“Did you hear it?” asked the guide as we patiently sat on our safari jeep in the core area of the Panna National Park. Famous for its tiger population, Panna has been one of the major destinations for travelers in Madhya Pradesh.
As we waited, surrounded by the noisy cricket population, the monkeys shouted their lungs out. The tigress was close.
“She is thirsty. It is dry season and the waterfalls have died out,” he said.
Despite being a sought after destination Panna is not very accessible in terms of road or railway connectivity. You would have to travel to Bhopal, take a train till Khajuraho and then take a bus or a taxi to the national park region. The roads are bad and it is a back-breaking journey if the government has decided that the roads are too expensive to be mended. But if you do manage to reach, it is a sight to behold.
“Move, move, I think she senses us, she will go the other way,” whispered the guide as authoritatively as he could to the driver.
As we moved through the jungle and ended up on the other side of the curve, there were fresh pugmarks on the surface.
One full-grown adult, with her two young ones.
With me missing my first tiger encounter by a whisker, I realised that running after the big cat meant that I would be deprived of a significant part of the jungle experience. And with a heavy heart, I asked,
“Should we go and try to explore the forest instead?”
It turned out to be a wise decision. We move around to let the jungle soak in. Since we started at 6 in the morning in the freezing December cold, the sun took its own time to come out. We watched the forest unfold from a damp scary place to a golden backlit beauty.
As our guide explained the ecosystem to us, I watched in wonder, sometimes forgetting to click photos of this beautiful place.
As the sun came out, the predatory nature of the forest reduced. We heard the birds chirp, saw the herbivores started roaming as the fog slowly evaporated from the lands. The red and gold made its way for the green and blue.
Shivering in the cold as the morning went by, we moved through the forest, desperately searching for the warmth of the sun, we took a path separate from the rest of the group and traveled across a clearing. With dry grass on both sides, the land climbed to a small hill overlooking the valley.
Deciding to take a pit stop, we climbed off the safari Jeeps. Closer to the edge, as far as the eye could see was a clear blue sky, surrounded by the green trying its best to reach up and claim it.
As much as I wanted to see the tiger, that view made the whole trip, the lack of sleep, the bone shivering cold, all worth it.
As majestic as the jungle is, this isn’t all that is to Panna. After finishing the safari at noon, we visited Pandava caves.
A 15-20 minute drive takes you to the caves, famous for their stalagmite and stalactite formations.
Overall, Panna and its surrounding areas of Khajuraho and Ken Gharial sanctuary make it a perfect weekend for backpackers and families alike. While the tigers are indeed the main attraction, the overall Panna experience of living at the edge of the core forest region in wooden cottages, makes it up for the back-breaking journey.
Deep in the night, if you are awakened by your senses, remember to look out through the window, you might just find the big cat staring at you.