This summer last week, I was finally lucky enough to go for a trip to Pench national park in Madhya Pradesh. I had heard a lot about it’s beauty, it’s inspiration for the Jungle Book, it’s amazing management (being in M.P) and thanks to Mumbai Travellers who organized this trip, my dream was finally coming true!
The journey to Pench was extremely comfortable – the roads in the last hour passing through the Tiger corridor with tall bamboo and saag trees lining up on either sides of the highway. Our resort in Pench, Tiger n Woods was a beautiful simple and extremely comfortable place with a nice sit out area, a lovely machaan with neatly kept rooms. We felt at home in an instant.
Outside the Pench forest, I saw a pleasantly surprising sight. That of smartly dressed women guides arriving on bikes. In my limited 4 safaris to other national parks, this had not happened before. Also, unlike other national parks, Pench forest I learnt, is extremely well maintained and like other M.P forests, has a strict identity check for gypsies. The forests in M.P are ancient and hence extremely grand in nature. So we discovered as we entered the Turia gate in M.P region. Pench also has a gate from Maharashtra side which leads one into the greener sides of the forests. Overall the forest is said to have more than 35 tigers and a host of other wildlife like wolves, fox, jackals, leopards etc. And the name Pench is derived from the river Pench which passes through the jungle. We were mesmerized seeing the mighty river bed which was dry in this summer but nevertheless a stunning sight to behold. I could totally visualize the scene of the river overflowing in the rains from the movie Jungle Book!
Pench is also home to a number of beautiful birds, from the beautifully blue Indian roller, to the eagles, vultures, kingfishers, Indian pitta, woodpeckers, mottled owls, drongo, night jar among many others. In our quest to look for Tigers, we spent a decent amount of time stopping to click these feathered beauties! Many birds kept fluttering around like they were media shy but the rest posed for us with a calm demeanor. Especially the mottled owl which like a true fashionista gave some awesome attitude filled poses.
Apart from birds, we also had the pleasure of seeing wild dogs! Most of us never really knew what they looked like. And of course the elusive jackal – about which we’ve only heard of in kids stories! During our night safari (oh yes! we did one!) we spotted the jungle cat and the palm cevet cat in the eerie silence and darkness of that mighty jungle. Among the other animals we spotted were spotted deer, sambar deer, lots and lots of monkeys etc. It is amazing how relaxed and at home these animals look in their natural habitat. It’s one reason why I love wildlife safaris. You get to understand the language of the animals!
And of course, coming to the climax of this entire trip – the tigers! And this is an interesting story. We were finishing our third safari – without much luck so far. In the past two safaris we did spot tigers, but very briefly and definitely not at photo worthy moments. In the third safari, with just half and hour to go – we gave up hope and decided to give one last shot – as we were in the territory of Collarwali – the tigress who has a tracking collar (and hence the name!). The earlier tigers we had briefly spotted walking were Langadi and male tiger BMW (interesting how these names are given to tigers no? That’s a story for another article altogether). Within a few moments of wandering around, we arrived at a congregation of 8 gypsies silently clicking. We couldn’t have guessed till we reached the exact spot – but there she was. The cub daughter of Collarwali – lurking around the tree a few feet away from our jeep. We were stunned and it took us moments before we could start clicking this delightful scene. And a few seconds later we saw the mother herself, perched lazily on the ground behind the daughter. The daughter walked behind a rock and settled down there occasionally glancing at the collection of gypsies with a lazy look. The mother looked comfortable with all the attention. Almost like a diva. After a few intense moments of clicking and waiting, the daughter playfully walked up to the mother – cuddling and playing with her. This was a first time watch for me. And I was amazed. Emotions have a universal language after all!
By this time our guide realized that the tigresses may have wanted to cross the road which was littered and packed with gypsies. So he requested our driver to take the gypsy in reverse to make space. As soon as we did that, both the tigresses came and settled in our direction. Head on! And there went another round of clicks – this time with a lot more attention since the tigers were facing us, up close! After a few more moments, the other gypsies on the road aligned to make space for the crossing. And within 2 minutes, both tigresses crossed the road – the mother walking back calmly and the daughter sprinting across the road probably fearing the wild creatures in the gypsies around her! And those 20 minutes! yep! 20 minutes were etched as most memorable in my memory and the memories of many others who had witnessed a tiger sighting first time in their lives! Everything about a tiger is so majestic! Their yawn, their catwalk, their aura which is so powerful, their affection! For those who’ve seen tigers, it’s an addiction many will never understand.
The safaris ended with this absolute treat! What more could we ever want! The excitement of seeing a tiger ran like a energy booster drug in our blood that day! We couldn’t stop smiling and raving! The only two words I remember saying were ‘oh shit! ‘ and ‘oh god!’. This was way beyond my expectations. Pench was definitely my favourite forest from now on! It had brought the mighty sher khan alive!
Pench is accessible from Nagpur. You can reach Nagpur by flight or by Duronto (12 hours journey) if you stay in Mumbai. Seoni is 2 hours drive from Nagpur and you’ll find the drive to be a scenic one.
Seoni has many many resorts to host tourists – most of them being economical. My recommendation is don’t stay at an expensive exotic one – because all you’ll really do on a safari trip is sleep for a couple of hours and eat there. Rest of the time will be spent in safaris exploring the forests in morning and evening
Don’t do one safari and expect magic to happen. Go for atleast four safaris to do justice to your efforts.
Enjoy the forests. Don’t go expecting tigers everywhere. And when you least expect it, is when you’ll find most of them.
Hoping to see you in the wild soon!!