Located in the Sidhi district of Madhya Pradesh, is one of the most spectacular reserves that I’d like to call an underdog. The combination of mesmerizing landscapes and waterbodies with the presence of some feisty big cats makes Sanjay Dubri Reserve a destination that shouldn’t be missed when exploring India’s forests.
In December, I held a two-day workshop with 16 participants in collaboration with the Forest Department and the MP Tiger Foundation Society to promote tourism at the reserve. As part of the collaboration, the entire trip, from the accommodation to the safari rides had been sponsored, so only a nominal fee of INR 15,000 was decided for the participants, part of which would go as proceeds to the forest department.
I was working with Forest Officer Mr. Parihar and enquired with him about what the forest is in need of. It being winter, we figured that what the forest officers are most in need of is winter wear, so along with the workshop fees, I contributed INR 1.6 lakhs from the Sudhir Shivaram Photography organisation to purchase fleece for the staff that is so important in these winter months.
Usually, I like to reach the forest where the workshop is scheduled a day or two early, so that I can spend that time by myself, relaxing, taking photos and familiarising myself with the place.
On the 4th of December, I reached Jabalpur and drove to Bandhavgarh National Reserve and drove to Sanjay Dubri from there with another friend Mr. Nishant Kapoor and later joined by Mr. Jay Raj (Range Forest Officer Mr. Parihar’s brother).
Sanjay Dubri has 4 different ranges: The Dubri range, the Kusmi range, Pondi range and Bastua range. I wanted to check out the more unexplored areas of the forest, so we drove to Kusmi Forest Guest House from Parsuli Resort, where the workshop participants would arrive in two days. That night, we went to bed after planning our adventures for tomorrow.
Early next morning, we ate our breakfast on top of Ramdha Watch Tower, which is located at Ramdha Kund, a site with large rock formations in the middle of water ponds. From Gopad River View Point we took in the breathtaking vision of the river gushing below us, as we stood atop a large rock on the cliff.
After lunch at the guest house, we headed to the Son Gharial Sanctuary, which is about 100kms away from Sanjay Dubri National Reserve and we stayed there for the night.
In the morning we took a boat ride through the serene waters in the sanctuary and then headed back to Sanjay Dubri since the workshop participants were arriving soon. That evening, I met with the 16 enthusiastic workshop participants who had come from all over the country and briefed them about the course of the next few days.
In the morning we set out into the Dubri range and went straight to the Bitkhuri Watch Tower.
As we ate breakfast on the top, we could hear alarm calls from below us, and were even able to pick up conversations happening between the Bandhavgarh staff over the radio, despite it being at least two hours away! It proved to me how accessible that spot was, even though it was remote.
While we were going through the forest, we found out that the tigress Kamli had just made a kill. Instantly, set out on a frenzy to track her down as fast as we could. We all know know precious timing is to get a good sighting, and we knew we had to act fast or we’d miss her. Luckily, we did manage to track her down and get some photographs of the gorgeous cat.
Post lunch, we headed to the base of the river we had seen from the cliff and were allowed to get down and dip our feet into the cold water since this area isn’t part of the reserve. We literally spent an hour there, goofing around and playing in the water like kids! It was shallow and safe, which is why we had such a great time there.
In the night, back at the resort, we went through some fundamentals of photography, wherein I talked about some technicalities and techniques and answered all the questions that the participants had come with. The interactive session was followed by a dance performance by local tribals in the resort. Not only was this enjoyable for the whole group, but it is also a great way to promote the local culture by providing them with exposure and opportunity.
The next morning, we visited the forest’s elephant camp, and were spending our entire day exploring areas a little beyond Kusmi range. We didn’t expect it, but the jungle had a gift for us in store. One of my favourite parts about being in the wild is that it can spring a surprise on you at any moment. It can be so thrilling! We were lucky to be able to get a glimpse of Kamli once again before we concluded the ride.
In the night, Mr Vincent, Field Director from the Forest Department addressed our gathering, and we distributed the fleece to the officials who had joined us. We also shared the workshop mementoes with the participants. The participants and I spent a good few hours chatting about our wildlife travel stories. Put a group of wildlife enthusiasts in one room, and the chatter never stops! Everybody had such intriguing insights to share with the group.
Winding up the workshop the next morning, we all departed from Sanjay Dubri and made our way home.
The forest is a gift that keeps on giving, and I have always wished to give back to it in the best and most efficient way I can. This wish did come true through the collaboration with the MP Forest Department and the MP Tiger Foundation Society. I’m absolutely delighted to have been able to contribute my share to the forest, and I can’t thank the resort staff and forest department for all the work they put in. I’m currently working with them to figure out when to schedule a trip like this again, so keep an eye out for when I announce the next workshop!
Here are a few pics from the tour:
Some more behind the scene images: