INDIA
2001


"In the Python's Grip"

Pendra, Chhattisgarh State

Map of Chhattisgarh & Madhya Pradesh States, central India showing primary and secondary locations
(click on map for enlarged view)

We arrived in Bilaspur around 9:00 and transferred, in torrential rain, to a local hotel to change, before beginning the 100 km drive to Pendra. Enroute we encountered a troop of Common langurs (Presbytis entellus) and a band of Small Indian mongooses (Herpestes auropunctatus, note: not 'mongeese').

In Pendra we checked into the Jain Hotel. Jains are an Indian religious movement who advocate non-violence to all organisms, but they may not own hotel, the name may be a coincidence. We were based at the Jains Hotel for eight nights.

Pendra was a small, bustling town, full of all the light, colours, sights and smells of rural India. We breakfasted on the roof every morning, one of the best breakfasts I have ever eaten, sort of pancakes folded over like a tricorn hat with interesting contents inside, except oddly the opening was underneath so if you picked it up everything fell out. From the same vantage point, one evening, I watched a Common palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) foraging on a roof across the street. Hugo has also arranged a special treat for the crew, a masseuse, except he was a small strongly built Indian gentleman. Terry went first and from outside his room we could hear the jowls of pain as the massage was administered. When Terry re-emerged he said he thought he was going to die from the head massage which felt as if he was being beaten up. As there were no other takers the masseuse was let go!

Views of Pendra, Chhattisgarh
The crew breakfasting on the hotel roof One evening I spotted a large civet on the roof opposite our vantage point

One of our aims in Chhattisgarh was to film Sloth bear (Melurus ursinus) a large shaggy bear that eats fruit and termites, obtaining the latter by ripping open termite mounds with its long powerful claws. Since the bears are short-sighted and they sometimes coming into contact with humans, they are considered dangerous and are much-feared. I first met a sloth bear when trekking in Nepal in 1991. Since we hoped to film the bears in the wild we went to visit a captive specimen held at a forest ranger station near Pendra. Sadly this animal was derranged by its captive condition and was demonstrating a number of uncharactistic behaviours that can only be put down to its captivity, although its enclosure and wooden over-night cage were fairly spacious and it was well fed.

Sloth bear, Melursus ursinus
Sloth bear cage candidate for a caption competition

The injuries inflicted by sloth bears were worse than those resulting from encounters with Indian leopards (Panthera pardus fusca). We filmed some of these injuries at the local hospital but were only able to broadcast the least gruesome. We were told one boy had his skull opened up and his brain eaten!

Sloth bear injuries on a man's head
Sloth bear injuries on a boy's abdomen

Thefore, for our own safety when filming bears at night, we had a metal cage constructed in Pendra, but this took a lot longer than expected and only daily visits to the workshop speeded its construction.

On the way to check the cage's construction
welding...
hammering...
getting there..... slowly!