Talk:Pench National Park
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Though I have been selling India holiday packages for over 11 years with ease, but I was a bit unconvinced when I saw the fax from Madhya Pradesh Tourism inviting me for a nature trail in Madhya Pradesh Jungles covering Pench Tiger Reserve and Kanha National Park last week. My perception about wildlife tours reminds me of African Jungles. Having received good feedback from many happy tourists who thoroughly enjoyed the wilderness, I smugly felt Indian forest department has way to go. My trip started off with a lot of scepticism, I even mentioned my concern to Mr. Chandrasekhar from Madhya Pradesh tourism department, who was escorting us during this trip that he needs to convince me very hard in order to make me promote Indian Jungle Trails.
Our trail started when we got off the overnight Volvo coach at Nagpur. Our driver, Devraj waiting for us at the bus terminus drove us to Pench which was (95 kms) 2 hrs away. Pench is in Seoni District in Southern part of Madhya Pradesh and the reserve forest runs in continuation with Pench National Park in Maharashtra. We stopped at a petrol station enroute to have coffee. It is amazing to see that the store at the petrol station is equipped with everything from breath mints to light snacks to munch our way till we reached Pench. The road was thankfully in good condition. The drive was a bit boring for the first 20 kms, later got very interesting. We were greeted by a huge herd of cows crossing our path a couple of times. The first sight of rural India welcomes you like a breath of fresh air. Indeed the air is much lighter and gets so fresh that you could feel the difference from the stale polluted city air. The scenery started with barren land on either side spotted with some big trees and small shrubs which later turned into tall teak wood trees and was getting better for us city dwellers. I quickly noted it was the end of summer which explains the drier vegetation. I wondered how lush it would be post monsoon. Chandra told us that the parks will be closed for game viewing during monsoons and will reopen from 1st October onwards till 30th June. During monsoons the forest department takes the animal census and prepares their log records of the flora and fauna.
When we reached our resort, which was aptly named as Kipling’s Court, we were all enthusiastically looking forward to go on our afternoon Jungle Safari. The resort was clean without much fuss like the city based star hotels. The staff were pleasant, greeted us warmly before showing our rooms. The check-in was quick, as the Resort Manager Mr. Nitin was expecting us, and soon we were shown our rooms. That’s when we all realised that our mobile phones were not working. Honestly, all of us were a bit happy about the cell phones not working. We were on a real holiday close to nature and this is the best time to unwind and relax. The rooms were clean, equipped with decent furniture, a comfortable bed, clean bathroom with a shower, a dresser and a couple of chairs thrown out in the veranda overlooking the forest. The resort had 20 rooms and is equipped with a restaurant that can accommodate 50-60 persons comfortably, a mini conference hall for 35 persons, a bar and plush green forest around you. The menu was very much Indian, with limited fare underlining the fact that the resort gets their suppliers from Nagpur or Seoni. If one is planning for a mini conference, I recommend them to get their own equipment like OHP, microphone etc.
Dos and Don'ts on a Nature Trail
- Always carry batteries for your camera - Remember cell phones may not work all the time - Forget Cable TV, enjoy the nature - Wear natural colours to blend in the jungle - Carry a bug repellent - During wild encounters, don't talk, stand still retreat quietly taking backward steps - Turn the flash off your camera - Don't litter in the jungle - Do not feed wild animals - Do not get off your safari jeep inside the forest - Do not exceed speed limit of 20kmph in the forest - Never turn on music while on safari - Avoid smoking in the jungle
Our Safari started at 3 pm. We used the time to quickly pay a visit to The Pench Jungle Camp which was 500mts from our resort. Mr. Atul Bhatt, Manager of the resort showed us around and offered to join us during the Safari. Having him along with the guide provided by MP tourism was quite helpful. Atul as a true naturalist told us the dos and don’ts during the safari and gave us a great deal of information about the animals and the birds we found in the jungle. The board at the entrance of the jungle with a picture of a tiger read quite aptly “You are the guest here, respect my home.” Back to my original self, I complained that I didn’t hear a single bird chirping since I came. Atul quickly asked the Gypsy driver to stop immediately.
