Jungle Book, The Land of Mowgli
Jungle book needs no introduction to Indians and after the recent English movie, it is known world wide. My childhood Sundays were all about eat Poori for breakfast and watch Jungle book cartoon in Doordarshan. One of the best cartoons I would say cos each episode would have a moral behind it. May be that instigated my love for wildlife and watching animals. Be it baalu or bhageera or even Akila for that matter, I admired all of them. The only thing that has changed over time is that, I used to hate Sherkhan the Tiger and now I love Tigers :D Little did I know Jungle book is based on Pench National Park. That Rudyard Kipling got inspired by the vast landscape of Pench, the Seoni hill range and its inmates and all of the characters were based on what he saw in the jungles of Pench. Such is the impact that Pench national park can have on you. I thought it is not well known and I did not have much expectation either. But then my cab driver was talking so much about Pench and Mowgli and Jungle book that my expectation got built up. And Pench did not disappoint me either, it is teeming with wildlife and the landscape surprised me in many ways.
Pench National Park, Maharashtra - Khursapar Gate
Nagpur to Pench was just about three hours and I checked into my room at Pench Jungle Camp. The luxurious tent accommodation was close to the buffer zone and the cicada was buzzing all the time amidst the stillness around. It was a Wednesday so the park on the Madhya Pradesh side remains closed in the evening. And that is how I had my safari booked for the Maharashtra side of Pench. Khursapar is the last village bordering Pench on the Maharashtra side and hence the name Khursapar gate. There are other gates and buffer zones as well but Khursapar gate is quite popular for their tigresses. In fact all the way to Pench MP from Nagpur, one can see sign boards pointing to buffer zone gates. Pench is huge that way! Khursapar gate landscape is different from that of MP side. The forest is dry deciduous otherwise but on the Maharashtra side, the landscape is filled with trees with leaves. If I remember they are called garaadi trees that tend to catch fire easily, has a dark black bark that shone in the summer sun with fluorescent leaves. Along with it were white quartz stones strewn all around the hilly park.
After waiting quite a while at a water hole we moved on to another spot and with all the jeeps lined up, it was evident that a tiger has been spotted. But this one was super tricky. Baras was sitting somewhere far off in the jungle. And I had to do some acrobatics, balancing myself on the seat and see between the branches and trees. She was panting and only her huge head was visible. My camera is not so good to shoot and zoom through branches and trees and grasses. So I tried couple of times and then decided to just watch her twist and turn around, lie on her back expecting someone to give her a belly rub and then she stood up stretched and walked away. This was my first safari in Pench and though we saw at a distance, I was happy that I got to see.
Rest of the safari was spent looking for other tigress Durga and spotting birds and langurs. Until we came again to a big queue of jeeps standing by. Baras had now come on to the road and was sleeping in a cool pit. It was a narrow road where just two jeeps can stand side by side. The queue of jeeps piled up knowing that the queen was in proximity. When the Jeep I was in got added to the queue, I was not able to see a thing. We waited for half an hour hoping that the front Jeep would give way. But no, they stayed put. More jeeps got added to the pile. The park closing time was approaching and other jeeps got restless, started shouting at the Jeep in the front to give way. They didn't budge at all. With more uproar from the people at back, the situation was turning chaotic. Getting down from Jeep is not allowed so punches were just thrown in the air. Finally Baras lifted her head to see what the chaos was about and realized, "Shucks, humans have gathered". She growled and gave an angry look at the Jeep that was so close to her. We won't budge anyways. We are so known for not giving space. She knew very well about our stupidity. She knew that if she also acted like an idiot, she will be called animal and put down for being wild. So she decided to walk away, amidst the thunderous clicking sounds of the camera and ooooo aaaas from the humans. "Are there any regulations at all?", I turned to the guide and he was like this is Maharashtra side. Okay.. Tadoba also same story anyways.. The day ended thus.
Pench National Park, Madhya Pradesh - Turia Gate
My next few safaris were in Turia gate which was close to my stay "Pench Jungle Camp". Turia gate had collorwalli and her cubs until the day I visited and there were sightings of her too. I have never seen tiger cubs and was pretty excited and was expecting to see the cubs and the mother. But unfortunately somebody told the tigers that I was visiting the park and they got scared I suppose that they decided to not show up. But the Madhya Pradesh side of Pench was full of life and altogether a different landscape from the counterpart. We went up through hills and came down to plains then stopped by Pench river.
