One week later and it was time to travel to the next park. I chose to leave at 9am so that we had a good start on the heat of the day and ensuring that we would arrive at the next hotel with time to visit the pool before dinner and preparation for the next days drive. The bags were loaded on to the blue hand cart and trundled down to the car. My bar bill was settled and I made a large contribution to the staff tip pool. I gave both Raj and Neville individual envelopes with thankyou’s as they were both senior staff members and Raj as the Naturalist had shared so much of his knowledge and experience with me.
Another large packed lunch was put in the car and having said my goodbyes I climbed in as well, a little bit sad to be leaving, wondering if the next half of the trip would be as good as the beyond exceptional time I had already had.
The road trip took us through the very centre of India up and across the plateau, despite the air con I could feel the heat and became quite drowsy, the landscape was arid and bare so the roadside café stop was very welcome. The chosen stop this time had two shrines, a well and a blacksmith. Once again I was welcomed with a dusted down chair and a cup of Black Chia. After a few minutes I asked the drive if it was ok to wander and having established that I wasn’t going to trample on any religious / cultural sensibilities I went to photograph the shrines.
Most memorable element of this journey was a huge tree in the middle of a village with 100 + roosting fruit bats – the Hindi word for fruitbat is Ek Prakaar Ka Chamagaadad. My discussion with the driver must have looked / sounded hilarious as we established what they were and which sub species.
As soon as I was done, we were off again and the villages became more frequent and as we descended from the plateau it became a bit cooler. This drive was the only time that the heat got to me. Conversely, the travel instructions advise you bring a fleece or similar for the morning drives but I found the early temperature cool but not cold – short sleeves were comfortable.
As we drove into Bandhagarh Park I could see that the surrounding villages were a tad more commercial. My hotel was in Kuchwahi Village and the main strip was a riot of colourful shop fronts, cafes and the odd shrine. Plus there were cows everywhere, in fact, the most I had ever seen. I was later told that they stayed on the road as it was warm at night and insect free during the day. By now I was used to traffic that chose the side of the road that was convenient rather than as per the highway code.
The hotel was at the bottom of a lane surrounded by small farms and we drove into a shady carpark surrounded by lush foliage with a lily pond and an Alsatian family – more of their funny exploits later. I bid goodbye to my driver who assured me he would be back at the end of my stay to take me to the airport. At this point I was a bit disconcerted as a young staff member watched me haul my bags out of the car boot and then led me on a long walk to reception – dragging my bags. A bad omen when I compared this to service levels at the Shergarh Lodge. To be fair this was one of only three incidents (2 hotel and 1 Air India) where I was disappointed with service levels and two of them were beyond Audley / the Hotel’s control. Check in was efficient with another explanation of how the drives would work and then I was escorted to my room (this time with a porter carrying my luggage)
The room was like a little cottage, a private enclosed patio, the front door locked by a huge brass padlock and then an interior furnished with heavy hardwood furniture and lush fabrics. Dressing room, bathroom, outside bathroom and veranda with day bed complimented the double bedroom and HUGE bed.
The small touches constantly taking place throughout my stay kept this hotel from being impersonal and made up for the two hotel-based sins. I can pack / unpack at the speed of light and so was at the poolside very quickly and in time to see a baby from the Local Langur troop fall in and scramble out – soggy and suprised. The troop were on constant alert and then I saw why, the hotel gardener wanted them to move on. He was very gentle in his efforts and I felt sorry for him as they moved into the vegetable garden and decimated his crop – but his attitude towards the wildlife is a sign of the respect / love Hindus have for animals. After an afternoon at the pool it was time for a shower and dinner – another memorable meal and copious quantities of Nimbu Pahni. Same routine as at Kanha – alarm on, kit and clothes ready and I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.