The backup trip – Kawal Tiger Reserve

Dot com kottera? (Did you type in the “.com?”) this was the question asked by the office boy from the Gandikota Haritha resort. A few girlfriends and I had planned to do a road trip to Gandikota, the grand canyon of India. Everything was planned and set except for the accommodation. The only housing options in this little town was the state government run resort. And, the only way to book it was online. The website kept crashing each time I tried. After a frustrating day of trying to book our rooms, I got in touch with my other travel enthusiasts friends to get the phone number of the resort office. You would think, in this day and age, I should have easily found it online. I did, but finding a functional number felt like an unachievable dream. After a relentless search, I did get through to this interesting office boy who questioned my knowledge of using the world wide web and the office manager who informed me that the whole place was booked out for the weekend. Rooms, dormitories, all.

The thought of a holiday had settled in my head. Unavailability of accommodation wasn’t going to ruin my plans. So, after a little research we decided to go to Kawal wildlife sanctuary which is 250Kms from Hyderabad. Booked the stay on Thursday afternoon. Packed Friday night, made the music playlist Saturday morning at 4 and we were ready to leave. But, by the time we 4 girls got together, it was 6 a.m. We were just an hour behind the planned schedule and being Hyderabadis, we were doing a great job.

I still had Gandikota on my mind and so we started driving on the airport road. Didn’t realize the mistake till we were on our way back. Payal and I were the designated drivers for the trip. We needed to follow the map to be on the right exit from the city. Payal is a self proclaimed mess when it comes to maps, so it was decided that she would take up the initial stretch of driving while I would guide her with the map. We made a wrong turn but nothing mattered with the yummy sandwiches made by Payal’s mom in our hands. Aunty is one of the most awesome cooks I have known. And them being Gujaratis, we had enough food to last us the whole trip. We weren’t complaining. The three types of sandwiches and the home made wheat base pizzas were keeping us too busy to care about anything else. The morning fog, a rarity in Hyderabad added to the electric excitement already buzzing in the car.

 

The group was a very random mix. Payal, Appu and I have done a few trips together. Vanita is a good friend of mine who was introduced to all of us through another common friend. We all know each other, but none of us had ever imagined that one day, just four of us would be on a trip together.

After getting onto the NH44, it’s a straight road and a gorgeous one at that. Payal was amazed at how smooth my car was going. We were in my one year old I10 Grand Sportz Petrol car. This was it’s 3rd road trip. While making my playlist, I had made it a point to put together a playlist of Bolly numbers as the rest three are big Bollywood lovers. I don’t listen to Bollywood much and the latest song on that playlist was atleast 10 years old. And that turned out to be the best part. We sang along, danced, talked about the movie, the actor and everything else. It was an absolute laughter riot. What with Vanita imitating Anu Malik’s singing. And if anyone of you have heard him sing, “Dekho baarish ho rahi hai” you know what I am talking about. Our voices were already hoarse laughing.

Once we were in Medak district, we stopped by at a Punjabi dhabha and had some great tea and a Paneer paratha lathered in butter. We ordered it cause we are greedy gluttons and not cause we were really hungry. We wanted to take a picture with the Dhaba as the backdrop but the Dhaba owner decided to make us a prop for the marketing of his eatery.

 

I took up the wheel from here on. We had our map on with Nirmal as the destination. As we came closer, we switched it to Jannaram, the village where the reserve was located. We missed the exit and had to take a U-turn and head back. There is a short stretch of bad road, almost 200 meters and then on, it turns into a single lane road. So, basically I got the shitty part of the drive. I announced that on the way back, I would drive on the earlier, beautiful stretch of the road.

We passed by some serene Indian countryside landscape. Lakes, shrubs, hillocks and oh ya, goats, sheep, cows and buffaloes. We entered the protected area and as in most Indian forests, the monkeys were out on the road welcoming the visitors. One of them even joined us in our Bollywood fun.

