Panna National Tiger Reserve
Pashan Garh Lodge features clusters of stone cottages huddled atop a small hill, offering spectacular views over the forest and a large nearby waterhole where resident antelope gather. ~from the A&K itinerary
I’m sitting in our cottage in a wilderness lodge in the middle of Panna National Forest. The accommodations are luxe for a wilderness lodge, but the art leaves something to be desired: there’s an angry-looking monkey hanging over the heater and a photo of some scary exotic beetle blown up as big as me on the bathroom wall. I hate photos of bugs more than anything.
I am a princess. I am reminding myself of that so when I plan our next trip I have no further lapses in judgment.
We got here after an arduous, 12-hour journey that began with a three-hour trip on Indian Railways, an experience you’ll want to miss, if at all possible, even in Executive Class.
After that, we got in a bus with no toilet and drove for nine hours. I’m not sure I understand this, since our bus until now for trips way shorter than nine hours had a very serviceable toilet. This one? None.
Wait. Is that the snuffling of a Bengal tiger I hear outside the cottage in the dark? No. It’s our houseboys, here to turn down the bed, light candles for us and clean the bathroom we have yet to use.
Back to our journey.
If you think a huge roller coaster is a thrilling ride, you haven’t ridden on seriously potholed dirt roads at 50 mph with all sorts of traffic coming head on because the road’s too small for two-way traffic—trucks, other buses, motorcycles, bicycles, water buffalo, dogs, cows, goats—you name it—we all shared the road with much honking of horns. For all nine hours. I was seated in the second row with a great view of every minute of excitement.
“Holy Mother of God!”
“Oh, my God!”
Just a few of the phrases I uttered during our drive. Indian drivers are either the worst in the world or the best, I haven’t figured out which. It was better not to look, and the wisest among us sat further back so they didn’t have to.
When we finally got here in the pitch dark, we were greeted by a group of wilderness bellmen-jeep drivers-chefs waving both hands above their heads in some sort of jungle greeting.
I was in no mood.
That’s because at the tourist hellhole we stopped at for lunch, I ate something that didn’t agree with me. Considering I am hardly eating anything at all, that was a real feat. (India is missing an opportunity to market itself as a fat farm. The entire country.) And while other people have gotten “Delhi belly” on the trip, this was my first time. The restaurant rest room? Required a face mask. But it wasn’t enough. The urge hit again shortly after we resumed our drive. And since we were driving through rural India without a bus bathroom and since I was in extremis we had to stop the bus so our cabin boy could show me to some bushes.
Yes, our bus came with a cabin boy and his job description included showing affluent American tourists to bush-toilets. “It’s my job,” he told me.
Thankfully, all the climbing of gigantic steps and hills we’ve been doing plus my trainer’s good work had honed my low squat to a fine point and I managed to avoid falling over into some poisonous anthill. Back at the bus, I took meds real quick and they did the trick.
I am a princess. WTF am I doing squatting in the bush? Such a good question.
We are off to look for Bengal tigers and other wildlife in the morning. This is the place that inspired Rudyard Kipling to write The Jungle Book.
I, however, am inspired by something else: power-shopping in Delhi in just a few days. And the day when we will sit on our own bed, having showered in our own shower, used our own clean toilet, and hang out with Riley, watching Ice Road Truckers, and laughing our asses off about this.
I am, after all, a princess. And I won’t soon forget it.