I was going through some online content on various national park in India and I realised that I have not spoken about the park where the jungle affair started with me as a kid. In fact not just for me, my better half too had her first experience of wild at this place called Melghat Tiger Reserve and National park. This park is abundant with wildlife yet it is unheard off because tigers are not sighted here regularly like Tadoba, Bandhavgarh, Ranthambore or Corbett. The reason for less sighting are the high rocky hills, deep ravines and limited water sources.
I specifically mentioned above popular parks for reason. The reason been this park has forts of Gawilgarh, Narnala like one’s you have in Ranthambore, hills and valleys like Corbett, meadows like Bandhavgarh, and dense vegetation foilage like Tadoba.
Located in Amravati district of Maharsahtra it was established as one of the first 9 tiger reserves of India. This was back in 1973-74. This park is located along the Satpura mountain range.Literal meaning of Melghat is “Meeting of Ghats”, this is because of hills and valleys (ghats) located in Satpura mountain range. It is flanked by river Tapi in North and river Sipna cutting right across. Melghat is popular tourist destination for people of vidarbha region of Maharashtra and it’s not for tiger. It’s for hill station called Chikhaldara. Chikhaldara has many tourist spots and you can easily spend a day or two relaxing in hills. The hills,valleys, mountains, pristine green bamboo and thick teak foliage is the description of the place. Description of Chikhaldara would not be complete without mention of various waterfalls in monsoon & plateaus used for camping in winters.
Hill station of Chikhaldara is surrounded by tiger territory. Come bit lower into the valley, and you enter the area most people are scared tread alone. This is in spite a highway cutting right through the park. Drive from Chikhaldara to Melghat will unsettle your nerves. During one of my drives on this road back in 2008 end of summers, we heard calls just few kilometres before our place of stay. One of my favourite place of stay here is Seemadoh forest guest house. This guest house is located in dense growth of huge teak forest on bank of river Sipna also known as Pili. The jungle was so loud that shrieks of deer that it was hurting my ears and it told predator was on prowl. I waited for around 30 mins in hope to see the predator unfortunately it never turned up or at least I could not see him. Few metres ahead strong foul odour got my attention. That spooked me. It was surely the ghost of jungle who was moving, his kill was rotting somewhere in tree canopy and releasing foul odour. Maybe he just had his meal was heading to water, towards river.. our rest house! I got more enthusiastic and started driving slowly down the valley towards guest house. Luck doesn’t favour me with leopards. So I had another close call.
Coming back to melghat as jungle it now compromises of Sipna, Melghat, Gugamal, Wan & Narnala sanctuary. With area close to 2000sq kms searching tiger here is like searching needle in haystack. However critical project tiger area is around 1600 sq km. If not for tigers, I have regularly sighted bears and gaurs here in summers on the road. You don’t need a jungle safari. Trust me you don’t want to meet bear in surprise meet. As kid, I have two distinct experiences. The first experience was on outskirts of Chikhaldara when we had stationed our car on road side to drink water. It was Hindustan motors Ambassador car. Me, mom, dad and my sister were seating on rear seats. My sister was on window seat behind driver. I was on other window. In front row was forest guard and driver. It was dusk. Suddenly out of nowhere, from small ravine blow which had two boulders a bear charged. He was heading towards our vehicle directly towards my sisters window. Guide had presence of mind, he saw it seconds before we could see it. He yelled at driver to start car and asked my sister to close the window . My dad obliged as he sensed something was wrong. By the time window could close completely, bear slammed into glass with his feisty claws. Fortunately our vehicle got moving and no one was hurt. Except car which got few scratch on window and on rear quarter glass. I will never forget this incidence. For bears aggression is self defence. We turned around and saw she had cub on her back. It was a mother defending her cubs.
I distinctly remember the second occasion at guest house at Kolkhaz. We had bear sniffing our doors in middle of night cause we were carrying fruits. Kolkhaz FRH is wonderland and my favourite place to stay. In-fact when i visited Dhikala zone of corbett for first time it reminded me Kolkhaz. I can assure you, when you are at Kolkhaz FRH located on top of the steep hill, overlooking the meadows across Sipna river which flows like necklace you will be gasping for breath! The view is heaven.
It had a night observatory with search light to see wild life at night along banks of the river. I have seen lot of wildlife from here as a kid. Now they have banned use of search lights, but the guest house still operates and can be booked easily. In fact now they have more huts at base of hill (not facing the river though) for tourist. This area is dense bamboo forest. Ideal habitat for tigers.
I can keep writing on and on about Melghat. Its place which has an energy of its own. That is what i love about it. Off late my tiger chases have taken me away from this place. It is almost 5 years ago that i have visited Melghat. Now is the time again. I am planning to explore new routes opened by forest department. Forest department is doing an excellent job here. You can now enter the park from multiple gates at minimal cost. I would recommend few places and activities that I can vouch for.
- Use Narnala entry gate for seeing historical monuments. It is located on western edge side of park.
- Most popular place – Seemadoh. The road to Raipur through kuwapati gate. Amazing place to spot wildlife.
- My favorite place – FDCM guest house at Kolkhaz which approx 15kms ahead of Seemadoh heading towards Harisal.
- Visit to Chikhaldara: To see historic fort of Gawilgarh and some more historic sights. It is a must visit in monsoon if you love waterfalls and wonderful place to camp along with kids.
- Lipsmacking Rabadi, tea and spicy local food at entrance of Seemadoh jungle entry gat. It is made by tribals at small dhabha’s
To conclude, I would say Melghat is mysterious land of hills, mountain and forts. Valley and deep gorges that house myriad flora and fauna mostly hidden away from human eye. The presence of wild spirit is undeniable. It is park that needs attention that it deserves from all of us. It is already facing challenges like proposed railway line and poaching to name a few. The first step to conserve the wild spirits here is to create awareness. It only than can we protect this jewel of Vidharbha, the most under-rated tiger habitat of India called Melghat Tiger Reserve.