Suddenly everything was quiet. We all could hear different birds chirping away busily, thus started our first wild encounter. I learnt how to tune myself to nature. It doesn’t require any effort at all. I just had to stop talking and start listening. Pearls of wisdom!
The total forest area was 758 sq.kms of Southern Indian tropical moist deciduous forest, has its extent mingling with the tropical dry deciduous teak. The forest area is crisscrossed by a number of streams most of which are seasonal. One such stream passed through our resort – Kipling’s Court. The predators are mainly spotted at the waterholes within the jungle. The spotted deer's, sambar's, peacocks, golden langoor's crossed our path within 10 minutes as we entered the forest area. The animals were quite oblivious of our presence. I managed to get a clear shot of a Sambar which crossed our path and gave a straight look into the lens as if posing for the picture. We were allowed take photographs without flash during the safari. We were quietly taking in the nature’s bounty, without making any noise, talking in whispers as Atul instructed us.
The predators like Tiger and Leopards are found mainly at the waterholes inside the jungle during summer. Tigers, as Atul mentioned to us that Tigers prefer to walk in clear paths and he showed us the pug marks of a few tigers that passed that way in the morning. As a prey concentration is high along the Pench River, tiger usually inhabits this belt. Leopards though generally operate in the peripheral areas but are occasionally seen in the deep forest also. Jungle cats are commonly seen. Leopard cats, small Indian civets and palm civets are common but seen rarely. We were grateful to Atul for joining us for the Safari.
Pench & Kanha Nature Trail Tips
- Best Time to visit: September to June - Accessibility: Nagpur airport/railhead is suggested - What to wear: cottons mainly, but bring light woollens for nights - Climate: 41C during summers and 3-5C during winters - Telephones: Cell phones won't work, BSNL STD booths at every20-35kms range - Food: mainly Indian, Continental breakfast - Language: Hindi mainly, English at hotels
When I inquired about how safe we were in the jungle in an open topped jeep without any ammunition on us, Atul and the guide replied that none of the animals behave wildly and attack humans unless we instigate them. The animals and birds were totally at peace when we blended in. the Forest department laid out some pointers in a pamphlet (printed in Hindi) which advises us not to honk, shout, or make loud noises inside the jungle. A few other pointers were not to offer food to animals as they are self sufficient in the jungle. Even our safari vehicle has a speed limit of 20kmph so that we can enjoy a nice ride.
In 1992, Pench has been included under the umbrella of "Project Tiger" as the 19th Project Tiger Reserve. Cheetal, Sambar, Nilgai are commonly seen grazing on the open sites during the safari. We saw an amazing range of birds during our safari while our guide was rattling off the names like Racket Tailed Drongo and Red Wattled Lapwing and the like. It was difficult to remember most of the names, but the sights were visually satisfactory. Our guide informed us that there were 325 different species of birds including several migratory species which visit Pench. My thoughts about African safari were melting down slowly and I started to realise that there is no way one can compare one jungle expedition with another. The Madhya Pradesh jungles are rich in vegetation and it takes a bit of patience and diligence for a tourist to see the wild animals. The overall experience is very enriching for one who is in sync with nature while touring around Indian jungles. Though we didn’t get to see any of the 59 tigers that inhabited in the Pench, we were very happy with our first jungle expedition in Pench.
The next day I was wide awake with sounds of birds chirping away to glory at 5 a.m. That’s what I call a Nature’s Alarm clock. I checked with Mr. Nitin, Kipling’s Court Manager if it was safe to explore the buffer forest around the resort on my own so early in the morning. He gave a few pointers on the safe path and asked me to stay calm in case of any wild encounter. Armed with my camera I got some shots of the dried stream that was around our resort. There were a few mosquitoes around where I stopped at slightly wet ground. I was hoping to see some animals, but had to be happy with the innumerable chirping birds and the fresh forest scents around me. One can get lost very easily in the jungle. I realised that when I looked back to find our resort after walking for 10 minutes along the dried stream. The dry deciduous forest of Pench, just after summer was so thick that, I had to walk back to see if I was still at a safe distance from the resort. After exploring a little bit further, I realised we had a road trip to Kanha and reluctantly headed back.
