something she has no faith in. She successfully not only helped design, build and create this little piece of Utopia along with Karan, but also shares the responsibility of managing the safari lodge.

So, to the unknown it might seem as simple as this. A safari lodge that is in the heart of India, in one of India’s most pristine jungles nestled in the womb of an ancient river that keeps us enthralled at every gaze. But, it’s far from just that.

 

Isa along with Karan also started a ‘social enterprise’ called HATHI, which is a classy designer apparel brand that though designed by Isa, is manufactured at Kanha by the local tribal women. This and the other medical camps and educational camps along with an intensive drive towards women empowerment with Health and Hygiene workshops for the local indigenous women, makes for some awe-inspiring stories.

This could be the best example as to what really happens when you follow your heart, and put in every last drop of blood, sweat and tears into it.

“Flame of the Forest” isn’t just a safari lodge; It doesn’t just cater to people who belong to the high-end wildlife tourism industry of India. It is a lifestyle that Karan and Isa have built, thanks to their common love for the wild and nature, and through this they have found means and ways to finally accomplish dreams and tasks, that takes together an entire community of the local village KUTWAHI, and tries to make a difference.

This, the first of many blogs that aims at bringing these epic yet incredibly fascinating stories that are told around the fire at #FOF, about ancient trees, to tigers that were legends, to people who were called “BAAGDHARAs” because he lived to tell the tale of a fight with a tiger.

Until then …. PEACE and HAPPINESS to ONE and ALL.