To be born in the lap of nature is a blessing of God for me. People frequently ask me about my childhood experiences in the wild and are very curious to know why I chose wildlife as a field of study? Going down the memory lanes, I recall that my earliest association with wilderness started at my birthplace Chhindwara – a small town in Madhya Pradesh, India. I used to roam in and around the dense and wild forests of the buffer zone of what is popularly known as the Pench Tiger Reserve.
Who can forget Mowgli, the pint-sized child and his adventures with Sher Khan and Bagheera of Rudyard Kipling’s best-seller Jungle Book. Teaming with exotic wildlife, this is the land that inspired Kipling to visualise his most famous work.
Spread over an area of 750 sq. kilometres, Pench National Park – located in the southern part of Madhya Pradesh – nestles in the lower southern reaches of the Satpura mountain ranges and is named after the Pench river that flows through the park. The park lies between Chhindwara and Seoni districts of Madhya Pradesh and became India’s 19th Project Tiger reserve in 1992.
I recall a photographer friend who planned a trip to Pench in 2002 and considered it to be a back-up forest since he didn’t get reservation in Bandhavgarh National Park. Despite my numerous attempts to brief him about the unique bio-diversity of Pench and the fascinating dry, deciduous forests, the picturesque grasslands and the sparkling river, he visited Pench with zero expectations. He came back from Pench with one of his best tiger sightings – a tiger that posed before him for more than 20 minutes with his prized sambhar kill and gave him the most amazing shots he has till date. And this is what Pench is known for!
An early morning gypsy safari in Pench National Park is loaded with excitement. As you set out on your tiger trail through the dense forest cover, scanning the vast stretch of open meadows and grasslands, you are bound to come across herds of cheetal or the spotted deer, sambhar deer, langurs, barking deer, jackals, fox, chinkaras, wild dogs and hyenas – to name a few. Keep your ears open to hear the alarm calls of the jungle folk for they may announce the entry of Sher Khan when it is least expected. A birding heaven, Pench is home to over 250 species of migratory and resident birds that includes the beautiful Indian roller or the blue jay, Malabar pied hornbill and the grey headed fishing eagle.
Amongst all the accommodation options available in Pench, Baghvan – the Taj group property truly stands out. The 15 acre property with 12 luxurious cottages named after renowned naturalists like Jim Corbett, Salim Ali and Capt. James Forsyth gives you the perfect feel of the wild. Extensive use of the local bamboo furniture and ashtrays, candle stands, lamps made by local potters give Baghvan the perfect rustic look. The resort has a team of trained and experienced naturalists who are competent to impart the perfect jungle knowledge during safaris in the specially designed 4×4 open vehicles.
After equipping yourself with the jungle attire available in the souvenir shop of Baghvan, you can also enjoy the elephant safari in Pench. Elephants have the ability to wander into non-motorable territory and surround the tigers thus enabling closer sightings of the forest kings.
Post your safari, you can relax in the Machaans at the Baghvan. Equipped with hukkas, these Machaans add to the Baghvan’s ambiance enabling you to witness a birds-eye view of Pench National Park.
Pench – At A Glance
State Madhya Pradesh
Distance 92 km NE of Nagpur
Route from Nagpur NH7 to Khawasa via Kamptee, Mansar, Deolapar and Manegaon; district road to Pench NP
The park is open from Oct to Jun but early Nov to mid-Mar is best for a visit as the weather is lovely and your chances of tiger sightings increase because the vegetation is favourable
Nearest airport: Nagpur (92 km/ 2 hrs); connected to all major metros by regular flights. Hire a taxi for around Rs 1,700-2,000 for a drop to Pench.
Nearest railhead: Nagpur. While there are many other trains going to Nagpur, the 14-hr journey by the Mumbai-Vidarbha Express is the shortest for visitors coming from Mumbai
From Nagpur take NH7 (the Delhi-Kanyakumari Highway) via Kamptee and Kanhan to Khawasa, just after the Maharashtra-MP border. Nagpur to Khawasa is 80 km. At Khawasa turn left; Pench is another 12 km from here. There is traffic on NH7, but you can drive at an average speed of 80 kmph. The road is beautifully maintained and approximately 40 km after you leave Nagpur, you’ll see thickly wooded forests on both sides
(Kahini Ghosh Mehta and Shivang Mehta are naturalists, film-makers and photographers and run a wildlife camp in Corbett National Park. They have travelled extensively to forests of Madhya Pradesh & Uttrakhand. Know more about them by visiting www.naturewanderers.com)