A few hours’ drive from Nagpur is Pench Tiger Reserve in Seoni district. This Reserve or Mowgli Land, as the park is famously called is the original setting of Rudyard Kipling's most famous work, The Jungle Book. The Jungle Book and its character Mowgli is based on Pench National Park. So as soon as you enter the Seoni area, you will see familiar names like Bagheera resort, Mowgli Jungle homes etc. Amazingly many places described in this book are actual locations in Seoni district, like the Waingunga river with its gorge where Sher Khan was killed, Kanhiwara village and the Seoni hills.
We spent the evening at Jungle Homes where we are told that we need to be at the Turia gate of Pench by 6:00 AM at least, to finish the formalities. That means we would be leaving at 5:45 AM max which means by 5:30 AM, I got to be out of my room, which means I need to be up by 5:00 AM at the max! Wake up at 5:00 AM in the cold just to see a bunch of Tigers.
Not happening. Skeptically I decided to give it just one shot.
After layering myself warm, I groggily made it out of my room. In the dark I could see the open gypsy waiting for us. It was more open than I had expected and wondered how would this be of any protection against any animal attack?
It was a bit was too early in the morning to think, anything anyways.
Soon we were at Turia gate of Pench, waiting our turn to get in.
The sun is just about rising and we drive around and park ourselves on the trail waiting for the guide to figure out the path of the Tiger.
We spend the next hour or so listening to the ‘call of the wild’, basically listening to the bark of chitals and monkeys to figure out the location of the Tiger.
By now I am not only hungry, sleepy and cold but impatient too. Suddenly, everyone jumps in excitement. There is something beyond the high grass in the midst of the thick trees.
We crawl our gypsy a little ahead and then we see a spotted orange creature. Ok that wasn’t a Tiger but a beautiful Leopard crossing the trail ahead of us! I had never seen a wild predator this beautiful so up close and just to watch it for those few seconds was really exciting.
We followed it for a while till we lost it in the thick jungle again.By now, I was awake in all senses and had forgotten all about the hunger or cold.We just had a Leopard sighting, which is way rarer than even a Tiger sighting!
To say the least, we were very pleased. Now we drove around with a sense of satisfaction and watched the birds, deer, and langurs at peace. Soon we stopped for our packed breakfast, soaked up more of the warm sun and drove around the reserve in search of the Tiger.