The Haritha resort board is on the main road and is easily visible but we decided to be technology dependent dunce heads and allowed the map to take us into a tiny lane, only to turn back out and follow the signboard. The resort, now by resort if you have images of a swimming pool and lush green grass and fancy butlers walking around with cocktails, push it out. From what I have heard, Haritha resorts have fairly the same structure at each of their locations. This was our first. Small cottages spread out, with a small park in the center and an office building and a restaurant. Seeing we were four women by ourselves, Khan our Man Friday for the next two days decided to give us the safest rooms of all. Two rooms with their own common porch and balcony and a facility to lock ourselves in from the rest of the resort, still keeping the connection between us open.

He suggested we go for the Jungle safari in the morning as the sightings are best then. Now, we didn’t know what else we could do for the rest of the day. He recommended a little lake with boating 25 Kms away, at the other Haritha resort. The famous Kuntala waterfalls was a good 100 Kms away and Khan told us that there wasn’t enough water. So, that was out of our itinerary too. We decided to chill in the afternoon, have lunch and then go for boating in the evening. We ordered a couple of Veg Thalis, a chicken curry and while waiting for it, got into the preparations of getting us into high spirits. We had carried all that we need from Hyderabad, not trusting finding what we like in this small town/village. We sat sipping, talking about anything and everything. Life, common friends, self confidence, happy with how we look…… At this moment, Vanita says “So pretty” The rest of us think she is complimenting us and we look up to thank her, only to notice that our lady is talking to herself looking in the mirror. We were in splits and #sopretty is stuck to Vanita till she does something equally crazy, which by the way, knowing her, isn’t too far away in the future.

After downing a couple and having one of the most delicious meals in a long time, we all wind up to take a nap. I, as usual can’t sleep but try my best while tossing and turning. Finally, giving up after an hour, I got up and we all pushed off to the boating site. When we got there, we see it’s a lake at the base of Kaddam Project dam. And the boating….well, a 20 seater boat which right now was full with the neighbouring villagers who had come in bus loads (literally) to enjoy their weekend outing. Their weekend just got better watching these jeans clad (and a funny dhoti pant clad, moi) shades wearing city girls. We couldn’t stop giggling watching them and well, encouraging them. The boat guy (what do you actually call them?) looked at us, looked at the crowd and the 20 seater boat and decided for the well being of everyone that we should go in our private motor boat for 300/- Fancy eh? So, out come these tattered, dirty life jackets which everyone refused to wear, except for this scaredy cat. Yours truly.

So our boat man, starts it, and starts swaying it left right and center. Each time the boat tips to one side, which is every 3 seconds, I have images of me falling over and drowning. I am glad I have my shades on and no one can see my fear stricken, saucer shaped eyes. I wait for it to get done and after what felt like an eternity, it is. As we are getting out of our boats, Vanita madam waves goodbye to a suddenly jubilant bunch of boys in the other boat.

We went looking for a haunted guest house recommended by a friend which was supposed to be near our resort. We couldn’t find it and the area around us, wasn’t encouraging enough for us to go on venturing further ahead. We decided to give up the hunt.

Back to the resort, we order our dinner and play around in the park. Yup, the average age was in the early thirties but who can resist a swing and a slide? By 7, my energy levels were at the lowest, it being close to my daily bed time. The girls decide it’s again, the time to get our spirits high. We settle down in our balcony. Wrapped in shawls, feet cozy in socks and face lathered in odomos, we were ready for the night to begin. Actually, it wasn’t us who needed any preparations, it should have been the other residents of the resort. Khan, our Man Friday must have cursed himself for being the one at the reception when we checked in. Now, every 5 minutes, one of those annoying city girl was calling out, “Khhaaaaaannnn” asking for ice, chicken, cold water and what not. If he didn’t respond, I would call him up. You see, he had made the mistake of giving me his number. The worst decision of the day? He had given us a room facing the restaurant. We were the horrible hooligans screaming our lungs out, laughing our witch laughs, ruining the dream of a peaceful night of the other residents.

