Sometimes the best adventures are unplanned. The sheer uncertainty of what lies round the corner and the ambiguity of whether you will reach your destination.
A short description of the characters
Babi- Me (Impulsive, wildly adventurous, Happy go Lucky) By profession a media professional
Mili- My Wife (Soft, fun loving though not a very tough adventurer, stable in mind, calm)- School teacher at Sai International and an NCC officer
Sridhar- My childhood buddy (Practical, matured, stable minded)- Commander in the Indian Navy
Jyoti- Sridhar’s wife (Fun Loving, chatter box, yet soft and demure)- School Teacher by profession
Saanjh- Sridhar’s 8 year old daughter.
Sridhar was visiting Odisha to attend our old school reunion. Deciding to give his family some unforgettable memories, he left it on me to plan out a 2 day trip which would be tad different- and I banged on Simliplal. Digging up contacts I managed to book two cottages, having no idea or know how about the place, and as unplanned and impulsive as I have always been, I took this trip as any other trip and didn’t do any homework on the place, nor did I care to listen to instructions properly, as given by the contact I had managed in the forest department. My poor wife and my buddy and his family just assumed that I had done the needful.
There are two entry points for Simlipal Tiger Reserve-one which is through Jassipur (Chandikhole, Ghatagaon) and the other through Pithabata (Baripada route). Jassipur is recommended for tourists as it’s a better road into the jungle and also close to the place recommended for stay away from tiger habitation. Pithabata route is more uncharted and one has to go through 80kms of dense jungle to reach the place of stay which is not recommended. And you guessed right – I took all of us to Pithabata entry point, that too after official hours (around 3:30 in the afternoon) despite our friend’s hubby asking me to reach in time.
The guy at the gate straight refused. He said (a) We don’t allow entry at this time (b) You can’t travel in a small vehicle (c) This route is not recommended at all to reach your place of stay. Again smart (ass) that I am, I bypassed all and caught hold of the contact that I had managed in the Forest Department and put unofficial pressure on the forester. He clearly told our contact- I am leaving due to your pressure, but (1) If something happens to them we are not responsible (2) In case they get into trouble and manage to contact, then we don’t have any vehicle to rescue them and you have to send from Baripada. Our contact grumpily told me – “You didn’t follow any of my instructions and now my neck is on the chopping block. Please drive slowly. You have to go through 80 kms of dense jungle”.
And we embarked on our journey only to realise the hard way what the forester had meant. Initially we could drive a bit fast but after some time we couldn’t drive fast beyond 15Km-20Km speed. The scenic beauty was captivating. And I started sending updates to all our friends. Jyoti was miffed over my jokes and my wild excitement over the prospect of spotting a tiger. Every sound made me hopeful and I got down at the slightest pretext hoping to be lucky but alas! Slowly it started getting chillier. We took directions from two check gates and continued. And then the tracks started fading, mobiles got out of range and evening was setting in, but our enthusiasm was still up.
We crossed villages, wherein people stayed exactly like we had seen in our history books – no electricity, houses made of raw jungle materials, scattered habitation, and a language we couldn’t understand. The roads became more perilous (by roads I don’t mean pucca roads rather its all rocky, muddy thin mountainous terrain). As we progressed, excited as to what lay next, darkness had set in, our mobiles were having no network, and to our horrendous realization, we were lost in deep dense jungle with no contact point nor knowing how to make contact with anyone.
Joking and trying to keep our spirits up we continued (By that time, the guilt had started nagging into me that apart from Mili, Sri & Jyoti a little girl was in peril, thanks to my foolhardiness). We encountered some lone tribal at some points who gave us some direction which we could assume due to not understanding the colloquial language. Going ahead and moving back amidst mountainous rough terrain, and twists and turns we could see the moon at one time to our right and 15 mins later to our left. The journey seemed never ending; and so was my serious comedy. I guess at a point all perhaps assumed that we would never make it.
As the never ending journey continued, I got down at a point just to release the tension and find some direction because we had seen some board somewhere. And that’s the point I was enraptured in that magical moment.
Believe it or not- the scene was as we had read in fairy tales – the magic of nature showcasing God’s creation with all its splendour; not what we humans have reduced it to.” A clear sky having a bright moon and twinkling stars; unpolluted fresh air; tall green trees and dense jungle with the smell of fresh unpolluted land. Ah! the purity, the serenity and the magnificence can only be felt- I can’t describe in words. I was one with nature. I later heard from Mili, Jyoti & Sridhar that they all felt the same, and I guess at that moment our spirits revived and we decided that we would spend the night in the car itself if required. My only worry was Saanjh.
Revived and energised spiritually, we continued with the ardous journey and as luck would have it, we reached upon a forest guard ( one who has no means of communication with anyone, except for sending a messenger in person like the olden days). He gave us directions, and though they were clear at every point there was confusion, as every point that we reached had two or more roads and area deserted but finally we arrived at our cottages.
The welcome we received was superb. The cottages had a serenity and as if embedded in nature itself-sort of as if they have grown up from the ground. Sans telephone and electric lines, the area was unspoilt by modernity. Power generated through solar energy and climate superbly cold, we had arrived in wonderland. We were served really tasty food. And they made a bonfire for us which exclusively was enjoyed by the 5 of us. (Of course Sri & Me popped in our quota of rum while the ladies were enraptured with all the surprises that were coming up). We were told that, had we arrived a little earlier, a cultural programme of tribal dance etc would have been organised for us.
The night was chilly, and we felt it despite being clothed in jackets, jeans, blankets etc, but then it was invigorating too.
The next day I get up and see the scene with the rays of dawn slowly illuminating the sky. Again I see God’s wondorous creation. Sadly we didn’t have charging points and we couldn’t charge our cells and take snaps. 7 AM – I still see the moon above and I take a small jog around, letting nature seep into me.
Since we said we can’t go too far as we are running low on fuel, our hosts said -“There is a new waterfall nearby which has not been discovered and earmarked by forest officials. Its 5kms by road (car) and 1 1/2 kms trekking after that”.They said they would send a tribal guide if we are interested and we readily agreed. After going for less than a km, we realised our car can’t make it in that terrain. We parked the car there itself and asked the guide if he can take us completely by foot through a shorter route and he said Yes.
And then started our 2nd adventure. We first went through tracks regularly walked upon, crossed an ancient village where people stared at us in amazement and then at a point the guide told us that there are no more tracks. And we got to navigate through pure jungle route – tall trees, sun shining through at places, sound of waterfalls. Our trek involved some amount of rock climbing too till we reached the point. Again I was taken in by nature. Neither my words, nor the snaps can do justice to what we experienced there. After a total of 7 Km trekking we were back.
Post lunch and bidding farewell to them we then embarked upon the Jassipur point which was closer and a better route. Again even that route was new for us and so it was another adventure. But this time we were lost in highways and finally managed to reach town in an earthly hour.
In a nutshell we embarked on a journey which wasn’t earmarked by the tourist department or forest officials.It is a one time and a life time experience, as next time we will never experience this since we now know the safe routes and procedure.
It is two sides of the coin, where on one side all of us were in peril due to my foolhardiness, and on the other side we experienced what we doubt we can ever experience again-the beauty and splendour of God’s creation in the raw.
Unforgettable Road Trip- Simlipal A fairy tale wonder of Odisha