Maharashtra’s Konkan Coast: Day 2

Water Buffaloes Take a DipDay 2
Could there be anything better than starting your day with a fresh, hot butter dosa? We went back to KBR’s outdoor terrace for breakfast around 9:30 on Saturday morning and it was already about 90 degrees outside. The dosas were a welcome treat, as were the glasses of fresh watermelon juice. No…not a bad way to start, even despite the heat.

Because we didn’t want to completely fry ourselves, we opted not to go to the beach for the entire day. Instead, we would check out the Phansad Wildlife Sanctuary, said to be the home of the Giant Indian Squirrel. Giant squirrels? I’m totally there!

Phansad was not as easy to find as one would think a wildlife preserve would be. We again headed in the direction of Murud and our driver asked numerous pedestrians if they could show us the way. Eventually, we were directed up a rocky, dirt hill with tons of switchbacks. About 2 miles up at the top, we came to a sign for Phansad.

Now, we had actually been under the impression that the park was a bird sanctuary with some fluffy mammals thrown in. But the sign was decorated with pictures of migratory birds as well as leopards and tigers. I thought it highly unlikely that tigers were in the park; their numbers are dwindling rapidly. But I had read about leopard attacks around Mumbai. Thank god I didn’t read this little dispatch before we hit the trails, or I would have been pretty nervous.

The gate was locked when we arrived, but about a dozen workers were hoeing and digging along the walkway near the entrance. We asked them if we could come inside. And, of course, a spry gentleman, perhaps the foreman of the dirt dig, was quick to offer his services as a guide for a few hundred Rupiyan.

So, the four of us started our 7km tour from there, driving the dirt and grassland and what looked to me like streaks of hardened, black lava. The land was certainly prehistoric up here.

The Indian Savannah
About a mile in, we came to a vast grassy area that I immediately dubbed the Indian savannah. It really did look like an African plain, and the guide told us (with Hindi and hand gestures) that one can see the occasional tiger of leopard streaking through these parts. I was intrigued, but not convinced. Still, I wasn’t going to stray too far from the unlocked car.

For the next three hours or so, we continued to drive a ways, get out of the car, and trek around the fields and jungle. I admit I was a bit of a joykill because I had this fatalist image of being mauled by a leopard. At every stop, I grimaced at the thought of going down another unknown path, which prompted Anthony to say, “Some travel writer you are.” He was right, but I cursed back at him anyhow.

In the end, we only saw a large black monkey (though it ran in front of our vehicle so quickly that it could have been a giant squirrel!), hundreds of inch-size frogs, a gigantic bee’s nest (ala, the type Homer Simpson would wrecklessly taunt) and a pack of lazy buffalo lazing in a brook at the bottom of the jungle path. We didn’t see any exotic birds – though we could hear some. Luckily, we didn’t see any big cats either.

It’s funny how much I have dreamed of going tiger spotting at a wildlife park. Then, when I have a chance to do it, I act like a wuss. But you know, this park was so secluded and our guide so mellow, we would never even had had a chance. I’ll wait to do my tiger spotting from the perch of an elephant or a jeep, thank you very much.

Later that night, in fact, I bolted out of bed with a semi-heart attack from a nightmare of us being a tiger’s prey. About an hour later, the same reaction, though that dream had me finding out I was 20 years older than I actually am. I think I need to stop taking that malaria medicine.

(Note to travelers, the locally-purchased guidebook we were using mentioned that we were to advance to the Forest Inspection Hut, where we would have a chance to see some animals, including hyena and barking deer. But no one could tell us where the hut was. And, even though I’m a wuss, I don’t like seeing caged animals either.)