This spring we joined Naturetrek’s Wildlife Festival in India’s Satpura National Park. The group was to be based at the luxurious Reni Pani Jungle Lodge in the parks buffer zone. We were to depart from London Heathrow on a Jet Airways flight to Mumbai. Rajan Jolly had already alerted us to some problems with Jet Airways, resulting in our connecting flight to Bhopal being canceled and rescheduled with a Air India flight. Andy Tucker our Tour Manager would meet us at the airport with the replacement e-tickets.
Heathrow to Mumbai
We met up with Andy and other members of the group and had a good flight to Mumbai, where we landed just after midnight. Mumbai airport is quite spectacular, the art work is beautiful and you could easily spend time gazing around. As there were four hours before the next flight we spent the time in the Aniserv Lounge. Food, drink and comfortable chairs were available and it provided an opportunity to get to know other travellers.
At 4.30 we all went to check in at the Air India desk. Amidst a great deal of confusion we eventually all got seats. Alan and I were upgraded to Business class with 5 others from the group. Rajan had done a fantastic job managing to get us all seats at such short notice. Sujan Chattergee, our Naturalist Tour Leader, met us in Bhopal. He escorted us to the Jehan Numa Palace hotel where we were staying overnight.
The Jehan Numa Palace is a luxurious heritage hotel on the slopes of the Shamla Hills above the Upper Lake. Built in 1890 and named after the Sultan Jehan Begum. She was one of the female rulers of Bhopal. Her large portrait dominating the reception area. The palace has beautiful gardens, a courtyard with a fountain, swimming pool and even a small horse training track. The links to the horse racing are evident with all the bars linked to UK race courses. One particular door leading to the Shergar Bar, there was some speculation as to whether that’s where Shergar had disappeared too. After a delicious breakfast we had free time until lunch at 1.00 to explore the hotel and grounds.
Bhopal and Taj-ul-Masjid
After lunch we boarded our coach for a guided tour of Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh’s capital city which is also called the City of Lakes. It is one of India’s greenest cities. Raja Bhoj founded Bhopal in the 11th century. His statue is on the lake shore. By the 18th century it was held by a Muslim dynasty whose rulers included the female Begums of Bhopal. Bhopal is ringed by hills, and stretches along the shores of the artificial Upper and Lower Lakes . The old quarter is north of the Upper Lake and is full of narrow lanes, bazaars and mosques. Our first stop on the tour was to the Taj-ul-Masjid, the largest mosque in India. This large, imposing, red/ pink building was begun in 1878 by the Sultan Jehan Begum. Unfortunately it was left unfinished. and was finally completed in 1971.
The Sultan Jehan Begum was a very progressive ruler establishing a postal service, hospitals and schools. Unfortunately she ran out of money to complete the mosque. It is clear to see the line on the 18 storey minarets where the building material changed from the expensive red/pink sandstone to a pink cement mix. There are three white domes and a large prayer hall which has beautiful carved pillars. Under a decorated arch several Giant Honey Bees nests clung to the wall. The enormous courtyard has a large water tank for ritual washing.
Sultan Jehan Begum set up a school for boys inside the mosque and one for girls outside. In the junior school they both followed the same full curriculum. Then the older boys studied the Koran.
Bird Watching at The Upper Lake
After leaving the mosque we drove around the Upper Lake and found a place to park to do some bird watching. Near the lake shore on wooden jetty were Indian and Greater Cormorants, and Little, Great and Intermediate Egrets. River terns flew by in front of us and overhead a Black Kite and a Black-eared Black Kite made use of the thermals. An Indian Pond Heron perched on a dead piece of wood staring at the water. In front of it a Pheasant tailed Jacana sat in the water. Nearby a White-breasted Water hen scurried around in the shoreline vegetation while a Red wattled Lapwing and a Black Winged Stilt walked along the water’s edge. Above us a spotted dove perched on a branch in a nearby tree.
Reluctantly we left the lake and headed for the Tribal Museum. This is an incredible museum, which houses tribal culture, art, artefacts religious beliefs, and child’s games. There are reconstructions of the house types of the different tribes. It is an excellent museum.
Outside a Shikra sat on a beam below the roof. Red vented bulbuls, Ashy Prinia and House Sparrows flew in the trees as we went back to the coach. Unfortunately we had to return to the hotel and prepare for the evening meal at 7.30. Tomorrow we were moving on to Satpura.