Our breakfast at Kipling’s Court was sumptuous with Aloo Parathas with fresh curd with a dash of sugar. The steward politely offered us some toast and omelettes too reminding of the long drive ahead. During our meals our resort manager, Nitin filled in with some jungle lore about how the sloth bears attack women first, that the wild dog’s urine is so acidic that it blinds the prey before killing it and a few more interesting anecdotes. Some of the stories were hard to believe though.
I would say Pench needs a good 3 nights stay in order to spot most of the wild animals including the famed predators. We got a good view of spotted deer, Sambar, Nilgai, Wild boar, Golden Langoors, Peacocks, not to mention the countless birds. Our stay was only for 1 night, which was barely enough, for animal sighting. We were told that Jackals can be seen in search of food anywhere in the Park. Packs of wild dogs can be seen near Chhedia, Jamtara, Bodanala and Pyorthadi areas of the Reserve. Chinkara is present in very small numbers and is found in open areas around Turia, Telia and Dudhgaon villages. Herds of gaur can be spotted near streams and bamboo patches commonly in summer months. Sloth beer, the cuddly ‘Baloo’ of the Jungle Book, occupy hilly, rocky out crops and favour Mahul and Bel infested forest. The jungle lore makes the Sloth bear anything but cuddly. We were all wondered, why we give teddy bears to our kids when they are so ferocious. Langoors are very common whereas the Rhesus monkeys may be seen occasionally on the fringes. Pench boasts of, more than 325 species of birds that include several migratory ones also. Commonly seen are Peafowl, Red jungle fowl, Crow pheasant, Crimson Breasted Barbet, Redvented Bulbul, Racket Tailed Drongo, Magpie Robin and Lesser Whistling Teal as listed by the forest department. We got a good view of most of them.
Mahua flowers which are abundantly found in Pench are used for brewing local liquor. We were told that Sloth Bears enjoy eating Mahua flowers in full bloom and get ferocious. We could see the grin on the steward’s face when he said Pench was famous for Mahua juice, when we inquired about the local specialties while having lunch.
Though there were some interesting stories about leopards and grizzly bears attacking humans without any reason, which was quite scary, we remember Atul, manager of Pench Jungle Camp telling us ‘All animals can become ferocious, if instigated.’ We all headed back to the resort for getting some good sleep before we headed for the famous jungle of Kanha the next day.
Our trip to Kanha started at 8 AM on the next day, so that we can have a quick lunch on arrival and proceed for the much awaited Kanha Jungle Safari. The drive was pleasant with fresh mountain air. We enjoyed a light drizzle as it was the onset of monsoons. It was only when we reached half way we realised that the air-conditioning in the car wasn’t turned on. We didn’t mind at all. The long ghat roads were lined with Sal trees that grew almost 35 metres high. I remembered reading about Sal trees in school that they can live up to a 100 years under favourable conditions. Sal tree trunks were used under the railway tracks which are now thankfully replaced with concrete blocks. There were quite a few Bamboo trees too interlining Sal trees when we entered the Tropical Evergreen Forest of Kanha.
Kanha Safari Lodge in Mukki was constructed in the buffer zone operated by a mere 12 staff members. Needless to say that they multi-task very efficiently. Mr. Dandotia, the Resident Manager greeted us warmly and showed our comfortable rooms having a good view of the forest buffer zone. The Banjar River passes by the Kanha Safari Lodge and a 1.6 kms path is laid for tourists along the river into the jungle for a relaxing trek. The trek path is lined with informative boards that give much valued details about the flora and fauna found in Kanha.
Buffer zone forest has a few sparsely populated villages. The forest department has been working on relocating the villagers to a safer zone to protect forest. Incidentally we were also informed by Mr. Dandotia that Kanha or Kanhar itself is a village name which was located inside the reserve forest. The locals were clearing the forest for cultivation which endangered the wildlife. The Forest department successfully relocated the entire village outside the jungle and made the reserve forest hospitable for wildlife. Kanha also derives its name for the famous Kanva Sage, the foster father of the beautiful dame of Indian mythology, Sakuntala, who the locals believe lived in the Kanha jungle. I was also a trifle amused at the way my trip that started as a nature trail eventually tweaked Indian mythological roots as well.