At 10 in the night, Vanita announced she wanted to see the stars. So, out we walk, into the park area. The watchman rushes and shuts the main gate probably dreading the thought that we girls are going to walk out of the resort. We stand staring at the clear night sky. Amazed at the number of stars we could see. The calm lasted for probably a full minute and then we were back to our antics. I think it was the high quality spirits inside us, which made us believe we could and should pull off a pole dance. Yup. We did that. There were couple of uncles (I am sorry if you weren’t uncles, but you looked like that) walking in the park who saw us and ran back to their rooms. We could hear a mini party going on in every cottage. Vanita had a brilliant (Not!) idea of knocking at one of the doors and running back into our room. Luckily no one fell for it.

The monkey business we did through the day guaranteed us a sound sleep in the night. We were bright and up at 6 ready for our Jungle safari. There was an open top safari and we wanted to sit in the open area obviously. Before I go ahead, let me introduce you to our driver and guide Rajamouli. I cracked a lame-o joke asking about his next movie. (Rajamouli is also the name of a famous Telugu movie director) Some old uncles also wanted to join the safari and they are given the closed seating areas and we city girls decide to brave the weather. Bad idea!! WE FROZE TO DEATH!! In my last minute packing (so unlike me) I had forgotten to carry any warm clothing. Luckily Payal had an extra pair of jacket and a shawl which came to my rescue. We had to go on the highway for a 10 km stretch in that biting cold before we entered the reserve. Our driver had warned us about it but there was nothing much we could do. Vanita used Times of India newspaper to cover her ears. We couldn’t even laugh at it as we had to conserve all our energy into staying warm.

 

 

Once we entered the reserve, we had to protect our #sopretty faces from the low hanging branches. We saw a Sambar, which stopped and actually posed for us. I realized then that the big ass DSLR camera I was carrying did not have it’s SD card in. No more last minute packing for me!! We saw a small herd of spotted deer, one more Sambar and a beautiful blue bird. Each time an animal was spotted, our driver/guide would make frantic hand gestures from his windows to catch our attention and direct it to the animal. Appu would tap back on the hood of the car with her nails to let him know we had noticed. Either it was a really funny situation or we were still high from last night. We just couldn’t stop laughing.

We stopped at a watering hole where Tigers are usually spotted. Our guide/driver told us that the tribals in the area had killed a tiger day before with electric current. Damn saddening. Hope the correct actions are taken to avoid this situation in the future. We wanted to get off the jeep and walk around. The uncles had gone off already. We had to jump off and then climb back in. Appu called our driver/guide who she had lovingly christened Raj now to come give her support. She forced him to pose for a picture with us. Our heart warmed looking at this love blossoming in front of our eyes. Poor Raj was embarrassed and scared but Appu is a go-getter, city girl after all. The rest three of us felt like awkward guests at a forced wedding.

Once we got back to the resort, we thanked “Raj” but Appu did a skip and a jump and called out “Bye Raj” The uncles and us found it quite amusing. We headed into the restaurant where the rest of the residents recognized us from the night before and gave us the stink eye. It made no difference to us, as well, we are city brats. After a good Dosa, Idli, Poori breakfast, we packed and were ready to head back to Hyderabad. Even at the last moment instead of calling out for Khan to help us clear the bill, Appu kept taking Raj’s name. This became and still is a constant topic for us to pull her leg.

We had wanted to see the fort in Nirmal which was impossible to find. The locals kept directing us to weird, tiny lanes and one point we were literally off-roading, but being in an I10, it wasn’t really a great idea. We could hear a rock hit the undercarriage of my car. My heart sank but luckily there wasn’t any damage. The pathway to the fort looked very shady with men standing in corners talking. We decided to drop the plan and head back to Hyderabad.

On the highway we came across the elusive fort we were looking for. Nobody at the counter, didn’t know how to get in, so we took a few pictures at the archway and hit the road.

I have to mention the Toilet booths by the highway we came across which were very clean and a big surprise to all of us. After a late lunch at a highway restaurant, planning our next trip, we reached Hyderabad around 5 in the evening.

It was time to bid goodbye and get lost in the polluted, disturbed city life.

Till the next one, “Bye Raj!”

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