There was deer, spotted deer, sambar and nilgai. So many birds that the guide and me were getting excited spotting them. At one particular water hole we were waiting for langdi and her cubs. Called langdi cos she slightly limps and that one of her paws the fingers are adjoined. That was the most interesting wait ever. The sambar and deer looked alert for a while. Then boar came for a sip, langur came down, a honey buzzard, sambar, deer, and lots of birds.. Kingfisher put up the best show of hovering over the pond in circles and shooting down for the catch. I loved watching that. Even though I was not lucky enough to see tiger at this end of the park, I loved the park and will be coming back soon. Check out the snaps.
How to Reach Pench National Park
Nearest airport to Pench national park is Nagpur. It is just about 100km from Pench national park. You can hire a cab from here to Pench. Or if you are planning to take the bus then Khawasa is the stop you have to get down at. From there ask your place of stay to pick up cos I did not see any bus from Khawasa to Pench. If you are coming from Jabapur side then direct bus is available to Khawasa or go to Seoni and from there take a bus to Khawasa.[mappress mapid="44"]
Pench National Park Online Booking for Safari
There are three ways you can book your safari with Pench National Park. If you are staying in a good resort which has their talented Naturalist then book the safari through your resort. It will be costly than your safari booked through online. However the talent and experience of the naturalist comes of help many times. Since I stayed with Pench jungle camp, their naturalist Prathip Patel was of good help in spotting the tiger.
The second way is to book the safari online by yourself. Note that you will be paying only for the safari ticket online. The jeep cost and the guide cost are separate which needs to be paid at the gate. Pench National Park entry fee is about Rs.500/- and the jeep plus guide comes to another about Rs.3000/-. Six people can share the jeep. For some reason Maharashtra side is slightly costlier than the MP side. Also Madhya Pradesh Tourism let's you book single seat in the gypsy. So you will be sharing the jeep with random strangers with whom you can split the cost of the jeep and driver. Works economical when you are doing solo. Only downside is you might land up sharing your gypsy with people who are not that interested in wildlife.
The third and unpredictable way is to book directly at the gate. But for this you need to come at least an hour early than the gate open time and wait at the counter. Some resorts help you by having their staff stand in the queue. This may or may not fetch you a ticket.
Also note that Pench national park provides you with night safari which can be booked at the gate couple of days advance. But the night safari would be sitting in a jeep, driving around buffer area and just the headlight of the jeep will be light source. So as such max to max you might see a deer or boar. If I remember they let you walk also in the buffer zone.
Online booking for Pench, Maharashtra - https://nationalpark.mahaonline.gov.in/User/Availability.aspx
Online booking for Pench, Madhya Pradesh - https://forest.mponline.gov.in/
Pench National Park Timings:
Summer the park gate opens at 6:30am and safari ends at 9:30am. However if there is a sighting or you are keen in wildlife the guide pushes upto 10:30am. But sightings of Tiger start to reduce after 9:30am cos of summer heat. Evening the park opens at 3;30pm and closes at 6:30pm.
Winter the park gates are open from 7:30am to 10:30 am and Evening from 3:00pm to 5:30pm. Basically by the time the sun sets exit the park.
Note that all the national parks in Madhya Pradesh are closed on Wednesday evenings.
Best Time to Visit Pench National Park
This one is a tricky thing to be honest. Sometime they say go in peak summer the predator will sit around water holes to cool, easy to spot. But if there is no sighting they say, too hot the predator is probably in some shade and sleeping we can see only late evening. Pench national park remains open from October to mid June or early July depending on the arrival of monsoon. During the monsoon safari is also difficult and Tigers are also not gonna come out so park remains closed. Best time to visit Pench national park is between November to March when the vegetation is just right and temperature is convenient for safari. December gets cold but still you can plan around that time.
Where to Stay at Pench - Pench Jungle Camp
Pench Jungle Camp is conveniently located close to the buffer one of Pench National Park and close to Turia gate. It is one of the finest resorts to stay at Pench. They have a wide variety of rooms to choose from. There are tents, room, cottage and family cottage. My favorite pick was the tent. From outside it looks like a plain camp tent. But then inside it is a luxurious tent! It has nice cosy beds, sitting area, writing desk, dressing area, refrigerator, AC and a washroom which is quite big and convenient! I was taken aback when I entered the tent. And then to keep you company there are always langurs around. Or birds to sing to you or cicadas buzzing for you. It is absolute bliss to be amidst the wilderness.
The resort also has swimming pool, spa and bonfire area. The food from the buffet kept me happy all day! Am always happy to see variety in the buffet and not repeating the dishes. What was more exciting was the packed breakfast that they would give along on the safari. So much food!! And that is how you get spoilt ;) Pench Jungle Camp also has other nature activities like walking in the buffer area, night safari, sundowner by the Kokha lake, bush lunches and dinner in the jungle. These come at additional rate but definitely a must try.
For bookings - Pench Jungle Camp