There is a fine ecological balance at both Pench and Kanha which made the flora and fauna self sustaining without much intervention by forest department. The MP state Forest department had done an impressive job in protecting the reserve forests. I noticed this during the Kanha Safari. Apart from relocating villages from the forest area, they have taken up many responsibilities like World Food Programme, helping the locals in preservation and recreation of forests. The Forest department also harvests the teak and Bamboo on a regular basis to maintain the ecological balance. This normally happens in the months of September and October every year.
Our guide for the Safari was well trained, who is responsible for stopping the tourists from getting off the vehicle, littering, instigating animals etc. Though they speak little English the guides can rattle off the botanical names of all the trees and the animal species. If one wants more insightful details on the names and animal habits, they can hire a naturalist from the Safari entrance gate to go along with them.
Unlike Pench, Kanha Jungle had more visitors as the area is much bigger and spreads up to 1,945 sq kms, which also envelopes the Kanha Tiger Reserve. Our Safari started a little after 4 pm. We found too many safari vehicles in front of us making our game viewing a bit difficult. My colleague John was very concerned that we may not get to see the predators with so many tourists around. One of the interesting things we learnt in Kanha Safari is that the safari guides do not carry any walkie-talkies as it will allow them to communicate with other guides in case the predators like leopard or tiger are spotted, making a beeline of tourists around the predators. Not a good idea. However there are some rules on communication when you are inside the forest. Our guide was quite handy is checking the fresh pug marks of the tiger, estimating the time when they were made, and leading us to a waterhole where we can spot the beast. He is also trained in identifying the call for help given out by spotted deer, with specific direction it is coming from and let the driver take us there. The guide is allowed to whistle to inform other guides when he spots a predator. The forest guards are located at a distance of 5 kms from each other inside the reserve forest. In case of any unfortunate event of accidents happening to tourists or if the safari vehicle develops a glitch, the guide will take the tourists by walk to the nearest forest guard for help. In case of any serious injury to a person who cannot walk the guide leaves the driver and the person injured in the vehicle and takes the rest of the tourists to the forest guard. This info given by our safari guide was a bit relieving and we were assured that the forest department has laid some clear procedures that are followed in dire circumstances.
We were a bit surprised when Mr. Dandotia, our resort’s manager mentioned to us that many tourists visit Kanha for just seeing the predators. However I beg to differ, so does the rest of our team, as it was very thrilling for us to spot even a jungle pea fowl or a bunch of Langoors along the path. Everything is beautiful and pristine in wilderness. We were least bothered about the phone connections, email or even the food that was served to us. The food was good though the menu had limited options at Kanha Safari Lodge.
Our three- day adventure ended with a relaxing jungle trek around Banjar River on 24th June early morning, followed by a filling breakfast. Reluctantly we bid good bye to the jungles in the Heart of India and hit the road. Once again we were lapping up the last bits of the nature on our way back. By 2 pm we stopped at Highway Treat for lunch. This is again one of the Madhya Pradesh Tourism property offering 4 modest cottages and a nice way side restaurant. Developed by a passionate IAS officer, Mr. Rajan, this place is ideal for tourists who wish to stop by for a quick meal before driving to Nagpur. We were greeted by some biking enthusiasts who stopped on their way for a bite, which explains the popularity of a no nonsense wayside retreat. We met a family who stopped by for lunch. I could see their 5 year old kid shriek with pleasure when he found a caterpillar crawling on the path. The Highway Treat has a unique attraction – a 714 year old Banyan tree in its premises. We got some quick photographs taken of the Banyan tree’s tender roots shooting down. We got all we wanted in this trip, respite from city life, far from madding crowd, nature’s bounty and a closer look at the “Heart of India”. I erased the idea of comparing Indian jungle trail with the African safaris totally. When I mentioned that to Chandrasekhar, I could see him smile which meant ‘piece of cake’.