If you like the wilderness, you shouldn’t miss the forests of east Madhya Pradesh. The Wain-Ganga and Pench rivers meander through the undulating hills of the Satpura Range here, nurturing a diverse and rich eco-system.
A 4x4 with high clearance and armoured undercarriage is a must in this unexplored wilderness where only animal tracks are visible and you may not see a human being for days. It goes without saying that cellphones do not work here.
I was looking for the tiger of Indian rivers — the Mahaseer. This fresh water fish is the largest in India, and is mostly found in the swift waters of the Pench. It is a powerful fighter and can grow up to 6 feet long and weigh up to 60 kg.
We made our way through miles of thick undergrowth till we found a suitable spot. Armed with snorkelling equipment and underwater cameras, we explored the rapids and found the Mahaseer in hundreds, swimming playfully among boulders. They swam with ease against the swift current, while we struggled. The water was turbulent, and the rocks sharp and unmerciful; but the experience of filming the Mahaseer underwater was worth the cuts and bruises.
As light started fading and we decided to head back, torrential rain broke out. Sheets of water poured down, the forest floor turned into mud, streams turned into torrential rapids, and darkness engulfed us. We crawled along, gingerly negotiating the sea of mud and water, when the 4x4 suddenly skidded, whipped around like a horse stung by a hornet, and slithered into a ditch. We came to a stop with a jarring thud.
The vehicle was at an awkward angle, the wheels on the left jammed in the narrow crevice. We were stuck, so we spent the night in the car. Early in the morning we started damage control. Both tyres were cut by rocks. We replaced one with the spare, but there was still another flat. Necessity made us inventive, and we lined the tube with our jeans and thick jackets. All this was further secured with rope and grass was wedged into small gaps.
Did it work? We tried, and luckily the wheel held. Four hours later we limped into a small village. We’d run out of fuel too, but thankfully, we were carrying 40 litres in jerry cans.
Besides the thick jackets and the jerry cans, we had carried a 3-in-1 axe, a hoe and shovel, extra rations, water, fuel repair and First Aid kits, including injections, and a Swiss knife. Travelling through the jungle has its hazards and it’s important to be well-equipped, since the odds can turn against you in a flash. But if you’re prepared and keep your cool, it can be a very rewarding experience; nothing can quite match the thrill of discovering and exploring.
Pandey is a wildlife filmmaker and conservationist