The jeep was speeding through the deciduous forest of Pench National Park on a summer afternoon and I soaked myself into the mysterious dry teak wood forest with the scorching sun over my head. It was hardly half an hour later, our jeep was around the camera mode area of the forest when a loud voice suddenly dominated the surrounding.
I heard the word “Leopard”. That was our forest guide who had spotted the big cat. The jeep stopped and my heart was pumping fast. My eyes were rolling and scanned the forest quickly for one glimpse of the big cat. My naturalist Chinmay Deshpande pointed towards the grassland where the beast was resting quietly, beautifully camouflaging with the golden wild grass.
The very sight of my first leopard sighting was remarkable. I couldn’t believe my luck. I literally stood still for a moment after making eye contact with the leopard, thinking how my wish had come true so quickly, especially when I secretly yearned to see this beast in the morning itself. I looked at Chinmay (The Naturalist) and smiled.
Being the first jeep to spot the leopard, we had the advantage of parking our vehicle at the right spot to have an uninterrupted view. Within a minute, the leopard got up to take a stroll around, making eye contact several times with the people in the jeep, and decided to rest, next to a dead tree lying nearby. My camera was on the roll, capturing each move of his. It was like a full show.
The leopard was giving you every rare opportunity to capture him, whichever way you wanted. After almost 10 minutes, he stood up again and took the same path back. I couldn’t imagine that he would be around there for about 20-odd minutes and I would be standing just a few inches from the beast.
He walked slowly like a king and took us for a ride on the main road before he crossed the road to go to the other side of the forest. This was by far the most exceptional sighting of my safari experience in India.
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Pench National Park
Located on the southern boundary of Madhya Pradesh, bordering Maharashtra, in the districts of Seoni and Chhindwara, the Pench Tiger Reserve is spread across 758 square km, out of which 299 sq km is considered a core area in the park. Hugely dominated by the Teak and Mahua wood forest, it becomes an extremely dry forest during the summer season.
The leafless trees miles after miles give you a mysterious feeling when you are amidst the jungle. The morning was bearable until the sun came out with the temperature soaring to 40 degrees. The park flaunts a wide variety of flora and fauna and is especially famous for wild dogs and leopards. The latest count of the leopards in Pench Tiger Reserve is about 80-100, though the exact number of wild dogs is not known.
I was charmed by the naked trees, and curved roads along with the Pench River, which paints an alluring landscape that reminds you of your textbooks and now the famous TV show and Movie, based on The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, inspired by the Pench National Park.
For some reason, I like morning safaris. Though waking up in the wee hours is quite challenging for me. But seeing nature in the most peaceful environment, the rustling of the dry leaves, and the orchestra of birds is those little things that make me happy. The sound of the forest and the cold breeze makes me appreciate the jungle even more in the morning. As decided, my call time was 3.45 am and I reached the reception area of the Pench Tree Lodge by Pugdandee Safaris, on time.
With a hot cup of tea, I was all geared up to venture into the core zone of the Pench Tiger Reserve. Being the only guest that day for the morning safari, I decided to sit next to the driver’s seat. Within half an hour, we reached the nearest gate named Karmajhiri. There were hardly three jeeps at the gate to enter the forest. Later on, I was informed that most of the resorts are located next to Turia Gate, so the numbers of vehicles for the safari are less on this side.
After the initial office permission, we entered the forest with a forest guide to accompany us throughout the safari. As soon as we ventured into the forest, I was asked about my favorite wild animal, with everyone expecting the answer to be tiger and leopard probably. But my answer was Spotted Deer. Soon there was a laughter ride as it was the most unexpected answer for them.
People usually like to chase the big cats, unlike me who feels happy to see spotted deer, which you get in abundance in any forest. I simply love them and can literary spend hours watching them. So each time they saw a spotted deer, they pointed toward it with a big smile.
As the sun was rising, the bright sunlight was just peeking through the dry branches of the teak forest. The forest was beaming with golden lights. It looked amazingly beautiful.
I saw sambar deer, peacocks, langurs, monkeys, and Indian roller birds in different areas of the forest. It feels good to see how these wild animals and birds are living in the same environment, co-existing with each other in harmony.
Meeting Raiyya Kassa
As my naturalist and guide were coordinating the routes, keeping themselves alert for the alarm calls, and discussing the possibility of seeing a big cat, I was literary enjoying the jungle drive more than anything else. But as the temperature was rising up, the blistering heat was becoming unbearable due to the extremely dry forest. I was kind of exhausted by that time and decided to have breakfast.
As we reached the area named Bijamatta, we saw a few vehicles waiting in the hope of spotting a tiger near the water body. We too waited for a few minutes and decided to leave for breakfast, seeing no sign of a tiger. As our jeep sped away, one vehicle rushing from the opposite side, informed us about the presence of a male tiger, who was on his way to the water hole. My face lit up immediately as we turned back to the spot. Just within a fraction of a second, I spotted the tiger walking through the forest toward the water hole.
What an epic sighting it was. We were driving parallel with the tiger until he walked down to the water hole and sat there for hours. I wasted no time capturing him into my lens. Apparently, his name was Raiyya Kassa.
The idea of being in the midst of a forest and the sense of unpredictability of seeing wild animals in each turn is fascinating to me. What fascinates you the most about game drives?
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By Air: The nearest airport is Nagpur which is approximately at a distance of 130 km. It will take around three and a half hours to reach the destination. You can also opt for Jabalpur airport which is approximately 210 km from Pench.
By Train: If you choose to come by train, Nagpur is the nearest railway station. The distance between Nagpur and Pench is around 130 km.
Pench National Park Timings
The Pench National Park has different timings for both the summer and winter seasons. Kindly find the timings below…
Summer Safari timing
(March to April ) 5.45 am to 11 am
(May to June) 5.30 am to 11 am
4 am to 7 am
Winter Safari timing
Morning 6.15 am to 11 am
Evening 3 pm to 5.30 pm
Where to stay
There are plenty of accommodation options like resorts, jungle camps, and hotels in the periphery of the Pench National Park. If you are looking for a unique yet luxurious accommodation option like experiencing the tree house amidst the gorgeous grassland, surrounded by the forest, I strongly recommend the Pench Tree Lodge by Pugdandee Safaris.
The Watermarked photographs are owned by the writer and are copyright protected. All the used Non-Watermarked photos are owned by Naturalist Chinmay Deshpande and have been used with permission. The reproduction of any of the contents, including the photographs without prior consent/permission of the writer, is strictly prohibited and a violation of the same will attract legal action.
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