Pench – The Land of Mowgli, Revisited
Down the memory lane
A trip back in time for me…as this was the forest where I was blessed with my first decent tiger sighting, and also some classic images of a tigress on a rock! I can never forget 8th of March, 2007.
It was my first solo trip to a jungle, and I was damn thrilled to know that a tigress was guarding a kill nearby. At the designated spot, I got down from my gypsy and went off into the woods on
elephant back (a practice now discontinued in Central Indian forests). The sighting is fresh in my mind, as if it happened yesterday.
The 3 year old (who would later become world famous as ‘Collarwali’), had concealed her kill well, but was not keen on leaving that area for fear of usurpers. So, had a good 40 minutes of her
company, all to myself. After strolling on the ground for sometime, she made her way to some rocks nearby, and I had her in my viewfinder at perfect eye-level. So close were we, that I had to switch from my tele-lens to an 80-200! Changing the lens on a nervous elephant’s back was quite a challenge. But, worth the effort; as I was rewarded with some brilliant poses.I was hoping to bump into this graceful feline, now a grand old lady, once again.
Back to the present
Quite coincidentally, my next trip to Pench happened to be another solo, exactly after a decade. I checked into a wonderful property named Kohka Wilderness Camp, run by the affable Shourabh Ghosh. And instantly, I fell in love with the ‘un-hotel like’ place. The essence of rural wilderness was kept intact as far as possible. The construction is eco-friendly, and the entire hotel runs on solar powered electricity. The food is lip-smacking, and the staff members (mostly local boys), are warm and friendly.
An unplanned talk…
Sanjay Nagar, the other partner, also runs a highly acclaimed NGO named Kohka Foundation. They educate tribal kids, and also conduct several activities to uplift the tribals living in surrounding villages. Being a teacher, I instantly expressed a desire to visit the local school. Sanjay updated me about the everyday challenges faced by these kids, especially the girls! He arranged for a talk, but warned me that I would have to stick to Hindi as the medium of instruction. So, after my morning drive, I was escorted to the Kohka Government School, for an interaction with 10th std. students. Surprised myself with a 40 minutes pure Hindi talk, and gauging by the enthusiastic response, I feel that it connected well. An unusual addition to my regular wildlife trip. Very very satisfying experience, I must say!
Pench National Park is in the Seoni and Chhindwara districts of Madhya Pradesh in India. It derives its name from the Pench River that flows through the park from north to south dividing the park into almost equal western and eastern halves. It was declared a sanctuary in 1977 but raised to the status of national park in 1983. In 1992, it was established as a tiger reserve.
The best time to visit the park is between November and May. The park remains closed during July, August and September. It can be accessed by road and railway. The nearest airport and railway station is Nagpur, Maharashtra. Open jeep safaris are allowed from each of the gates twice in a day, with a fixed quota for each gate, for each schedule. Safaris can be booked online, or through your hotel.
Apart from the thousands of deer, and mesmerizing landscapes, I did have a fair bit of offbeat sightings. Although Pench is famous for its tigers, there is a rich variety of birds, mammals, reptiles and of course, the mighty ancient trees.
Over 60 species of birds were seen, notable among them was the tiny but gorgeous, Indian Pitta! Hardly larger than a sparrow, this fella has 9 colours on its body, and aptly called ‘Navranga’, in Hindi. Not easy to sight one though. All one keeps hearing is it’s whistle which resembles a long stretched Thaaaaaank you!
Another bird call, which honestly gets on one’s nerves, is the Common Hawk Cuckoo’s. Not called Brain Fever Bird for nothing, the incessant repetitive high-pitched call could seriously cause headache.
Watching the majestic Crested Hawk Eagle, and the mighty Serpent Eagle take off, was another high! And so were the 3 species of woodpeckers that scurry up a vertical trunk or even hold on to a horizontal branch upside down, thanks to their zygodactyl feet. The big bird of the trip was Malabar Pied Hornbill. Beautiful dual coloured omnivore.
Never before seen sights included an Indian Roller feeding it’s young one, a first for me in 11 years of wildlife travel.
Have you ever seen butterflies in the act of ‘mud-puddling’? Quite a sight they make, flitting around busily, as if there’s no tomorrow!
Among the mammals, the playful antics of Rhesus Macaque babies had me spellbound. And so did the fights between Spotted Deer and Wild Boars. Honestly, one misses so much variety if only tigers are kept as the focus! A fact that my experienced guide, Anil also lamented.
Readers may be wondering by now…did I spot a tiger??? Well…
BMW in the jungle
2 sub-adult tigers had been spotted twice, albeit at a distance. So, I just enjoyed their lazing around through my Olympus binoculars. (8X40 or 10X50 magnification recommended, the latter especially for birding). Towards the end of my 3rd drive, while the focus was on finding a particular tumor like growth on trees, Anil suddenly whispered, “BMW”! Perplexed,I looked around for a German car, only to be informed that we had bumped into one of the biggest, and sought after tigers in Pench, named BMW. A huge male, famous for dominance as well as fertility, he was regality personified! The unusual name comes from his peculiar stripes. The stripes on his left flank form the alphabets “B” and “M”, prompting guides to label him “BMW”, and the name has stuck!
We found him resting at a water hole, cooling off in the blistering June afternoon. Watching him changing sides, for wetting his entire body in the shallow water, was fun, as the gypsy had to go
back and forth for me to get the correct angle. After a while, he decided to take a stroll, and some nice ‘water dripping’ images were clicked. The relaxed, confident gait and the sharp gaze were
befitting a king.
Tracking the tiger by following pug-marks and by listening to alarm calls is thrilling for sure, but finding him sitting at a waterhole when you aren’t even looking for him, is amazing! It’s like winning a lottery prize, without even bothering to buy a ticket.
To sum it up…
The jungle is more important than a particular species, and if one focuses on enjoying whatever surprise Mother Nature dishes out, an unforgettable trip is guaranteed.
So, next time you head to a jungle – feel your insides freshen up with unpolluted air, revel in the melody of bird song, feast your weary eyes on the green carpet and count your blessings under the endless blue sky.
There’s more to be seen, than can ever be seen…